Transcript of "Black history month: Diversity and training, with Charlene Hunter"

[Intro Music]

Clare: Hello and welcome to Making Tech Better, Made Tech’s fortnightly podcast bringing you content from all over the world on how to improve your software delivery. My name is Clare Sudbery, my pronouns are she and her and I am a lead engineer at Made Tech.

October is black history month. So, for this episode, we are publishing an interview with Charlene Hunter from back in July 2021. Charlene is the founder of Coding Black Females, which means that she knows a lot about the issues facing black women in our industry, and more generally, about opening doors for underrepresented groups in tech. I know from working with Charlene just how passionate she is on this topic, so it was a delight to talk to her.

Clare: Hello Charlene!

Charlene: Hi Clare, how are you today?

Clare: I’m great, thank you. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, it’s really great to see you again.

The reason I said that is because Charlene and I used to work together at Made Tech. Charlene used to organise our internal Academy Programme. That’s what we’re going to be talking about today. Not just the Academy but generally, training, learning and how people can learn to be most specifically, a software engineer, but also how they can get into this industry that we find ourselves in.

First of all Charlene, I’m going to ask you about the Academy. In a nutshell, how would you describe Made Tech’s Academy programme?

Charlene: The Made Tech Academy is a twelve-week, in-house training programme to develop people from being maybe people who have come off bootcamps or university to become software engineers, and useful and good on a project once they have finished.

On the Academy, we would teach quite a range of skills. It was less about learn to code, and more about learn to be a developer, a software engineer, that sort of thing.

Clare: Yes. Tell me a bit about that distinction. Some people might think learning to code and learning to be a developer are the same thing. What’s the difference?

Charlene: I think that they are actually quite different. When I meet people who are learning to code, often it’s, “How do I do this in JavaScript? What’s a variable? What’s a function?”, or something like that. That’s learning to code, it’s understanding how to take a language, put it together and make something happen. I think with a developer or an engineer, they would normally understand how coding words. So, you would understand all the constructs, how everything fits together, but you would be able to produce projects and applications. I would expect that a software developer would be able to work well on a team, as well.

It’s a bit more than just – not that there’s anything wrong with just coding – but it’s a bit more than just coding. It’s more around how you actually build projects with other people, by yourself. And using the other available tools that are out there, as well.

Clare: Yes. That’s funny because now you’ve described it, obviously, there’s a difference! When you are finding people to take part in a programme like this, how do you find the right people?

Charlene: So, I believe that most people can learn to code and can put things together. What I’m really looking for is people who want to learn how to do it well, who are passionate about it, who can express that they have some level of passion. Not everyone is going to have a massive smile when they talk about tech or code, but I guess I want to see some level of excitement. I want to know that they are going to be able to look after themselves through that learning process. People who are able to go away, take resources, learn something, and come back either with some really useful questions, or with something that they are delivering.

So, it’s the ability to learn, is what you’re really looking for, but also some level of passion or excitement in that area too.

Clare: You touched on something there. You talked about people will express excitement in different ways. I haven’t actually said, but Charlene and I actually worked together on our internal Academy Programme. I know that when we were recruiting, one of the things that we were really conscious of is diversity. This applies to all recruitment. You might have an idea in your head that you are looking for people who get excited about things, but people get excited about things in different ways. You have to take that into account. There are lots of other things about how, when people have ideas in their head about what they are looking for, they might without realising it be looking for a white person, for instance. Because they are looking for somebody like themselves. They will also have ideas about what passion looks like, what good looks like. It will typically be within quite a restricted sphere of what they are used to.

What kind of techniques can you use to try and make sure that you are not subconsciously filtering for people who are just like you?

Charlene: I think it’s really important to have loads of different ways of capturing data. For example, with the Academy process, we had coding tests, we had screening calls. We then had a full day of talking to somebody and doing some paired programming. So, there’s loads of different ways there to identify passion. It could be that they have written loads of comments or something when they were doing the coding test. They might not have smiled a lot when they were talking to me on Zoom, but they wrote loads of comments and I can see that there’s really loads of excitement there, and that is how they express their excitement.

It could be that when they were doing their paired programming, the way that they went about asking questions shows that they are excited. I think that the key thing is that you’ve got enough ways to understand and allow people to show that side of themselves, so that it’s not just that there’s one way to get in, and if you don’t meet that, then we don’t accept it.

I know that one thing that we definitely did on the Academy was that we had loads of different types of questions. We had loads of ways to try and get the answers out of people so that it wasn’t just around – ok, they didn’t say this answer. It was – if they haven’t said this answer, what have they said? How can we help them to get to an answer to express themselves in the way they would truly represent themselves?

