Dragons in the Algorithm
Adventures in Programming
by Michael Chermside

My Thoughts on Diversity

Twice recently I have heard Mark Mathewson (MVP for International and Small Business Tech at Capital One, where I work) give a talk in his capacity as executive responsible for inspiring our diversity programs within Tech. I have also heard the subject raised by Jenn Flynn who runs the Small Business Bank -- my leader on the business side. Our team is doing a lot of hiring at the moment. Given all of that, it seems like an excellent time to reflect such subjects, so I wanted to share my thoughts on diversity.

To me, the most important kind of diversity is diversity in thought, skills, and approach. My team will be more successful if it has someone on it who thinks quickly to find a solution to any problem, and also someone else who is more careful, considered, and insightful in their decision-making. It can achieve more if we have one person who is creative and artistic with experience in design thinking, and another who always seeks to analyze the data. Our team will excel if we have one member with a solid understanding of the business needs, another who reads the latest research into algorithms, and a third who is fanatical about excellent testing.

There is also a great deal of value in the more-visible diversity of gender, race, age, politics, LGBTQ+ status, and other categories. Bringing together a variety of backgrounds gives the team more to draw on. Furthermore, if all our associates come from a similar background it means we are missing out on most of the talent pool of possible engineers.

Despite our existing efforts, there is room for improvement. There are some excellent women engineers on my team, but nowhere near enough of them. We have a few people who bring analytical thinking and data to everything they do, but we need more of them. We have many fabulous developers in our group who were raised in India, but fewer than we’d like from some other backgrounds.

Capital One's tech team has an ambitious goal for expansion this year, with thousands of engineering positions that we seek to fill. We can reduce the scope somewhat if we reduce attrition -- every engineer we convince to stay at Capital One rather than leaving for a competitor like Amazon is the equivalent of hiring a candidate who is already experienced on our own systems! As we do so, we very much need to find ways to expand our pool of candidates and make our company a welcoming place, because the way to achieve diversity is to give people of many backgrounds a reason to want to work here.

But we are improving at expanding our pool and becoming more welcoming, and we should celebrate our victories. For example, last year Capital One had an internal series of videos on diversity and inclusion which featured interviews with a diverse set of Capital One employees. When Kelly Focht was interviewed about working at Capital One as someone with social anxiety and who is agender, one of the things they mentioned was the awkwardness of not having a bathroom that wasn’t labeled as being for either “Men” or “Women”. Well Kelly, it may not yet be everywhere, but I am pleased to report that at least on my new floor, we do now have gender free bathrooms. It is one small step that matters to just a few people, but if we take enough small steps to make this a welcoming and diverse place we can create teams that are more varied, robust, and capable.

Posted Fri 12 April 2019 by mcherm in articles