Open Letter to Apple From Apple Staff

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Open Letter to Apple From Apple Staff

I've interned at the Apple Special Projects Group for roughly 6 months now, through this process I have become increasingly disenchanted by the political environment within the company. In this open letter, I hope to air out some of these qualms and incite some level of change.

Political Landscape

Just like every other company I've worked at, I hoped that at Apple I would be able to bring my whole self to work, be able to freely express my point of view on issues and hope to be heard as respectfully as I hear others.

Unfortunately, the reality was far detached from this ideal viewpoint in my head. There was a significant emphasis on undergoing hidden bias and microagression training. I went through these trainings with an open mind and afterwards I wanted to express to my coworkers how I found them to be silly and mostly just classes on common sense.

This was met with terrible backlash, I was told that I was extremely privileged and my opinion was completely invalid because of it. I was told that just talking about my thoughts was making others uncomfortable which was absolutely appaling to me.

I go to school at Purdue University, which is an incredibly diverse school, it has a massive international student population and never have I experienced the level of aversion from discussion that I see at Apple.

Censorship and Fear

If there's something that James Damore's memo showed us, it is that there is a massive fear amongst like-minded conservatives with voicing our opinion or even just trying to have a conversation about our viewpoint. Despite numerous times in his memo acknowledging both sides of the argument and repeatedly stating that he's not fundamentally against the idea of encouraging and increasing minorities, he was still fired.

The fact is, when we make diversity a "with or without us" issue, it is incredibly hard to even begin to talk about it. This is not a black and white issue, anyone who wants to talk about the opposite side of diversity should not have a target painted on their back.

Diversity and Affirmative Action

It is no secret that Apple's intern program is one of the most competitive and well paying amongst the industry. As such, one would expect that with such a broad talent pool, Apple interns would be absolutely the best in their class.

Unfortunately, I have personally experienced this to not be the case: Apple covets its 50% under-represented new hire rate but this diversity doesn't come without a cost. In order to actually overcome my bias, I began noting down when a colleague demonstrated lack of knowledge on basic CS topics and especially when they made no effort to learn the topic.

While I won't post the raw statistics here because they are actually fairly disheartening, I would summarize it as follows. There is a significant correlation between whether a person was in an under-represented group and their lack of knowledge. While I admit there might be some causation-correlation fallacy going here (i.e new hires might be from more under-represented groups and new hires might be lacking in knowledge) this trend is far too alarming to ignore.

Alternatives to Affirmative Action

Fundamentally, I believe that change in the distribution of people at the final level, that is, careers needs to come from a grassroots level. By encouraging more minorities and women to join CS at the school level, there will be a larger selection of talented under-represented people to choose from.

With affirmative action, we only strive to stengthen the imposter syndrome that so many women and people of color already have. They have to second-guess themselves at every step, wondering if they are a diversity hire or actually earned their way through to their job.

Disparity in Distribution and its Causes

The distribution of the general population doesn't necessarily say anything about the qualities and interests of those people. A simple example is the over-representation of African Americans in basketball, just because the general population is 13% doesn't necessarily mean that 13% of NBA players will be black.

In a similar light, it is important to consider that this industry might be facing a similar situation. It could just be that the interests and goals of the general population align themselves to create the distributions we see in companies today. As numerous · scientific studies have shown, men and women do not necessarily have the same interests. Thus, it is very strange to assume that the distribution of men and women in companies will end up exactly the same as the general population.

I'd argue that there might be some level of systematic oppression going on because the numbers are way too off but it doesn't mean that every waking moment of our careers have to involve supporting and shrinking the gap.

The Abundance of Wealth in Tech

The tech industry is incredibly profitable to the point where its easy enough to lose sight of the fact that it is a business at the lowest level. While we can afford to splurge on diversity hiring and needless training at the moment, this will not necessarily always be the case. When the going gets tough, businesses have to do what it takes to keep afloat, and it is at that point that I truly think these decisions will come to bite us in the back.

When companies have to lay off large droves of people and they risk being seen as discriminatory in their firings or go bankrupt because they fired their more talented staff will they truly learn the cost of diversity.

