I recently spoke about technology entrepreneurship at a San Francisco public high school’s career day. I co-presented with an engineer. In Silicon Valley, when you hear the term engineer you mostly likely think electrical engineer or someone who programs computers. In a public high school class of about forty mostly male Hispanic and Black students, even in San Francisco, engineer means something altogether different.
I didn’t realize this until I stopped talking and started listening. As the boys opened up and asked questions, I learned that to them engineer meant auto mechanic.
Of course, that makes all the sense in the world. Their lives don’t include people who work at computer technology companies – in any capacity. While almost all the students had cell phones, very few had laptops. Their parents, if they have both, work multiple jobs and names like Twitter, LinkedIn or Square are nowhere in their lexicon. What is so shocking about this is this is in San Francisco.
I did my best to expose them to the other world of Silicon Valley in my allotted twenty minutes, but clearly this will never do. These young people are already so behind. If they don’t come up in an environment where even the language of technology is discussed, how will they ever gain access?
And so you can see the socio-economic and skills gap widening. Even for those who want to be auto-mechanics. Why? Because even cars use computers.
Upon wrapping up my talk, I went out on a limb and asked the class if they knew who Mark Zuckerberg was. Not a single student raised their hand.
Not one student knew about a young privileged man who by age eighteen had a better education than most of the juniors and seniors in that career day class will ever have, had already learned to code and started a business.
Not one student knew he was the founder of Facebook and as a result, not one student knew that what Mr. Zuckerberg did was even remotely possible for them.
And how will they ever know?