Hey Apple, Nice Gesture

Earlier this week Apple announced $10,000 in scholarships for minorities in the tech industry.

Great! After that big reveal of diversity data from most of the tech bigwigs in Silicon Valley a few weeks back, here’s a leader in the industry making a definitive move to put its money where its mouth is.

Well, maybe. When you read the headline, it sounds great. Apple has acknowledged there’s a lack of diversity in tech and has come up with a solution to help feed the pipeline to change that. But when you think about it, it is underwhelming.

I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth — something is almost always better than nothing — but I just don’t think it’s enough. First, the article says they added two more scholarships. Two more? If they said 20, or forgive everything, 200, that would be something to shout about from the front pew. And I’m no techie, so I may not be qualified to judge the requirements needed to win the scholarship, but they seem kind of hard core.

Candidates have to submit “a detailed proposal describing the design of a test track for a vehicle that will transport astronauts on Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons). Design the track and include renderings that show what materials, surfaces and terrains you expose the vehicle to in order to ensure it will function while on Europa. Cost is no object. Use your imagination and design the test track to push the vehicle to the limits.”

Damn. It seems like winners should get more than $10,000 if they win, no? Like a gold medal. Real gold, in case they want to use it to pay off student loans later. Even at a state school, $10,000 may not pay for even one year of tuition. Also, what happens to their ideas? How is the company using all this fabulous — and free — innovative thinking? Call me cynical, but if I was filling out one of these applications, I’d copyright my proposal. As in, you won’t be getting any free intelligence here.

Also, how is Apple defining “minority”? Is the company planning to hire these scholarship recipients, giving them first dibs on internships, or perhaps linking the scholarship to a position later? What about follow-through? What’s the next step? That’s often the issue when it comes to recruiting minorities for anything — retention.

After due consideration I say this is well-intentioned, but just a mincing step in the right direction. With cash reserves as uber-flush as we all know Apple’s are, the company could be doing a whole lot more to put its money where its mouth is with regard to seeding and sowing a pipeline of diverse talent.

Having said that, Apple is the leading tech company for a reason. It makes sense that its requirements for this free money are tough; it’s looking for the best of the best thinkers. It is doing something, which is almost always better than nothing.

But if Apple really wants to make a difference, to really increase diversity in the tech industry, I would suggest it start earlier — to qualify for this scholarship students have to be at least a sophomore in college — to nurture a love of science and math and to identify those with an aptitude for high performance in tech-related subject matter.

Oprah started a school for girls in Africa. Apple could start one to nurture young minority techies. Hey, I can think big too.