By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Why aren’t more women in tech? That was the main topic for discussion yesterday on BBC’s Business Matters. I shared my report from Google’s I/O conference, where almost one in four attendees were women. The Women Techmakers team managed to increase female attendance from 8% in 2013 to 23% this year. How did they do it and what can other companies learn from their strategy?
Listen to the podcast at the BBC World Service (Women discussion starts at 26:40) or use the clip below:
Here’s a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
BBC Host, Roger Hearing: Have you thought how many women there are in the new high tech industries? Not enough is the general verdict. Have a quick listen to this:
Google CEO, Sundar Pichai: Welcome to Google I/O and welcome to Shoreline. It feels really nice and different up here. We’ve been doing it for many many years in Moscone and in fact we’ve been doing I/O for 10 years, but I feel we’re at a pivotal moment in terms of where we’re going as a company…. There are over 7,000 of you joining in person today.
BBC Host, Roger Hearing: That was the boss of Google, Sundar Pichai, opening a recent conference held near the tech giant’s headquarters in Mountain View, Silicon Valley. Alison, you were at that conference. Tell us more about it….
Alison van Diggelen: Google I/O is the annual Google developers’ conference. I/O stands for Input/Output and Innovation in the Open. It attracts thousands of developers from around the world who use Google’s open platforms, such as Android and Chrome, to build apps for your smartphone, smartwatch, or computer.
Google has been battling to increase the number of women in its tech teams, and I was pleased to see a decent number of women making presentations on the keynote stage. The company managed to triple the number of women attending the conference by partnering with other tech organizations like the Anita Borg Institute, Women Who Code and Hackbright academy.
At the conference, I spoke to Natalie Villalobos. She’s Google’s Head of Global Programs for “Women Techmakers.” I began by asking her WHY Google is seeking more women in tech…
Natalie Villalobos: We need everyone to contribute to make the most innovative technology. The more diverse voices we have, contributing, participating, and building the technology, the better technology we’re going to have…We always need more diverse voices at the table: for women, people of color, veterans, people with disabilities because the people building the tech should be as diverse as the people that the technology serves.
Alison van Diggelen: You went from 8% female attendance in 2013 to 23% this year, almost a quarter today. How did you do that?
Natalie Villalobos: ‘What could only Google do?‘ is a big rallying cry of my work and it was partnering with community organizations, locally, nationally and internationally to bring women to the conference, by providing travel grants, access to tickets and so we wanted to create these lasting partnerships…And one of the things we worked really hard at is how can we really engage women across the spectrum? We welcome all types of women: whether you identify as non-gender binary, women of color, Latinas…Also geographic diversity: We have women from South Africa, Taiwan, Tunisia, China…a lot are coming here to the U.S. for the first time for Google I/O.
Alison van Diggelen: What makes you special, is it just deep pockets? (Google has earmarked $150M this year for its diversity programs)
Natalie Villalobos: We’re really looking at how we can engage and meet developers, designers and entrepreneurs wherever they are. Diversity and inclusion in the tech industry is not just in the United States. There are people all over the world who want to be here in this industry who can’t move to Silicon Valley. How can we meet them where they are and share our new platforms, our technologies?
People who can’t come to Mountain View can join a local extendedI/O event – I believe we have over 400. Our biggest this year is in Sri Lanka with over 2000 attendees. It’s about reshaping the industry and supporting people where they are.
Roger Hearing: Alison, we’ve heard this a lot before…there aren’t enough women involved in the high tech industry. But it doesn’t seem to get any better.
Alison van Diggelen: It seems to be moving in the right direction but it’s very slow going. I actually had the chance to speak with Sundar Pichai and he said that this is a long long road. He’s talking about 10 years, 15 years before they can get close to equality. It’s a pipeline issue, it’s a role model issue. There are inherent biases in companies that make it more difficult for women to get into tech companies and thrive in tech companies. He did point out an encouraging fact that at Stanford University in Silicon Valley, the most popular major is no longer Biology but Computer Science. So anecdotal evidence like that says that perhaps we’re reaching a critical mass, perhaps a turning point, where women can feel at home in that geeky, computer science world.
Roger Hearing: Let me posit that maybe that’s because it’s Stanford…it’s California. Simon, let me come to you (in Singapore) In the high tech world where you are….where some of the most cutting edge stuff is going on. Are there many women involved?
