Joy Reid reports from the My Brother’s Keeper Hackathon, which is bringing young people of color together with some of the brightest in the tech industry.
Joy Reid reports from the My Brother’s Keeper Hackathon, which is bringing young people of color together with some of the brightest in the tech industry.
In today’s digital age, entrepreneurs in the technology space are key to creating a future of promise and revolutionizing the everyday lives of consumers. For that very reason, AT&T is celebrating tech-driven innovators and proclaiming them to be the new celebrities of the digital world.
In its latest push to celebrate tech entrepreneurs of color, AT&T pointed a spotlight at three trailblazing tech entrepreneurs—a music lover who has found a distinct connection between hip hop, entrepreneurship and technology; the head of a global IT service company who has yet to graduate high school; and an enchanting poet who used her past experiences with journalism to become a unique talent in the world of social media.
Anthony Frasier (pictured above), a New Jersey native who discovered a natural gift for developing mobile applications and designing web sites, is now the founder of several tech businesses and spends much of his time helping other emerging entrepreneurs make their way into the swiftly growing industry.
“I found myself always getting approached by entrepreneurs from all backgrounds—not just African Americans—and youth who wanted to figure out how they could get into the tech industry,” Frasier told Atlanta Blackstar.
Frasier explained that he already had his own plate full of startups like Playd and was busy developing the now award-winning gaming site TheKoalition.com.
As he continued to grow his own businesses, he still never forgot about the many tech savvy hopefuls who wanted to follow in his footsteps.
In the midst of putting in serious groundwork and increasing networking efforts, he came across James Lopez who would later become the his business partner and co-founder of The Phat Startup, a company dedicated to giving emerging entrepreneurs the resources and insider knowledge they need to take their own startups to the next level with a particular focus on individuals with urban backgrounds who didn’t always feel welcome in the the tech industry.
Phat Startup has already garnered serious attention from media outlets and other successful entrepreneurs in the tech space, but Frasier said it was a especially exciting to have AT&T reach out to him, considering the type of work they were already doing throughout the community.
“AT&T—I’ve always been a great admirer of how much they were doing throughout the community,” Frasier said. “I remember seeing a lot of AT&T hackathons and things like that and it always was interesting to see.”
For Frasier, anything that fostered creativity in the tech space was a cause worth getting behind, especially in an industry that has a habit of being money hungry.
“It’s all about money,” Frasier said as he explained why he thought creativity needed to be pushed to the forefront of conversations in Silicon Valley. “A lot of people aren’t really trying to solve the bigger, big, big problem and that’s what Phat Startup does. We have a big problem we’re trying to solve.”
That problem is how to make entrepreneurship more appealing and “inviting” to people who didn’t feel welcome in the space before by building a bridge between entrepreneurship and hip hop.
“We can learn how to hustle from Jay-Z and there are things you can kind of pull out of an interview with Diddy that’s like, ‘Man, there’s something here,’ ” Frasier explained. “So I eventually saw a way that I can get into entrepreneurship education and teaching people how they could do what I was doing by simply using hip hop culture as a catalyst.”
It’s the type of solution that could foster creativity and spark an interest in technology at a young age and possibly help the country see more young Black tech CEOs like Jaylen Bledsoe (pictured below).
Bledsoe has yet to even graduate high school but that didn’t stop the tech savvy teen from launching his own business.
Bledsoe was only 13 when he became a tech entrepreneur. Roughly three years later his IT services company, Jaylen D. Bledsoe Global Group, formerly known as Bledsoe Technologies, has started working with major companies in a variety of different countries.
The teen’s ability to successfully launch and expand a major tech company hasn’t gone unnoticed. Bledsoe earned a spot as an honoree for Ebony’s Power 100 list along with comedian and TV personality Steve Harvey, today’s most influential international powerhouse songstress Beyonce and the media mogul herself Oprah Winfrey.
The self-taught coding expert and web designer started out designing websites and working on digital projects for friends and family before he realized he had the skills to run an entire business.
“Seventh grade year I was working mostly websites for friends and family and kind of from there I realized that I had a really unique skill that people really didn’t have,” Bledsoe explained. “So I learned it even more and eventually started my own business eighth grade year.”