Discourse

This letter is not just meant to be put out to the world, I hope to start an honest conversation from it. If you have any questions or concerns please open up an issue on this repo and I would love to have a civil discussion.

-- Avi Agarwal

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How Silicon Valley is rigging elections for the Democrats to capture Congress

Tony Romm, The Washington Post

 

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Lauren Baer faces a tough task on Election Day: She's a first-time Democratic candidate for Congress vying against a veteran Republican in "one of the swingiest swing districts" in southeastern Florida, as she puts it.

Like many in her party, Baer says she benefits from a secret weapon - one that is 2,500 miles away from her slice of the Sunshine State. In Silicon Valley, Baer is among a flood of candidates capitalizing on new apps, activist groups and other organizations that spawned after President Donald Trump's 2016 victory with the explicit goal of triggering a Democratic wave this November.

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As voters prepare to head to the polls, the tech industry's talented, well-heeled engineers and entrepreneurs have been plugging into Democratic campaigns around the country. They've donated their time and money toward giving the party a digital edge, aiding the most distant local candidates and the Democrats' more ambitious quest to snatch control of the U.S. Congress from Republicans' grasp.

Many of these newly awakened tech workers are motivated by Trump's controversial policies on issues including immigration, and they're focused on closing what they perceive to be an innovation gap with the GOP, two years after Trump effectively tapped Facebook, Twitter and other data-heavy tools on his road to victory. One outgrowth of the Valley's efforts, an app called MobilizeAmerica, has helped Baer find potential supporters in Florida's 18th District, a chunk of the state about the size of Rhode Island. The app helped the campaign knock on more than 2,000 doors during a campaign event held a month before Election Day, aides said.

"After the 2016 election, I think we saw a number of individuals in the tech space, in Silicon Valley and also around the country, frankly saying they wanted to use technology for good," said Baer, who stands to become Florida's first openly lesbian representative in Congress if she wins. "And because of that, we've seen a proliferation of new tools."

But Silicon Valley's heightened attention to politics - and its commitment to aiding mostly Democrats - could saddle the tech industry with a new headache in the nation's capital, where Trump and his GOP allies have alleged that tech giants are biased against the right. On Tuesday, Trump's 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, accused Facebook and Google of "ramping up their purge of conservatives" ahead of the midterms.

"While the tech giants, which have deep liberal bias throughout their personnel and practices, place a thumb on the scale against conservatives online, we are undaunted," a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign said this week. "We will continue to build our database of millions of supporters and are confident that they will turn out and deliver victory for the GOP on Election Day."

Democrats' new start-ups and other organizations have attracted high-profile investments from some of the tech industry's deepest pockets, including Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn. They're seeking more than the next great political app: If Democrats succeed on Nov. 6, the tools they funded could be a boon that lasts beyond the midterms - giving the party a technological advantage in its coming rematch against Trump.

"Staying on the sidelines is no longer an option, and we can't wait until 2020," said Ron Conway, an early investor in Facebook and Google who has donated millions of dollars this cycle.

Silicon Valley's political apotheosis began hours after Trump's victory. Many in tech had backed his vanquished Democratic foe, Hillary Clinton, and they quickly set about protesting the incoming Republican president's agenda. Some rank-and-file tech employees soon pressured their bosses - the leaders of companies including Apple, Facebook and Google - to avoid working with the Republican administration, and many later took to the streets of San Francisco to protest Trump's policies.

The groundswell of activism in the country's tech heartland offered an opportunity for digital strategists like Shomik Dutta and Betsy Hoover to experiment before the midterm elections. Two veterans of President Barack Obama's political campaigns, the duo and their peers teamed up to launch a new Democratic-leaning startup incubator, called Higher Ground Labs, in May 2017. Amassing a roughly $5 million war chest, they set about trying to seed the next generation of tools that might help Democratic campaigns deploy Facebook ads and tap text messages to get voters to cast ballots on Election Day.

"People are realizing if our old technology is horse and buggy, and a car has just been introduced, we shouldn't be investing in stronger horses," Dutta said.

