Black History Month spotlight: Advice from Black Made Tech Engineers

Black History Month has been celebrated every October in the UK since 1987 – a month to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black people throughout history.

However, that doesn’t mean we should limit reflecting on Black history to one month a year – appreciating and understanding Black culture and experiences should be happening all year round!

For this post, we were inspired by this wonderful blog by Webflow to highlight some of our Black colleagues in Made Tech.

We spoke to 3 Black Engineers: Renny, Derek and Charlene, who have generously shared some advice based on their experiences.

Do you have any advice for Black people in Tech, who keep finding that they’re the only Black person on the team?

RENNY: This is a challenging situation to be in. I’ve been the only Black Software Engineer on a couple of projects before. It felt odd and lonely at first, but I hope these tips help.

If you keep finding yourself being the only Black person on a team:

  1. Acknowledge it but don’t dwell on it, trail-blaze instead: If you can, raise it with whoever organises the team structure but don’t let it become a feeling that you ponder upon to the point of self-exclusivity from your team. If you’re the only Black person in the team because there aren’t a lot of Black people in the company or in the role you work, challenge yourself to think of yourself as a trailblazer. Learn from the experiences to inspire others too.
  2. Network outside of the team/company: Find networking events or meet-ups you can attend outside of work. I attended a few Black tech meet-ups and leadership conferences whenever I had the chance and these helped me a lot. It was nice to be able to meet other Black techies like me, learn from them, connect with them and hang out!

The tech industry is still evolving when it comes to ethnic diversity, especially in technical roles like Software Engineers, DevOps, Tech Leads, etc.

So I would like to encourage you: Try your best to have a positive mental attitude towards the situation and give yourself some consistent self-appreciation!

Being the only black person in a team makes you more noticeable so do your best to SHINE and SHINE BRIGHT!

DEREK: The advice I would give is if you can’t find a community at work then there are plenty of communities to join outside. There are amazing organisations built by Black people in tech to support and help your development.

CHARLENE: In the last 10 years as a Software Developer, I’ve pretty much always been the only Black person on the team. Initially, I definitely felt as though I had to act differently to fit in at work. 

A piece of advice I would give is be yourself at work. There is no need to leave any part of yourself at home, bring all elements of who you are into your day job. If you feel as though you aren’t able to be yourself when you’re at work, then it probably isn’t an accepting and inclusive environment.

Remember that you may have different experiences and cultural background, and that could be a huge benefit to the projects that you end up working on as that different perspective is a perspective of the people using applications.

Do you have any advice for Black people who want to get into Tech?

RENNY:

Do some self-reflection REGULARLY: The tech industry is pretty broad, and there are loads of opportunities in it. Some of these opportunities could even be created by yourself! Have regular conversations with yourself (yes, with yourself) to find out which areas of the tech interest you, which ones don’t and apply these to your decision making, e.g. Do you like to solve problems? Do you want to create visual interfaces? Do you like designing interfaces and interactions with the user? 

If you want to try out anything, for example, building a website, look for resources on how to get started and give it a go. After attempting it do some reflection, e.g. what did you like or not like? Was there anything that interested you that you want to look into a bit more? Should you try something more challenging or completely different, e.g. building a game.

Take ownership of your progress: You might not always have an idea of which technical role you want to get into, which is fine, but I strongly recommend having an idea of what you like to do or want to learn more about. Based on this, draw up action plans that suit you for things you want to learn/practice and for building up your creative portfolio. Take active responsibility for your learning and development.

Celebrate every step you’ve made, no matter the size: Getting into tech isn’t easy, so do your best to not exclude the tiniest achievements from your most significant breakthroughs. Every step counts.

Don’t be afraid to change direction: Try not to feel pressured into staying in a specific area of the tech industry just because you’re already in it, have experience in it or not sure you would do well somewhere else. Self-reflection should help to identify your interests and passions. So if these have changed for since you started your journey into tech, e.g. maybe you want to switch to user research from programming or perhaps you would like to start an enterprise with an idea you have. Take your time to decide but don’t be afraid to change direction!

DEREK: Keep your skills up and never stop learning. Don’t get hung up on one particular path of entry there are many different ways in. Find strength in community whether it’s in your organisation or others in your field on Twitter, Facebook etc. I have had many days when I felt alone and that I didn’t belong. Try with all your might to ignore that. Your voice and skills are needed and belong.

CHARLENE: If you want to get into tech, there are loads of platforms you can use to develop your skills and opportunities to get started. One thing that may make a difference and make you have a sense of belonging is joining Black tech communities. You’ll be able to build a network of Black people who are already in the tech industry who can provide mentorship and advice. 

Many tech communities also have partnerships organisations and bootcamps which may give you access to and information about companies and opportunities that you may not previously have considered.

Some communities to take a look at:

Do you have any Black people in Tech who you admire and you think people should check out?

RENNY: Here are few black people in tech, I think you should check out:

DEREK: @lolaodelola on Twitter. She started an organisation called blackgirl.tech who helped to get Black women into tech via workshops and events. She is an incredible mentor, poet, coder and her timeline gives an honest insight into the tech world.

CHARLENE: There are so many Black people in tech who are doing amazing things, the list is endless. As a starting point I would check out:

This is definitely not an exhaustive list!

If you have any more questions for Renny, Derek or Charlene, you can get in touch with them via Twitter or Linkedin below.

Renny: Twitter Linkedin

Derek: Twitter Linkedin

Charlene: Twitter Linkedin

About the Author

Ninamma Rai

Software Engineer at Made Tech. Trying to build tech for good.

We are hiring! Find out more about a career at Made Tech.

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