Now, Bledsoe spends much of his time fulfilling duties as the CEO of a global company, a public speaker who often garners crowds of thousands of eager listeners, a young entrepreneur serving as a role model for other emerging entrepreneurs and, of course, as a student in school holding multiple student leadership positions and maintaining an impressive grade point average.
In addition to the obvious display of work ethics, Bledsoe also expressed his desire to use his company to have a positive impact on the world, which makes him the ideal candidate for AT&T’s campaign.
“My goal for the company has never been about financial gain. It’s always been to impact the world in a better way,” Bledsoe said.
AT&T’s campaign also featured an entrepreneur whose unlikely background helped her pave a successful path through Silicon Valley.
Lynne D. Johnson (pictured above, center) is currently a pop culture journalist who used her gift of communication to become an incredible success in the social media and digital content space.
In the past Johnson has served as a director of digital and social media strategy in the brand strategy and marketing practice at Waggener Edstrom.
With an extensive background in the media industry, Johnson was able to provide a fresh push for creative content for some of today’s most popular media brands, including Vibe, Spin and Fast Company.
Doubling as a pop culture journalist and one of today’s more requested keynote speakers in the technology space was no easy feat for Johnson, especially considering the diversity problem that is plaguing Silicon Valley.
A Black employee in a leadership position in Silicon Valley is unheard of, while a Black woman in a leadership position in Silicon Valley almost seems mythical to some.
Despite incredibly high barriers to entry, Johnson defied all odds and is now one of the most in-demand content and community consultants in the technology space.
Now that major tech companies like Facebook and Google have released their diversity statistics to the public, the Rev. Jesse Jackson is ready to launch the next phase of his plan to increase diversity in Silicon Valley.
Jackson announced the next phase of his plan on The Guardian over the weekend and bashed Silicon Valley for its “shameful” record on equality.
Through his social justice organization Rainbow Push, Jackson urged the hi-tech giants to release statistics about the demographics of their workforce.
With many tech giants having African-Americans making up less than 2 percent of their workforce and almost none in executive positions, Jackson stated that these companies “must put a real plan in place.”
“Treat inclusion and diversity just as you would any serious business line of a company and measure them,” Jackson wrote.
Representatives from the companies have already publicly criticized the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley, but some believe that the companies have not followed up with an efficient response to the problem at hand.
Jackson stated that the “face of technology” needs to change, and he believes Rainbow Push has the plan to do it.
According to the civil rights activist, the organization will be working hard over the next few months to “review the performance and causes that have perpetuated the lack of diversity and inclusion in technology,” get corporate leaders involved in implementing the necessary changes, and “identify strategies and solutions” that could actually help “change the face of technology companies to mirror the consumer and demographic base of the community.”
According to Jackson, African-Americans “consume more technology” than the average American although they are vastly “underrepresented in the boardrooms.”
The blueprint for Rainbow Push’s next plan of action also lists several other objectives for the coming months.
The organization will aim to create an annual diversity report that will keep track of diversity and inclusion in Silicon Valley.
Other goals for the plan include launching a pledge commitment and 2020 digital inclusion and diversity vision and creating an advisory committee that will be dedicated solely to coming up with the best practices to help nurture diversity in the tech space.
Jackson went on to say that the next phase in Rainbow Push’s plan will continue the fight for equality for minorities.
“In our journey from freedom to equality, we’ve used all of the tools and resources: we vote; we legislate; we litigate; we advocate; we leverage,” he wrote. “And with a mission stepped in our faith to seek justice, fairness and equality, we will fight and win.”
It’s a known fact that the technology industry can use more diversification. I’ve been in the information security field for about seven years, and in most of my roles, I’ve been one of two women in a sea of men. In my current position, I am the only woman.
Frankly, I don’t blame this lack of diversity on companies. Companies hire people who are right for the job, fit the culture of the environment, and can grow the organization. Undoubtedly, there are adjustments companies can make to help increase the level of diversity and to make Black and brown workers in these fields feel more comfortable.
But why focus on increasing diversity? Diversity is important as we all have different experiences in life and bring our distinct perspectives to the forefront. Culture, lifestyle, environment, etc., all shape our mindset, giving each person a unique offering that differs from their peers, with disparate ideas and approaches to a problem.
