Learner’s Guild’s Field Trip To Slack
“Out of a great need we are all holding hands and climbing. Not loving is letting go. Listen, the terrain around here is far too dangerous for that.”
During my last 2 weeks at Learner’s Guild, a coding school in Oakland, I was able to organize a few special events which marked my nostalgic and life changing time there. The most memorable was a field trip to Slack. The idea came from an awesome engineer, friend, and Girl Develop It Chapter Leader, Brenda Jin. Over coffee, our conversation led to gender and diversity issues in tech. She casually mentioned inviting my school for a tour and Q&A session. A month later, thanks to Jeunee Simon and Brenda, 50 learners from Learner’s Guild were headed for a half-day event at Slack’s offices.
This event was seminal because Slack is not only changing the face of tech by being a leader in hiring and retainment practices of diverse candidates but they are also advancing engineering as a whole. They have proven that diverse teams can achieve more, and become a high growth start up.
“How has Slack achieved so much success in just the last two years? It may have something to do with its inclusive culture and corporate attitude towards diversity.” — Tobias Hardy, Launchpad
As an activist and organizer in underserved communities, I have personally admired how Slack has provided entry into careers in tech to under represented folks, which have literally changed people’s lives. They have built a successful brand and stayed true to its mission around diversity and inclusion. Slack truly walks the talk.
“There are tech companies that talk about wanting an inclusive culture and hiring diverse candidates and then there are tech companies that just do it. Slack is the latter” — Wayne Sutton, co-founder of Change Catalyst
Learner’s Guild has a similar mission of increasing diversity in tech. A seed has been planted in Oakland that hopes to hone untapped tech talent. Still in its early stages, Learner’s Guild actively recruits diverse talent, provides resources, and uses an apprenticeship model to develop learners’ coding skills. So it was exciting to organize an event that would link that talent, us, with one of the corporate leaders in the field.
From the moment we stepped into Slack’s offices, we were warmly welcomed. We were given a tour of their main office. We quickly noticed balloons by some desks, which were there to acknowledge new interns. There was a comfortable atmosphere. Employees felt free to stop work and ask us questions. I have been on tours at other tech companies where workers were glued to their stations, which showed focus but also emanated a cold environment.
Next on the agenda, was lunch with the engineering hiring managers. Both of the engineering managers were people of color. In a quiet and private lunch room, we were able to have small group conversations. We asked questions about the hiring process, interviews, and the engineers shared their personal experience landing their first jobs in tech. The day was tightly arranged for us and the one on one support felt like being with family.
The most amazing part of the day was the Q&A portion where we heard from and had our questions answered by a panel of engineers that all came from non-traditional backgrounds. We heard insightful answers on how to prepare for a career in tech coming from similar backgrounds, how to navigate the tech industry as bootcamp grads, and how to pass biased technical interviews. One golden piece of advice by a panelist when asked how a woman can pass a technical interview with only male interviewers, “Ask for a woman on the technical team to interview you.”
My classmates and I came away from the trip feeling empowered about our futures in the industry, rather than deflated and anxious hearing from and seeing only white, or Asian male engineers. In fact, the panel had more women than men.
The biggest take away from this whole event is that inclusion is becoming a priority in tech and companies like Slack are leading the way and creating a mutually beneficial relationship between delivering high quality software and engineers from diverse backgrounds.
Like the Hafez poem above states, the point is that we need each other. In the cut throat, competitive, and highly lucrative field of technology, in order to solve the problem of diversity in tech, we need to support each other. We need companies to prioritize diversity, coding schools to resource and hone diverse talent. With all of us working together, we can build a better tomorrow for all and not just some of us.