Diversifying the Tech Workforce

By Michael Feldman

April 15, 2011

Over the last few decades, women and minorities in the US have made pretty remarkable strides in professional careers. But progress has been uneven, especially in the realm of information technology, where diversity in the workplace has just never caught on.

Indeed, women and minority representation seems to be slipping in the computer biz, at least at the epicenter of IT, Silicon Valley. A 2010 article in Mercury News, reported that Hispanics, blacks, and women make up a smaller share of the region’s computing workforce today than they did several years ago. From the article:

[O]f the combined work force of 10 of the valley’s largest companies — including Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Cisco Systems, eBay and AMD — shows that while the collective work force of those 10 companies grew by 16 percent between 1999 and 2005, an already small population of black workers dropped by 16 percent, while the number of Hispanic workers declined by 11 percent. By 2005, only about 2,200 of the 30,000 Silicon Valley-based workers at those 10 companies were black or Hispanic. The share of women at those 10 companies declined to 33 percent in 2005, from 37 percent in 1999.

That trend was even reflected in the less tech-centric roles of upper management. From 2000 to 2005, the number blacks and Hispanics in top management declined 20 percent, while the number of women in these positions declined 2 percent.

There are plenty of people in the community concerned about this disparity, none more so than Richard Tapia, mathematician and professor in the Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University. While not teaching and writing math research papers, he has been crusading for underrepresented minorities and women in the computing field.

His signature Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing conference brings together speakers across the ethnic/gender spectrum to talk about the work. The latest Tapia get-together, held last week in San Francisco, drew more than 500 people — a record attendance. The model of the conference is to spotlight women and underrepresented minorities successful in the computer arena in order to inspire the next generation of potential techies.

A sampling of speakers at the event last week:

  • Blaise Agüera y Arcas, Architect of Bing Mobile and Places at Microsoft, spoke about how computer vision is working its way into consumer devices.
  • Deborah Estrin, Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at UCLA, discussed the use of mobile phones for Participatory Sensing and its social implications.
  • Google VP of Engineering Alan Eustace talked about how the industry is organizing the world’s data.
  • HP scientist, Patty Lopez explained how imaging and color algorithms are being incorporated into scanners, cameras, and other products.
  • John Kubiatowicz, Professor of EECS at the University of California at Berkeley, gave his take on how operating systems should be rearchitected for the manycore era.
  • Ayanna Howard, Georgia Tech professor and founder of the Human-Automation Systems Lab, talked about how autonomous robots can be used to help gather data on climate change.
  • Former IBM chair Irving Wladawsky-Berger gave a wide-ranging presentation on the changing nature of research and innovation in the 21st Century.

About three-fourths of the Tapia attendees this year were college students, some undoubtedly still trying to decide what to major in and what careers to pursue. Ethnicity-wise, 35 percent of the conference-goers were black and 30 percent Hispanic. Just over half of all the attendees were women.

I spoke with Dave Patterson, professor in Computer Science at UC Berkeley, who chaired the conference this year, to get some of his thoughts on why diversity seems so elusive to this community. Patterson, a computer guru who was a principle driver behind the early RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) architectures, and a pioneer in parallel computing, has admired Richard Tapia for a long time. “When he called and asked me to help I couldn’t refuse,” he told me.

Like many in the community, Patterson finds it difficult to reconcile the great success of the computer industry with its appearance as a white man’s club. “For those of us in the field, we’re amazed at what’s happened with hardware and software,” he explains. “The impact of information technology on society is something we’re proud of. But it’s a little embarrassing about the lack of women and minorities in the field.”

The reasons for this lack of diversity are multi-faceted. The Mercury News piece pointed to educational disparities and the lack of role models in the industry. It also suggested that the influx of Silicon Valley foreign-born workers on H-1B visas are displacing home-grown minorities disproportionally. Ironically, the importation of Asians and other international workers into the tech arena could be making the industry less diverse overall.

For women, Patterson thinks computing has been “tarred with the nerd image,” which tends to drive females away from the profession. Prior to the establishment of that cultural stereotyping, he says there was a higher fraction of women researchers in the field. With recent increases in computer science enrollment and the widespread use social networking, he believes that trend could reverse itself.