Clare: Yes. Also, not necessarily wanting a particular answer. That’s something that I noticed in recruitment. People will have a checklist, they will say, “I want the people that I interview to say a, b, c, and d.” So effectively, in order to try and get those answers out of them, they ask closed questions. The problem with that is that the person on the other end of that question can generally tell – I’ve been in that situation so many times, where somebody asks me a question in an interview and I’m thinking there’s obviously a particular answer that they are trying to get out of me, and I can’t work out what that answer is, and then I panic. Then I’m like, Oh God, I don’t know the answer! That’s often a problem. How do you get around that?

Charlene: One thing that we did when we were getting the Academy ready, we sat down together and we went through and said, with this question, are we trying to get this particular answer? If the answer was ever yes, then we would change the question or remove it. It’s identifying that up front, right? It’s understanding that.

Clare: Yes.

Charlene: One of the most exciting things that I had when I was interviewing on the Academy was, I got to learn new techniques from the people that we were interviewing. We would ask a question around time management or organisational skills, and because we are not looking for them to say, this is how I manage my time, or whatever, we were able to learn as well. It was actually a great experience on both sides. It was a conversation rather than, this is a question where I need this answer. Because we’d sat down and said we don’t want them to have to fall into this particular box at the beginning.

Clare: I guess one way of expressing that is that we were asking open questions rather than closed questions. Exactly what you say, give them a chance to give us information that we didn’t even expect. Give them a chance to tell things about themselves that we never would have thought of in advance, but when they tell us those things, it’s like, oh yes, that sounds great!

Charlene: Exactly.

Clare: And give everybody a chance to give different impressive answers. Then you get a diverse set of people, rather than them all being the same as each other.
As well as having worked on the Academy with Made Tech, you also, before, after, and now, run Coding Black Females, which is an amazing organisation. Tell me about Coding Black Females.

Charlene: Coding Black Females is my ultimate passion, I would say. I set it up a few years ago, initially just to meet other black women in the tech industry. Now we actually do quite a lot. We have loads of training that we offer, we have loads of events. We’ve got this huge, fantastic community of people supporting each other. We work with a lot of companies to support their recruitment, but also to make sure they’ve got good environments for the women that we have in our network as well.

We are working quite broadly with a lot of organisations, but with a lot of people in our network, to make sure that people are having good experiences when they go to work, when they get into tech, when they are working in the industry. It’s actually quite exciting for me.

Clare: Of course, people can’t see, but as Charlene is talking, there is just a massive great big smile on her face.

Charlene: Everyone says that. “You’re smiling loads now”! That’s how I found out that it is a passion of mine, because I smile a lot when I talk about it.

Clare: Isn’t that wonderful? If I was to say, what is the most important raison d’etre for Coding Black Females, what is the most important thing that you see yourself as achieving?

Charlene: Our focus is getting more black women into the industry and supporting progression through the industry. What we ultimately want to see is more black women in leadership positions in the tech industry, in the tech space. That’s important. Without that, we’re not going to build the right technology, we’re not going to have good experiences as black women with technology either. That’s what I want to see, and that’s why we do all of these different types of activities with that aim in mind. That it will be equal, that it will be fair, that there will be the right representation that there should be, in all the right roles.  That’ s our key focus.

Ultimately, we’re looking towards getting more black women into leadership positions in technology.

Clare: How?

Charlene: How?

Clare: Yes, how are you doing that?

Charlene: You’re not supposed to ask me that! I guess there’s quite a lot that we do. We’ve spoken a bit about training. We run quite a few different training programmes. One of those is the Black Coder Bootcamp, which is looking at getting more black women in at the entry level. That’s enabling people to get over barriers that they might have had previously to getting into tech. Those barriers could have been not having the finances to do a bootcamp or to go to university, to doing a conversion course or a master’s in computer science or that sort of thing. It could be that they just didn’t know about it, they hadn’t seen other people who were doing it before, they didn’t think it was something they could do, so we are showing them that they can do it.

We create this programme that enables loads of people to get into the industry. Other work that we do around training is looking at people who have been in the industry for a lot longer. They might have been in the industry for 10, 15 years, and they are then being trained to become leaders, or to recognise that they are leaders.

For example, we started a first leadership accelerator programme. That’s a 13 week programme looking at negotiation skills, managing stakeholders, technical vision. A bunch of things, so that we can get these women who are already doing it, already in the industry, already awesome, showing that they can progress to that next stage.

So we’re really looking at enabling more people to get in, but then also supporting that progression, and showing people what they are already doing.

