April 22, 2019

Diversity – Why the world of technology can teach us all so much.

February is “Diversity month” at GSM London. During the month we will be releasing a series of blogs examining this topic from a variety of angles.  We start by  looking at the world of technology and discover out that it has much to teach us all.  

It seems whenever the subject of recruitment or talent management comes up with a group of employers, the subject of diversity follows not far behind. The problem is that diversity means different things to different people.  Finding a definition of diversity that succinctly describes the benefits it brings is no easy task. For me one of the best definitions of diversity I have seen describes it thus;

Diversity is the art of thinking independently together.”

If you agree with this definition it follows therefore that the talents of the many combined, can outweigh the brainpower of the narrow few, no matter how wealthy or powerful they may initially seem. Now that may seem a pretty bold statement to make, but evidence to support this claim can be drawn from a rather surprising source. It is in the world of technology where we find proof of how diversity can triumph over seemingly overwhelming odds to provide value to the many.

The story goes something like this……

In 1991 a little known software developer named Linus Torvalds wrote a kernel of software code that he named after himself. It subsequently became known as the Linux operating system, which today is at the heart of many well-known software programmes such as Android and Chrome OS.

Linus Torvalds
Linus Torvalds

The principal of open software development is where the development of code takes place on the internet in full view of the widest possible development community. This enables any participating developer to contribute improvements or suggestions.   Many thousands of individuals can take part, so resulting in a highly creative and fast moving development environment.   The breadth and depth of the talent available to an open source project such as Linux therefore spans the planet.  The sheer pace rate of development can be quite astonishing.  The open community has a saying “may the best code win” and in the case of the Linux operating system this is exactly what happened.

So if you accept my earlier definition of diversity as “thinking independently together” then you can’t get much more diverse an example than that of Linux.

The opposite to this approach is closed software development, where access to new code is kept to a small community of developers who are often working for a single organisation and who release code which is then protected by restrictive corporate licenses. Historically household names such as IBM, Apple and Microsoft have been the prime exponents of this model, and who have each fought tooth and nail at various points in their history to prevent the rise of the open software model from gaining ground in the market place.  Each in turn has failed.

Richard Stallman
Richard Stallman

Today all the major software firms recognise that they must find a way to work with open source software, and that the “many eyes” method of correcting software bugs is far more efficient than restricting visibility to a chosen few.

I like the story of Linux and am inspired by the courage and conviction of such men as Linus Torvalds and his co activist Richard Stallman, and the tens of thousands of open source developers, who have provided proof of the real value of diversity.

(If you want you learn more about the story of open source and the thinking behind it try reading The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S Raymond).

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