The question arises, though, why should we even care? The computer industry seems to be humming along nicely without reflecting the ethnic and gender demographics of the US. Is the interest in diversity anything more than liberal guilt?

According to Patterson, diversity is not about political correctness. Part of this, he says, is about making the most of the talent at hand. On the software end, Patterson says only a fraction of the population — maybe 5 or 10 percent – can master algorithmic thinking. So just by the force of numbers, the greater the cross-section of the population you’re able to attract, the more tech talent you’re going to be able to tap.

Another aspect to this, he says, is how computing science gets funded by the government. If information technology R&D is perceived as pork barrel spending for white men’s hobbies, it’s less likely to attract broad-based political support. Having a diverse set of constituencies in the workforce will ensure it gets needed attention from the government.

But perhaps at the most basic level is the interplay between technology and its inventors. A core driver of science, and especially engineering, says Patterson, is creativity, which can loosely be defined as putting together information in new ways for some useful purpose. In many cases, people’s life experience drives how they connect that information, and individuals with dissimilar backgrounds tend to bring those unique views into the creative process.

The US entertainment industry is probably the best example of how an extremely diverse workforce turned a relatively small business into a $100-plus billion industry over the last half century. (Revenue from the motion picture industry alone is now worth over $50 billion.) It would be hard to imagine Hollywood and the US music business if it resembled the white male-dominated demographics of today’s computing industry.

Even though the historical track record of diversity in IT has been disappointing, there’s at least some reason to hope. Fifty years ago doctors were almost exclusively men; today more than half of the medical students are women. High achievers in minority populations have made inroads into law, medicine, and more recently, top government positions.

In computing, even the relatively uniform workforce we have today has managed to deliver search engines, smartphones, and generally ubiquitous access to computing. But Patterson thinks this is just the beginning. He says in the future when people look back at what we have currently — computers crashing, frustratingly-slow internet speeds, and 8-lb laptops — these are going to be seen as the bad old days.

“We’ve just scratched the surface of what computing is going to do,” he says. “I really believe that the next few decades are going to be amazing.”

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Advancing Modular Supercomputing with DEEP and DEEP-ER Architectures

February 24, 2017

Knowing that the jump to exascale will require novel architectural approaches capable of delivering dramatic efficiency and performance gains, researchers around the world are hard at work on next-generation HPC systems. Read more…

By Sean Thielen

Weekly Twitter Roundup (Feb. 23, 2017)

February 23, 2017

Here at HPCwire, we aim to keep the HPC community apprised of the most relevant and interesting news items that get tweeted throughout the week. Read more…

By Thomas Ayres

HPE Server Shows Low Latency on STAC-N1 Test

February 22, 2017

The performance of trade and match servers can be a critical differentiator for financial trading houses. Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Financial Update (Feb. 2017)

February 22, 2017

In this recurring feature, we’ll provide you with financial highlights from companies in the HPC industry. Check back in regularly for an updated list with the most pertinent fiscal information. Read more…

By Thomas Ayres

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

O&G Companies Create Value with High Performance Remote Visualization

Today’s oil and gas (O&G) companies are striving to process datasets that have become not only tremendously large, but extremely complex. And the larger that data becomes, the harder it is to move and analyze it – particularly with a workforce that could be distributed between drilling sites, offshore rigs, and remote offices. Read more…

Rethinking HPC Platforms for ‘Second Gen’ Applications

February 22, 2017

Just what constitutes HPC and how best to support it is a keen topic currently. Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Technique Propels Deep Learning at Scale

February 21, 2017

Researchers from Baidu’s Silicon Valley AI Lab (SVAIL) have adapted a well-known HPC communication technique to boost the speed and scale of their neural network training and now they are sharing their implementation with the larger deep learning community. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IDC: Will the Real Exascale Race Please Stand Up?

