Why Diversity Matters More in Programming



Jun Wu tells us 10 ways how diversity helps us work better as programmers and developers.

When you work in technology today, you’re bound to encounter programmers from immigrant backgrounds. Some of these technologists are on H-1 Visas and came from elite universities in other countries. Others are first-generation Americans or naturalized American citizens working in technology. Technology is probably a more “colorful” profession than others.

To give you an idea, in the enterprise technology team I worked in, we had people from India, China, Korea, France, Germany, the Soviet Union, Turkey, Spain, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

Today, these teams are even more “colorful.” There are teams of remote developers from all parts of the world.

Diversity is no longer just fulfilling the “diversity” quota.

Now, diversity is an urgent issue. It’s an urgent issue because, with technological advancements, innovation is happening at lightning speeds. Companies are required to innovate in order to stay ahead of the competition.

Diversity is breeding innovation. In turn, innovation is demanding more diversity.

Now, diversity means real acceptance of people from different cultural, gender, and racial backgrounds.

This real acceptance is helping programmers become more innovative. It’s helping teams become more human-focused. It’s also helping technologies become more human-centric and intelligent, and it’s helping companies become more innovative.

Here’s a look at 10 ways diversity is helping us thrive in the age of innovation.

1. Diversity Opens Our Minds

programmers and developersToday, the landscape of our workplaces in technology is changing. This changing landscape is partially due to the need for open-mindedness in technology.

With the advancement of technology — data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence — there’s a strong need for specializations in these areas. When there are more specialists on software teams, there are more specialized opinions and different ways of looking at problems.

In any highly intellectual pursuit, we programmers can have tunnel vision. We’re focused on our ideas. We have a single-mindedness about following those ideas down the line to see them implemented.

Diversity allows us to step outside of our own boxes of ideas. With specialists coming from different cultural backgrounds, we begin to normalize diversity every day. When we accept their different cultural backgrounds with small gestures, such as sharing food customs at team lunches and bantering about life in their home countries, we’re practicing acceptance.

In meetings, when their ideas are drastically different from ours, we’re not surprised. Instead, we learn to see their ideas from their point of view, and we learn to accept their ideas. We learn to step into their frame of mindset from their area of specialty and listen to what they have to say.

2. Diversity Increases Our Empathy

With the proliferation of AI-enabled technology, empathy is an issue at the heart of our projects. As programmers, software engineers, developers, and technologists, we’re interacting with technology that has the potential to change us. As technology unleashes our higher consciousness, we have to put more “human-ness” into technology.

This is when empathy and emotional intelligence are called for. We can’t implement these if we don’t know what they are and don’t practice these skills from day to day.

With diversity, we’re forced to practice empathy and emotional intelligence every day. When we’re in an environment of dissenting opinions and ideas, managers tend to explain their decisions with logic and evidence, and teammates tend to back up their arguments with theories, research, and logic.

When we argue, we’re practicing empathy and emotional intelligence to come to terms with our own ideas as well as seeing the logic in others’ ideas. We’re practicing using our empathy and emotional intelligence to bridge the gaps of ideas to innovate in our projects.

With each disagreement resolved, we’re strengthening our commitment to the team as well as our commitment to the project.

3. Diversity Eases Our Fears

programmers and developersProgramming is difficult in times of change. As programmers, we’re often curious about the unknown. But, we’re also afraid of the unknown. We’re sensitive creatures. When we have imposter syndrome, it’s partially because we’re afraid of learning new things or we’re afraid that we can’t perform up to expectations.

All of this points to a need to deal with our fears.

Diversity puts “differences” in our faces so that we learn to deal with our fears every day. Through childhood, we were told to “belong.” We learned to “belong” in a school environment. But, with diversity, we’re learning that “being different” is OK, too.

When we “assimilate” too much into our workplaces, we stifle much-needed creativity. We need creativity to be good programmers. When we deal with our “differences” and accept them, we instead embrace our fear of being different. We can then accept our own creativity and other people’s creativity without fear.

Dealing with diversity every day helps us alleviate our fears of being creative.

4. Diversity Fuels Our Creativity

One of the biggest perks of working as a programmer is that we’re paid to be creative. At times, we can lose sight of creativity when project deadlines require us to become “task completion” machines. But, ultimately, good programmers are imaginative people who don’t just write code. They write simple, clean code that’s both effective and stands the test of time.

Every day, diversity helps us open our minds. With open minds, we generate infinitely more creative ideas. I liken diversity to being the match that lights our creative fires in a workplace of conformity. It reminds us that “crazy” ideas can often be the “best” ideas. That “crazy” hire from a country I’ve never been to turns out to be the best programmer I’ve ever met.