Why is it important to for companies to help women and minorities in tech roles feel more comfortable? Oftentimes when you are a Black or brown employee, you tend to feel like an outcast, and even if you don’t, you still want to feel a sense of inclusion. If you don’t feel included, you are bound to seek it elsewhere. Personally, I don’t mind working with mostly men. But “mostly” is the operative word. I find it gratifying to just have a chat with a female colleague. Not only did having another woman on my team make my environment more pleasing from a personal perspective, but men and women often tend to think differently, handle situations differently, and propose completely different strategies.
This is why tailored networking groups serve a good purpose.
There are several questions that surface on this topic:
Why aren’t there more women and African-Americans in technology?
What can companies do to attract more women and minority workers?
Why do women leave technical roles?
I’m not going to venture into answering those questions, as they are so complex. However, what about the candidates? Are we, women and minorities doing our part to become creators of technology and not just consumers? Are companies and media outlets doing their part to highlight women and minorities with great technology accomplishments that will inspire our youth?
With that being said, there are experiences had by women and minorities in tech that touch opposite ends of the spectrum. Personally, my experience has been rewarding. I’ve encountered a few situations that were not ideal, but could not be completely attributed to the fact that I am a double minority. On the other hand, I’ve heard of horrific experiences had by women and minorities that were clearly related to their gender or ethnicity.
But before we start placing blame, let’s take some accountability. Before we start complaining about how other races are not creating things with us in mind, let’s bunker down and become creators. Before we start asking what others are teaching our youth, let’s plant meaningful seeds within the minds of our future generations.
No one can tell our stories better than us. No one can understand our struggles better than us. No one can, in a sense, become chameleons like we can. So who better than us than to take charge and be the creators of our own destinies? We don’t always have to be double minorities.
Quiessence is an Information Security Professional with over seven years of experience. She is also the Curriculum Development Lead for Black Girls CODE NY, creator of the Girltechie Campaign, and a workshop called “Securing Your Web”. Find her on the web @ www.itsquiessence.com
“Tech Diversity is the next civil rights step,” Rev. Jesse Jackson reportedly announced last month. As an African- American woman with 20-plus years in the field of technology, I respectfully disagree with Jackson’s opinion. As a matter of fact, I believe this type of rhetoric serves as a smokescreen and is not conducive to bridging the racial and gender technology gap. It simply takes our eyes off the prize.
Jackson’s lobbying of tech companies and asking them to disclose their hiring data is to be commended. However, now that the numbers have been exposed, this is an opportune time to shift the conversation. This issue is about an empowerment movement in our African-American community. A movement involving empowering us to proactively engage in the field of technology. A movement to transform technology consumers into coders.
There are science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs for young people in every state. Coding and technology classes for adults are plentiful (although some are one-hit wonders with no employment opportunities tied to them, but that’s another conversation). The aforementioned being true now raises questions and shifts the conversation to how we can collectively:
1) Improve community awareness and encourage active participation in technology training programs and career opportunities.
2) Empower minorities to believe they can succeed in the technology field.
3) Engage work opportunities in the right roles, given the many aspects of technology jobs, not merely “coding.”
4) Engage committed technology employers in a conversation, which will lead to hiring entry-level, nontraditionally educated technology professionals.
Shifting the conversation must also involve a discussion about a full-cycle program of helping successful non-tech workers re-career into the field of technology. We are missing an entire population of adults who are unemployed, underemployed or simply looking for a change.
In our Detroit-based organization, Sisters Code, we call it “Awakening the Mature Geek,” and I’m living proof that it will work. After college, I was an aspiring mortician and middle school teacher. At the age of 25, I participated in a corporate training program where I learned to code in seven different languages in 13 weeks.
My life was instantly transformed and I emerged as a mainframe programmer. I went on to become a global technology corporate executive, deputy CIO, and technology CEO. If I did not have my personal technology “awakening,” my life would not be what it is today.
Although my perspective is different from Rev. Jackson’s, it does not mean I don’t recognize the need for deeper engagement across our ecosystem. There must be opportunity awareness in the community, identification of individuals who are interested in exploring careers in technology, training and workforce development programs with a direct link to jobs, and corporations who are committed to hiring nontraditionally educated employees.
