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SXSW Interactive Black Tech Community Meet Up: one of many ways SX is tackling diversity in tech

Tonight marks the first ever SXSW Interactive Black Tech Community Meet Up, one of the many ways the massive conference is doing their part to improve diversity in the tech sector – join us in attending.

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Diversity in technology

When I stay “startup founder,” what comes to mind? A 24 year old white male in a hoodie, no kids, and no responsibilities, right? That’s what comes to mind for most, and it’s a challenge for the industry to improve diversity. While some like Jesse Jackson believe minorities have been “locked out” of the industry (and is even speaking on the topic at SXSW Interactive this spring), others believe getting young girls and minorities interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) career paths has been a challenge as our culture pushes girls to play with Barbies and boys to play with Legos.

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Regardless of the reasons, diversity is a challenge in the tech startup world, and the hoodie-wearing young white guy remains the default representative of the sector, by no fault of his own. I’ve never sat in on any Advisory Board meetings discussing how to keep women and minorities out, in fact, every single time, it is the opposite, yet a lack of diversity remains despite efforts of many to change that.

SXSWi doing their part, hosting diversity mixers

One of the companies putting their money where their mouth is, is South By Southwest Interactive in Austin, where we are headquartered. They’ve long had a commitment to diversity, in fact, when people submit panels to be voted on prior to topics being chosen for each conference, the team utilizes what they call a V-O-W-E-L scale of basic diversity principles (Variety, Opinion, Women, Ethnicity, and Location). They note, “To be clear, our commitment to diversity is a commitment to a smarter community – different kinds of people bring different ways of thinking to the table. Hearing these different ways of thinking help make everyone smarter.”

In that spirit, they are hosting their first ever SXSW Interactive Black Tech Community Meet Up tonight, and their first ever SXSW Interactive Latino Tech Community Meet Up next week.

The Greater Austin Black Chamber stated, “The SXSW Interactive Festival is strongly committed to fostering more diversity in the digital landscape. This commitment stems from the belief that more diversity leads to more creativity — and that more creativity leads to more innovation.”

“The heart of innovation is being open to all possibilities.”

Sharon Mays, Principal at M City Marketing tells us, “As the tech industry continues to grow, the lack of diversity has become an unignorable problem. On the West coast there are issues with misogyny, the “boys club” atmosphere, and other gender-based problems. For Austin it’s a bit different because the city itself, not just the tech industry, is not seen as ethnically diverse. Especially when it comes to Black people. The tech industry contributes heavily to the Austin economy. The perception that Austin is not inclusionary to all races is hurting our community. If we want our city to continue to be a competitive market for tech jobs, then we need to attract the best and the brightest workforce. And that requires casting a really wide net.”

Mays adds, “Events like this mixer encourage minority groups to be a part of SXSW and know that their input and expertise is a welcome addition to the conversations that will be had during the conference. One of the great things about SXSW is that it turns a spotlight on all of the awesome things that are going on in Austin. People leave the conference with a great impression of what life in like in this city.

I think it’s important that we make sure that we are sending the message that Austin is a city that welcomes and values everyone, and that the opportunities available in this city are available to everyone. The heart of innovation is being open to all possibilities.”

Putting their money where their mouth is

As further evidence of the organization putting their money where their mouth is, in 2012, SXSW established a “Community Fund” through “Communities Foundation of Texas” to support local and national organizations and award grants to the winners of several awards, for example, the Dewey Winburne Community Service Awards (honoring “Digital Do-Gooders”), and one look at the list proves they are rewarding more than just the young hoodie-wearing kids.

We may not all agree on why a lack of diversity exists in our industry, nor may we agree on how or why it should be improved, but it is not a myth, and what is needed is for more organizations to do their part to take on the challenge, just as Southby has.

See you at the meet up tonight! Click below for details:

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Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Tech News

Loss of internet access is used as punishment for those who abuse it

(TECH NEWS) Internet access is becoming more of a human right especially in light of recent events –so why is revoking it being used as a punishment?

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Internet access

When one hears the word “punishment”, several things likely come to mind—firing, fees, jail time, and even death for the dramatic among us—but most people probably don’t envision having their access to utilities restricted as a legal repercussion.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happening across the country—if you consider Internet access a utility.

In the past, you’ve probably heard stories about people awaiting trial or experiencing probation limitations being told that they are not to use the Internet or certain types of communication. While this may seem unjust, the circumstances usually provide some context for the extreme nature of such a punishment; for example, it seems reasonable to ask that a person accused of downloading child pornography keep off the internet.

More recently–and perhaps more controversially—a young man accused of using social media to incite violent behavior during country-wide protests was ordered to stay offline while awaiting trial. This order came after the individual purportedly encouraged people to “[tip] police cars”, vandalize property, and generally exhibit other “riot”-oriented behaviors.

Whether or not one reads this post as a specific call to create violence—something that is, in fact, illegal—the fact remains that the “punishment” for this crime in lieu of a current conviction involves cutting off the person involved from all internet access until a verdict is achieved.