5. Diversity Helps Us to Practice Respect

In the U.S., we’re raised in such comfort that we often don’t even appreciate it. We feel “entitled” to a good education, stable housing, and food on our tables. When we think of hunger, poverty, and disease, we don’t look around to see if our coworkers experienced these. We expect them to also be “entitled” to the materialistic norms that we’re accustomed to.

Diversity helps us to practice respect. When we encounter people from different backgrounds who experienced vastly different childhood than we did; when we encounter people who’ve experienced violence, discrimination, and hunger that we can’t even imagine, we learn to respect these people for their strength and grit.

Instead of looking down at the situations in their home countries, when they are our coworkers, we respect that they’ve pushed through hardship to arrive at the same place we did.

We also learn to be strong alongside of them. They help us persist to find a solution with grit. When we encounter difficult hurdles in our projects, we can lean on our mutual respect and strength to pull us through.

6. Diversity Helps Us Accept Ourselves

programmers and developersOne of the biggest issues that I hear from young programmers is, “I’m not sure I fit into the company culture or the team.” The truth is that even with video games and ping pong tables at our workplaces, we’re still different people.

Just like in a school, we may not fit perfectly into organizations. Hiding our differences when we’re not fitting in takes a lot of emotional energy. This energy is best spent on being open and honest.

Diversity allows us to celebrate our “uniqueness” in workplaces. When we celebrate this every day, we can come to terms with our own differences inside our own lives.

It’s not about “fitting in.” There’s no perfect fit. But, there are projects that we can contribute our skills to. There are teams that we can participate in with our knowledge and shared goals. There are companies that we can work for where we share the company’s vision and develop products that serve the customers.

7. Diversity Helps Us Make Better Decisions

As programmers, we often encounter problems stemming from business constraints. We have a limitation on resources in time, energy, and technology. We have to devise innovative ways to work around these constraints.

Diversity allows us to be receptive to other people’s ideas with empathy and emotional intelligence. When we’re receptive and have an open mind, then we can unleash our creativity. It’s this creativity that allows us to see problems from all angles and make exponentially better decision by weighing all the issues/factors involved.

8. Diversity Helps Us Practice Letting Go

Letting go is important for many projects.

We let go of the fact that we couldn’t optimize this part of the system because of the delay it could cause in our project timelines.

We let go of the fact that a needed feature is currently not possible because of budget issues.

We let go of the fact that our days only consist of 24 hours.

We let go of the fact that we have to sleep in order to recharge.

Diversity helps us practice the art of letting go. When we encounter people who have different daily rituals than us, at first, we may be tempted to look down on them. In time, we learn to let go of the small things to embrace their ability to shine on projects.

I once worked with a trader who came to work in flip flops and a Hawaiian shirt every day. He had the messiest desk. He stuck out in our workplace. In our corporate environment, you’re tempted to dismiss this guy. But, he was actually the “star” that came up with many trading strategies that made the bank immense amounts of money. By accepting him, we all practiced letting go of our preconceptions of what our workplaces should be. We were better because he was part of our team.

9. Diversity Helps Us Take Risks

Good programmers are not only creative, but they’re also creatures of habit. Our habits and daily routines allows us to manage our intense lives as programmers.

At the same time, these habits and daily routines can prevent us from taking needed risks. When you’re comfortable working on a project, then it’s suddenly done. You feel happy but also a little sad and a bit anxious about what’s to come.

Today, we have to take risks in our workplaces. Risks allow us to step outside our creative boxes and into the “ocean” where many ideas live. When we work with people who are different from us every day, we learn that stepping outside of our “norm” isn’t such a scary process.

With a little help from people who are accustomed to taking risks (by living in a different country, or living in a different way), the journey of taking risks can also be safe and adventurous.

10. Diversity Helps Us Learn

All of the above points on diversity lead us to this single point: diversity helps us learn. As programmers, we’re learners. Diversity helps us to become master learners.

Learning requires us to be empathetic, to have an open mind, to be brave, to respect others, and to understand our limitations.

With technology advancing so quickly, we all have to level up our learning. With diversity in our workplaces, we’re learning about people, cultures, and viewpoints daily. All of that combines to make us not only comfortable with learning, but it also makes us seek to learn when encountering uncertainty.

This kind of curiosity leads to intrinsic motivation that allows us to learn every day.

If you don’t have diversity in your workplace, ask your managers to hire new programmers from different backgrounds. Learn about different cultures in your spare time by traveling to different countries, and integrate different countries’ cultures into your own life.

Inevitably, when our workplaces are more diverse and inclusive, we’ll all become more accepting, creative, and innovative.

Our relentless drive for innovation then trickles down to every project that we work on.

What are you waiting for?





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