Speaking from the experience of often being the only woman and person of color at many technology tables, the workforce technology diversity numbers aren’t shocking, but I’m 100 percent sure we can do better. If we are really serious about bridging the racial and gender technology gap, there must be accountability and engagement among all concerned parties.
Count me in.
Three giants in the technology sector recently released their diversity reports. Google, Yahoo, and Facebook proved what we have long suspected: Diversity in technology is almost non-existent.
As a Black person, I was very interested in the representation of Blacks at these companies. While the number was the lowest of the four non-white ethnicties (Asian, Hispanic, Black, and multiracial), I was surprised to find that the number was the same at all four companies: 2 percent.
No other ethnic group had such uniformly low level of representation. My surprise increased when I saw the wide variation in the most represented groups, whites and Asians. There was an 11 point difference between the highest representation of whites (61 percent at Google) and the lowest (50 percent at Yahoo).
There was a nine point difference between the highest representation of Asians (39 percent at Yahoo) and the lowest (30 percent at Google). How can there be such a wide point-spread among whites and Asians, but the exact same percentage for Blacks? Can it be an accident that Blacks are at 2 percent across all four companies? Is it by chance that Blacks are the least represented minority group?
Contrast the extremely low representation of Blacks in technology with areas where Blacks are over-represented. I can think of two: sports and the prison system. We clearly see an excess of Black athletes and Black prisoners. I think this is because Blacks are valued for our athletic skills, but we also have to cope with a criminal justice system that unequally targets and imprisons us.
Is it possible that we can increase the representation of Blacks in technology by combining the forces of skill appreciation (used in sports) and systematic recruitment (used in the criminal justice system)? I think that not only is this possible, but it’s the only way to solve the 2 percent diversity problem in technology.
Improving the appreciation of the technology skills of Blacks and setting up a system for aggressively recruiting them into tech careers will require a change in how Blacks are viewed by employers. This can be done by implementing three kinds of visibility improvements: media, entrepreneurship, mentorship. Blerds are instrumental to making these improvements.
Visibility in Media
The media is a powerful force for changing perceptions. That’s why media companies are multibillion dollar operations. If we can get more Blerds involved in both traditional and new media, then we can help connect Blacks to the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. That’s why having astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson as host of the television series Cosmos was such an important accomplishment. We need more Blerds hosting science and technology shows as well as working behind the camera to write and produce these types of series.
Visibility in Entrepreneurship
The technology world is filled with the romance of the startup. We thrive on replicating the success of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg. Although most startups fail, we worship those who fight for and achieve multiple rounds of venture capital funding. Of course, the vast majority of those seeking funding and providing funding are white males.
If we can get more people of color — like Tristan Walker, the founder of Bevel — positioned as startup founders and providers of capital, then we can establish Blacks with a seat at the table. I’m convinced that there are Blerds across the country who can make the leap into entrepreneurship. We just need to encourage them to do so.
Visibility in Mentorship
Most successful people can point to someone who invested in their success. These mentors took time to share their expertise and experiences to provide that boost that everyone needs to make progress. Most Blerds are introverts, but that introversion needs to be removed as an impediment to investing in other people (especially other Blerds).
I try to dedicate a few hours a week to mentoring of people of color in technology. I often do this through informal calls, emails, and lunches. Blerds can’t wait for others to ask us for mentorship. We need to proactively identify people we can help and start providing them the help that they need.
Improving the 2 percent representation of Blacks in technology will take an investment of time and resources. However, Blerds can work in the realms of media, entrepreneurship, and mentorship to improve the appreciation of the technology skills of Blacks and set up a system for getting ourselves recruited into tech companies. By doing this, we will steadily see results. After all, it has worked well in sports and our criminal justice system, and we can reposition that effectiveness for positive change.
Anjuan Simmons has worked in the technology industry for over two decades. He is also the author of “Minority Tech: Journaling Through Blackness and Technology” (http://www.MinorityTech.com). You can find out more about him at http://www.AnjuanSimmons.com.
Source: USA Today