Inspirational profiles featuring the
career path & advice from Black
professionals in the tech industry.

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Black in Tech: Helena Hamilton, Engineering Program Manager  at Linus Health banner image

Black in Tech: Helena Hamilton, Engineering Program Manager at Linus Health

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Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Helena Hamilton, Engineering Program Manager at Linus Health shares his story.


Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work? 

I grew up in San Francisco, California. I was a pretty nerdy kid - I read voraciously. I always say I was an urban “free-range” kid. From middle school on, when I would get out of classes for the day, I had 2-3 hours of free time when I would be on my own until time to meet my father at his office to go home. I roamed all over the city during those hours. Arcade games were new, so that was a favorite destination. Or I’d hang out at the beach or Pier 39. I’d stop by our church to practice the piano. Today, no one would let a child roam around a major city unsupervised like that but I stayed out of trouble. My dad worked for the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, eventually becoming the Executive Director. My mom was a legislative analyst until I was about 13, when she began working full time for our church.

Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating? 

I graduated from the University of Maryland in Adelphi, Maryland. My major was Computer and Information Science. Since by then I was already working in technology, I utilized my employer’s tuition benefit to pay for school and I stayed with them for a couple of years after graduating.

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

I think you have to go way back to find the original inspiration. My kindergarten class had a terminal connected to the mainframe computer at the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley. From the time we got the terminal, I was obsessed. I played games, I learned to code in BASIC, I talked to a psychotherapy program called ELIZA and formulated odd questions to make her give responses we had never seen before. I hogged the computer so terribly that even when I wasn’t on it, the other kids would ask me if it was okay if they used my computer. This drove the teacher crazy because, of course, it wasn’t mine. But I sort of took ownership of it from day one.

What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining Linus Health? 

I took a gradual, non-traditional path into technology. I started as a technical writer with a talent for automating Excel spreadsheets. One day, the AVP over the IT department came to me and asked for help with an Excel project no one on his staff had been able to figure out. It was a very fun project, so I worked on it every spare moment. In about two weeks, I had a working prototype and demonstrated it for him. About six months later, there was an IT opening and the AVP asked me to apply. I did, got the job, and have been working in tech ever since. 

I started as an entry-level software developer and over seven years, grew into a senior full-stack engineer. That employer was a healthcare company and my technical career has always focused on health information technology. Over time, I added project management to my toolbox and became PMI-certified. I was promoted to a software development manager and eventually became an IT director. I’ve worked in every sector of healthcare, in varied roles, from font-line engineer to IT executive.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as [Engineering Program Manager] at Linus Health?

I am an Engineering Program Manager at Linus Health, a digital health company focused on transforming brain health through earlier detection of brain disorders. I’ve been with Linus for about seven months and I’ve spent my time helping Linus to create and implement best practices for initiating and carrying out software projects in a heavily regulated environment (the main product at Linus is a medical device). This means creating a transparent, mission-driven process for deciding which projects to take on, carefully documenting technical requirements, ensuring traceability to prove the software has been thoroughly validated, and also streamlining the development process so that we are nimble and efficient.

To what do you attribute your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional? 

I don’t think there is any one factor in my success. I started out blessed with a strong family and parents who invested in my development from day one. I’ve already mentioned early experiences that sparked an interest in technology. I’m a Christian, so I believe it was divine providence that I was in the right place for an IT Exec to bring me a request that demonstrated my aptitude for programming. And then I worked really hard. I started in tech in the 90s and back then it was common to work insane hours as a tech professional. 

Money for college was one hurdle. My company’s tuition reimbursement program, coupled with a small loan ended up paying for my degree at my local state university. Early on, as a working professional, I would sometimes run into negative preconceptions. I remember giving a software demo, and the client asked “Who was the programmer for this?” I responded that I was. “Yeah,” he said, “But who wrote the code?” It just didn’t compute that I was the software engineer behind this system. Fortunately, these days, a qualified black tech professional is no longer shocking. 

What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry? 

I’d encourage them to go for it. There’s a Bible verse that says “A person’s gift makes room for them” and nowhere is it more true than in technology. If you have the skills to solve a company’s problems, doors will open for you. Being in the tech field means a commitment to lifelong learning, since tools, languages, and methodologies tend to undergo major reinventions at least every 7-10 years. 

While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken.  Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?

