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Seen and heard at Blacktech Week: Two views of diversity (or lack thereof) in tech


Why I am here: Magic Leap CEO wants a company that looks like the world

What's cooking behind the Magic Leap curtain is still a mystery, but founder and CEO Rony Abovitz gave a short talk at Blacktech Week Friday. He hasn't given many local  appearances -- it's heads down for him and his "mixed reality" company -- but he said he had a message to share with the audience:

"I firmly believe that if you look at where computing can go, where media can go, where human experience can go, it should be designed and built by people from all over the world -- men, women, black and white, people of all races. ... Coming here today is about to saying we are a color blind company. If you have skills we want you. We don't care if you are not from Stanford or MIT, we want you."

Abovitz appeared on stage with Israel Idonije, an NFL veteran who also has started and runs several companies: Blessed Communion, seller of pre-filled communion cups, Athlitacomics, bringing sports heroes to life in a new medium, and Askthedoctor.com for medical help and advice. Idonije's Athlitacomics is collaborating with Magic Leap.

Abovitz also shared some advice with the mostly African-American audience: "I think you have to have an unstoppable determination to succeed. You have to have some vision of the future, I think that is the most important thing, you have to be creative ... It will be 100 times harder than you think, but those that don't quit those are the successful entrepreneurs, and ultimately you do need a helping hand." He added: Think positive and work your ass off, get smart people around you, and create a culture around you.

On starting a company in Florida (Magic Leap is building a 260,00-square-foot headquarters in Plantation), rather than the Valley:  "A thousand times harder.  For me it is like a badge of honor -- I am going to do it here and I don't care."

And about the technology: "It will blow your mind, in a good way. We call  it mixed reality lightfield. [With it] games and media will be amazing, visual music will be amazing, but I think education will be transformational. In healthcare, it will also be transformational."

As he has said many times before, we'll have to wait for the details. He said his company is full of enthusiastic 11-year-olds who want to make other 11-year-olds jump for joy. "We want to get it right."

The company is about  500 people now and will be doubling and tripling in the next 18 months.

"I don't want my company looking like Silicon Valley companies. I want it to look like what the world looks like. Somehow all these tech companies don't do that. If you guys apply, we will give you a chance.

"I really don't want to wake up and go we have 5,000 people and we look just like everyone else -- that is not my goal."

Read more: Magic Leap toasts its vision for the future of computing

Read more: Mysterious Magic Leap lands $793 million in mega-funding round

Read more: Magic Leap's Abovitz speaks at UM: "Set out to change the world and have fun doing it"



Why I quit Twitter (and turned down a seven figure severance package)

Leslie Miley, a black engineering manager at Twitter until last fall,  said he had to fly away.

Black Twitter drives Twitter -- 28 percent of the African American population uses Twitter, he said. More than half of Twitter users are women and minorities.

Yet inside Twitter the reality was: 1 percent black engineers, 3 percent Hispanic, 10 percent women, the worst in the Valley, said Miley, during a talk at Blacktech Week. #BlackLivesMatter was becoming a huge force in calling for change, but " I was still walking around the building at Twitter and still and not seeing people that look like me."

Miley, who has also worked at Apple, Yahoo and Google,  said he became reinspired when Jack Dorsey returned to the helm, and Miley came up with a plan -- and job description -- for making real change in diversity within Twitter.

"I believed if I can change the ratio here, I can change the internet. I got Jack's buy in, I got HR's buying, I was inspired. "

Then he said he pitched it to the VP of engineering, who suggested he could create a tool that classifies names by ethnicities in order to study the pipeline -- and as Miley saw it,  he was asking for a tool that profiles people.  "I knew at the moment it was time to leave. The work I need to do is bigger than all of this."

He said he resigned, but shortly after that Twitter had a layoff and included him, and offered him a severance package. But the severance package, he said, included a non-disparagement clause, preventing him from ever speaking negatively about Twitter. "I'll pass," he said. Then he said he continued to get higher offers until he received a 7-figure severance package." I said no, I said my experiences as a black man are not for sale."

When his post about why he resigned and the press around it made the rounds, he said he was heartened because people inside Twitter began retweeting it.

"We have to stay within technology. We have to own our stories, our own companies, our own technology.  I don't want you to come to Silicon Valley -- I want you to do it here," he told the crowd.

 "I think Silicon Valley is hostile to diversity - period," he continued. "Why don't they open an engineering center in Detroit? Or Miami...  people think we need help. No, we just need a level playing field."

Blacktech Week continues Saturday with a Women's Innovation Brunch, featuring Kathryn Finney talking about her organization's latest findings on women of color in tech. 

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Read more: Blacktech Week: Innovating, scaling, giving back