Simon Long, The Economist: I’m struck when I visit multinationals (in Singapore) like Google and local startups how dominated they are by the young…and men. Alison put her finger on one of the main problems: who’s studying what at university? Who has the right skills? There are these ingrained prejudices…people recruit people like themselves.
Alison van Diggelen: The pipeline issue is not the whole excuse. I did speak with Ellie Powers, a product manager at Google and she was on the keynote stage. It’s a lazy excuse, she says, “if you’re looking for gold, it’s rarer, you have to look a bit harder” and you have to figure out how find and connect with people outside your network. She put a challenge out there to Google and beyond for any company looking for women, in order to make a better team.
Roger Hearing: Perhaps the women are not there, they don’t want to do it? Is it a cultural bias?
Alison van Diggelen: I think there is a bias…there’s the stereotype of the geeky coder, but I think that’s changing. After being at that conference for an entire day, and seeing that one in four of the attendees were women. It was different from other tech conferences I’ve been at where if feels more like 10%.
Unconscious bias training will help. I think role models like Ellie Powers, up there on stage, wearing a dress, talking tech, being geeky…that will help get more young women to say, maybe coding is for me, maybe computer science is for me?
Roger Hearing: Simon, does it matter what the gender balance is?
Simon Long: I think it probably does…if everyone had equal access to do what they’re good at, the world would be a better place. As Alison says, if the problem is not just a pipeline one… If there are biases inhibiting women from doing as well as they might, then we’re all losing out.
Roger Hearing: If women were involved in designing the Apple Mac, would it be different, better?
Alison van Diggelen: Natalie’s point is relevant here: if your end product is for the world – 50% of which is women – you have to include women in the process. By attracting a more diverse employees base, you’ll get a better workforce. I talked with Steven Levy, a well-known tech author and he said, the days when a credible company can have an all-male conference or panel are just “way over” – it’s about sending a message to all people that they’re welcome. It’s about getting a better workforce and building better products. That’s the bottom line.
Read more about women in tech in Fresh Dialogues Inspiring Women Series
And find out more about The Anita Borg Institute
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
This week, artificial intelligence (AI) reached a significant milestone. For the first time, Google’s DeepMind unit beat the legendary champion of Go, a highly complex board game. Machines are now being built with self-learning mechanisms that simulate the neural network of the human brain. What does this mean for the future of AI and its ability to replace humans in the workplace? The future just got closer.
Sebastian Thrun is well known for being a pioneer in artificial intelligence and autonomous cars, but is now laser focused on making sure online education bridges the skills gap, via his company, Udacity. Here’s what he said recently about AI:
“Udacity is my response to the development of AI. The mission I have to educate everybody is really an attempt to delay what AI will eventually do to us, because I honestly believe people should have a chance.” Sebastian Thrun*
I sat down with Thrun at the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley to explore his grand vision and audacious promises. Last year, Udacity raised $105 million in venture funding, based on a valuation of $1 billion. Is this another overpriced Silicon Valley unicorn or is the value justified?
First, a little back story: In 2012, Thrun was astounded at the massive number of people signing up for his Stanford AI course online course: 160,000 in all, mostly from outside the United States. He quickly realized that online education has the potential to make learning affordable and reach millions globally.
“Nothing has more potential to unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest problems,” wrote Tom Friedman in 2013. But of course, his and Thrun’s rosy predictions couldn’t happen overnight. The online learning business had some serious teething problems with high drop out rates, and dismal failure rates. But today, the future of online education is looking brighter.
There are now countless online education companies globally. The big three are: Coursera (a Stanford startup) which now boasts 15 million students; EdX (affiliated with MIT and Harvard) with over 5 million users; and Udacity, 4 million.
Since Udacity’s high profile failure at San Jose State, the company has refocused its online courses and recently partnered with Google, AT&T and Amazon to design “nanodegrees” tailored to the needs of tech companies. Thrun is so bullish about the market value of these 4-12 month nanodegrees, which offer project based learning, that he’s offering a money-back job guarantee.
