Today, discussing racial and cultural dynamics in the workplace can be challenging. It is close to home —for everyone. Nonetheless, I genuinely believe that life experiences are the most valuable form of what we might call "open-source intelligence." Life experience is free, accessible, and sometimes very reliable information. That is why today, I choose to share a few thoughts about my success as an African American in the technology sector. My hope is to offer an honest and unique viewpoint on what it is like to venture into tech as a minority.
Like many developers, I started my journey into the tech world at a very young age. I was a hardcore gamer with a no-sleep streak of 2 ½ days during my prime. My love for video games naturally led me to learn more about how they were created. I’d always enjoyed the process of learning and being immediately rewarded when I found the correct answer to a problem. As a result, by the time I graduated high school, I had become the official family help desk, and could write small computer programs such as calculators all because of YouTube and Google.
I believe that there are three key things that contributed most to my success as an African American working in tech.
Number 1: finding my root. For me, that was reconnecting to my faith. For you, it might be something different. In my experience, you are more likely to succeed if you have a root. It serves as the foundation of your character, thoughts, actions, and words.
Number 2: staying focused and humble. If I needed help, I asked. I once walked up to a total stranger at a Subway sandwich shop just because he looked "business-y". I asked him to teach me what he knew. He is, to this day, a friend and a resource. Some may call that "lucky"' but I call it "if you don't ask, the answer is always no."
Number 3: staying true to my desire to learn. I did not allow myself to be prevented from getting the information that I needed. When it comes to tech, there is simply no excuse. The information is out there. And the information is free! If you want to see a form of "black excellence" at its finest in an environment where resources are far less than what we have in the USA, I encourage you to watch "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind". It is about a young man who creates a water pump for his community in Africa. This young man changed the fate of an entire village by merely reading a book. No college degree. No fancy computer. Just a book and some basic tech.
The technology industry is one of the most truly "level" playing fields for minorities, underdogs, and curious souls. It is an industry where your success is directly correlated to the size of the problem that you can solve. There are countless ways to enter the industry, many of which require nothing more than an internet connection and some grit. Tech is an industry of amazing machines of all shapes and sizes that manage data and offer solutions. And unlike people, they do not have opinions.
I believe in tech. I believe in hard work. And I believe that when harnessed together, anyone – regardless of social or ethnic background – can be unstoppable.