In late 2006, the much younger and more naïve 21-year-old version of me graduated from the University of Melbourne. I was full of optimism, elated by hope that the career I was about to embark upon would bring me a deep personal satisfaction in life. Between 24 and 29 years of age, I took home on average about $250,000 per year. In 2016, at 31, I took home exactly zero dollars.
For a lot of people, seeing an annual payment summary like this with their own name on it would probably trigger a rush of adrenaline equivalent to skydiving from ten thousand feet. They’d probably be thinking: “Hey, I’ve done well for myself!”
I remember seeing this and feeling nothing. Not because I thought it wasn’t enough, or because I felt like I didn’t deserve it. I worked tirelessly and endlessly over those years. Fifteen-hour days were the norm. Six days a week was usual. No, it wasn’t any of that. It was because I felt like I had sold out my own personal beliefs. To understand this more, I need to tell you a bit more about me, where I came from and what I believe in.
Running a school system with 250,000 students and 10 campuses is a tall order, especially for an outsider to academia. But Janet Napolitano has proven she’s up to the task.
Napolitano, President of the University of California system, is a former lawyer, Attorney General of Arizona, and was a two-time Democratic Governor of Arizona from 2003 to 2009. She also served as the Secretary of Homeland Security under President Obama until 2013, the first woman ever to serve in that office.
I think we have an ideology about talent that says that talent is a tangible, resilient, hardened, shiny thing. It will always rise to the top. To find and encourage talent, all you have to do as a society, is to make sure the right doors are open. Free campus visits, free tuition, letters to the kids with high scores… You raise your hand and say, “Over here!” And the talent will come running, but that’s not true… [i]t’s not resilient and shiny… [t]alent is really, really fragile.
Earlier today Wall Street Journal posted a piece titled “Facebook Blames Lack of Available Talent for Diversity Problem”. Facebook has come to the conclusion that their diversity problem is due to there being too few underrepresented people who have the necessary tech skills to work for them. So instead of looking to find this talent, they are passing off the issue to the public education system.
I am a Black woman who will graduate with a computer science degree from Dartmouth College in less than a year. There are thousands of other Black and Latinx who graduate every year with computer science Bachelor degrees. Most of us don’t get hired into the tech industry. So instead of putting in the effort to look for us, Facebook is ignoring the fact that we even exist.
When I saw this article I had to fight back tears. I thought about all the work I’ve put into to get to where I am today and wondered will it even matter when I start my job search in a few months. According to most tech companies, if I can’t pass an algorithmic challenge or if I’m not a “culture fit” I don’t belong. I haven’t even started my first full-time job yet and I’m already so tired of feeling erased and mistreated by the tech industry. I’ve worked so hard to make myself visible over the last few years so it hurt me to see Facebook make such false statements. What more must students of color do to make it clear that we are qualified to be in this industry?
“Failure is punished, and success isn’t rewarded, so it’s not surprising that we don’t have people introducing changes.”
As part of the NewCo Shift Dialogs, I had a chance to interview Max Ventilla, founder and CEO of AltSchool. You can watch the video here, but because we had to cut it down for time, many fascinating portions of the conversation did not make it into the video. Below is the full transcript, with light editing for clarity.
Our Education System Was Built For The Industrial Era. AltSchool’s Platform Rethinks Learning From the Classroom Up.
For the second installment of the Shift Dialogs, I speak with Max Ventilla, founder and CEO of AltSchool. I’ve known Ventilla since his days as a founder of Aardvark, a unique search platform acquired by Google in 2010. Since that acquisition, Ventilla rose to head of personalization for Google, where he learned the power of individual services at scale.
But as a new parent in the hyper-competitive Bay area, Ventilla and his wife found themselves dismayed by the choices society offered their young children. Private schools offered smaller class sizes and lots of privilege, but the model was pretty much the same as public schools, which are increasingly starved of funding and legally obligated to pursue byzantine and outdated approaches to learning.
American schools have been failing students for decades now, and bolting technology on the side of a bad product isn’t going to fix the problem. Technology may not be a silver bullet, but intelligently applied, it can act as a force multiplier, particularly if it’s part of a complete reboot of how schools are run. San Francisco-based AltSchool is rethinking education from the ground up, and hoping its early learnings will eventually create a platform from which all schools can learn.
Max Ventilla, AltSchool’s CEO, says he founded the company “self-servingly.” His daughter will start at AltSchool in the fall and his son will join in a few years. “I wanted an education for them that got better and better, and that prepared them for the future,” he says. “And I wanted to be able to work with the amazing people that were my colleagues at places like Google, and build an amazing experience not just for my children but for all children,” Ventilla tells NewCo.