From a young age, Nadiyah Johnson had an interest in computers and mathematics. This interest was formed early, as her father was a software engineer. She said that she was fortunate to see the variety and diversity of professional directions possible within the tech industry. While it is obvious that the tech industry is not a monolith, there is a perception that its populations are homogenous in many facets including class, gender identity, race, and at times even age. This creates a conundrum because we all benefit from the innovations made within the tech industry, and yet it is primarily one group that is leading the change.
All of us, at one point in our lives, have felt as though we didn’t have a seat at the table. This can be both a literal and metaphorical table; one that takes up physical space and one that carries an emotional weight. When faced with these sort of situations, we are faced with two routes forward: conform the expectations of the table, or simply make your own.
This is Nadiyah Johnson’s mentality as she pioneers for Milwaukee to become the next desired destination for the tech industry.
After obtaining her undergraduate degree in computer science, Johnson worked for General Electric healthcare subsidiary, Key Health Care. As a product developer, her main responsibilities were to analyze customer feedback and subsequently collaborate with other design developers to improve healthcare products. Johnson’s passion for helping and uplifting others was solidified. External efforts grew to label Milwaukee as a “tech hub” for both entrepreneurs and for corporate businesses through events like the Milwaukee Startup Week. To see the city be acknowledged as valuable was exciting, but also came with larger issues.
“Being at the intersection of Black woman and computer scientist, I was aware that there is a national narrative that Milwaukee is the worst place for Black people to live and raise their children…I knew that we can’t just create a narrative that Milwaukee is a ‘tech hub’ without acknowledging this [stigma].”
Being a computer scientist and a Black woman seem to be at odds and therefore caused friction for Johnson; Unfortunately, her quote speaks to the larger problem of recruiting diversity within this incredibly diverse professional field. In order to help the city of Milwaukee to become a place for the tech industry to invest and engage with the Black community in a productive manner, Johnson founded Jet Constellations.
Jet Constellations was initially a consulting firm, aiming to provide technical assistance when needed. After realizing that once she provided the tools to help, many of the companies still needed assistance. Today, Jet Constellations works more as a software company that not provides resources but also enables companies and founders by teaching them how to utilize it.
The Milky Way Tech Hub initiative Johnson is a direct means of establishing and promoting inclusivity in Milwaukee’s tech community, hence the name “milky”. Prior to the pandemic, the Milky Way Tech Hub would host monthly meet-up events that grew from 10 to upwards of 40 attendants. Johnson chuckled while acknowledging that the pandemic has done little to slow down business because of her and her colleagues tech know-how.
Nevertheless, her mission remains to expand the horizons possible for black and brown people with the tech field and keep the city of Milwaukee on people’s radars.