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Cranky Director’s Corner – I’ve Got Your Ban Right Here

I’m particularly cranky today. A pair of posts I’ve been laboring over just aren’t coming together. That’s on top of the last few weeks of political theater. And by theater I don’t mean something as refined as opera or exotic as kabuki. Something more akin to a few kids with a bed sheet as a backdrop, only without the potential charm.

The travel ban has been the most curious and troubling. One could go on about the failure to form and leverage a serious and well-informed advisory group, the incompetency of the rollout, and overall just horrendous display of the worst bits of American behavior. Let’s be clear, this ban is nothing new. We’ve long been a nation that’s demonstrated less than welcoming attitudes towards those seeking our shores (not to mention those found along our shores and already living inland). It’s just a new iteration of a sourness and fear with deep roots. Much has already been said and written on this front, though. And while it impacts us as Americans and likely impacts us through our institutions, that topic is not the focus of today’s grumbling.

Let’s turn our eyes to the corporate response, led by major tech companies. The New York Times points out that at some companies opposition to the ban is driven by rank-and-file employees, and that’s great. A read of the amicus filed jointly by the companies leads with the impact on recruiting. Not surprising. Our major technology companies, as well as those with significant technology components to their operations, have longed bemoaned the challenge of maintaining their talent pipelines. Specifically, the US does not produce enough (pick one: engineers, programmers, computer scientists, etc.) to meet their needs. Now I’m a big fan of open, legal immigration. But if US tech companies are focusing on pulling talent from off shore, isn’t that essentially the same as US companies a century ago plundering raw materials from other countries? Natural resources, human resources, we treat both as though it’s all the same. Take what we need, when we need it, while minimizing impact on the bottom line.

Meanwhile our country has inner city and rural schools struggling for resources, with kids fail to receive adequate modern education and do not have access to opportunities. I’m a big fan of teaching kids to code, regardless of what they ultimately major in or do in their careers. Knowing at least the basics of how all the machines, devices, and gadgets in our lives work affords an extra bit of power over our own lives.

So here’s an idea. Instead of focusing short term efforts on plundering the talent of other countries, I’d like to see our tech giants invest in our disconnected urban and rural communities. How? Reach out to communities with struggling students and schools, fund a computer lab and pay for a staff member to teach code as an after school program. (This is about adding to curriculum, not supplanting it.) Build in an incentive program so as they progress through projects and improve their skills kids earn their way towards the prize of their own computer . Network the classrooms so kids in rural Texas are engaging with kids in Oakland, California, Gary, Indiana, etc. End products: strong, deep talent pipelines for companies; improvement of education quality; integration instead of marginalization of populations historically disconnected from opportunity and power; encouragement of entrepreneurialism; alleviation of poverty; and, as a bonus, keeping kids busy with constructive activities is demonstrated to keep them out of a host of problems that have long term degrading effects on their lives and options. Sure things like this are happening, here and there. Time to step it up.

Panacea? Not by a long shot, but it’s a big step in the right direction. So US companies, please stop putting a friendly face on that old school American corporate imperialism and actually invest in American students for the long term. Being socially responsible doesn’t begin and end with filing amici or addressing the problems only your organization finds interesting, it means addressing the real problems and sharing your power.

About the Author:  The cranky director will deliver rants on the economy, technology, social engineering, lack of a really good nearby falafel place, and idiot politicians (broadly defined)  to your computer desktop of preferred mobile device the fourth Friday of every month.

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