I think it would be extremely helpful to ensure that children from every background and socioeconomic class get an early exposure to technology and a chance to develop technical aptitude. This is especially true for girls, as technology is still often presented as a pursuit that is more appropriate for boys and men. Organizations like Black Girls Code can make a great difference and tech companies should support them. One school computer terminal changed my personal trajectory by showing me that working with computers is not only technically challenging, it’s super fun as well. 

Everyone is familiar with “Take your daughter to work day”; what if this kind of opportunity were more generally available? Tech companies could partner with local schools (especially those in underserved, underprivileged areas) to bring kids in for a day and get an introduction to what working in technology is like. Similarly, tech employees could volunteer in schools to be math, computing, and science tutors. That kind of partnership could be huge.

About the
Company

Linus Health integrates the latest in cutting-edge neuroscience and AI technology with everyday digital tools to give individuals and their care professionals up-to-the-minute brain health insights. 

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Black in Tech: Deji Sonaike, Director of Field Operations at Takeoff banner image

Black in Tech: Deji Sonaike, Director of Field Operations at Takeoff

Open Jobs Company Page

Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Deji Sonaike, Director of Field Operations at Takeoff shares his story.


Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work? 

For as far back as I can remember, I have always been curious about everything around me. However, growing up in an era before the internet meant having a high level of trust in the information presented to you, having no external, authentic source of information verification. This combination of my curious personality and my actual internet-less existence created the paradox that was my childhood living, because I never shied away from asking the same questions until I was clear and satisfied. Looking back now, I think I must have made life difficult for the adults around me.

With a mother in Foreign Affairs and a father in Engineering, I had an exciting childhood growing up in Lagos, Nigeria. My childhood was a rollercoaster of adventure, discovery, exposure and awareness. I had the privilege of, firstly, being exposed to the fields of work of both of my parents and watching them excel in their individual areas; secondly, being able to travel the world by virtue of my mother’s work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I was afforded the ability to live in different countries and that fed my curious and inquisitive nature. I needed no nudging to study and appreciate the various cultures I encountered; I did so with my whole heart, and my whole stomach (for how can you experience a culture without trying its native food)? All these experiences made for a very colorful and insightful “growing up” process for me, and I count it as a privilege.

Deji Sonaike Takeoff

Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating? 

When it was time to attend university, I looked forward to my next adventure, but there was still a big decision to be made as to what path exactly I would be taking in this next stage of my life. Of course, as a Nigerian child in my generation, growing up and about to enter university in Nigeria, I had very little say in the matter. Conduct a survey of Nigerian University graduates of my generation and you would find that a great number of them studied what their parents wanted them to study, to suit the life that their parents had planned for them. I was not very likely to be an exception. Forget any other interest I may have had, I had no more than three options available to me to choose from. “To choose from”: therein lay the window of power I had to exercise concerning my future. The options available to me for a course of study were: Medicine, Law, and Engineering (in that order!). I had absolutely no interest in medicine or law, so those were out of the question. As for engineering, I held some sentiment for that one; I did enjoy the idea of building things up, and probably more importantly, it was my father’s field of work. So, I chose the least of 3 evils and dove into a course in the engineering line. Thus began my stint with Architecture. I say “stint” because my university education in Nigeria was short lived, as was my compulsion to study Architecture.

I moved to the United States and restarted my university studies at Rutgers University, New Jersey. What did I finally study? Economics and Finance. And yes, that is what I had always wanted to study. My passion for economics came from seeing the relevance of my mother’s work with the ministry of foreign affairs. Her work was my introduction to how the world runs and how economies spin, fail, rise, and so on. Watching how her job contributed to the shaping of countries inspired me and created my interest in Economics. I was specifically interested in MacroEconomics, which is the arm that deals with the economies of countries and governments. I started out with macroeconomics because I was passionate about studies that would revolve around driving economic change in developing countries, subsequently shaping the economies of those countries for the better. I tacked on the Finance angle to beef up the Economics study and give me a better handle on the entire field of work. So started my undergraduate degree in Economics and Finance. Ten years after that degree, I returned to school for my Executive MBA.

In the years between my degrees, I worked for three big box retailers and found tremendous success in the work I did. I worked at Target as Logistics Team Lead. Afterwards, I moved on to Walmart and clinched the role of Store Manager. At this point, I had begun desiring to take on my EMBA, and I started that as I moved on from Walmart to Bed Bath & Beyond, still in the role of store management. Like I mentioned earlier, I experienced great success in these places, but I also felt limited in my career path. So, I pushed and finished my EMBA.