February 21, 2017

So the exascale race is on. And lots of organizations are in the pack. Government announcements from the US, China, India, Japan, and the EU indicate that they are working hard to make it happen – some sooner, some later. Read more…

By Bob Sorensen, IDC

ExxonMobil, NCSA, Cray Scale Reservoir Simulation to 700,000+ Processors

February 17, 2017

In a scaling breakthrough for oil and gas discovery, ExxonMobil geoscientists report they have harnessed the power of 717,000 processors – the equivalent of 22,000 32-processor computers – to run complex oil and gas reservoir simulation models. Read more…

By Doug Black

Advancing Modular Supercomputing with DEEP and DEEP-ER Architectures

February 24, 2017

Knowing that the jump to exascale will require novel architectural approaches capable of delivering dramatic efficiency and performance gains, researchers around the world are hard at work on next-generation HPC systems. Read more…

By Sean Thielen

HPC Technique Propels Deep Learning at Scale

February 21, 2017

Researchers from Baidu’s Silicon Valley AI Lab (SVAIL) have adapted a well-known HPC communication technique to boost the speed and scale of their neural network training and now they are sharing their implementation with the larger deep learning community. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IDC: Will the Real Exascale Race Please Stand Up?

February 21, 2017

So the exascale race is on. And lots of organizations are in the pack. Government announcements from the US, China, India, Japan, and the EU indicate that they are working hard to make it happen – some sooner, some later. Read more…

By Bob Sorensen, IDC

TSUBAME3.0 Points to Future HPE Pascal-NVLink-OPA Server

February 17, 2017

Since our initial coverage of the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer yesterday, more details have come to light on this innovative project. Of particular interest is a new board design for NVLink-equipped Pascal P100 GPUs that will create another entrant to the space currently occupied by Nvidia's DGX-1 system, IBM's "Minsky" platform and the Supermicro SuperServer (1028GQ-TXR). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tokyo Tech’s TSUBAME3.0 Will Be First HPE-SGI Super

February 16, 2017

In a press event Friday afternoon local time in Japan, Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) announced its plans for the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer, which will be Japan’s “fastest AI supercomputer,” Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Drug Developers Use Google Cloud HPC in the Fight Against ALS

February 16, 2017

Within the haystack of a lethal disease such as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis / Lou Gehrig’s Disease) there exists, somewhere, the needle that will pierce this therapy-resistant affliction. Read more…

By Doug Black

Azure Edges AWS in Linpack Benchmark Study

February 15, 2017

The “when will clouds be ready for HPC” question has ebbed and flowed for years. Read more…

By John Russell

Is Liquid Cooling Ready to Go Mainstream?

February 13, 2017

Lost in the frenzy of SC16 was a substantial rise in the number of vendors showing server oriented liquid cooling technologies. Three decades ago liquid cooling was pretty much the exclusive realm of the Cray-2 and IBM mainframe class products. That’s changing. We are now seeing an emergence of x86 class server products with exotic plumbing technology ranging from Direct-to-Chip to servers and storage completely immersed in a dielectric fluid. Read more…

By Steve Campbell

For IBM/OpenPOWER: Success in 2017 = (Volume) Sales

January 11, 2017

To a large degree IBM and the OpenPOWER Foundation have done what they said they would – assembling a substantial and growing ecosystem and bringing Power-based products to market, all in about three years. Read more…

By John Russell

US, China Vie for Supercomputing Supremacy

November 14, 2016

The 48th edition of the TOP500 list is fresh off the presses and while there is no new number one system, as previously teased by China, there are a number of notable entrants from the US and around the world and significant trends to report on. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Lighting up Aurora: Behind the Scenes at the Creation of the DOE’s Upcoming 200 Petaflops Supercomputer

December 1, 2016

In April 2015, U.S. Department of Energy Undersecretary Franklin Orr announced that Intel would be the prime contractor for Aurora: Read more…

By Jan Rowell

D-Wave SC16 Update: What’s Bo Ewald Saying These Days

November 18, 2016

Tucked in a back section of the SC16 exhibit hall, quantum computing pioneer D-Wave has been talking up its new 2000-qubit processor announced in September. Forget for a moment the criticism sometimes aimed at D-Wave. This small Canadian company has sold several machines including, for example, ones to Lockheed and NASA, and has worked with Google on mapping machine learning problems to quantum computing. In July Los Alamos National Laboratory took possession of a 1000-quibit D-Wave 2X system that LANL ordered a year ago around the time of SC15. Read more…