“For certain Nanodegree programs we’re offering all your tuition back unless we or you find yourself a job within the first 6 months of graduation. For the student, the education is basically free. … These are jobs that pay $80,000 or more, maybe $120,000 in Silicon Valley. With the first month’s salary they can recoup all tuition or we just pay them tuition back…“ Sebastian Thrun, CEO Udacity
Here are more highlights from my conversation with Sebastian Thrun:
On Redefining Education
I think education has to shrink: We have to stop thinking of education as a four or six year investment you can only afford once in your life. We have think of education as a lifelong thing, to shrink the size of our degrees and make education a daily habit, the same way we brush our teeth every day. We have to redefine what education really means.
On Access to Education
Elite colleges like Stanford are extremely inaccessible. They’re failing in their mission to provide access. The Udacity recipe is exactly the opposite – we want to reach everyone and have no admission hurdle. We want to be able to educate people. We do this today in Ghana, in Sub Saharan Africa, in Bangladesh, in China, around the world. If we do this, we can have a substantial impact on the world’s GDP because so much talent is under utilized because of lack of education. If we give people in Syria the same chances as kids in America have, it’s going to be spectacular.
On Persuading Skeptics
The question is still open how much a nanodegree will become gold standard…this takes time. But some companies earmark jobs specifically for us, give us preferential treatment. Google even invites the top nanodegree finishers on campus in Mountain View to meet their recruiters, which they don’t do with other universities….
And others are still skeptical. People are hired on conventional credentials and many of our students are career shifters. They don’t have the 20 years of history that a seasoned person has.
Meet Kelly Marchisio
Last year, Marchisio got a promoted from customer service to “web solutions” engineering at Google after completing Udacity’s nanodegree. She said of her 6-month intensive program: “It’s industry relevant, fun…maybe I’m just a nerd but I really enjoy spending my weekends working through programming materials.”
Marchisio adds, “I’d guess there are more women in a Udacity program than there would be in an academic course…an online environment feels more safe…less social pressure. You can try things on your own, make mistakes and not feel embarrassed about it.”
On Udacity’s China Expansion
China has 20 million college students. It’s huge. It has a thriving new middle class and can’t keep up with brick and mortar university buildup to meet the demands of these people.
I want to go there and tell them look: You can become a Silicon Valley trained Android iOS engineer, a data scientist, a cyber security engineer, even a self driving car engineer for almost no money in about half a year.
Note: Udacity currently has an office in China and plans to roll out its learning platform, by replicating Google tools and building its own server farm in the second quarter of 2016.
On his Moonshot, 50 Year Vision
Conventional degrees will be gone. We’ll abandon the idea of education first, and then work.
I see people starting work straight out of high school and bringing experiences, deficiencies, desires back into education. We’ll have a life where education and work is on all the time. The old fashioned – you get born, ed, work, retire and die is obsolete. We have to do all these things at the same time, with the exception of death of course!
We have to learn to play, to get educated. We have think of life as a process, not as an accomplishment, but have a growth mindset for our lives. That will be the case because 50 years from now, things will be moving so insanely fast that to stay current, a college education will expire faster than its course.
In conclusion, it looks like Udacity has found a sustainable business model by focusing on the IT job market. The company currently has about 11,000 students enrolled in its nanodegree programs, each paying approximately $200/month, producing an estimated annual revenue of over $26 million. If Thrun can continue to drive rapid growth, compete effectively against the growing competition and replicate the company’s current success as it expands in China, then perhaps that $1 billion valuation doesn’t look quite so make-believe.
*Interesting to note that although Thrun offers online education as a way to “delay” the massive job losses that AI will eventually produce, Udacity’s top listed nanodegree is…you guessed it: machine learning. Otherwise known as AI.
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
In announcing a massive, unprecedented investment in solar power by a private company, Apple’s Tim Cook said yesterday in San Francisco,
“We know in Apple that climate change is real. The time for talk is passed…The time for action is now.”
Here are three reasons the $850 M solar deal with First Solar makes sense:
1. Money saving: Apple signed a 25 year purchase power agreement which will guarantee the tech company a fixed price for solar power, under the market price for energy in California. Solar prices have declined dramatically in the last 40 years (today’s panels are 100 times cheaper than in 1977) and Apple has timed its agreement to profit from this trend.
“We expect to have a very significant savings because we have a fixed price for the renewable energy, and there’s quite a difference between that price and the price of brown energy,” Cook said.