Deji Sonaike Takeoff

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

Innovation and growth were the main driving factors for me getting into tech. As an industry, it is one of the fastest growing and provides opportunities and solutions for a vast array of problems. The tech industry is constantly evolving and bringing us closer to innovation. I enjoy designing solutions that make a real impact, and can make our lives much better.

What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining Takeoff? 

My career path prior to joining Takeoff was primarily focused on operations. I joined Amazon after completing my EMBA and worked in an Operations role for a couple of years. Leveraging my operational experience, I transitioned into a new division at Amazon that designed and built hiring solutions for last mile Amazon drivers. While in the role, I worked closely with all stakeholders and made multiple product suggestions to increase applicant throughput at all sites.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Director of Field Operations at Takeoff?

I joined Takeoff as a Director of Field Operations. My responsibilities at Takeoff involve working with my team to deliver an optimal Micro Fulfillment Center to our clients. We monitor operational performance and make continuous operational suggestions tailored to each unique client. We work with our clients and multiple Takeoff departments to help curate product solutions and innovations based on what clients want.

My career so far (which is just beginning as I still plan to do a lot more) has been an interesting journey, with turns I did not see coming but I embraced nonetheless. I can say that a big contributor to my success so far has been that same inquisitive nature from my childhood. I am still always asking and re-asking, checking and double checking, refusing to take anything at face value, and I believe that that has helped me progress, excel, go in the right directions and make fewer mistakes.

What has attributed to your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional? 

It is probably unexpected to hear me say I have not faced many obstacles in my life’s journey so far that I am aware of. It may even be disappointing, because most of us expect that with good success stories come a story of a challenging past. I have no horror stories to share, no riveting “grass to grace” tales to recount. In my mind, a number of factors may be responsible for this; maybe because I have always had elevated positions, my voice has always carried quite some weight; maybe because of the state of the modern world, I have not needed to endure unspeakable trials. Whatever the reason, I am glad to say that I have been privileged to not encounter many significant obstacles in my life and career. As far as being black is considered an obstacle, I have thankfully also not seen that in my own experiences. I know that may not be the case for many African Americans. But as an African who migrated to the US as a young adult, I had never before considered myself “black” — we were all the same where I came from! So, I did not enter my field of work with the mindset of having been oppressed as a black person.

That being said, I would also like for people of color who come across my story to realize that their blackness will not limit them in the tech space. In my experience, whatever form of racial obstacles and prejudice you may have faced in the past will not apply in the tech industry, so do not hesitate to make your mark. The industry is so big and is getting bigger everyday. 

What types of programs and initiatives does Takeoff have that support diversity, equity, and inclusion?

At Takeoff we value Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Diversity is even one of our core values! We celebrate our talented employees and believe we are stronger as a team when our people bring different perspectives and experiences to the table. Regarding programs and initiatives, we did a mentorship with Hack.Diversity last year and participate in charities that give back to underrepresented populations.

What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry? 

There is space in tech for you! Also, there is a lot to be done in tech companies that is not centered around writing code, and I would just like for everyone to know that. If that is not your area of interest, explore the wide range of opportunities beyond coding in tech companies. Get out there, see where there’s space for your talent; where you can transfer your skills. Also, do not be afraid to use job sites and to network. Personally, I’d always be willing to connect and help people trying to break into tech companies, and I know that there are other people of the same opinion.

While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken.  Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?

I believe that, for example, the Black in Tech feature organized by Venturefizz is a great idea! Companies need to keep pushing for diversity and ensuring that people know that there are more roles in tech companies than the ones that most obviously come to mind. I believe that a great way to achieve this is grassroot mobilization and representation at career fairs. Companies need to take the conversations and the push for diversity to the grassroots and dispel the daunting process of transitioning into tech for people who are not privileged to have the information. Reaching students trying to navigate their career path in their heads is also a great step!

I am honored that I was given the chance to tell my story here, to serve as an inspiration to those who may be deterred, and to promote blackness in tech. I also thank you for taking the time to read about me.

So that I don’t come across as all work and no play, I should probably mention my hobbies. If I could list three of my favorite fun activities in the world, they would be: travel, travel and travel! I mentioned earlier that I traveled a lot when I was younger, and now it’s my absolute favorite thing to do! Travel and eat! I formed an appreciation for different cultures and their food early in life, and that has never left me.

About the
Company

Takeoff is helping grocers thrive in eCommerce.

