Silicon Valley’s Cynical Treatment of Asian Engineers

Contrary to accepted wisdom, I say that the plural of anecdote is information – if folks are honest. You loose the formal data structure, OTOH you also loose the manipulations that make statistics worse than damn lies. Anecdotes are narrow but deep.

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Not forgetting the Chinese who, within my lifetime, were the subjects of actual, real Systemic Discrimination that would make a black professional Victim weep.

Seems to me we should stop proving over and over again what we all know, which is that blacks, on aggregate, are socially inferior. This is due to some Gordian Knot of low IQ (86 average I believe in the US), broken culture that values the gangsta and deprecates hard work, history (of bloody course slavery and Jim Crow et al had an effect), stereotyping, and a dozen other things, all feeding back on each other. Whitey’s coddling naturally only making it all worse.

Supposing we just dropped all the baloney and faced facts? There is a precedent – lefties. We are noticeably different from the rightie master. We die younger, we are in fact often clumsy, we are more likely to be mentally disturbed. We are more likely to be geniuses tho. We have faced actual Systemic discrimination throughout history. We endure words like ‘gauche’ and ‘sinister’ daily. The entire world is dextrocentric isn’t it? Every time I start a lawnmower I am Oppressed. Right Privilege is literally everywhere.

But nobody weeps for poor leftie, we just get on as best we can. There’s no professional Victims to demand justice for us and we don’t want them either. Naturally the planet is dextronormative, how could it be otherwise? Thanks for left-handed scissors tho. The thing just isn’t religious – yes we are clumsy, everyone knows it, no one tries to explain it away, we just deal with it. We are basically treated as individuals – if I happen to not be clumsy, that’s exactly the fact of the matter. Why can’t we do the same with race? Mind, it would put a lot of people out of work.

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Anecdotes can be illuminating if they’re actually representative of a group. If they’re used as “proof” of an inaccurate stereotype, not so much. Are some Indians sexist, classist (Casteist) and cliquish? Of course. Are all or most? Certainly not in my experience.

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Yup, anecdotes have their liabilities, no doubt. ‘Proof’ is probably never applicable. But some things we know to be true are not reducible to data and ‘data’ itself has liabilities, tho of a different sort. As I like to say: ‘the Dutch are a frugal, practical people who are good at building dykes and pretty windmills’. This is true, but not provable. We know it via a thousand anecdotes. But: ‘Russians drink too much’ is probably provable, tho we also mostly know this to be true via anecdote. As Mark T said, the most dangerous of lies are the (abused) data we call statistics. You ‘prove’ something that is true in one sense yet totally misleading.

Seems to me the stereotypes we get from anecdotes are often quite true and they tend to die of starvation once the stereotype stops being true. You just don’t hear drunken Irish jokes anymore. But it takes a generation for the stereotype to die and in the meantime it can be very unfair, no doubt.

As for me, I find that Indians very often lie. They seem to lack conscience in that regard. Basically tho they tend to fit in quite well. Hindus more than Muslims tho. The thing is to hold stereotypes and anecdotes very lightly – remember that an individual is who he is regardless. Some Canadians don’t like hockey and some Frenchmen don’t like red wine. I may be gauche, but I’m quite dexterous in fact.

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In China and Japan for example you will find untold numbers of entrepreneurs and few that are White. In Japan and China the dominate culture rules and there is no such thing as diversity. Neither Japan or China care about underrepresented minorities.

Workers from China are being exploited by the tech lords at the expense of Americans, which is the real issue. Any complaints from Chinese nationals should be taken up with the tech lords or with their embassy. Americans have their own problems to work out.

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I agree for the most part. I was pushing back primarily against the notion that Silicon Valley is all about coding, as opposed to entrepreneurship. Coding is very much like sweatshop labor now, it is a hard skill. It can be learned. I tend to think entrepreneurs are born and I certainly did not mean to imply Asians are not entrepreneurial. We import coders for a reason, though I think exploitation is too strong a term. We should be hiring home trained programmers. There is no good reason to import these workers at low rates other than to line the pockets of the tech oligarchs.

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Good distinction here. We think about ‘sweatshop labor’ in low-skill industries such as garment-sewing. Coding is a higher skill which only certain people can learn, but in the end coding-to-specifications can be squished down to the lowest bid for labor.