Another thing that we really focus on is the visibility of role models. We have loads of events, we do events twice a month, currently. No, we don’t, it’s like once a week. There’s a lot of events that happen! One of the key things we look to do there is to have black women on stage talking about what they do in tech. I don’t want them talking about black women, I want them talking about what they do in tech. I want other black women to see that, so that they see the representation and know that they can achieve it, as well. So, there’s that element of visibility.

Another thing we do is we have run our social media campaign, our Visible in Tech campaign, for the last year. That, on a weekly basis, showcases a black woman who is in the tech industry, and they tell their story on social media. That has made a huge impact because people can see other people, they are inspired, and it makes them want to stay in the industry and be in the industry too. They are the key things, really; the events, the training, and then we work with companies to ensure that they are creating the right space. So that when we put people forward, or when people apply for roles that we’ve listed, they are going into good companies.

Clare: I love the idea that companies are setting up partnerships with you. That really tells me that they are paying attention to diversity, that they do want to make a difference.

This is a cynical question, I have to confess, but have you ever been in a situation where you feel like people are contacting you purely as a box ticking exercise, and they are not really committed? They don’t really care, to be honest.

Charlene: Yes, and you can tell pretty quickly. You can tell from the conversation. I always ask what they are currently doing about diversity, what they are currently doing to tackle the problem. You will normally see pretty quickly whether they are actually focused on it, or whether they are like, actually, someone told me to contact you yesterday, so I am doing it today. Can you just let me know the quickest way to get  a solution, please? And I’m like, it doesn’t work like that. There isn’t a quick solution to fixing a problem that is built into our society. It’s a long-term thing.

I guess what we look for is companies that understand that if they support us with delivering training or running events, that they are not going to necessarily recruit five people or ten people at the end of that. But they might recruit people in one or two years’ time, because they have shown that is something that they are passionate about.
You can see very quickly if they are not actually genuinely in it for the right reasons.

Clare: Do you sometimes just exit, as a result?

Charlene: Yes. There are people that I’ve said, “Until this has been done in your organisation then we won’t work together.” Absolutely.

Clare: With those bigger partnerships, do you actually run training programmes for them? Do you run any on-site or internal training programmes for people?

Charlene: There are some companies that say, “Could you run something with our leadership team?”, where we get other partners who deliver diversity training or unconscious bias training, those sorts of things. I don’t do that with the expectation that they are going to do a training course and then they are going to have a great organisation that’s not got any racism or bias in it. I do that with the expectation that that is part of a bigger programme.

If someone said to me, “Could you just come in and do this training?”, I’m probably going to say no, there’s other companies that do that. But if they say, “Can you do this training because we want to know this, but we also want to make sure that we are supporting the community in this way.”, that’s when I would probably say yes, that’s fine, let’s work together on that.

Clare: Yes. I know that you run bootcamps as an organisation. Do you ever do any of that, actually training engineers up on behalf of other companies? Or is that always an independent thing?

Charlene: Yes, so that’s something that we are going to be looking at next year, it’s definitely big on our plan, to do those internal training courses. Because we do so much of it, anyway, running those sorts of training internally would be perfect. We have got some companies where we run entire cohorts for their organisations.

We’ll take on say 20 people, and we will train them all up to then go and work in those organisations, absolutely. We run the courses either for the community or for the company, to get people into that company as well.

Clare: Either way, the focus is still black females?

Charlene: The focus is black females when we run internal corporate training. The key thing there is that we are delivering it. I think that there is benefit in companies seeing black women running training because we’re awesome.

Clare: Yes!

Charlene: So, it’s awesome, right?! With that, it doesn’t have to be that only black women are allowed to access the training in those companies. It’s more about the fact that we are going in and we are delivering it as a training company. We do quite a few workshops that we’ve run where we’ve done them on behalf of companies like Intro to Coding, so they could show their staff what it could be like if they were moving into tech.

We’ve seen that happen quite a lot. With a lot of the larger organisations, where they have a retail side and then a tech side – because the retail sides of a lot of businesses are closing at the moment – they are trying to retrain their staff to then move into those tech roles. That’s where we are doing a lot of that training, or those sorts of taster courses, where people are then saying ok, this is what tech is, maybe I could move from retail into this.

Then it opens the door up a lot for people in those sorts of roles to move into the tech roles.

Clare: Yes. And generally, when you are training people, I know one of the things at Made Tech that we really emphasise about the Academy Programme – and you’ve touched on this a bit when you’ve talked about support – is that we are teaching people, for 12 weeks, in our case, to become software engineers, or to enhance their software engineering skills. But then, after that, it’s their job. What’s not helpful to people is to just chuck them out into the world and abandon them, because it can be quite daunting.