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Black in Tech: Colin Dinnie, DEI Program Manager at Wistia banner image

Black in Tech: Colin Dinnie, DEI Program Manager at Wistia

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Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Colin Dinnie, DEI Program Manager at Wistia shares his story.


Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work? 

The early part of my life was spent in Bloomfield, Connecticut. When I was 8 years old, we moved to West Hartford, Connecticut. My mother was a kindergarten teacher for Hartford Public Schools and my father worked for the Department of Corrections in Hartford. 

With Bloomfield being a predominantly black community, and West Hartford being predominantly white, I was thrust into two vastly different situations that shaped much of who I am and how I navigate different spaces. As a child I was (and still am) curious about everything, and highly social. Most of my time was spent between playing sports, or playing/studying music. Whenever I became interested in something I wanted to know everything about it, and would obsess over it until I felt like I was exhausted from learning about it. 

Colin Dinnie Wistia

Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating? 

I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston MA as a Performance major. This major is designed for those seeking to attain maximum skill and proficiency on their declared instrument and is one of the more strictly focused areas of study. As it is common for Berklee attendees I did not finish, choosing instead to pursue music full time. The rigors and sacrifice required to make music a main source of income became a cost I was not willing to pay, and later sought out a more traditional work environment (with music always remaining a part of my life!)

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

The prospect of growth. Since I had more of an atypical post-college path most of my jobs consisted of anything that would make ends meet. This included a suit store salesman, bowling alley mechanic, furniture moving, organic produce delivery driver, and support staff in a program for middle school students that require behavioral intervention due to trauma/emotional impairment (still one of the most meaningful and fulfilling jobs I’ve ever had).

Most if not all of these positions had a finite ceiling and I knew I was capable of more, so I looked to break into an industry that I felt was stable and could provide opportunities. 

What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining Wistia? 

Before joining Wistia I had zero experience in tech; I had a working knowledge of HTML and CSS, along with general proficiency in working with softwares and problem solving. Applying to Wistia was a bit of a leap of faith since I had no prior professional experience, but I felt that If I could just get in a room with people I could show my capabilities and be offered a chance. It worked! 

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as DEI Program Manager at Wistia?

My responsibilities include strengthening and diversifying our team and networks, helping create equitable growth paths and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, and a commitment to making inclusion foundational to all aspects of the business, internally and externally. To achieve this, I work collaboratively with our Talent Acquisition team, schedule speakers and workshops, drive updating demographic data and recommend changes to how we measure and what we report, and report regularly to the company on DEI initiatives as well as the publishing of our annual DEI report.

I also work closely with our Employee Resource Groups to increase the presence and impact of diverse perspectives in the organization. 

Colin Dinnie Wistia

What has attributed to your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional? 

I’ve been very fortunate to have built up a strong network of friends and colleagues that have gone to bat and advocated for me on more than one occasion. Without them, I’m not sure I would have been afforded the same opportunities to advance my career the way I have. 

I’ve also had some incredible examples set forth from other black professionals along the way that helped shape my confidence and establish a sense of worth in an industry where there are all too few that look like us. 

However, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge my ability to effectively code switch - presented with the enormous caveat that that is not something I feel black folks should HAVE to learn. In an ideal world it’s not necessary, but growing up in starkly contrasting neighborhoods allowed me to navigate any social or professional situation seamlessly throughout my career. It’s a goal of mine to foster an environment at Wistia where both prospective candidates and current employees do not feel the need to change anything about who they are to gain an opportunity.  

What types of programs and initiatives does Wistia have that support diversity, equity, and inclusion?

We have a number of Employee Resource Groups that are instrumental in creating psychologically safe environments for employees with shared identities, as well as offering learning and sharing opportunities within the company through events, speakers and workshops. 

Our talent acquisition team has also worked very hard to iterate on the interview process to be fair and inclusive, and ensure that we’re holding ourselves accountable to providing equitable opportunities. 

What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry? 

Staying curious and confident is everything. I feel like that’s a bit of a cliche at this point, but there will always be external factors and structures that will do their best to make you doubt yourself or feel unqualified. Staying curious allows you to explore areas and opportunities you may not have thought available to you (as was the case with me), and staying confident will ensure you find the right people (or they find you).  

