It’s no surprise that Black people lack in numbers in tech. Because of this, we’re seeing more annual reports, more initiatives allegedly being put in place, but not as much real talk around the experience of someone that is Black in tech.
In our new recurring series Coding in Color, you’ll hear from Black technologists that work for startups and top companies, freelancers, and CTOs. These techies not only share how they got introduced to tech and how they perfect their skills, but they also unapologetically share deets on what most people avoid talking about (i.e. how they deal with microaggressions, racism, not fitting in with the workplace culture, codeswitching, and so much more).
Recently, we talked with Brianna McCullough about her experience working while Black in tech. Throughout her career, Brianna has worked in tech for some of the largest corporations like Target, 3M, and Google.
Get into her journey in tech below!
I’m Brianna, a Michigan State University grad..however, I originally graduated from Detroit, Mi.
In school, I studied medicine, and originally wanted to be a doctor but after I started to intern–I knew I didn’t belong in the medical field.
I’m really technology-driven and after spending some time doing research on how cyberknife radiation worked, I knew I wanted to be an engineer.
It’s important that we remember, it’s okay to change your mind.
I got into technology as a…. INTERN, INTERN, INTERN!
I got interested in technology by being exposed to it.
I always push internships because we don’t know what we really want to be until we try it out.
I took an internship at The Georgetown Lombardi Cancer Center to do cancer research and ended up shifting my interest from the patients to the actual technology being built to help/prolong life.
There are so many engineers doing thankless (grunt) work building products that make a huge difference, I knew I wanted to be apart of that.
There is a lack of Black faces in tech and definite difficulties to overcome entering the space.
I would say being skilled and having mentors/sponsors who can actually do something for you helps.
I volunteer at so many schools that don’t even teach coding, specifically urban schools because their main concern is keeping the lights on most days…and that is rightfully justified.
Whereas the majority (of the rest of the country) is exposed to coding as early as 5 years old, and those are the candidates we (Blacks) are competing against.
There are hardly any Black CTO’s or people in technology that look like us and that makes it extremely hard for those coming behind us to get their foot in the door.
We have to start going into our communities and participating in grassroots work to upskill our kids.
For me, the biggest issue I had when I finally did get a job in tech was having people talk over me or describe me as “not technical enough.”
Women, in general, get that A LOT.
But with Black people, you will find it is even more common.
When people talk over me, I simply continue talking as if I can’t hear them trying to get a word in–or if I feel spicy I’ll say “I’m sorry but I was talking first”.
I would say as far as “not being technical enough” try and jump on any project with high visibility and work with your leader to do so.
Don’t let people give you thankless tasks all the time.
Code-switching is a thing but you do not have to abide by that.
I almost think that you get more out of your career by not code-switching. Don’t be the person that assimilated to blend in with everyone else.
I believe that I am true to myself every day.
One thing someone said about me is that I laugh really loud, and if my only problem is that I laugh loud then I can live with that because in this already stressful life--I can’t afford to stop laughing and bringing that laughter to other people.
Obstacles happen as a ‘person of color’ in tech, but there are ways to overcome them.
The biggest one is that people want you to speak about diversity and inclusion all the time.
Please don’t fall into that hole because it’ll become what you’re known for and you really do not want that.
My director had to tell me “Brianna you’re a Black woman in Engineering, that IS your advocacy for diversity and inclusion but that doesn’t have to be all you speak about” and she was so right.
If you’re gifted and hard-working enough to be an engineer, make sure you speak about your craft. There are so many people within any company so do not let people make you the face of diversity and inclusion.
I hone my craft as a programmer by working on my own website where I drop some gems – www.brilimitless.com/.
Also, Plural Sight has a ton of free courses.
Other than that, to be honest, I go to a lot of conferences, I am active on twitter and I go to community events and those usually have a guest speaker who teaches new skills.
Learn from others, and another thing is don’t be afraid to teach what you know.
There are so many new engineers who think they have nothing to teach but you do, leading from the back is just as important as leading from the front.
And if you don’t know how to teach what you know to someone who doesn’t know it at all, then you don’t understand it well enough.
Three tips I’d give to someone that wants to pursue a role in the tech industry is:
1. Get a Mentor and a Sponsor (Know the difference between the two)
2. Just start, do not let fear keep you from starting
3. Try the free route before you go back to school/do a Bootcamp. There are so many free resources that teach people how to code.