Brian Douglas is a software engineer whose tech journey started two years ago when he enrolled in Bloc, the online, mentor-led coding bootcamp. Douglas shares his advice on learning how to code and his perspective on being Black in tech on his blog, TheBlackc000000de and his podcast, This Developing Life.
Diversity in the tech world has been a topic of conversation in recent months—TechCrunch reported that the amount of Black people in the tech industry was a mere 2 percent while the hash tag #ILookLikeAnEngineer helped raise the profile of women in the tech industry.
We talked to Douglas about diversity in the tech industry.
What’s it like being a Black developer in tech?
I get a few glances and stares, which I think actually provides me more opportunities. I notice people reach out and want to help in general since there are so few Black people in technology.
There are tons of opportunities for people of color. Minority scholarships in tech are everywhere and easy to land. For example, I filled out a scholarship application for a jQuery SF conference with three sentences, and I got a $500 scholarship that made the conference free.
Why did you choose the tech industry?
I eventually went to college and got a degree in business, thinking that would be a safer route than to study computer science.
At the time I was looking into tech and creating applications I was actually going through my first semester of my MBA and my first paper was on Google. Prior to that I had dabbled in making WordPress sites and always wanted to learn how to build apps. I felt with my business degree I could eventually learn enough programming to be able to throw together an app and make some side money, but actually got sidetracked in getting more in-depth knowledge in programming and eventually landed a job.
Do you believe there’s a diversity issue in tech?
I think it’s an issue that can be addressed very easily. There’s a bit of disparity for people who realize how bland, in terms of diversity, their tech companies are. They’re trying to address this.
It all comes down to a homogenous group of people working on technology when they are stuck in this bubble, unaware of the repercussions of what they build at that time. For example, the Apple Watch had issues working on people with dark skin or tattoos, and Google Photos identified some Black people as Gorillas.
Some communities just aren’t across the tech boom. People in certain neighborhoods and cities may not know what a web developer or software engineer really does. If you aren’t surrounded by high speed Internet, a stable community interested in tech, and other resources, you won’t have the opportunity that more privileged people do.
Any Black person can understand issues of diversity in tech and equate them with growing up. In tech, success will be when you don’t have to have diversity scholarships.
What are ways that the tech industry can increase diversity?
Being here in San Francisco, I am able to see first hand what the diversity scene looks like in tech and the ratio for people of color in tech is a drop in the bucket compared actual numbers in the U.S. The tech scene today prominently filled with white males and it’s due to the fact that most minorities don’t even consider tech as a viable option for them.
Tech companies have opportunities to give back to community by supporting organizations like Black Girls Code and Hack the Hood. Investments in these organizations would be an investment in changing the diversity in ratios by exposing a generation to an industry they wouldn’t have considered otherwise.
Tech companies are doing a lot more in talking about diversity today, realizing there is a gap to be filled.
How can current African-Americans in the tech industry help boost diversity?
Give back and look into the communities you came from. Most people from where I grew up didn’t really notice my efforts of trying to be a web programmer, and most don’t realize how easy it can be to get here. Unfortunately, most African-Americans don’t grow up tinkering with computer software or even knowing that computer science is a possible career choice.
I have met a lot of individuals through an organization I helped get started, Steamrolers.com, and got to meet individuals from Tech808, The Phat Startup, and RevisionPath. These are African-American leaders looking to change the scene and make African-Americans more prominent and aware of the tech scene. The work they have accomplished so far are perfect examples of what individual African-Americans in the tech industry can do to boost diversity.