Tech’s Anti-God Culture: How It Labels Conservatives And Religious Groups As Less Intelligent
Today’s tech culture is largely liberal, and it labels conservatives as less intelligent or even less than human for holding their beliefs, says Anthony D. Mays, a software engineer and advocate for diversity and inclusion at Google.
The same thing is true of tech’s view of religious groups, says Mays, who builds big data visualization tools for the web.
“You can’t solve the inclusion issue for race and gender if you don’t also solve it for other axes of diversity,” Mays said in a Moguldom interview.
Raised in Compton (a city in southern Los Angeles County, California) as a foster child after suffering physical and sexual abuse, Mays taught himself how to program computers at age 8. He started his career as an intern at City National Bank through Inroads, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that places talented minority youth in business and prepares them for leadership.
Perhaps best known for his article entitled “Google Would Never Hire a Person Like Me,” Mays is a frequent public speaker at schools and other student organizations. He has received awards for his work promoting diversity in tech. Mays graduated from the University of California, Irvine with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. His GPA was horrible, he said, so don’t ask.
Google employees’ overall racial representation is 2 percent Black, 4 percent Hispanic, 4 percent two-or-more races, 35 percent Asian and 56 percent white, according to the firm’s diversity report of June 2017.
Mays spoke to Moguldom about areas of tech inclusion that are often overlooked.
Moguldom: Tell me about your journey to becoming a software engineer at Google. What type of obstacles, if any, did you have to overcome?
Anthony D. Mays: I first learned about Google in college while pursuing my degree in computer science at the University of California, Irvine. I became an instant fan of products like Google Search and Gmail and started using them daily for almost everything.
By the time I met my first Google recruiter on campus, I knew that I absolutely wanted a job and the chance to prove that I could work with the best of the best. But as strongly as I wanted to work there, I also strongly doubted that I could actually survive the interview process. Plus, I couldn’t conceive of a black, former foster kid from the ghetto of Compton like me truly becoming a successful engineer at Google. It was such a remote possibility in my mind that I never applied.
Fast forward nearly a decade to 2011, and I get contacted by a Google recruiter via LinkedIn. I had worked at a couple of companies by then and was named on a patent application for an innovative banking technology. I thought that I had earned my stripes and that I might actually be ready to interview. I didn’t know anything about interviewing at Google or any other big Silicon Valley firm, so I did a little research and discovered that they used brain teasers in the technical interview. Brain teasers have always made me feel dumb, so I spent a lot of time studying them and a little bit of beginning computer science fundamentals I learned in college for two weeks.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that my research was wrong and I went on to flunk out of the process after two phone screens. I was devastated, not just for myself but for all the people back home who were counting on and praying for me to be the first from our community to make it to Google.
Two years later in 2013, I got my second chance to interview at Google. I was very reluctant to try again after my first failure, but my recruiter, this time a woman named Lucy, really believed that I had a good shot. I think Lucy believed in me more than I believed in myself. She hooked me up with resources I didn’t have before.
I hit the books for a month-and-a-half for three or four hours a day, working on the bus and the train during my daily work commute. My wife even helped me study by listening to me solve mock interview questions out loud.
Needless to say, I persevered through the six grueling interviews to win the highly coveted job offer. It was such an achievement that the VP of Human Resources, Laszlo Bock at the time, called me to deliver the news himself.
However, that fact really didn’t hit me until Google released diversity numbers for the first time in 2014. That was when I realized that I had accomplished something very special.
Moguldom: You have said before your faith bears little value in the tech world and it is that, not the color of your skin, that makes you feel excluded. Please can you talk more about that and what, if anything, could/should change?
Anthony D. Mays: Faith was a hugely important part of my upbringing. Nearly everybody in my community goes to church or at least grew up going to church. That’s just the way it is in the hood. So, my experience as a black person in America is inseparable from my upbringing as a Christian.
At least among colleagues in my office, I’ve never really faced microaggressions related to my race. I have, however, suffered microaggressions due to my religious beliefs as a Christian. I’ve noticed things like the way that people in tech talk about creationists as though they are unintelligent or deride Christians as a political monolith of pro-Trump supporters. I think people in tech see Christians like me and think of us as delusional, playing grown-up make-believe under the guise of sincere religious belief. Clearly, much of the discussion about tech diversity centers around race and gender, but things like accessibility and especially religion get put on the back burner if they are addressed at all.
I think there are a few reasons why this matters. First, tech companies spend a lot of time telling employees to bring their whole or their best selves to work. If my worldview is founded upon the Bible, then it is impossible to separate my best self from my beliefs as a Christian.
Secondly, you can’t solve the inclusion issue for race and gender if you don’t also solve it for other axes of diversity. A company that claims to be inclusive of all people but continues to marginalize some on the basis of religion isn’t really inclusive.
