On Friday, I attended the Kickoff of a Black Tech Group. I am not revealing the name, as you can imagine, as I would like to keep my anonymity. This group is a group of Black developers and entrepreneurs in CA’s Bay Area, NYC, and ATL. The membership fee is $350 and everyone is assigned to a group called a squad of 5-8 others. Squads meet monthly for 2.5 hours, break bread, and get each other ahead in their respective careers. The idea of this was awesome. This was part of the reason I wanted to be a developer: the community. I don’t know any other industry that fosters community as much as tech does: there’s conferences, hackathons companies support, memes people can relate to, external Slack channel. There was no community like this in Finance that I felt included in. Emphasis on, “that I felt included in”, as I am sure they exist. Before getting in this group however, I was so let down by the lack of welcoming I felt from the Black female developers at my company, that I asked to withdraw my application. When asked why by the admission committee, I said that I had been let down by too many a Black org and did not have faith that this one would be aligned with my goals. They encouraged me to attend kickoff and that I could get a refund as late as the 3rd month of the program if I did not like it.
I am glad I gave it a try. The kickoff was held at a well known tech company here in the Bay and that company welcomed us with open arms. I would love to work for the company the Kickoff was hosted at, because they don’t just say that are creating opportunities for underrepresented folks like myself in tech, they actually show up, which is something my company could do a better job at. We get a lot of support from the CEO, but it would be great to see VP level and your regular colleague who isn’t Black who is not a manager show up. It does not all fall on the Black group to make people feel welcomed (as we already go above and beyond to do), it should be the other way around since WE are underrepresented in that space.
Anyway, the Kickoff was great. I was so nervous and excited. I knew there would be a bunch of well paid Black men there too, so I did my hair and threw on my typical lazy but cute red lipstick, making sure not to try too hard and look too desperate. I love the way it goes with my skin tone and makes whatever I have on look a little more polished, especially since I do not wear any other make up regularly. I don’t know how and I don’t want to learn: I can’t afford it, and it’s hard enough to get up to wash my face at night! Plus, all the eye complications I had a few years ago makes me paranoid about any eye makeup. I was so excited to be there. This was what I dreamed of. One of the main reasons I dropped my Computer Science major in the first place back when I was a Freshman in college was because I did not know any Black engineers and thus did not think we were good at it. And here I was, in the mecca of tech surrounded by the well accomplished engineers who were doing it all while I was a youth in Los Angeles thinking I was alone. Many people may have thought that I was normally that excited and friendly and warm, which I kinda am regularly, but I was especially that way just because I had been waiting for that moment for 10 years.
I knew there would be men, but I did not think there would be so few women. The last time I was in a room where the ratio between Black men and Black women was so large was when I attended the scholarship ceremony in high school of a fraternity that gave me the scholarship thinking I was male because of my name (I have a masculine name but am a woman).
Anyway, that may have added to the excitement to. There was networking bingo and I was the first to get Bingo, going around the room, introducing myself and demanding they tell me about themselves and help me fill out the Bingo card. I jumped at the opportunity to help the moderator of the women’s chat. I turned a few people off who were not ready for my energy, but I didn’t shame them too much for being possibly intimidated by my huge smile, big curly hair, red lips, cobalt blue dress, and sparkly gold shoes I paid too much for.
The second day of the Kickoff was great. It started with breakfast (I have been vegetarian this month, and breakfast is always the most fulfilling because I can have eggs and oatmeal, and breakfast burritos and fruit and bagels, whereas at lunch and dinner its mainly only salad…thank God for salad, but sometimes it can get monotonous, but I am grateful nonetheless. They’re healthy and abundant, but the variation of breakfast is a treat.), and conversation with a man who was deaf. He sat at the end of my table. I was in between two men, one pretty attractive and the other just as excited as I described I was to just be in the presence of so many amazing Black folks, only he was telling everyone this in a two table radius, whereas I let my face say it all. My attention was stolen however when the man who was deaf rallied the help of his translator to speak to me. I encounter so many men afraid to approach me, and here he was, not allowing his non-traditional way of hearing to get in the way of having a conversation with me. I’m sure it wasn’t that big to him and that he may be used to it, but I felt so honored. I was even more blown away when I found out he was from the same neighborhood as me! The small Black suburb in LA that I knew no one else in the Bay Area was from.