Not only do we want to support them, but we also want to make learning be a part of everybody’s professional life. It’s not just a thing you do for 12 weeks and then you stop. That’s not even an option in this industry. You have no choice. Everything changes so quickly that you have to keep learning. I was thinking, is that another thing that you do as part of Coding Black Females, supporting people just generally with learning in the industry?

Charlene: Yes. We do quite a lot of – we do loads of stuff, right? One of the things that we offer is mentorship, and support in that way. We have either mentorship programmes that we will run with companies, where people get one on one support over a 12-week period from company representatives or we have people who sign up to us as mentors, then we pair them with mentees within our network.

So, we do provide that support. What we’ve started to do as well, as a core team, is we are offering office hours now. Every week, we’ve got about 12 slots available to our members, to call up and just have a chat about something in tech they want support with.

We’re trying to make sure that people have that level of support, and that they know there is always somewhere to go. What we found with the bootcamp was that the people that have gone on to roles, one of the questions that we asked all the companies before they go is, “What is your learning and development process or plan within your organisation?”, so we know we’re not just sending them in cold somewhere.

Then at the same time, because we have given them a mentor for the entire time that they are learning, they’ve then got someone to support them once they are in, as well. There’s a large focus on mentorship within our network. That could either be one-to-one mentoring, or ad-hoc support that people give to each other throughout anyway.
I think by building community and by bringing people together in that way, you almost get it naturally. Then we put a little bit of structure around it as well.

[Music sting]

Clare: While I’ve got your attention, let me tell you a bit about Made Tech. After 21 years in the industry, I am quite choosy about who I will work for. Made Tech are software delivery experts with high technical standards. We work almost exclusively with the public sector. We have an open source employee handbook on GitHub, which I love. We have unlimited annual leave. But what I love most about Made Tech is the people. They’ve got such passion for making a difference and they really care for each other. Our Twitter handle is @madetech. That’s M A D E T E C H. We have free books available on our website at We are currently recruiting in London, Bristol, South Wales, and the North of England via our Manchester office. If you go to, you can find out more about that.

Before we return to the interview, just a quick reminder that before the break we were talking about giving mentoring and support to learners, and not just abandoning them to the world of work after they complete training programmes.

Clare: Have you found that because of what you’ve been doing, you have learned about learning?

Charlene: I’ve learned a lot about learning.

Clare: Maybe a better question is what have you learned about learning?

Charlene: I’ve learned so much about learning. It’s not something that I used to do. I’ve been a software developer my whole time and then a technical architect, a tech lead. Focusing on learning has been really interesting. What I’ve found is the different styles, there are different ways that people can learn.

What I’ve seen happen with so many people when they are learning, I always deem it as the bit where you’re climbing up a hill, and then you get up to this really steep back, then you get to the top and you can see the horizon and you feel okay again. I guess I didn’t recognise those sorts of things before.  It’s the learning styles. It’s knowing what it’s like when somebody is near that breaking point. But when they are near the breaking point, they are also near to really, fully understanding something as well.
It’s understanding the level of support that people could need, and what it could be like to go through these sorts of things. One thing that we learned from the bootcamp especially, was the last ladies we had, they went through the bootcamp, and people were going through all sorts of things at the same time. It was also Covid times as well. There was this new scary thing, they were also learning this new, scary thing, and they were still living their lives and they were all at home on their own because of the pandemic. It was really tough. We realised we weren’t equipped to support them with that.

So, this time around, we’ve added in counselling and that sort of support, so that when they are learning, they’ve got somewhere to go to someone who can actually give them the right support if they’re struggling with anything.

I think I’ve also learned a lot about neurodiversity. Different types of people. The way that having your slides in a particular way could impact them. We do slide based learning. We do lecture style and then they’ll do exercises. Then we’ll make sure that there are videos so that there are loads of different ways they can learn. Then even with the slides, every slide had orange on it, and some people found that difficult because of their neurodiversity. Then that meant that they weren’t able to learn in those sessions.

There are all these things that I had never even considered. I just thought, okay, you want to learn to code, I’m going to give you code. Cool. But there are so many other things. People go through things when they are learning. People drop off for different reasons, people stick around for different reasons. They need different levels of support, and it’s important to figure out what those things are, and give it to them, really.

Clare: Yes, fantastic. How did you get into it? You mentioned that you are yourself a software engineer and have been for a long time. But now, Coding Black Females is your main thing, isn’t it? How did that happen?

Charlene: As you say, I’ve been a software developer for a good while now. Coding Black Females I’ve been doing for the last four years. It started off with people who were more senior, so people like me in tech, coming together and just talking about what we do. And probably talking a lot about the experiences that we’d had, as well, which I think was just really fantastic. To be able to talk about experience as a black woman in the tech industry is great.

