Computer Science, Design Thinking, Innovation, Robotics, STEM

Apple’s New Strand of DNA: Inclusion Inspires Innovation

wwdc 2015 educators

STEM Educators and Innovators at WWDC 2015 included leaders from Blacks in Technology, Black Founders, Hack the Hood, Black Girls Code, the Purple Pocketbook, Yes We Code, (and me).

Design is in Apple’s DNA. Within that DNA is a strand that describes their belief that inclusion inspires innovation. At a STEM WWDC 2015 session, women and men that work at Apple shared how Apple innovates and what it takes to be someone they would hire.  Before I describe more, let me applaud Apple’s announcement that they donated $40 million dollars to go towards supporting computing students from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) through the Thurgood Marshall fund.  Students from these colleges have until September 18 to apply to become Apple Scholars.  Viewing the application details gives students an idea of what kind of student that Apple is looking for as an entry level professional. In the past year, about 50% of Apple’s hires were women, African American, Hispanic, or Native American according to Apple’s Vice President of Human Resources, Denise Young Smith, herself a graduate of Grambling State University, an HBCU.

This past summer at Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) 2015, some students from HBCUs were invited to attend as scholarship recipients through the the Thurgood Marshall fund as well. Besides the Thurgood Marshall students, there was a diverse array of students that received scholarships, including a 13 year old African American girl from New York who had two iPhone apps on the Store.  So what does it take the be a person that Apple (or Google, Facebook, Intel for that matter) will want to hire?  We, the faculty, educators, and students at WWDC 2015, heard from Apple employees on what Apple was about.  There were various women who spoke, including a lady with a disability from China who overcame obstacles to working at Google and then Apple, as well as men who have worked for Apple many years that shared their stories and advice.  John G., Randy N, and Cheryl T were some of those Apple leaders that provided some memorable insight.

Innovate on Things People Have Forgotten About

John G. spoke on how important creativity and being unique was to making great technology.  “We develop things that people already think are already good enough”, he told the students and faculty present.  “Look at Force Touch on the trackpad.  People had thought the computing industry had done all they could do with the computer trackpad.” Not only can you do tactile gestures on the trackpad, you can do “3D touch”.

Big Picture, Iterate, Learn, Repeat

Apple believes in working in small teams with diverse thinking and expertise.  John and Randy N. spoke on how Apple’s culture is one of doing and having the mindset of a start up.  Their “process” is to talk about the big picture then start iterating.  Learn.  Then repeat.  If you want to work at Apple, develop a level of expertise that no one else will have.

Your Roadblocks Can Create Paths to Change the World

Randy N. spoke on how Steve Jobs, when forced to leave the company he co-founded, started NeXT computers.  One of the purchasers of the NeXT computer, Tim Berners-Lee, used it to invent the World Wide Web.  Steve Job’s NeXT computer was initially used to do things like magnet resonance image processing and cryptography before he stumbled upon the NeXT computers’s ability to do 3D computer animation in the pioneering hit movie, Toy Story.  Roadblocks that turned into world changing paths.

Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Cheryl T. said to be comfortable being uncomfortable.  She’s not the only person I’ve heard say this recently but it was significant to hear it coming from her.  She encouraged students to learn to do things they don’t already know how to do.

Mistakes Are Not the Opposite of Success But Part of Success

Too often we let our fear of failure or perfectionism present us from trying.  Cheryl T. encouraged students by saying that mistakes are not the opposite of success but part of success.  Instead of worrying about our mistakes, we should learn from the mistakes.  What matters is what we do after the mistake.

Become a Student of Design

Design is in Apple’s DNA, Cheryl told the students.  Students, regardless of their academic discipline should develop an appreciation for design.  Feel it, not just know it, she said.  When you see someone’s design, ask yourself what was she or he thinking when they designed that software, hardware, or product.

Know What You Love

Cheryl gave a great summary to her talk but also a pathway to becoming an Apple engineer and designer.

  • Know what you love and get really great with what you love.
  • Put yourself in positions to stretch and grow.
  • Become a student of design and pull it back into whatever you do.

The diversity of  women and men that were involved in the STEM activities at WWDC were black, white, and brown. The fact that Apple was providing this learning opportunity for them was an example of Apple’s new strand of DNA that weaves innovation into design through inclusion of diverse ideas from diverse people.

About the Author:

Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D., is a humanoid robotics professor and author of “Out of the Box: Building Robots, Transforming Lives”.  Dr. Williams’ TEDx Talk, “Belonging in Technology: What I learned from Steve Jobs”, describes his journey from overcoming poverty to leading an all-women, African American RoboCup robot soccer team at Spelman College and being hired by Steve Jobs at Apple.  You can follow Dr. Williams on Twitter @outofthebox1.


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