Never be afraid or too proud to ask questions, and don’t be afraid to walk away from situations that no longer serve you. When we communicate success stories, they’re often told neatly through a linear lens and omit the roadblocks and hurdles along the way. Taking a step back is ok. Starting over entirely is ok. It can be scary, and particularly daunting if your life/financial circumstances complicate that route, but betting on yourself will always yield the results YOU want - not the ones someone else sets out for you. 

While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken.  Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?

Spend the necessary time thinking about the “why” of your DEI initiatives. Engaging in this work because you feel like you’re obligated to or it is what’s expected leads to quick plateauing and unfulfilled change for the underrepresented groups you’re trying to help. The “why” may be different for companies of various sizes and industries, but should always have roots in allyship and advocacy. 

In addition to this, it’s paramount that DEI work be foundational to all aspects of your business. It cannot be a box that gets checked or viewed separately from other business goals; instead decisions and established norms should always be made through a DEI lens to ensure transparency and accountability. There is no finish line! 

Lastly, I feel it’s important to abandon the idea of home and work life being separate; all any workplace is is a collection of people bringing their whole lives with them into every room, every meeting, every decision, every interaction. It’s crucial that we center the humanity of the people in a workplace and work collectively to foster environments that promote empathy, safety, empowerment, and support. Peoples’ best work is done together. 

About the
Company

Wistia creates video software that turns viewers into brand advocates.

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Black in Tech: Kenton Belton, Sr. Software Solutions Engineer at Duck Creek banner image

Black in Tech: Kenton Belton, Sr. Software Solutions Engineer at Duck Creek

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Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Kenton Belton, Sr. Software Solutions Engineer at Duck Creek Technologies shares his story.


Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work? 

I was born and raised in Columbia, SC with my mother, father, and younger sister.  I have always had a passion for sports and music.  I was always the youngest kid in the neighborhood, so I always had to work a little harder to be competitive when playing with friends.  Whether it was sports, video games, card games, etc.  Naturally I developed a nice sized chip on my shoulder.  

My love for music began early in life, my mother plays the piano and she would play when I was small and I developed a good ear for music.  I began playing the cello in 5th grade and continued playing through high school, I began playing the drums in middle school and I played for my church for many years, and I also learned to play piano by ear.  Music makes the world go round in my opinion.  I also began playing sports early in life.  I started playing baseball around 6 years old and played for years, then my focus shifted to basketball and football.

My mother worked for the state Dept Of Revenue and my father is a Pastor as well as an entrepreneur.  Both of my parents were college graduates so education was stressed in my home. 

Kenton Belton Duck Creek

Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating? 

I attended Clemson University as well as South University.  I began as an engineering major.  It took about 5 minutes for me to realize that I didn’t really want to be an engineer at all, I was enticed by the earning potential of engineering majors.  I learned early on that it’s much better to have a career that you enjoy and not one that you are in only for the dollar and cents.  I then switched my major to computer science and never looked back.

I actually began working in an application support position before I graduated, so upon graduation, I continued my career with the company I was working for.  Seeing the real world application of what I was learning in school helped me in both my studies as well as my job.

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

I grew up in the era where technology sort of took off.  From the bag phone/car phone to the tiny computers that we use now.  And this all happened within about a 10 year period.  I was always interested in what made those things work the way they did.  I was also influenced heavily by the gaming industry.  To see the technological advances happening around me so quickly sparked a curiosity in me.

I was also influenced by MySpace, if anyone remembers you could actually add html and css to your profile.  While this isn’t the same as coding C#; it was a high-level look at what it’s like to create things with a computer.  That definitely influenced my focus area when it was time to choose one in school.

What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining Duck Creek?

I began my career in application/production support.  I was the one support tech in the company and I had to lean heavily on my peers and had to learn quickly.  This position is what exposed me to the Duck Creek platform and all the tools that come with it.  After a few months we began adding more resources to the support team and eventually I became team lead of the Support Team.  

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Sr. Software Solutions Engineer at Duck Creek?

I like to think of my responsibility as a Sr. Software Solutions Engineer as being a swiss army knife for the company.  We may be called upon to do DevOps, optimize reports, or create a custom application for a client to assist with a business need.  We also are very proficient in all the tools that come with the Duck Creek platform.  It all depends on what the project that we are assigned calls for.  I’ve always told new solutions engineers that in this position you can never have too many tools in the tool belt.  Get as close to having a Batman utility belt as you can.  As a senior member of the solutions engineering team we coach the newer members of the team.    

Kenton Belton Duck Creek

What has attributed to your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional? 