But in the right environment – where the work is not auction out to low bid – the coders can innovate and be recognized for their ability to innovate, progress in career paths, etc. If the environment is conducive. But bidding out the labor to strangers becomes sub-optimization. You get a sub-product cheaper, but the whole project does not do as well.

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This article is a fraud.

What is it about the writers of these pieces, how they think that the hardware that runs the all-important code, that they think is premier, that hardware just seems to have created itself? To these writers, their idea of engineers are people who do everything on a keyboard, and never encounter a LABORATORY, or contract MANUFACTURErs, or INVENTORY systems or SIGNAL PROCESSING, or CIRCUIT SIMULATIONS or LAPLACE TRANSFORMS. It’s like in their minds they cannot conceive of engineers doing actual engineering, formulating/designing chips and systems and satellites and rocket guidance systems, communications and precision instrumentation. In their minds it’s all characters on a screen somehow 'cuz that’s the standard image of high tech they formulate in their minds and in the media. In the author’s words: “software engineers, data engineers, programmers, systems analysts, admins, and developers.”

The other point that the article misses is that the use of H-1B is DEEPLY DEEPLY anti-female. 99% of all visa workers are male.

This is a red herring. I’m MSEE, board level hardware designer, embedded instrumentation. I encountered hundreds of engineers doing similar work, at various jobs and seminars, and including embedded software engineers. Women do not do this kind of work. The only woman I ever encountered doing this kind of work was a PhD EE Chinese woman doing embedded code at one of my companies and she was a wannabe hardware engineer wanting to get more relevant to her education. So she jumped into it and no surprise found herself way over her head. The chief engineering manager was Taiwanese and let her continue on with her major blunders, and eventually she went back to software.

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I’ve followed the train of your conversation throughout this comment thread, and I think you are overlooking one thing- the threat that American workers represent as potential future competition. It’s not just that they are more likely to want to ask for profit share of the business, but if you are an entrepreneur and happen to go on holiday for the first-time in six years, then the chances are your direct subordinate will have set-up a firm in competition with your business by the time you return home.

Believe it or not, the founder of a company I used to work for had exactly this scenario happen to him. So its not just exploitation, even though exploitation may certainly play a role. Consider this, whilst you are working for an employer, any intellectual property which is even loosely related to you employment is the property of your employer. How many workers in key sectors have moved on pastures new, only to engage in what is effectively stealing from their former employer?

Now. often the distinction is quite murky. But if your former employer made or designed lightbulbs, and your new business happens to be related to lightbulb fixtures and fittings, there is fair case to be made that you’ve engaged in stealing…

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Actually when it comes to software development the reality is even more strict (at least in the US). “Loosely related” is unimportant. Nowadays nearly all devs need to sign an agreement that ANYTHING they code (whether at home or in the office) is the property of the company.

Generally this means you need to pre-clear your personal projects with the company ahead of time and get a waiver to ensure whatever you are working on remains “yours”.
You can accept the security of a regular paycheck and deal with the hassles, or you can have maximum freedom but do without that security.

As I recall this came about when some early video game companies had employees claim to own the code to video games they had developed at home. However I cannot find anything about it online at the moment.

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“Engineer” is a tricky word. I used to so, and supervise, software development. Not all coding, not all programming, is engineering. In my mind, ‘engineering’ mostly means running a process, monitoring it, and improving on it within boundaries, perhaps testing the boundaries, ever mindful of quality. Thomas Edison said, “Invention is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” That 99% is largely ‘engineering’-- testing, logging, comparing, tweaking. Often tedious, but critical. And most projects need at least one ‘engineer’ who loves the work of engineering, testing, recording, fine-turning.

My daughter is now a ''software engineer", and that seems to be the preferred title for the kind of work she does, though in my day it might have been called ‘systems analysis.’ A systems analyst looks at the environment and the existing processes, interactions, business flow, possible outcomes as probability functions, and attempts to describe how the existing requirements might be met more effectively using different tools and processes. But then, having described in general terms, how the solution should work, it will still take some fine-tuning. But in my mind, the design is largely based on the ‘analysis’,and the goals set, before the ‘engineering’ begins.

I offer this just to suggest that we shouldn’t get distract too much by the question of which employees are or are not ‘engineers’ – even if the visa process might be gamed by that term. The question at the heart is, ‘who finds the inspiration?’ and who knows how to take the risks to pursue it.

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