Finally, many of the great innovators and scientists of history were deeply religious—people like Galileo, Blaise Pascal, Isaac Newton, and Lewis Carroll. I think that there are many smart and talented people, some of whom I’ve met and work with at Google, who are Christians like me. It would be a shame for tech companies if they underutilize this pool of talent by not addressing tech’s anti-God culture.
Moguldom: Some companies like HP and TaskRabbit have been able to achieve relatively high levels of diversity in their workforces. Why can’t big tech firms do so?
Anthony D. Mays: I believe that it’s only a matter of time. Don’t forget that tech is still a relatively young industry compared to others. Many companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook made mistakes early in their development by ignoring diversity in the early days. These mistakes are not easy to rectify overnight.
There is a big chasm of communication that tech companies need to bridge if they want to reach underserved groups. It’s easier if there are people from those communities that can bridge the gap, but there aren’t really enough as the diversity numbers indicate. I’ve always thought that it takes diverse people to reach diverse people, so it makes sense to me that we need to reach some critical mass makeup before we reach the right velocity of growth.
Moguldom: You’ve observed that “some vilify conservatives in ways that seem all too familiar to me as a black American.” Why is it important for liberals to think about this when they think about Silicon Valley’s diversity problem?
Anthony D. Mays: If we want to fix the diversity problem, then we have to attack the language and pattern of practices that characterize the kind discriminatory, exclusionary behavior that prevents inclusion. It is this language that dehumanizes and devalues those considered “the other” and makes it easier to perpetrate violence against them. For instance, in the case of race, it was easier to enslave black people when (you) see them as less than human—as exotic beasts, primitives, and monsters. Claims that black people were less intelligent than whites were also used to justify slavery, suggesting they needed masters and caretakers.
Elements of this same language are used by some to alienate opposing political groups. I’ve observed that today’s largely liberal tech culture labels conservatives as less intelligent or even less than human for holding their beliefs. The same thing is true of tech’s view of religious groups.
Moguldom: Your LinkedIn account says you work on big data visualization and dashboarding platform to support internal stakeholders and executives. Does your advocacy for diversity and inclusion have any impact on that work, and how?
Anthony D. Mays: Yes, it does. I’m very fortunate that, at Google, my work as an inclusion advocate is reflective of our mission—”to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Data visualization is all about making information more accessible, even to people with unique accessibility needs like the visually impaired. I can be a champion within the organization for encouraging empathy towards all of our diverse users. Also, as is true with many teams in Google, there is a real hunger for diverse tech talent.
I work to help inform and educate folks within my organization about my own journey to tech and the journey of others from non-traditional backgrounds by helping people craft their diversity narrative. A diversity narrative is a short story that helps people talk about why diversity matters to them and includes a call to action that helps others get involved.
Moguldom: What impact on your career did this article have — “Google Would Never Hire a Person Like Me“?
Anthony D. Mays: The article helped to establish my voice as a diversity and inclusion advocate at Google and around the world. The story of how I made it from Compton to Google has inspired thousands of people around the world to break barriers and persevere. There aren’t enough engineers from untraditional backgrounds sharing their experience with the world. I hope to be a model for others.
I also get the chance to speak to everyone from prospective engineering candidates to elementary school students about pursuing opportunities in tech. I consider it a great blessing that I get to do all of this as part of my job as an engineer at Google.
Moguldom: If you could do any kind of work besides your current job, what would you do and why?
Anthony D. Mays: I would be a public speaker and author. All I really have is my story—the story of how God took a defenseless little kid from Compton and gave him hope, forgiveness, and salvation. Tech has only ever been a means to an end for me. That end is to glorify God by showing how He enabled me to do impossible things. Along the way, if I can inspire others by what I’ve been able to accomplish, then I want to do that.
Moguldom: What advice do you have for people from underrepresented groups who may be avoiding a career in tech because of fears of racial and gender bias?
Anthony D. Mays: In tech, I believe there is so much opportunity for the taking. There are three reasons I always give to minorities for pursuing careers in tech. One, as far as career choices go, the risk is substantially lower than it is for those who choose to be a professional athlete or musician. Second, the reward is greater in terms of lifetime pay, perks, and benefits. You don’t have to be a prolific engineer to do well financially in tech. Lastly, underrepresented folks have to show up and be represented if they want the culture to change.
Personally, I am continually inspired by the legacy of African American innovators of the past who changed the world before there were corporate diversity and inclusion programs—people like Garrett A. Morgan, Frederick McKinley Jones, and Katherine Johnson. I can do what I do today because of the sacrifices they made, and I don’t think this tech generation will ever have it as hard as they did. We have a responsibility to set up the next generation for success as much as we can.
Sign up for the Moguldom newsletter — the most compelling business news you need to know about reversing inequality in tech, delivered straight to your inbox.