Immigrants have built America’s tech industry
Jordan Gonen couldn’t stop staring at Twitter over the weekend.
He, like many interested in Silicon Valley and the tech industry, watched drama unfold online where CEOs and techies shared their stances in 140 characters, images or live videos from protests around the country all speaking out against Trump’s executive order, where people from seven Muslim-majority nations are barred from entering the United States.
“My dad came [to America] from Israel after the army. I always looked up to what immigrants have done,” Gonen said. “Everyone was posting that stat of 40 percent of the Fortune 500 was founded by immigrants.”
Gonen, from his dorm room at Washington University, began doing some research on Google and soon discovered what founders and CEOs on his Twitter timeline were referencing. But there was no in-depth roundup, other than a few listicles.
“‘We have to build this now,'” Gonen said to his friend Henry Kaufman, a high school student in Denver. While thousands of protesters flooded the largest airports around the country Saturday evening, Gonen and Kaufman put together a website that lists almost 70 immigrant company founders.
Their search in itself would have been quite different without immigrants. Google cofounder Sergey Brin came to the U.S. from the Soviet Union at age 6. Apple cofounder Steve Jobs’ father emigrated from Beirut in 1949. Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang was born in Taiwan.
Immigrants created some of America’s biggest tech companies, but this, as Gonen quickly discovered, isn’t just a founders’ story. Those companies would not have survived without employing thousands of other immigrants. The future Google, Apple or Yahoo relies on talent from abroad to fill positions and to meet their global ambitions.
If the next American-made company wants to connect the world, it can’t just do it as an American-born English-speaker living in a tower in San Francisco or New York.
President Donald Trump may want to make America great again with more jobs, and there are already plenty to be filled in the tech industry.
For every software developer looking for a job, there are an estimated five open positions, according to Stack Overflow. About 70 percent of tech jobs may go unfilled in 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor cited.
That talent supply chain gap in America has caused tech companies to look abroad for talent. In fact, companies like Andela (backed by the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative) are looking to improve the talent supply chain by placing developers in Africa with global tech companies.
Trump’s executive order, which put a 120-day halt on the entry to the U.S. of any refugees, a 90-day halt for all citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries and an indefinite halt on all refugees from Syria, is just the first concern. Another executive order may overhaul the work-visa (H-1B) program, which tech companies use to recruit and hire tens of thousands of employees, Bloomberg reported.
Tech companies that serve global communications rely on foreign workers. Tech CEOs, who until recently had been relatively quiet about Trump, have come out in recent days against the order. Many of them pointed to employees affected and said they would be doing everything they can to help them.
YouNow, a privately held livestreaming company that competes with the publicly traded tech giants Facebook, Twitter, Google and Amazon, hires abroad.
“We depend upon the contributions of people from different cultures and backgrounds to create the best product.”
“As a global live streaming platform, we depend upon the contributions of people from different cultures and backgrounds to create the best product and serve users from all parts of the world.We are proud of our diversity and our team members from over half a dozen countries,” Adi Sideman, CEO of YouNow, wrote in an email.
Sideman was born in Israel. YouNow is headquartered in New York.
“We, much like successful New Yorker and American entrepreneurs for generations, depend upon our ability to work with great people from all parts of the world,” he continued.
Starry, an internet service company based in Boston (where a bunch of British immigrants founded America), is run by Chet Kanojia, who was born in India. He employs immigrants from India, Pakistan, Jamaica, Vietnam, United Kingdom, Turkey, Israel and France. Some of those employees are children of war refugees, the company said.
“What would the industry look like without immigration? The answer is that we simply wouldn’t have had the technology advances we’ve had over the last several decades and the United States wouldn’t be the leader in the technology industry,” said Virginia Lam Abrams, a Starry spokesperson.
Stories like that are common in the tech community, and in particular, at startups.
What comes next
Monday was a quiet day inside the offices around Silicon Valley, said sources at several of the largest tech companies.
Productivity was at a low not so good for the economy Trump hopes to rebuild. Attention still was turned to Twitter and spent wondering what they could do next.
More than 2,000 employees at Google, however, walked out of their offices. About eight offices participated in the employee-led demonstration.
Press inquiries about the topic of the weekend were met with a mix of stress and enthusiasm. While Uber was battling the #DeleteUber PR crisis, Lyft was rocketing to new heights. Many requests for comment sent to the world’s largest companies were not returned or simply met with a copied summary or link to a statement from the weekend.
A Microsoft spokesperson told Mashable, We believe the executive order is misguided and a fundamental step backwards.There are more effective ways to protect public safety without creating so much collateral damage to the countrys reputation and values.
An Apple spokesperson said the company has a plan to reach out to every affected employee and make sure they are in constant communication on what they need. Even so, it doesn’t just come down to what employee is abroad or on a visa. Employees have children, family and friends who are abroad.
Some of America’s tech giants now habitually release diversity reports, which breakdown their employee pool by race and gender. Statistics on the number of employees who are immigrants or on visas aren’t typically shared, but some companies now have taken to publicly championing their appreciation and need.
Google cofounder Sergey Brin attended the protest at San Francisco International Airport Saturday.
“Immigrants are more than twice as likely to start a business as the native-born population. Immigrant entrepreneurs started, in whole or in part, some of the most important technology companies of our time,” reads a letter from New York tech leaders sent to the president on Monday.
As for Gonen, he said he hopes to keep his new website updated with a list and the stories of immigrant leaders in the tech industry.
“Issues like these are not so political issues, more like issues in life,” Gonen said. “I just want to celebrate more people, bring recognition to more people.”
BONUS: A former physics student uses education to combat Islamophobia in America
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