Apple's Tim Cook: Smart on tech talent – and a dinosaur on everything else
After getting himself a lot of well deserved bad publicity for allowing himself to be shaken down by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an activist group that calls any organization that doesn't agree with it a "hate group," Apple Computer CEO Tim Cook has earned a certain contempt for his efforts to suck up to the corrupted establishment. Just call him Mister Play-It-Safe. In an interview with the New York Times, he reveals similar Jurassic ideas about diet (egg whites? turkey bacon?), "renewable" energy, LBJ's hideous failed "Great Society," and corporate "morality." Blah, blah, blah. It's about par for most CEOs in the herd. But on tech, and the tech labor pool, he's not such a dinosaur.
He's actually a rather innovative realist. According to the Times:
Mr. Cook is most passionate when he talks about education, which led the company to create the curriculum for developing apps, estimated to be a $1.3 trillion part of the global economy.
He is hoping the curriculum turns into jobs. Last year, according to Apple, 150,000 new jobs were created through the App Store. Apple paid out $5 billion directly to app makers.
He said he had chosen to focus on getting the curriculum to community colleges, rather than four-year colleges, because "as it turns out, the community college system is much more diverse than the four-year schools, particularly the four-year schools that are known for comp sci" [my emphasis]. He noted that "there is a definite diversity issue in tech, in particular in coding and computer scientists."
Apple has already rolled out the curriculum in Alabama, Ohio and Pennsylvania, among other states. "You want it to increase the diversity of people that are in there, both racial diversity, gender diversity, but also geographic diversity," Mr. Cook said. "Right now, the benefits of tech are too lopsided to certain states." (Like California.)
By the wildest coincidence, I stumbled into Cook's program at Mesa College's orientation for a computer certificate program last night. Sure enough, Cook had this place on his list of 30. Inside the glassy new building out near Kearny Mesa's Montgomery Field, where much aviation pioneering once happened, the house was packed with about 140 would-be students in this lavish new program. There was a waiting line of students who didn't register in time still trying to get in. The attendees were indeed the local talent of the diverse Kearny Mesa area, a mishmash of middle-class black, Filipino, Mexican, white, and miscellaneous other talent, many of them immigrants, many of them descendents of the aerospace workers who sent men to the moon.
They were mostly the sort of people you might find at a real estate rally or a trade school graduation or maybe an Amway convention – not exactly classic academic types, but the significant thing here was that they were all strivers, and at Mesa, there was no academic barrier to entry. The students, both young and old, spoke of dreams to develop the next Snapchat app and become overnight billionaires. That is what was motivating them. And frankly, that's healthy – it was dreams of being railroad barons that fueled countless other fortunes a century earlier. Cook obviously recognized the potential from reality where others didn't.
The program was the school's pride and joy, and obviously, a lot of money was shoveled into it – the chief presenter told the students they would walk out of it with a certificate, a portfolio of work, and lots of job counseling for high-paid jobs. Students would form lifelong friendships (usually the case when they work you in boot camp conditions, so obviously, it wasn't a gut program), and they would be astounded at what they would accomplish from nothing in the first three months. And yes, the class would exclusively be using brand-new Apple computers.
Cook is probably on to something in his look at the community colleges for potential talent. It's one of the great overlooked resources well outside the tight little world of coastal elites. Cook is right to recognize that the place to look for tech talent of every race is at the community college level. Many of the top tech pioneers never finished conventional college anyway.