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Thank you Prince

The world mourned the untimely death of Prince because of his music but as Billy MacInnes finds the IT world has a further reason to miss him

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: MicroScope: MicroScope: June 2016

I have never been a big Prince fan. I’ve listened to the singles and liked quite a few of them but never thought to myself “this is amazing music” in the same way that I might listening to other artists. So while I own two of his albums, Sign ‘O’ The Times and a Best Of, I don’t listen to them all that often.

Anyway, there’s an interesting post doing the rounds on Facebook of a CNN interview with Van Jones about Prince. In the interview, Jones, a CNN commentator, political activist and former advisor to the White House, reveals that Prince inspired the creation of a non-profit initiative called YesWeCode in Oakland with the goal of helping 100,000 “young women and men from low-opportunity backgrounds find success in the tech sector”.

According to Jones, in the wake of the shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in February 2012, Prince told him: “A black kid wearing a hoodie might be seen as a thug. A white kid wearing a hoodie might be seen as a Silicon Valley genius. Let’s teach the black kids how to be like Mark Zuckerberg.”

Jones added that Prince only agreed to headline the New Orleans 20th Anniversary Essence Festival two years ago if he could use it as a platform to launch YesWeCode.

In a separate interview, tech entrepreneur Kwame Anku told MSNBC’s Joy Reid that Prince’s motivation wasn’t solely to encourage children of colour to forge careers in the technology industry but also to create entrepreneurs that would establish the next Google, Facebook or LinkedIn.

Prince wanted them to be able to create and control companies rather than just work for them. Anku compared it to Prince’s famous comment about the music industry to the effect that “if you don’t own the masters, your master owns you”.

It’s a measure of the significance of Prince’s commitment that the YesWeCode web site features a page entitled Thank You, Prince with the following message: “Prince’s commitment to ensuring young people of colour have a voice in the tech sector continues to impact the lives of future visionaries creating the tech of tomorrow.”

Many musicians have used technology during their careers, some have even created a career from surfing the wave of a particular music technology. People forget that Prince was something of an innovator in technology too. In his interview, Anku said: “When you think about the music in the ’70s and ’80s, he was an innovator. He was designing algorithms for keyboard sounds like no one had ever heard before.” But he also stressed Prince felt that, whatever the merits of the technology, musicians still had to play.

By helping to give kids of colour the means and vision to go beyond just coding for companies to setting up their own businesses and making their own paths, he was effectively hoping that, whatever the technology, they would be able to create their own futures. And own their work.



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