2. Green Halo Effect: Not only will Apple benefit from a “greener than thou” reputation from their existing fans, but will inevitably attract more environmentally conscious consumers, especially Millennials who care deeply how their tech gadgets and the cloud’s data centers are powered. This will help in its battle with arch rival Samsung which it ridiculed last year in a hard hitting ad campaign.
In addition, in the race to attract and retain the top tech talent in Silicon Valley, Apple’s “green reputation” will be powerful.
The stock market liked this green halo effect and sent shares up almost 2% to history making market cap of over $720B.
“Other Fortune 500 CEOs would be well served to make a study of Tim Cook,” Greenpeace said in a statement.
3. Pioneer for Climate Change: Last year, Tim Cook famously told climate skeptics at an Apple shareholder meeting to “get out of Apple stock” if they don’t like his clean energy strategy. His visible passion on the issue revealed how strongly he feels about climate change and his commitment to reduce Apple’s carbon footprint.
“I want leave the world better than we found it,” said Tim Cook.
Under Cook’s leadership, Apple has forged ahead strongly with plans to get 100% of its energy from renewable sources. A massive data center in North Carolina is powered by huge solar farms and Bloom Energy’s fuel cells. I anticipate that Silicon Valley’s Bloom Energy will also be part of Apple’s new clean power strategy in California (check back soon for updates).
Apple’s trend-setting, clean energy market making reputation is already impacting other tech companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon, although Google gets the greenest star for its early action and massive investment in clean energy of over $1.5B.
Read more about Apple’s Green Halo and its battle with Samsung (BBC conversation)
How a clever Greenpeace campaign helped green Apple’s iCloud (KQED report)
More clean energy and cleantech stories
This week I was invited to be a guest on the BBC’s Business Matters with host Jon Bithrey and The Wall Street Journal’s Alex Frangos. We had a lively conversation about Silicon Valley’s hot stories: The unveiling of Google’s driverless car and Apple’s purchase of Dr. Dre’s Beats Electronics for $3B.
Beyond the obvious detail that Google’s new car is all-electric (which Katie Fehrenbacher points out is important), we explored why driverless cars may one day contribute to a cleaner and more efficient transport sector. Find out how below…
Here’s a transcript of our conversation. It’s been edited for length and clarity. Listen from 18:27 at the BBC World Service.
Bithrey: Google is to start building its own fleet of self driving cars…Let’s bring in our guests, Alison van Diggelen in San Francisco and Alex Frangos in Hong Kong. Alison… have you seen any in your neighborhood…Google trying out their self driving cars?
van Diggelen: I’ve seen many on Highway 85 between Mountain View and San Jose. You see them a lot, but I haven’t seen this particular one. What is unique about this is that it only goes 25 mph and it’s built from the ground up…they’re going to be building about 100 of them and we’ll probably see them in and around Google, they’re going to use it between buildings on their campus. That is the plan.
But what’s exciting about it from my point of view – I cover cleantech – and the beauty of self driving cars is that it can be a more efficient way to transport us. Self driving cars can allow “platooning” so cars can convoy really close together, you can get more cars on the road and it can include car sharing. And here’s an interesting example: in the future, you may be able to rent a car, and you may not want do the autonomous self drive car, but you just call it up on your app and it can deliver itself to your door. And that to me is an interesting, futuristic view of what they one day may be able to do.
Bithrey: (laughter) It is indeed. There are critics who say that… they could make traffic worse, and urban sprawl worse because people won’t have to drive any more. It will tire them out less if they’re not having to drive themselves, and so they may be happy to make longer journeys in these and thus be more polluting.
van Diggelen: Yes, that’s a possibility, however, the interesting thing with this car is that it is an electric car, so again that’s a greener alternative to your internal combustion engine. Another advantage of autonomous cars…is that you can have parking lots where you take your car to the edge of the parking lot and say, “Go Park Yourself.” It will have sensors on the car and in parking spaces, so those cars will be able to pack themselves in much more efficiently, so a more efficient use of available space. I take your point about longer commutes, but there are greener aspects to it too.
Bithrey: Alex Frangos in Hong Kong, is this the type of thing you’d like to try out? Would you trust a driverless car?
