Wayne Hicks, executive director of the BDPA (formerly Black Data Processing Associates) Education and Technology Foundation, recently raised a question in his blog that's been begging to be raised for a long time: Where is BDPA when it comes to innovation?
An insightful response was provided by Thaddeus Howze, an African-American IT professional and small-business consultant. Howze's lengthy response is well worth reading in its entirety, but here's how he began:
Nowhere, as far as I can tell. Despite its bold talk of bringing technologists from the classroom to the boardroom, BDPA has done very little publically to promote technological innovation amongst its members, and for the most part appears to be behind the curve of technology, let alone, innovation, not at the front of it. This is a broad generalization but having worked with BDPA in my area for a dozen years, and from watching other chapters at work, both locally and in the Internet realm, I feel I can say these things confidently.
Howze attributed the BDPA's lack of innovation to his assessment that BDPA is much more of a networking organization than a technical one:
Most of the highly technical people that I have met in BDPA leave once it's found that their technical expertise is far less valued than the leadership skills being trained, taught, used or exploited by the Chapter. Highly technical people are rarely promoted to the leadership roles in BDPA, possibly because those technical people lack the social skills needed to succeed in the very political climate that is BDPA.
Howze went on to write that what bothers him the most is that young black IT professionals are forming new organizations, like the National Black Information Technology Leadership Organization and Blacks in Technology, rather than joining BDPA.
Now, I'm a middle-aged white guy who clearly has absolutely no way of truly identifying with the issues confronted by young black IT professionals, so my thoughts on the matter obviously need to be considered in that context. But one thing that transcends race in this discussion is the fact that an IT professional's technical skills need to be developed harmoniously and congruently with his social/networking/communications skills for innovation to occur. No matter how technologically savvy a group is, innovation will be elusive if the communications and networking skills needed to formulate, share and understand ideas are lacking.
The formation of new organizations that might be more focused on hardcore technology than BDPA has been isn't a bad thing. What would be bad is if the members of those organizations fail to appreciate the value of the non-technology skills that BDPA has done an outstanding job of fostering for decades.