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Pet Sins July 2007 Issue
Achievements of people of color in the America's computing field

The Digital Divide is a global problem, with industrialized nations on one hand and the developing nations on the other. But even within an industrialized nation like the United States, inequities in access to technology exist:

For more than a decade, the so-called 'Digital Divide' between whites and Asians on one hand and blacks, Latinos and Natives on the other has caused concern for community leaders and members of the high tech world. This Digital Divide mirrors and exacerbates the academic/economic divide; it is yet one more factor in the troubling trend of inequality between people living in a country which has the resources to educate its entire population equitably.

In today's world, it has become increasingly necessary for people of all professions, not just people in computing fields, to be familiar with the use of the PC and the internet. Graphic designers, film editors and nurses are now using computers in the course of their work. Employers expect new hires to be tech savvy. Even for the self-employed, the internet opens the doors to marketing opportunities. For example, a minority author whose subject matter might not be considered suitable by publishers for 'mainstream' salability can self-publish and get her/his ideas a hearing through internet marketing. The internet could be the Great Equalizer, but as computer ownership in families of color still trails that in white families, community leaders and policy makers remain concerned that many young people of color are being left behind in the Digital Revolution.

By 2006, some believe that the Digital Divide is closing. Internet access in minority communities has increased dramatically since the 1990s as the rate of internet access nationwide increased. (Digital Divide Closing as Blacks Turn to Internet, New York Times, March 31, 2006) Is this the result of government policies, community efforts, or free market forces? Perhaps we will never be sure. But the question is, is the problem over?

Blacks, Native Americans and and Hispanics continue to be under-represented among high tech professionals. (Is There a U.S. Shortage of Scientists and Engineers? It Depends Where You Live, Population Reference Bureau, Aug 2006) Closing the Digital Divide can certainly help reverse this trend, but will 'equal' technology access (and we are not quite there yet) alone be enough to close education and income gaps? We believe this is not the time for complacency.

Michael Fields, former president of Oracle USA and arguably one of the most influential African Americans in the technology field, was of the opinion that 'the biggest obstacle facing most African Americans is not discrimination - but fear of science and math'. (A Rare Breed - High-Tech Mentor for Blacks, San Francisco Chronicle, May 4, 1998) Due in part to media messages about what it means to be 'cool' and 'hip' (too many of us know in person an intelligent youngster who deliberately under-performs in school to 'fit in' with his/her peers) and stereotypes about what kind of jobs people of specific ethnicities are best suited for, many intelligent young people of color still do not envision themselves as engineers and programmers.

But our role models already exist if we choose to see them. In this issue, we highlight the achievements of some individuals of color in technology fields. We also draw attention to a few organizations which work to increase the representation of minorities in the high tech fields.