Monday, August 29, 2011

Around 8% of computer programmers are black

Half Sigma writes:
As far as I know, no employer of computer programmers has ever been sued for discrimination, even though there are no black people working in programming. OK, that’s a lie, there was one black computer programmer. But he was not a typical black man, he was actually a black Hispanic; he was born somewhere in Central America and moved here when he was a young child.
He's obviously exaggerating to make a point, but having a very good friend who is a systems and network administrator, I've heard stories from a frustrated narrator about more than a handful of incompetent black programmers who this friend "knows" to be beneficiaries of affirmative action policies (though because he cannot specifically identify these policies, he refers to the process as one of "soft" affirmative action). So I was skeptical about the claim that there are virtually no blacks in the programming profession.

Using ISCO88 occupational classifications, the GSS reveals the following racial distribution among computer programmers (n = 144):

White -- 75.6%
Black -- 8.1%
Other -- 16.3% (most of whom are Chinese or Indian; breaking the numbers down by ancestry, 7.6% of all programmers are of Chinese descent and another 8.2% are of Indian descent, for a Chinese-Indian combined total of 15.8%. Tangentially, none are of Mexican ancestry.)

Seems like the threat of sex discrimination charges would be a greater worry for employers of programmers than complaints about racial discrimination would be, as 71.6% of GSS programmer respondents are men (and the GSS slightly over-samples women).

GSS variables used: RACE, ISCO88(2132), ETHNIC, SEX


13 comments:

Ed Tom Kowalsky said...

Would it be unfriendly to suggest that in the absence of so-called "affirmative" action, the percentage of black programmers would be cut approximately in half?

Son of Brock Landers said...

what is the racial % breakdown by private vs. public sector for programmers?

Audacious Epigone said...

Ed,

Don't strive to be tactful, strive to be truthful!

Son of BL,

The GSS doesn't provide that information.

Ed Tom Kowalsky said...

AE,

In most precincts today, even broaching the topic if affirmative action's insertion of irrationality into the hiring market is not merely tactless, it is grounds for punishment!

Anonymous said...

I know one black guy working in a startup, and he is good (real good). I have met a few other (2-3) in high-tech companies, although one is now in management, and they seemed good.

I suspect that the incompetent get weeded out of those companies that depend on their coders.

I think the numbers are lower than 8% in private industry. I would say no higher than about 3%.

Anonymous said...

I'd guess 70% are in the public sector, where blacks are disproportionately employed precisely because profits, losses, efficiency, and dead-weight are of little consequence.

Half Sigma said...

I guess that these black "programmers" are acting more like systems analysts than real coders.

b199er said...

Interesting figures. I presume these are in the US. A UK take on matters...

Black people are generally portrayed as being less into tech. (while Asians being more into tech.) with respect to the Average (i.e. White person). I think much of this is media portrayal, and in quite stark contrast to what is actually happening. - Unfortunately if you don't work in the industry, you won't know.

In my case I work for a top multi-national software company (we're about as house-hold name as you get). Within our offices, our team of 15 programmers, working on real cutting edge stuff consists of roughly:

2 British born Asians (1 Indian, 1 Pakistani)
3 British born Whites (3 English)
2 British born Blacks (2 Caribbean)
1 British born "Black" Mixed Race (Caribbean/English)
-----
3 Asian born Asian (1 Indian, 2 Chinese)
5 European born Whites (2 Eastern European, 2 Southern European, 1 North European)

The line '-----' dividing British born and foreign born is probably more important than the racial line. Certain countries are known for producing bulk-load 'grunt' work programmers e.g. India. While home-grown talent (which at the top level means back-bedroom programmers - you can't just pitch up at university, do a 3 year course and become a super-fluent elite programmer overnight) is more evenly spread across the population.

Interestingly among the (8) British born programmers at our company. 37.5% are White, 25% are South Asian, and 37.5% are Black. While the UK ethnic breakdown is somewhere around: 86% White, 7.5% Black, 3.3% Black. Even taking into account the 2.2% Mixed Race population. It's clear that in this case Blacks are over-represented, and in turn Asians.

Of course this is just one case, and many of the other teams can be completely non-black, and in some cases very Indian.

So I would be tempted to say that it's a case that, for Asians they're featured in the tech industry in large numbers, but average a lower skill (which is incidentally why outsourcing to India is a good idea for the less complex projects). While Blacks are featured in the tech industry in smaller numbers, but average a higher skill (many ascend to senior roles and/or management, and tend to work on the more complex, ground breaking projects).

For the US, I think the figures are not surprising. While for Black people as a group, a lot are not doing to well. There is still a substantial minority of Blacks that are incredibly talented, as talented as the next person (be they White, Asian or Latino).

Main problem with most Black people (at least in the UK), is that they don't believe they can achieve much, so never bother trying. - This is becoming less the case as more and more African immigrants travel here whom have a similar mindset to Asian immigrants to succeed.

Anonymous said...

I 've been a programmer/software developer for over 10 years and I guess my heritage makes me "black" in America.

I work with people with and without degrees. I'm a graduate of a top 25 program but yet i often find myself having to 'prove' myself over colleageues that don't have a degree or have much less experience.


The fact of the matter is our field is not used to diversity so unfortunately there are a lot of jerks who get away with terrible prejudices.

People assume you got your job and work history because of "affirmative" action, or claim the "soft" variety even when such policies do not exist. (Pretty sad for those who espouse their quantitative reasoning skills).

That is essentially saying that blacks aren't smart enough to be present without special policies and is a very racist proposition.


I will add that my experience in computing stemmed from my immigrant father's purchase of a computer in the 80s. I think you'd see more black kids in computing if there was more exposure at a younger age.

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Anonymous said...

For @b199er:

You talk about skills.

How about start with the right count. You mentioned 15 members in your team, but listed out 16.

You associate talent with race and color of the skin, which is precisely what the author is arguing against.

Unknown said...

BLS data shows that Blacks are 4.1% of "Software developers, applications and systems software". See http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat11.pdf -- which means they are grossly under-represented in this discipline.

Blacks do constitute 8.1% of "computer programmers", according to the BLS, same source, but this is a lower skill occupation, and under the BLS definition includes people who test software.

See for definitions http://www.bls.gov/soc/soc_2010_definitions.pdf

Mike said...

I'm a black developer. No degree although I went to CWRU for EE and Columbia for Math/Econ for a combined 6 years. I've been coding since I was 8. I've been with 4 startups (2 exits, 1 big cluster and my current one), 1 small consulting firm, and 2 Fortune 500s. In 31 years I've worked with no black devs, I've interviewed no black devs and I've met no black devs. So I decided to find and actively train them. I'm tutoring my cousin, a 16 year old high school student. I've also started working with a friend on connecting inner city youth of all races and ethnicities who have a demonstrated interest in development with Cincinnati startups, accelerators and incubators. I have two points. First, in my experience there are very few black developers. Second, if people think that is a problem then those people must do something about it similar to the number of groups formed around addressing the gender gap in tech, e.g. Girl Develop It.