Monday, June 30, 2014

Sowing C++ Seeds, Growing a Java Garden

Brogramming comes about not because it's actively promoted, but because our school isn't doing the careful gardening and cultivation required to produce good fruit, dispel weeds, and grow respectful, humanistic, open-minded citizens.

Racial discrimination, misogyny, and other forms of intolerance that number among the tech industry's rather more problematic traits arise when you aren't paying attention to social and human factors, and are only looking at so-called "outputs." (The distortion is especially acute when these outputs are being valued by Wall Street and its standards, and not even by our Valley's own standards for creative output).

It's not that the university administration is malicious; it's just that it doesn't care enough, whether through obliviousness, neglect, or low priority.

Developing a healthy culture of technology innovation doesn't just mean producing more patents, more apps, more investment. It means developing a culture that recognizes both the role technology plays in society and the responsibilities we have to that society; and in turn, ensuring that technology is shaped by meaningful social norms and in accordance with our deeply-held ideals.

Prof. Mehran Sahami talks about "good coding practices" in CS106A as a crucial first step in an engineer's education. Beyond that, we have to develop "good cultural practices" too. As the producer of so many engineering and tech minds, Stanford has a responsibility to "get the culture right" and inculcate appropriate ways of treating other human beings into all its students, CS students included. There should be a Stanford CS ethos—not just how to code, but how to interact respectfully; how to coexist; how to support others; how to empathize.

Beyond issues of etiquette and human decency, it would be amazing if more Stanford CS graduates were also motivated to work on social issues—education, environmental challenges, development aid, justice. (This is a separate, but linked issue, so more on this at another time).

What if Stanford CS folks were committed to human rights, cared about privacy, and felt inequality and institutional racism were problems that should be tackled and rooted out anywhere and everywhere? That these issues affect them and solving them matters? What if "community" and "organizing" and "solidarity" were ideas that meant something, so we weren't just in it for ourselves, but because we cared about a larger cause? Maybe we should take a page out of UC Berkeley's book here on social justice and strive to develop an equally vibrant culture of caring.

That should be Stanford's mission: to humanize its citizens. Otherwise it might as well be a coding trade school.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Since Tiananmen

It has been 25 years since students stood on the Square. Joined by citizens from all walks of life, they sought greater freedom and justice, a more humane country, a brighter future.

They came for spring.

It has been 25 years since troops and tanks were sent to crush the protests, arrest demonstrators, and strangle the movement for democracy.

The goddess came tumbling down.

It has been 25 years, and no public accounting has happened in China. Historical memory continues to be suppressed.

But one day, truth will win out.

It has been 25 years, but we will not forget what happened in Tiananmen Square: the searing reports and brave stories that ignited the hearts of so many and created some of the most indelible images of the 20th century.

We still stand inspired.

Today, we mourn and shed tears at the enormity of it all: the innocent lives lost, the possibility of change so stirring and vibrant in the air of May, that dissolved on that June day.


It has been 25 years, but we remember. The world remembers.

One day, China will remember.

When that day comes, we will celebrate the idealism that brought the students to the Square, the moral conviction that made them stay. We will honor the profound courage, the tireless commitment, the utter perseverance by all those who have worked for freedom since the dark shadows descended. We will marvel at the human spirit, at how democratic dreams stay alive, from year to year, person to person, generation to generation.

We take to paper, penning columns, reclaiming hope. We build memorials, we sing songs. We author ballads, we scribble notes.

It has been 25 years, but the flames still flicker and refuse to die.

We light our candles. We hold the torch aloft.