I am a very competitive person, and I believe that part of me has always driven me to be the very best I can be.  My parents also set the bar high for anything that I participated in whether it was sports or academics, I was expected to give my very best effort.  As I got older, the foundation of always trying my best and seeing the results transformed into a standard of excellence that I hold myself to.

As far as obstacles I didn’t face many in the tech industry itself, it was more on the path to get into my career.  Having to deal with people’s surprise when I tell them I’m a programmer and having to ask the question “What exactly does a programmer look like?”  “What do I look like I do for a living?”  That would get frustrating and it took me a few years to let that roll off my back.  

What types of programs and initiatives does Duck Creek have that support diversity, equity, and inclusion?

In the last year Duck Creek has started a Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion group, BRG(Black Employee Resource Group), WRG(Women’s Employee Resource Group), Volar(Hispanic Employee Resource Group) and there are other groups in the works.  I’m on the operating committee for the BRG and it has absolutely been a benefit to me and my career.  Duck Creek is doing a great job in attacking the issues with diversity and inclusion, and I commend the company for that.

What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry? 

My advice would be to simply go for it.  Set realistic goals and take the steps necessary to get there.  We are in an industry where performing well and producing results directly correlate to your success.

Also develop your soft skills such as communication, time management, active listening, etc.  Those skills can truly elevate your value, and that’s in any field, not just tech.

My last bit of advice was given to me by one of my first managers in tech.  He always said “Always continue to grow and learn.  If you become the smartest person in the room, it’s time to find a new room.”  This advice has taken me a long way.  I’m always looking for an opportunity to learn and improve.  It may not be directly related to tech, but it could be a concept that can be applied to a career or to life in general.  We can learn something from anyone at any time, so always keep an open mind.

About the
Company

Duck Creek Technologies gives P&C insurers a genuine path to the future.

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Black in Tech: Evanna Hines, Manager of Sales Development at SmartBear banner image

Black in Tech: Evanna Hines, Manager of Sales Development at SmartBear

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Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Evanna Hines, Manager of Sales Development at SmartBear shares her story.


Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work? 

I was born in Boston. My parents moved our family to New York when I was six or seven, then we moved to Chicago when I was about 10. We moved back to Boston when I was a senior in high school, and I’ve been here ever since. Both my parents are from Boston. My mom was originally from Jamaica, but came here when she was 14 years old. My parents met almost immediately when they started high school and have been together ever since.  

When I was a kid, my mom worked at Beth Israel Hospital, and her co-workers would call me “the greeting committee.” I was always hugging strangers and saying hi to everyone. I had an elementary school teacher who called me “chatterbox.” I’ve always enjoyed talking with people. I never liked being front and center. Having close relationships with people – whether friends or teachers is important to me. My dad would often say that I was looking for a friend to confide in, to talk with, and that hasn’t changed. 

My dad is a pastor, hence the moving around. He went to seminary school in Boston for his undergraduate degree and received his master's degree from a seminary school in New York. His first church assignment was in Chicago. He’s been a minister for many years at the first church we attended in Boston when I was young. My mom has been a financial analyst for most of my life. She's now a director of IT for the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.

Evanna Hines SmartBear

Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating? 

I went to Emmanuel College near Fenway, where my mom went to school as well. I studied sociology. I first majored in biology, but honestly I couldn't pass chemistry to save my life. I ended up taking a class focused on social media, though that wasn't really something you could formally focus on back then. So, I designed my own social media courses that they approved, and I got a degree in sociology. I did an internship at a marketing firm in Cambridge. 

I’ve had a series of occupations leading up to this point in my career now. After graduating, I became a preschool teacher for a while. After teaching, I worked an overnight shift at a group home for girls. Staying up at night, I would bake cookies. My grandmother was a baker. I got really into baking for the girls, and they would wake up in the morning and be really excited to have cookies or pastries to take to school with them. I ended up going back to school for culinary arts at Johnson & Wales and worked for the famous American restaurateur, Ming Tsai. 

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

When the COVID lockdown hit, I was working as a regional catering manager for Au Bon Pain. With the collapse of the catering industry, Au Bon Pain was very honest with employees, paid us through the entire year, and told us we needed to find a job by the end of the year. So, my search was on. One of my closest mentors was working as a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) consultant for SmartBear. She spoke highly of the company and knew that I was looking to make a transition. 