Since the 2018 race began, Higher Ground Labs has invested in 23 startups, including MobilizeAmerica. Think of it akin to the restaurant-reservation service OpenTable, but for shoe-leather politics: A candidate can post an event for knocking on doors, and interested supporters can snag a spot. Campaigns can also link up with allied political organizations, including the fast-growing progressive outlet Swing Left, which can then direct volunteers on how to take action.

So far, MobilizeAmerica has been used by more than 400 campaigns and groups, which rounded up more than 254,000 volunteers who will try to visit, call or text about 19 million voters by Thursday, said Alfred Johnson, the co-founder of the company.

"A lot of people are very motivated by the presidency," he said, "and we're going to continue to see a ton of investment and activity in this space."

Higher Ground Labs also has invested in VoterCircle, one of many emerging apps that helps organizers tap their address books and text to friends voting reminders and other political messages. Another, called Change Research, relies on Facebook ads to reach specific categories of voters with surveys, rather than querying them through landline phone calls. Its founders - Mike Greenfield, a Silicon Valley data scientist, and Pat Riley, a political veteran - say their polling tools now are deployed in dozens of local races in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Florida and Texas.

"I think it is likely just the beginning" Greenfield said of the Valley's interest in politics, "but I think we've made real progress."

For years, Republican campaigns have relied on powerful tools for finding, tracking and advertising to voters, many created by deep-pocketed donors like the Koch Brothers. For Democrats, some of their most engaged benefactors have long come from Silicon Valley, where tech leaders like Eric Schmidt, a former top executive at Google, played signature roles in helping to assemble digital arsenals for Obama in 2008 and 2012, and for Clinton four years later.

Now, it's Hoffman, the LinkedIn co-founder, who has become one of the Democratic Party's top tech benefactors. He has donated to Higher Ground Labs and some of its portfolio companies, on top of millions of dollars he's contributed to Democratic campaigns just in the past three months. Hoffman pinned his heightened involvement on Trump, charging that the president "attacks the very institutions of democracy." The LinkedIn co-founder added in a statement it's "why I've been asking my technologist friends and other leaders to get engaged too."

Chris Sacca, an early investor in companies such as Uber, hired a former aide to Obama to study dozens of start-up pitches and invest in some "intended for 2020 and beyond," he said. Conway, meanwhile, said he and his peers had deployed and "enormous amount of resources," adding in an email that Trump has been "an urgent wake up call to many in the tech sector."

For Mia Ketterling, a project lead at Pinterest, her epiphany came in September. She opted to join roughly 9,400 of her tech peers in volunteering with Tech for Campaigns, an organization founded in 2017 that seeks to pair the best and brightest in the tech industry with candidates, particularly those at the state and local level, who lack digital savvy and can't afford to hire experts.

"I think there is a strong opposition to Trump and also an awareness," Ketterling said of others in the Bay Area. "Like, 'Wow, we've really been sleeping on the job here, and we need to get more involved.'"

Ketterling is now part of a team assisting Bob Doyel, a Democrat who's running to represent a north-central Florida district of about 150,000 people (and "fields that may have cattle in them," as he put it) in the state's legislature. Doyel himself admits his generation doesn't know "a lot about tech," and he choked up during an interview acknowledging the unexpected support showered on him by Tech for Campaigns and Ketterling, whom he's never met in person.

"As more resources have come in," he said, "we have gotten more digital."

The Democrats' infusion of tech cash and support originated outside party headquarters. Fearing they had lost ground to Republicans after Trump prevailed in 2016, Democrats entered the 2018 cycle and realized they had to allow people to "put their smarts to work," said Caitlin Mitchell, the chief mobilization officer at the Democratic National Committee. The DNC also hired Raffi Krikorian, a former leading engineer at Twitter and Uber, as their chief technology officer last year.

Democrats seek not only to remake the political compositions of state and federal legislatures but to amass critical data about the apps and techniques that might work best for the presidential race. Ahead of 2020, groups like Higher Ground Labs plan to raise an additional $6 million entering the presidential race, its founders said.

"Technology two years from now will be drastically different from how it is today," said Hoover, the former Obama campaign official who founded Higher Ground. "I hope we never again get to the place where we're like, 'Great, we have this beat, let's move on.'"

 

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