It’s Black History Month, so like with any annual observance, people tend to focus on the accomplishments achieved by others in the past as opposed to the present. For instance, Jerry Lawson, an early video game pioneer, and Wanda Austin, former CEO of the Aerospace Corporation, come to mind as some of the most eminent Black leaders in tech.
However, since 2014, the number of Black technical workers has risen by less than a percent. As a Black researcher working in tech, I think it is more important than ever for people of color in our industry to think about defining our own personal history. We should design goals for ourselves to not only succeed personally, but to inspire others to do so as well.
I sat down with my friend Faraji Anderson, who is a software developer for Rackspace Cloud, to discuss how one could best achieve this, and to uncover his best advice for people of color just starting out. Faraji has over a decade of experience working in software development, with a focus on web application and mobile technology in cloud environments.
Faraj’s 3 Top Rated Pieces of Advice
#1 Sometimes you will be the only one of your race or ethnicity in a room
“This shouldn’t be discouraging and when it occurs it’s important to remember that if the goal is to advance representation someone has to make the first strides and it should be thought of as an honor, not a punishment. At the same time, your presence doesn’t speak for the entirety of your culture and you should never be thought to be a representative for it. You are an individual first.”
#2 Never let a feeling fester
“At times a misunderstanding can arise, whether it be a moment of cultural insensitivity or a statement out of ignorance. If it makes you uncomfortable you should examine why and be sure to address it with the parties involved. The incident could be a teachable moment and provide the other person an opportunity to clarify or explain themselves is entirely fair.”
#3 Inclusion matters
“In my opinion, one of the most important realizations we can make as being someone of a particular minority is that you are not alone. Within most companies now there are others who are also minorities based on sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or gender identity. Being an ally and giving support to one another is incredibly important and helps further your own quest for dignity.”
Faraj’is Top 3 Tools
When thinking about how I might create my own personal history, I couldn’t help but think about how important it was for me to be able to make a career out of being myself. Taking risks and being a leader requires knowing what works for you, and what doesn’t. This is especially true for your workflow. While some folks love Gchat, I personally use Discord to keep me connected not only with coworkers, but my friends who do not work with me. Being able to communicate with people I care about during the workday is important to me, and actually helps motivate me by keeping my creative juices flowing throughout the day.
Below, Faraji muses on the tools that make his workday most enjoyable.
“An essential tool for communication via video conference, if you find yourself having to spend more than 5mins in a Slack thread, try video. Zoom lets you invite others as needed, screen share and chat within the session. In our workplace it’s essential .” I use Zoom on almost a daily basis as well, but Google Hangouts was probably my first love for collaboration with others. It’s vital that you and your teammates use a tool with an interface that makes your life easier, not more difficult.
Visual Studio Code
“My favorite code editor hands down. Visual Studio Code has one of the most exhaustive extension markets around. No matter what your language you can find Intellisense extensions and beautiful themes.” I’m a researcher dealing with large amounts of data, so I have to give it up to R, and even Microsoft Excel personally. Again, knowing what works best for you is key.
“Let’s be real, this is the most important. Create a playlist that you can zone out to for hours on a project or find one of Spotify’s own curated one’s like Deep Focus.” I use both Spotify and Soundcloud, because I love deep cuts and Whitney Houston remixes like no other. Water your creative roots, especially aurally, as music is scientifically proven to improve performance. You can also make music a team-building opportunity by having everyone work on a collaborative playlist together. You can find commonality, shared differences, and give one another a glimpse into what makes each of you unique.