Barri Sambaris

@Barine

What Does Black in Tech Look Like?

Over the last 30 years, the tech industry has seen a great boost and is at the fore of dedicated innovations and advancements around the world. The boom in tech has led to developments and created opportunities for millions all over the world. While beyond the skies is the limit for tech, and developers, diversity — or rather, a lack of it is a growing concern. Software teams seem to be made up of primarily white and Asian men. Blacks, women, and Hispanics are largely under underrepresented.

Interestingly, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter, according to the companies’ diversity reports are on an average 56% white, 37% Asian, 3% Hispanic and 1% black.

Tech should be one industry where race or gender should take a secondary place. Skills, experience, and results are the primary interest of clients and employers. So why are the blacks having a hard time getting in? Or are they just absent?

According to Globe and Mail, Karl Martin, founder and Chief Technology of Nymi, he says few applicants are black. “I think it’s both a pipeline issue and an issue of how people are treated once they are in the field.”

A viral thread on twitter by @ParissAthena on twitter tagged, what does black twitter in tech look like mocks the supposed pipeline issue.

The tweets have over 3k retweets, 10k likes and 5k comments (as at the time of this write-up) with blacks proudly displaying their pictures and qualifications. Some already are having testimonies of job offers and getting mentors. These blacks are gearing and ready to go. They have a lot to offer.

Tech leaders need not only to recognize the need for diversity in the workplace but also champion the issue internally.

Who do we have to blame?

While a number of reasons have contributed to the underrepresentation of the black community in tech — racism, work culture, harassment, lack of proficient skills, fear and lack of awareness- my interest is in the fact that blacks could also be holding themselves back. We cannot fight externally if we are not strong within. Externally, there’s racism and work culture.

Within, blacks constantly feel like they are up against a system. They don’t bother going for something they already know they won’t get. Even computer science graduates rarely go for technical positions when applying for a job.

According to nytimes.com, when companies go to campus to recruit, blacks and Hispanic students often simply do not show up for information sessions but are likely to attend workshops, like for writing resumes or preparing for interviews.

Blacks also generally have low awareness in regards to the tech industry; the benefits, efforts, rewards, and opportunities. They didn’t grow up programming. No one told them they could it, and the opportunities rarely present itself to them.

Lack of role models or mentors in the programming field in the black community also limits the interest or acknowledgment of it. There are no icons in the field that spurs the fantasies, imagination, and desires of the black child.

I wonder though, for blacks to be recognized in tech, will they need to have an exclusive black tech system just like in black entertainment?

UPDATE: CISO Platform just published the world’s top 100 IT Security influencers http://top100.cisoplatform.com/top-100-influencers/and there is not a single person of color mentioned.

Black Tech in Developing Countries

While the blacks in developed countries battle pipeline issues and racism, blacks living in black countries in addition to the issues stated above, face a more dangerous problem of ‘what is programming?’, ‘What am I doing?’, ‘Why am I doing this?’, ‘Without Google, what can I really do?’

The African programmer should be able to answer these questions and adequately convey his answers to his neighbors to create awareness because somehow the general consensus amongst the general public is that the work of a computer science graduate is typing, or he wants to work in a computer center or a cyber café. His highest attainment is his ability to navigate Ms Word.

There is little awareness of what programming is about and what programmers really do. The programmers/students are unsure of what their skills and experience should be. The lecturers in schools skim over the surface or teach outdated stuff leaving the African programmer with no core and a shaky foundation. To the students, the joy of computer science is that ‘I can work anywhere with my degree’. But what can they really do?

There are no structures to advance learning or employ those with actual skills. Of the thousands that go through the narrow road of self-learning, ten-thousand fall out because honestly, programming is a long tedious journey and it’s even more discouraging when every factor — power, access to internet, a suitable computer or laptop, mentorship, role model, encouragements, sponsorship, investments — fights against the learner. Parents and friends do not understand why a programmer always has to be on his system apparently doing nothing and this encourages slight bullying and remarks.

Local companies and employers see the need for technological infrastructures but they also limit what a programmer can achieve because, at the end of the day, the employers themselves are unsure of what they really want — technologically -wise.

There are amazing programmers in Africa, especially Nigeria and Kenya, but they are so few, it’s pathetic. Organizations like Andela try to carve a learning path and environment for young developers especially female developers, but a lot of groundwork still has to be done for black tech in black countries to be outstanding.

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