Then what we found is that we also had a lot of people who would then start attending who would ask, how can I get into tech? So, then we started to try and make sure that we had resources for them, or information to give to those people when they would ask those questions. We naturally then started running workshops because that’s what people needed. We wanted to make sure that the community was supported to get what they wanted. Then when companies would say, we’re looking for this, I would say, well I know these people because I’ve been working with them to train them.

So it was very organic. It was based on the fact that we have grown a community around technology. Because we are black women in tech, we are inspiring other people to want to be in it. Then they ask us how they can get in, so we deliver that training, we deliver that support. One of the key breaking points, last year I was invited along as Coding Black Females, we ran a workshop at a conference, and they said, we’ve been invited in to do this bid, do you want to go along with us to put this bid together for a bootcamp?
I was like, yeah, cool. It can’t be that hard to run a bootcamp, can it? It’s really easy! So, then we went in, and we did this. Then we built a bootcamp. Now we’ve got that, but we’ve also got other training programmes. Because we look at the areas that are needed in industry. We know what those skills gaps are, but we also know what skills we have and what skills we can find in order to train people.

It’s really been very organic. Sometimes I will have a conversation with a company, and they’ll say, we need this skill. I’ll go back to the team, and we will create some training around it and generate the skill. And then give those people that access, those opportunities. It’s about listening, it’s about learning from the people around you so that you can then provide the right thing to the people within the community.

Clare: Fantastic. Going back to the Made Tech Academy, and other similar schemes that you’ve seen, when you see those in-house programmes where you are recruiting people directly to your own company and then training them up and giving them a job, do you think those schemes have a particular benefit? How do you feel about those kinds of schemes?

Charlene: I think there are huge benefits to those schemes. I think one thing that is fantastic is being paid whilst you’re learning. That’s amazing right? Because there are genuinely no barriers then, which is fantastic. The other thing is that because you are an organisation and you know how you build things, how you work with your customers, you know how you do all of that, you can then train people who are going to be beneficial to your company. Which reduces the amount of time that you have to mould somebody after they come in from another programme, if you know what I mean.

Clare: Yes.

Charlene: Not that you should try to mould everyone to be the same. It’s more that you are teaching them the right skills that are going to be suitable for your business. Then they can be useful straightaway. When you’re learning at the entry level, it’s really important to be on a project or be contributing to something as soon as possible. Otherwise, you feel like you’ve learnt it, but you’re not good enough yet. All the confidence issues start coming in.

It means that you can get somebody working a lot quicker, and you’ve got that structure of support as well. When you provide them with mentors and supporters, all those people will already know how your business works, how you use technology and everything. That’s where the huge benefit is. It’s the structure that you can give them internally that you might not always be able to give them when you’re doing it outside.

Clare: Yes. I always think of it as three things: recruitment, retention, and diversity. When I’m thinking about the benefits of our Academy, first of all it means that we get to recruit people. Recruitment is hard in IT. When you get out of this idea that we must find people who are already fully fledged, fully formed, have learned all the things, actually that’s not necessary. We can teach them the things that we need them to know and then recruitment becomes a lot easier.

You’ve given those people something that is really important to you, but also really important to them. So, then you’ve got the retention piece. They’ve built up a relationship with you that’s really important to them, so they are more likely to hang around.

The other really big one is the diversity piece. When you do it properly, when you think about all of the things that we’ve talked about and you’re not just looking for one size fits all. You’re deliberately trying to find people who are different from one another. Then you find that certainly in my experience, the diversity figures for the recruitment to the Academy are better. I’m pretty sure that we get better gender diversity, better racial diversity, better neurodiversity. Because we are deliberately looking for people who are different.

Because they are at the beginning of their journeys, they haven’t yet had horrible experiences and left.

Charlene: Yes, not yet. I think you’re definitely right there because I think that means a lot to a person. When they know that someone has said okay, we believe in you, we are going to invest all of this time in you, you’re going to stick around for longer. You know that you matter. The times I see people leave a lot, especially earlier on in their career, is when they have gone somewhere who said that they care, said they were going to try and support them after they’ve come out of different bootcamps or after uni or whatever and they just haven’t done anything at all.

Then they’re like, I feel horrible, I need to go somewhere else. Then we try to find them somewhere else. I think that makes such a difference, knowing that company is willing to put that time into you, and willing to invest in you in that way. It really helps with the likelihood that you are going to stick around.

Clare: Also, what you just hinted at, you have to actually put your money where your mouth is, as well. It’s no use saying that you’re going to support people, you have to actually do it.

