AFROTECH: My personal experience
2 weeks ago I had the honor of attending Afrotech, a conference put on by Blavity, one of my favorite black owned blogs.
Afrotech is groundbreaking, revolutionary experience for Black techies, startup founders and entrepreneurs.
My current job (Target) sponsored me to go. I still remember writing a proposal to my director and her immediately messaging me back within 10 minutes saying "yes, you are absolutely going". Have I ever mentioned how amazing the people I work under are? I really got lucky because they're so invested in my growth as a BLACK engineer. They understand the importance of my growth technically and culturally.
Also remember, if you do not ask the answer will ALWAYS be NO. Some of us are so afraid to ask our companies to do stuff for us when we really have nothing to lose at all. Learn to always speak up and advocate for yourself.
Anywho, like everyone else that took the journey to San Fransisco for Afrotech, I learned so much and I left feeling ENERGIZED almost like I could take on the world. I met so many dope ass black engineers, technologists, and people who genuinely wanted to see us win--it was amazing. I immediately text all my girlfriends to let them know WE ARE ALL GOING NEXT YEAR. It is something that I want everyone to experience whether you directly work in technology or not. People were leaving with their soulmates too (I'm not lying ya'll).
Also, I have to say that I got to attend some very private events for some big name companies that made your girl feel like royalty (I'm talking open bars ya'll). It was amazing, they truly value the technologists out there.
Okay moving on, the top 5 things that I learned:
1. Being good at what you do is the single most important thing you can do for the people coming behind you. I sat in on a panel where they discussed how people coming in the door as an engineer always want to hop head first into diversity and inclusion and thats fine HOWEVER you can't advocate for the hiring of black and brown folks and be subpar at your job. It doesn't work that way and I know it. I always tell people "you'll bring more people in behind you by being good at what you do than by simply being an advocate who hasn't done the work" LEARN LIFE.
2. Stay Ready so you don't have to get ready- There were a ton of recruiters there from all the dream companies that a software engineers could want (I'm not kidding) and they were hiring on the spot pending some technical interviews! To me, this means STAY ON YOUR SHIT. It was easy for me to answer most questions (though I'm not in the job market) because I'm still sharp but some people really struggled. You never know when opportunity is going to come so make sure you're well prepared when it does.
3. We NEED each other- Black people in general make up less than 5% of the tech space. WE NEED TO STAY CONNECTED. I met so many of us who gave me free gems, offered their direct phone numbers and contact information just for support. It was amazing to see us supporting one another and enforced the idea that when ONE wins, we ALL win. My network has grown big time!
4. Take advantage of being the only one in the room- Though there is nothing fun about always being the only one in the room I still feel like there are some advantages to being that voice at the table. The first Black Product Owner at Facebook spoke about how instead of complaining about being "the only one" he used his voice to make change and advocate for everyone coming behind him. When you get in that room, use your voice.
5. Product Design is the new way of engineering- I can't even tell you how many sessions were about product design, it made your good sis want to learn it for herself (laughing but serious). There is so much value in engineering when you know how to work the frontend and backend then sprinkle in some UX. I've also started taking some classes using hackdesign.org. See, I just dropped another gem, because I love you guys :)
Anywho, early bird tickets for next year are now on sale and I encourage you to hop on it. Also if you work for a company that is knee deep in D&I, ask them to sponsor you (actions speak louder than words). One of my biggest lessons in this, is that if you don't ask the answer will always be "no".
Have a good week! -B