For years, the tech industry has significantly lacked diversity. The solutions seemed to be limited without much change. In recent years, however, many companies and individuals have taken the initiative to help change the narrative of the tech industry by creating awareness of the lack of diversity, recognizing the need for more people of color and women in the tech world and figuring out ways to make the industry more inclusive.
The reality is, the more diverse the industry is, the stronger it can be. It’s the reason why companies like Jet Constellations exist. We recently interviewed with Jet’s founder, Nadiyah Johnson, who saw a need and took the initiative to help make a change. Learn more about Jet Constellation’s and their journey to diversify the tech industry.
Tell me about yourself and your business.
I have a very technical and nontechnical artsy background. People think it’s impossible for someone to have both. I graduated from Marquette University with a bachelor’s in computer science and masters in computational science. I’ve had the opportunity to engage in the STEM field through research, academia, corporate and now in the tech startup space. Over the course of what I call my STEM journey, I have seen a pattern of lack of representation. There were very few people that looked like me in the room. In 2017 I heard that there was significant effort put forth to turn Milwaukee into a tech hub. I would visit events around this effort and be the only Black person there. This pushed me to start my social impact software company, which aims to address the lack of representation in STEM.
What was your inspiration behind your business?
A lot of my inspiration to start my business comes from the awareness of the dire need for diversity in STEM, especially technology. As Milwaukee is transforming into a tech hub, I want Black and Brown people to have a voice and say in what this looks like. Jet Constellations’ Milky Way Tech Hub initiative is an effort to create a tech hub that mirrors Milwaukee’s diverse population.
How are you managing your full-time job with your growing business? Do you see yourself running your business full-time and if so, what is your plan? If not, how will you continue to do both?
I always say that I am currently running my business full time. Jet is my baby and there is no such thing as a part-time parent. I’ve been able to juggle both my corporate job and my new role as founder of Jet Constellations with the help of a solid team of people and the Milky Way Tech Hub network. I’m glad to be an example of what it looks like to have both a 9-5 and a startup company. I hope to encourage people to take the leap of faith and start their own business and do so in a way that fits their lifestyle. As I continue to scale Jet Constellations, it will eventually allow me to adjust how and where I spend my time in a way that makes the most sense.
Why is diversity in tech, especially in Milwaukee, WI, so important to you?
I was born, raised and educated in Milwaukee, WI. I firmly believe it’s part of my life’s purpose to uplift the city of Milwaukee. In the past Milwaukee has been known as the worst city for Black people. We are creating a new narrative where Milwaukee is the best place for Black and Brown people to thrive in tech. I was given a vision – The Milky Way Tech Hub and it’s important for me to see it through. Milwaukee will be known as the most diverse and inclusive tech hub in the nation.
Do you have plans to expand The Milky Way Tech Hub outside of Milwaukee, WI and if so, how?
We do. It’s inevitable. Lack of diversity in STEM, specifically tech, is a national crisis. That’s the good thing about The Milky Way Tech Hub name. This can scale as large as the universe. In our last meetup, we had people visit from Chicago. Very soon we will be engaging and partnering with different organizations outside of Milwaukee to combine our efforts.
What is the biggest barrier people of color in the technology industry? What can be done to overcome it?
I would say exposure and access. You don’t know what you don’t know. One of the things that we are doing with our Milky Way Tech Hub initiative is educating people in traditional and nontraditional educational settings. Showing them not only the amazing possibilities tech has to offer but also how to gain access to these opportunities.
What’s your biggest win in business? What’s next for Jet Constellations and The Milky Way Tech Hub?
I would say that our biggest win thus far is making American Family Institute a presenting partner. They will be working alongside us to move the mission of The Milky Way Tech Hub forward. We are thrilled because this corporate leadership is what’s necessary to drive change in our communities. We’re excited to shake things up!