Frangos: I’d trust it probably as much as I’d trust all the other crazies who are on the road with me. Saying it’s unsafe is only in comparison to how unsafe it already is on the road, given how terrible drivers can be in various countries of the world. The thing that is, not troubling, but would take the enjoyment out of driving and misses the point, especially in the US of why people drive: the freedom and control it gives people. Or at least a sense of freedom and control to go where they want and do what they want… make a spontaneous turn or what not.
Bithrey: It’s just a more advanced version of cruise control isn’t it?
Frangos: No, I think it’s much more than that because you’re giving up control to the computer. So it could be a great improvement in life, but it would change what driving means, especially to Americans.
Bithrey: Yes, it might be slightly strange just having a stop/go button and not having all the other things we’re used to inside a car. OK, we’ll be back with you both on Business Matters on the BBC World Service….
Want to hear the entire show at the BBC? Listen here
Other topics we cover:
On collaboration: a group of four authors have collaborated on a single novel called “Keeping Mum.” We ask them how it’s possible to keep such a large group focused on a single plot. @26:40
On Maya Angelou: “This will resonate not just for novelists but for business people too. ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’ (Maya Angelou)” @39:05
On Apple’s acquisition of Dr Dre’s Beats Electronics. Will it make Apple cooler? @45:56
Find out more about BBC conversations
In April, we discussed Apple’s green strategy (renewable energy supply, recycling iPods etc) on BBC Business Matters
Listen to my other appearances on BBC Business Matters re. how Fresh Dialogues began; the Dalai Lama in Silicon Valley; Scottish independence and much more.
It’s been a stellar year at Fresh Dialogues. Here are our top ten green interviews: from Tesla’s Elon Musk to Google’s Rick Needham. Most are exclusive Fresh Dialogues interviews, but some were special assignments for NPR’s KQED, The Computer History Museum, The Commonwealth Club and The Churchill Club (2013).
1. Elon Musk on burning oil, climate change and electric vehicles
“It’s the world’s dumbest experiment. We’re playing Russian roulette and as each year goes by we’re loading more rounds in the chamber. It’s not wise… We know we have to get to a sustainable means of transportation, no matter what.” Tesla CEO, Elon Musk. Read more/ see video
2. Mayor Chuck Reed on leveraging private funding for San Jose’s Green Agenda
“I said from the beginning that the key to being able to succeed with our green vision was to work with other people’s money.” San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed. Read more/ listen.
3. Carly Fiorina on fighting climate change
“The most effective thing the US should do is start substantive discussions with China on what they can do.” Carly Fiorina. Read more or listen here.
4. Jennifer Granholm on Obama and energy policy
“He should create a clean energy jobs race to the top.” Former Michigan Gov., Jennifer Granholm. Read more/ see video
5. Peter Rumsey on Net Zero Buildings and kids
“They’re going to say, ‘Wow, that’s one of the things we can do to solve this whole big climate change problem.” San Francisco Exploratorium Green Designer, Peter Rumsey. Read more/ see video
6. Gavin Newsom on why a carbon tax makes sense
“I want to see a standard that could bring this country back to international prominence in terms of leaning in to a low carbon green growth strategy, so that we can dramatically change the way we produce and consume energy and lead the world.” Gavin Newsom, Lt. Governor of California. Read more/ see video
7. Steven Chu on climate change deniers
“I’d put them in the same category as people who said, in the 60′s and 70′s, that you haven’t proved to me that smoking causes cancer. This is a real issue. We have to do something about it!” Former Energy Secretary, Steven Chu. Read more/see video
8. GM’s Pam Fletcher on electric vehicle adoption
“We need a lot of customers excited about great products. I want to keep people focused on all the good things that moving to electrified transportation can do for customers and for the country.” GM’s Chief of Electrified Vehicles, Pam Fletcher. Read more/ see video
9. Laurie Yoler on why Tesla is succeeding, despite the odds
“You know you’re on to something good when everyone you talk to is a naysayer. It takes a huge amount of courage and tenacity to continue going forth.” Qualcomm executive and founding board member of Tesla Motors, Laurie Yoler. Read more/see video at 11:20
10. Rick Needham on self driving cars, car sharing and Google’s electric car fleet
“It’s not just the car that’s underutilized; it’s the infrastructure, the roads…There’s an enormous opportunity…on the environmental side, on the human safety side, on utilization of infrastructure side.” Google’s Rick Needham. Read more/see video