By John Russell

Enlisting Deep Learning in the War on Cancer

December 7, 2016

Sometime in Q2 2017 the first ‘results’ of the Joint Design of Advanced Computing Solutions for Cancer (JDACS4C) will become publicly available according to Rick Stevens. He leads one of three JDACS4C pilot projects pressing deep learning (DL) into service in the War on Cancer. Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Wants to be “Red Hat” of Deep Learning

January 26, 2017

IBM today announced the addition of TensorFlow and Chainer deep learning frameworks to its PowerAI suite of deep learning tools, which already includes popular offerings such as Caffe, Theano, and Torch. Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Startup Advances Auto-Parallelization’s Promise

January 23, 2017

The shift from single core to multicore hardware has made finding parallelism in codes more important than ever, but that hasn’t made the task of parallel programming any easier. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tokyo Tech’s TSUBAME3.0 Will Be First HPE-SGI Super

February 16, 2017

In a press event Friday afternoon local time in Japan, Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) announced its plans for the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer, which will be Japan’s “fastest AI supercomputer,” Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

CPU Benchmarking: Haswell Versus POWER8

June 2, 2015

With OpenPOWER activity ramping up and IBM’s prominent role in the upcoming DOE machines Summit and Sierra, it’s a good time to look at how the IBM POWER CPU stacks up against the x86 Xeon Haswell CPU from Intel. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Sees Bright Future for AI Supercomputing

November 23, 2016

Graphics chipmaker Nvidia made a strong showing at SC16 in Salt Lake City last week. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

BioTeam’s Berman Charts 2017 HPC Trends in Life Sciences

January 4, 2017

Twenty years ago high performance computing was nearly absent from life sciences. Today it’s used throughout life sciences and biomedical research. Genomics and the data deluge from modern lab instruments are the main drivers, but so is the longer-term desire to perform predictive simulation in support of Precision Medicine (PM). There’s even a specialized life sciences supercomputer, ‘Anton’ from D.E. Shaw Research, and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is standing up its second Anton 2 and actively soliciting project proposals. There’s a lot going on. Read more…

By John Russell

TSUBAME3.0 Points to Future HPE Pascal-NVLink-OPA Server

February 17, 2017

Since our initial coverage of the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer yesterday, more details have come to light on this innovative project. Of particular interest is a new board design for NVLink-equipped Pascal P100 GPUs that will create another entrant to the space currently occupied by Nvidia's DGX-1 system, IBM's "Minsky" platform and the Supermicro SuperServer (1028GQ-TXR). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IDG to Be Bought by Chinese Investors; IDC to Spin Out HPC Group

January 19, 2017

US-based publishing and investment firm International Data Group, Inc. (IDG) will be acquired by a pair of Chinese investors, China Oceanwide Holdings Group Co., Ltd. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Dell Knights Landing Machine Sets New STAC Records

November 2, 2016

The Securities Technology Analysis Center, commonly known as STAC, has released a new report characterizing the performance of the Knight Landing-based Dell PowerEdge C6320p server on the STAC-A2 benchmarking suite, widely used by the financial services industry to test and evaluate computing platforms. The Dell machine has set new records for both the baseline Greeks benchmark and the large Greeks benchmark. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Is Liquid Cooling Ready to Go Mainstream?

February 13, 2017

Lost in the frenzy of SC16 was a substantial rise in the number of vendors showing server oriented liquid cooling technologies. Three decades ago liquid cooling was pretty much the exclusive realm of the Cray-2 and IBM mainframe class products. That’s changing. We are now seeing an emergence of x86 class server products with exotic plumbing technology ranging from Direct-to-Chip to servers and storage completely immersed in a dielectric fluid. Read more…

By Steve Campbell

What Knights Landing Is Not

June 18, 2016

As we get ready to launch the newest member of the Intel Xeon Phi family, code named Knights Landing, it is natural that there be some questions and potentially some confusion. Read more…

By James Reinders, Intel

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This