The day continued with a meeting with my squad. In the meeting, we each shared 8 points of our highs and lows for 8 minutes. My speech when on for 10. I felt like I have told my story to so many people, and I am so blessed to have my story, that I was excited to tell it. I talked about how Barbie CD-ROM, Reader Rabbit, and Myspace made me fall in love with being on the computer, how I dropped my CS major in college because I didn’t think Black people were good at engineering because I didn’t know any, how I went into depression when a friend committed suicide when I was a sophomore, how I battled depression, studied abroad, and fell in love with exploring and public transportation, how I lived in NY, how I moved to SF to pursue tech, how I got in my first tech company and worked my way to finance to data analysis to AV operations, how I quit and finally did a bootcamp, and how I am here now interning.
We had a career roadmapping workshop after that I doubted, but which turned out to be awesome. I learned to keep my focus on the next 1-2 years as we really have no clue what life looks like after that given how fast our world is changing. I learned to attach a main goal or vision statement to my main aspirations, and how to create milestones to get me there. I felt empowered, with awareness that I want to become a senior engineer and eventually help other Black folks do the same. I thought about financial independence, growing communities, creating a legacy, while growing stronger in my faith and taking my battles I am blessed with in stride.
The group’s main codes are to keep confidentiality of what is shared in the group, give each other props, be nice to one another, show up for one another, help one another, and build our community. I love it. I have finally found my people (kinda) and want to do whatever I can to stay in and grow this.
During the lunch break, one of my squad members recommended I reach out to the Black engineer at my job I had to report to HR. I responded, “We don’t see eye to eye.” She said, “Well she does have a strong personality.” I said, “There’s a difference between a strong personality and unprofessionalism. I had to report her for the protection of my reputation and physical safety.” I word vomited. I took her saying, “She does have a strong personality,” as a complete disregard for my feelings or why I had to report her, all because this woman was friends with her. What a way to start off a year of meetings together.
This reminded me of why I did not want beef with that girl from the beginning and why I even reached out to her to tell her I was coming back to where we work in the first place: I knew I would be around her a lot because the tech industry is small. The Black tech industry is smaller. The Black female tech industry is tiny. There are 14 Black female engineers at my company that has over 1000 engineers. We are almost 1 in a million. Sure enough, she was at the party. I saw her by surprise and on jerk reaction to someone approaching me with a familiar face, said hello. She rolled her eyes with a smile and ignored me. She did not attend the kickoff, just the happy hour which was open to guests of the people in the program, which tells me she was not in it. Maybe she didn’t apply. Either way, it was again a reminder that I was here. In a space she wanted to have control of. It killed her to see me there. And again, I felt sorry for her. We all know how it feels to be slightly envious of someone. A few of us know what it feels like though to have that person report you to HR because you acted on that jealousy. I think all the time about whether or not I should have reported her, and always go back to yes. She made me feel uncomfortable on many occasions for years and tried to harm me and publicly embarrass me many times. That’s immaturity. I saw a good quote somewhere. It said, “I had to remove myself because you were okay with harming me.” And she was.
I enjoyed the night however. Took another headshot in hopes to replace the current one on my LinkedIn profile that has been there since my junior year of college! I made casual conversation with strangers as if I had known them. I was amongst family in God of my industry and hue. I hopped in the conversation with the man who was deaf, and we talked about our beloved park we both grew up going to, and the one my dad, paternal grandparents, and most of my childhood friends still live around. I saw people smiling at the obvious chemistry we had. He was kinda cute. Bifocals. Invisalign. Complete nerd, but so am I. I just had never had a conversation with someone who was deaf, and I surely have never had a conversation with a person who I did not know growing up about the place where I spent most of my after school and summer hours from kindergarten to fifth grade and now when I am back home and needing a walk for a workout.
At the end of the night, without his translator, he asked me for my contact with his notes app. He typed it out and showed me his phone for me to read it. I texted his and my name from his phone to mine with a grin too big for my face. Out of all the men that weekend, he was the only one that asked for my contact, and not my LinkedIn…although he may have been fine with just my LinkedIn. Did I tell you I was single af?! lol
I went home with some folks from the group. One of them, a Black woman from LA as well, I caught my train with. Turns out we’ve been neighbors this whole time and I can see her window from mine. That was the first time where I did not feel lonely or stared at on the train. Muni is a white classist place man!