The person involved in this story may be less than sympathetic depending on your stance, but they aren’t alone. The response of cutting off the Internet in this case complements other stories we’ve seen, such as one regarding Cox and a client in Florida. Allegedly, the client in question paid for unlimited data—a potential issue in and of itself—and then exceeded eight terabytes of monthly use on multiple occasions.

Did Cox correct their plan, allocate more data, throttle this user, or reach out to explain their concerns, you may ask?

No. Cox alerted the user in question that they would terminate his account if his use continued to be abnormally high, and in the meantime, they throttled the user’s ENTIRE neighborhood. This kind of behavior would be unacceptable when applied to any other utility (imagine having your air conditioning access “throttled” during the summer), so why is it okay for Cox?

The overarching issue in most cases stems from Internet provider availability; in many areas, clients have one realistic option for an Internet provider, thus allowing that provider to set prices, throttle data, and impose restrictions on users free of reproach.

Anyone who has used Comcast, Cox, or Cable One knows how finicky these services can be regardless of time of use, and running a simple Google speed test is usually enough to confirm that the speeds you pay for and the speeds you receive are rarely even close.

In the COVID era in which we find ourselves, it is imperative that Internet access be considered more than just a commodity: It is a right, one that cannot be revoked simply due to a case of overuse here, or a flaw in a data plan there.

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Tech News

How to personalize your site for every visitor without learning code

(TECH NEWS) This awesome tool from Proof lets you personalize your website for visitors without coding. Experiences utilizes your users to create the perfect view for them.

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What if you could personalize every step of the sales funnel? The team over at Proof believes this is the next best step for businesses looking to drive leads online. Their tool, Experiences, is a marketer-friendly software that lets you personalize your website for every visitor without coding.

Using Experiences your team can create a targeted experience for the different types of visitors coming to your website. The personalization is thought to drive leads more efficiently because it offers visitors exactly the information they want. Experiences can also be used to A/B test different strategies for your website. This could be a game changer for companies that target multiple specific audiences.

Experiences is a drag-and-drop style tool, which means nearly anyone on your team can learn to use it. The UX is meant to be intuitive and simple, so you don’t need a web developer to guide you through the process. In order to build out audiences for your website, Experiences pulls data from your CRM, such as SalesForce and Hubspot, or you can utilize a Clearbit integration which pull third-party information.

Before you go rushing to purchase a new tool for your team, there are a few things to keep in mind. According to Proof, personalization is best suited for companies with at least 15,000 plus visitors per month. This volume of visitors is necessary for Experiences to gather the data it needs to make predictions. The tool is also recommended for B2B businesses since company data is public.

The Proof team is a success story of the Y Combinator demo day. They pitched their idea for a personalized web experience and quickly found themselves funded. Now, they’ve built out their software and have seen success with their initial clients. Over the past 18 months, their early-access clients, which included brands like Profitwell and Shipbob, have seen an increase in leads, proposals, and downloads.

Perhaps the best part of Proof is that they don’t just sell you a product and walk away. Their website offers helpful resources for customers called Playbooks where you can learn how to best use the tool to achieve your company’s goals be it converting leads or engaging with your audience. If this sounds like exactly the tool your team needs, you can request a demo on their website.

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Tech News

3 cool ways bug-sized robots are changing the world

(TECH NEWS) Robots are at the forefront of tech advancements. But why should we care? Here are some noticeable ways robots are changing the world.

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Bits of robots and microchips changing the world.

When we envision the robots that will (and already are) transforming our world, we’re most likely thinking of something human- or dog-sized. So why are scientists hyper-focusing on developing bug-sized (or even smaller!) robots?

Medical advances

Tiny robots could assist in better drug delivery, as well as conduct minor internal surgeries that wouldn’t otherwise require incisions.

Rescue operations

We’ve all heard about the robot dogs that can rescue people who’ve been buried beneath rubble or sheets of snow. However, in some circumstances these machines are too bulky to do the job safely. Bug-sized robots are a less invasive savior in high-intensity environments, such as mine fields, that larger robots would not be able to navigate without causing disruption.

Exploration

Much like the insects after which these robots were designed, they can be programmed to work together (think: ants building a bridge using their own bodies). This could be key in exploring surfaces like Mars, which are not safe for humans to explore freely. Additionally, tiny robots that can be set to construct and then deconstruct themselves could help astronauts in landings and other endeavors in space.

Why insects?

Well, perhaps the most important reason is that insects have “nature’s optimized design”. They can jump vast distances (fleas), hold items ten times the weight of their own bodies (ants) and perform tasks with the highest efficiency (bees) – all qualities that, if utilized correctly, would be extremely beneficial to humans. Furthermore, a bug-sized bot is economical. If one short-circuits or gets lost, it won’t totally break the bank.

What’s next?

Something scientists have yet to replicate in robotics is the material elements that make insects so unique and powerful, such as tiny claws or sticky pads. What if a robot could produce excrement that could build something, the way bees do in their hives, or spiders do with their webs? While replicating these materials is often difficult and costly, it is undoubtedly the next frontier in bug-inspired robotics – and it will likely open doors for humans that we never imaged possible.

This is all to say that in the pursuit of creating strong, powerful robots, they need not always be big in stature – sometimes, the tiniest robots are just the best for the task.

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