Charlene: Absolutely.

Clare: That makes a big difference as well.

Charlene: Absolutely.

Clare: What would you like to see in the future? What would nirvana look like for you in this industry?

Charlene: Nirvana for me is essentially to not have organisations like mine, right? I want there to not be a need. I want people to go to work and not experience racism, not experience issues, be treated fairly. I want a black woman to be as likely as a white man to be interviewed and then to progress to the next level or be taken into a new job. I want it to be as likely. I want to see leadership be well represented in organisations, which I just don’t see. I feel like we’re going to take a long time to change but that’s what I want to see. I want to see that representation and for people to be able to be themselves when they go to work, and not feel as though they have to hide any part of themselves.

I hear so many horrible stories and I have so many horrible stories of my own experiences. I just don’t want people to have that anymore. I feel like it’s just been going on for too long and I want it to stop. I want people to be able to have a good time at work, go in, feel good, do what they’ve got to do and be able to be themselves. And there’s the representation there and there’s no issues around it. That’s what I want.

Clare: Wonderful, I love it. I want that too.

Charlene: We’ll get there, Clare, we’ll get there.

Clare: There are a few questions that I always ask all my guests. One of the questions that I normally ask at the beginning, but I often forget, I forgot this time. Who are you inspired by in this industry?

Charlene: I find it difficult because there are a lot of people in my network that inspire me a lot. To be honest, I couldn’t list all of their names because there are so many people that inspire me all the time. I think I’m inspired by the people who are out there who are supporting other people. Or they are just doing it, they are killing it, they are excelling in what they’re doing, and they love it while they’re doing it. They are the types of people that inspire me. I don’t have names or anything like that.

Clare: That’s fine.

Charlene: I think it’s the people who are doing really well for themselves and are enabling other people to do well for themselves as well.

Clare: I love that, that’s great. The next question that I always ask everybody is to tell me one thing about you that’s true, and one thing that’s untrue. We’re not going to tell the listeners which is which, they have to try and guess. People who subscribe to our mailing list will get to find out what the true answer was.

Charlene: Okay, I have been ziplining in Jamaica and I have done a skydive in Mexico.

Clare: Oh, sneaky, they’re really similar.

Charlene: I know.

Clare: Okay, tell me what it was like when you were ziplining in Jamaica. Tell me about that experience.

Charlene: It was really, really scary. I’m afraid of heights, so I don’t know why I choose to do things that have heights in. I don’t know why I do that. It was very scary; it was very rickety. The person who was on that with me was shaking the thing, the wire thing. It was very scary but at the end it was fine.

Clare: What about skydiving in Mexico?

Charlene: Skydiving in Mexico was also very scary because I am afraid of heights. I spent the entire time being concerned that the person who was attached to me was just not going to open their parachute. It was really scary. They were both very scary experiences.

Clare: Uh-huh. I’ve done ziplining but I’ve not done skydiving. I think I would like to. The logic is that the person who is attached to you is also going to not want to die.

Charlene: Yes, I know!

Clare: So, they are probably going to open the parachute, I guess.

Charlene: I watched an episode of Hollyoaks.

Clare: Tell me, what happened in Hollyoaks?

Charlene: The wires were cut, and it was just very scary.

Clare: Oh my god.

Charlene: It was years ago. It put me off years ago, but I was like, no, I’ve got to overcome it.

Clare: Fantastic. So, the very last question is, what is the best thing that has happened to you in the last month or so? It doesn’t have to be work-related; it can be anything.

Charlene: It is going to be work related. I don’t think I have a best thing, but I get a message maybe every week or every couple of weeks, like Charlene, I’ve just got a new job, or I’ve just progressed in this way, or this fantastic thing has happened to me. I think that a culmination of all of those text messages that I get of people having good opportunities and good things happen to them within Coding Black Females, is probably the best thing. They are the things that make me call my mum and I get very excited.

Clare: Yeah!

Charlene: I know it’s not one thing, it’s a bunch of things. But I would say all of those text messages together is what has been the best thing that has happened to me in the last month.

Clare: I love it. I love the idea of you calling your mum, as well. I love the fact that this means your mum is getting all of these lovely phone calls from you, giving her all this good news!

Charlene: Yes, she loves it.

Clare: Brilliant. And I lied, it wasn’t the last question. There is one last question which is really simple. Where can people find you, and do you have anything that you would like to plug?

Charlene: People can find me personally on @charlenephunter on Twitter and Instagram and LinkedIn. In general, Coding Black Females always have different ways to partner with us, but also different opportunities for our members as well. Just go to the Coding Black Females website and go to the Member Zone or Support Us, and you can find out either how you can work with us to achieve awesome things or take some of the awesome things that we have going for our members. That’s what I would like to plug, and that’s how you can find me.

