Why can't the NBA solve its diversity problem?  Hardly anybody worries about this.  Actually, my post was stimulated by a somewhat parallel article asking Why can't Silicon Valley solve its diversity problem?  Anna Wiener, and apparently lots of other people worry about that.  The reason that the first question is less interesting is that everybody knows the answer: the best players are almost all not white, Mexican, Asian, or women and none of the very best players are any of those.  Of course that doesn't solve the riddle of why the best players don't much come from those groups, but I've never heard it attributed to systematic discrimination in the NBA against them.

Would it be racist to attribute the paucity to Bergmann's rule, the biological generalization that notes that animals living in colder climates have stockier bodies and shorter limbs, an adaptation that conserves heat but sacrifices some speed and agility?  Some would say so, because admitting that would concede that there is some biological basis for the social construct of race.  Of course everybody knows that, probably even the academics who most loudly proclaim that there is not.

So why does SV have a diversity problem?  Wiener writes:
Black and Latino workers fill only about five per cent of technical roles—meaning roles that require programming chops, whether that means writing software, designing interfaces, or analyzing datasets––in the tech industry, though they make up about eighteen per cent of computer-science graduates each year.
Not quite the scale of the diversity decrease seen in the NBA between college and the bigs, but substantial.  Wiener cites the experience of one black woman:
 “I haven’t even started my first full-time job yet and I’m already so tired of feeling erased and mistreated by the tech industry,” it read. 
Kaya Thomas, who wrote the essay, is a Staten Island native who is studying computer science at Dartmouth College. A black, female engineer who has interned for Intuit and Apple, she is no stranger to Silicon Valley or its particular brand of bias. “After reading the Facebook thing, I did feel crazy,” she recently told me over the phone. 
A better person than I would probably feel sympathetic, but I just thought about what would happen to a white or any college player who wrote about feeling erased and mistreated by the NBA after getting drafted and paid a big salary.  Feel entitled much?

Technical positions might seem to be exactly the kind of jobs that it would be easy to fill from a diverse pool of applicants. The skills involved, such as logical and quantitative reasoning, are found in other fields, from finance to medicine to electrical engineering. Free online courses and developer boot camps abound. Yet, as we see again and again, these are the positions with the fewest women and people of color. 
The NBA could easily field teams with proportional racial and ethnic representations if all they wanted was people who had played ball in college.  Only they don't.  They want to win, and that means doing everything they can to get the very best.  Guess, what - Silicon valley thinks the same way and they pay big bucks for the very best they can get.

I was a journeyman programmer once, and can still punch out a simple program if necessary, but I know enough to know that there is a huge gap between the truly elite programmers and the journeyman.  Not too different, I would think, than the gap between an NBA player and an average college player, or between a player in an elite orchestra and one in the amateur orchestra.

One elite programmer told me: You have to realize that spending your day explaining things to a computer is a deeply unnatural activity.  One key trait an elite programmer needs is really liking the work.  That probably includes being able to get along with the other people who do it.


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