Clare: Wonderful, thank you for talking to me.

Charlene: Thank you.

[Music Sting]

Clare: As always, to help you digest what you’ve just heard, I’m going to attempt to summarise it.

When recruiting for a training programme aiming to train people up as professional software engineers, you need to be aware that being able to code is not the same as being a software developer.

A key component in recruiting for such a scheme is to find people who are enthusiastic, and able to learn independently. Think about diversity. Allow for applicants strengths to show in different ways. Don’t ask closed questions where you have a particular answer in mind. Be on the lookout for those and weed them out.

Coding Black Females was originally set up by Charlene as a way of meeting other black women in the tech industry. They now offer a variety of different types of training; they host a lot of events. They offer counselling and support for after people complete their training. This has led to a huge, supportive community and mentoring network as a result.

They also support companies with recruitment, and make sure they have good environments for the women in Coding Black Female’s network. They are aiming to make sure that black women have a good experience in this industry. They are also aiming to get more black women into leadership roles and showcase black female role models. They will only work with organisations that are really taking this seriously.

When you are training people, offer a variety of options to support different learning preferences. Think about things such as neurodiversity. The benefits to in-house training schemes when you get it right are threefold. There is the impact on recruitment; when people are being paid while they are learning, they are going to be really keen to join. There’s the impact on diversity; if you can offer a training scheme direct to people without degrees, then you are removing barriers. There is also the impact on retention. If you are training people deliberately to be beneficial to your company, there is more chance that they will stick around.

Charlene is doing amazing work towards improving the experience of black women in our industry. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us can be complacent. We can all pay attention to the experiences of people in underrepresented groups in our industry. We can all think about what we can do to redress the imbalances caused by racism and all other forms of prejudice.

That’s not all, stick around for extra content.

Clare: Every other episode, this last short segment will be devoted to story time. Storytelling is useful for teaching, for unlocking empathy, and for creating a sense of shared connection and trust in your teams. I love telling stories to both children and adults. I’m actually a lapsed member of the UK Society for Storytelling. So, the plan is that I’m going to be using stories to illustrate various points about effective software development.

This time, because it is black history month, I’ve spoken to two of my black colleagues, who told me some stories about their experiences. I have Kayleigh Dericot with me, who is a delivery manager at Made Tech. I’m going to be asking Kayleigh about experiences she’s had as a black person in tech. Not just in tech just her experiences as a black person. One of the things that we are going to talk about is people making assumptions. I’m just going to hand it over to Kayleigh. Can you tell me about experiences that you’ve had about people making assumptions about you?

Kayleigh: Yes, of course. There is a particular experience that happened at work. Not at Made Tech, I should say. This was with another employer, and with a client in the financial services sector. We were having a workshop. A number of colleagues I had worked with for a couple of years at that point. We were trying to understand our customers a little bit better, and the users of the application. This was a financial product that we were thinking of launching. We had a variety of people in the room; we had people from legal to make sure we were saying the right things, we had people from the product team, and we had myself and a few others from the digital team to talk about how we were going to build this application.

One thing that came up was there was an assumption in a lot of the content we had produced for this page that people would have a good financial literacy, and that they would have a lot of knowledge around what these products were, and what some of the terms and the features meant.

That was challenged by someone in the group, and there was a slightly awkward moment where someone in that group turned to me, and there was this assumption that I came from a background where people weren’t particularly well educated.

Clare: Wow.

Kayleigh: That was quite an uncomfortable moment, that no one called out. Having to continue in that workshop and working with that group, and sort of brush it aside to make sure we could achieve the outcome, was quite a difficult thing to have to do. I didn’t feel like it was the right time to call out what had happened, which I definitely regretted afterwards.

Clare: That sounds like such an uncomfortable experience. You say you regretted it afterwards. If you could do it again, what would you do differently?

Kayleigh: That’s a really difficult one. I’ve been in a few situations, some at work, some not at work, where people have said things that have made me uncomfortable, and I haven’t always spoken up in those moments because I didn’t quite know what to say yet. Particularly in the work environment. It’s in those moments that I sometimes wish that others in the room were better allies and didn’t just give me the uncomfortable look of oh, I know that wasn’t pleasant for you, and stepped in and said, “That’s inappropriate”, so that I didn’t feel like it was all on me in those moments.

Clare: That’s what I was going to get to, yes. Because the suggestion was that you had done something wrong, and you hadn’t done anything wrong. The burden shouldn’t be on you to fix situations like this. That’s why allies are so important, isn’t it? That other people should also be paying attention. A sympathetic look is not enough. What you want is for people to act on your behalf, and actually acknowledge that something has happened and try to do something about it.

Kayleigh: Exactly. That’s not to say the sympathetic look isn’t helpful, it’s more than nothing. In those moments it does make you feel a little bit seen. You do get that slightly warm feeling of someone else in this room gets what was wrong there. It just isn’t enough.

Clare: Absolutely. Thank you so much for speaking to me, that was really interesting and useful.

Kayleigh: No worries, happy to share.

Clare: I have Renny Fadoju with me. Renny is a software engineer at Made Tech. Hello Renny.

Renny: Hi Clare, how are you?

Clare: I’m good, thank you. Renny, you and I have been talking about the fact that being black doesn’t mean that you only hang out with black people. Do you want to tell me a little bit about that?

Renny: Yes. I’ve had so many experiences with this. The one that comes to mind prominently has been whilst I was still at school. So, from secondary school, college, university. It always felt like there was an expectation on me to fit in with the black clique. Not to say that was a bad thing, but I think having that expectation, it put a social pressure on me. It sometimes felt like the fact that I’m black, you are taking me as a piece, a chess piece, and putting me on a board. Like I definitely have to want to grow with these people.

I might not really like what they as a group might like to do. They might not really relate to what I like to do. I’ve met black people who like what I like, I can relate with. But when you feel as though you’re supposed to automatically join this group of people, it’s almost like I have to not be myself.

Clare: Yes. Ultimately, would you agree that it boils down to assumptions that people are making about you based purely on the colour of your skin?

Renny: Yes, I think it’s based on that, and I think it’s also based on – especially going back to college or school where you can see it sometimes – it does feel like you are expected to find your group. I had some friends, and they weren’t black. I remember being asked by somebody who was black, “Why are you sitting here?”. I was thinking, why not? I still talk with you; I talk with other black people. But the sense of having to put myself into some secluded, exclusive group didn’t really make sense to me. It was like, where can I feel that I can express myself better? That’s where I wanted to be.

Clare: Yes. We were saying earlier that on the podcast, we have historically always had a story time segment and a making life better segment. The story that you’ve just been telling me about your experience fits to me as a story for story time. It occurs to me that as well as you telling me your story of your experience, I was also going to ask you for actions that people can take to try to help to change your experience. The action that we were going to talk about is recognising that blackness isn’t a whole identity.
I feel like that just naturally follows on from this conversation. Is there any advice that you can give to people around that?

Renny: Yes. I want to take the analogy of a house. The way I see it, no matter who you are, if you look at the house when it is being built, you’ve got a foundation. There is no way a house can stand or support itself without the foundation. I feel that’s my racial identity. Being black is my foundation. I would not exist as a person if I didn’t have that heritage, it’s what makes me who I am. But the same way that you have to have a good foundation, it’s up to you what you want your house to look like.

Personally, I want to have a mansion, but how that is built is up to me and my tastes. What are my favourite colours? That sort of thing. It doesn’t take away the fact that I’m black because that’s my foundation. The foundation is the most important thing, and you should respect that. This is my foundation. This person, she’s black, but then who is she? You come to the dulcimer house, what kind of furniture do I have? What kind of curtains do I have? What do I like to cook? What’s in my fridge? That sort of thing, that’s me. That’s the analogy I want to give.

Clare: It’s a really nice analogy, I love it. Thank you so much.

Renny: Thank you so much, Clare.

[Music Sting]

Clare: And that’s the end of another episode. If you are enjoying the podcast, please do leave us ratings and reviews because it pushes us up the directories and makes it easier for other people to find us. Speaking of which, thank you to Cam, who thinks the podcast is fab.

I’ve got a few talks coming up. You can see the details on my events page on Medium, which is linked to from my Twitter profile. You can find that at @claresudbery, which is probably not spelled the way that you think. There is no ‘I’ in Clare, and ‘Sudbery’ is spelt E R Y at the end, the same as surgery or carvery.

You can find Made Tech on Twitter @madetech, M A D E T E C H.

Do come and say hello, we are very interested to hear your feedback and any suggestions you have for any content for future episodes, or just come and have a chat.
Thank you to Rose, our editor, Gina Cady, our virtual assistant, Viv Andrews, our transcriber, Richard Murray for the music – there’s a link in the description – and to the rest of our internal Made Tech team; Kyle Chapman, Jack Harrison, Carson Rob and Laura Plaga. Also in the description is a link for subscribing to our newsletter. We publish new episodes every fortnight on Tuesday mornings. Thank you for listening and goodbye.

[Recording Ends]

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