I took a job as a Sales Development Representative (SDR) at SmartBear. The biggest reason I accepted the job was because of the leadership team. In all my years of career development, the biggest factor to me is always leadership. People don't leave companies; they leave managers. So, it's always key to find someone you want to work for. I wanted to work for my manager at SmartBear. 

What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining Smartbear? 

SmartBear is really my first job in tech, so it just proves that it’s never too late to jump into a new industry!  

Evanna Hines SmartBear

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Manager of Sales Development at Smartbear?

For many people on the team, a Sales Development Representative (SDR) is their first job out of college. And because of this, career development is a priority and focus. Sales development is a portion, but a big part is helping them to transition into the corporate world, enabling them to understand how the day-to-day works, getting them acclimated with the tools we’re using, etc. Those soft skills are an important part of the development that we do to set employees up to flourish. We develop them for success, and then six months later, they're promoted and we are onboarding another group of people. It’s a great way to learn sales and the industry from the ground up and set yourself up for the future.  

At SmartBear, you can build your career at every level; we are constantly promoting from within. I’m very much like a recruiter – interviewing, onboarding, and prepping employees to be successful in that next role. I do this over and over again, though it never gets boring because people are different, always bringing their own pizzazz and diverse experiences to the table. So, even though I'm doing much of the same thing day-to-day, it’s very different every single time. 

What has attributed to your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional? 

I think diligence is a big piece. I think a hustle and grind mentality plays a factor. Whatever job I'm in, I’m always looking ahead. When I was a Sales Development Rep, I wanted to be the best Account Executive. When I was an Account Executive, I wanted to be the best leader and manager that I could be. Now being in leadership as a Sales Development Manager, I want to lead others. I’ve never waited to get to the next step. Always being a step ahead has helped me. 

Relationship building is also instrumental, not just with my manager, but building the right relationships with many people. I constantly work with mentors, and not just one or two. I have many mentors because you have to be able to get feedback to grow and develop. I can’t grow without getting feedback from others. It’s like the plant that needs water to grow. Otherwise, you’re looking in the mirror all the time, and we usually don’t see ourselves in the way others do. 

I think transparency is important along with advocating for yourself and others like you. Fortunately, I haven't ever been afraid to speak up and advocate for others like me. In departments outside of sales, it’s usually more common to see women in leadership or with more diversity. Since I have joined SmartBear, we have worked for positive change in that area. 

People usually can't see themselves in a role, unless there's already someone there that is similar to them. Having transparency and having those conversations with management are so important to bring in that diversity. As the oldest of three girls in my family, a part of me always wants to make a way for others. This wasn’t the first time I’ve had to advocate for myself. But, it wasn’t just me advocating. I’ve always had someone who believed in me along the way, someone who I could be honest with that was in leadership, who could help me make a path. 

I think honesty is the part that hinders a lot of people because either the honesty comes off as anger or the honesty doesn't happen because you don't feel like you can have it. And sometimes those honest conversations need to happen in a not-so-safe place, because that safe place is just not available, and that’s difficult. 

My youngest sister just graduated from Villanova with a degree in engineering, and she was one of two or three other black females in a class of hundreds of engineering students. The piece that's difficult is you have to imagine your future, whereas many other people can see it. Having that imagination and faith and belief that you can do it is a lot harder to muster up. I want her to see black women in leadership. I saw my mother in leadership before she was even in tech and I know that having that example has made me see that I could do it as well.  

Evanna Hines SmartBear

What types of programs and initiatives does Smartbear have that support diversity, equity, and inclusion?

It always starts from within the company with leadership. If you don't have leaders at the company who believe in the initiative, DE&I goes nowhere. It can't. In my time at SmartBear, I’ve seen the company and leadership commit to various programs to promote DE&I. For example, we’ve conducted a DEI needs assessment, created a Global Inclusion Council, and continue to partner with Bottom Line to help diversify our U.S. workforce, among other things.   

I’ve shared feedback with management about diversifying the team, and we’ve taken action. Now, we're not looking for new people in the same pool because the same pool gives you the same people. We are using a recruiting company that works with a variety of people.  

We believe our differences in experiences, viewpoints, and identities lead to better outcomes.   

We also have people at SmartBear who say what they mean and mean what they say. It’s one thing for people to talk about wanting diversity, but are you willing to do the work to make it happen? We are continuously working on the inclusion piece because there is always more work to do.  

Our SDR team is fantastic about being inclusive, though. When a bunch of people are going to lunch, we make sure everyone is invited so no one feels left out. That's something that culturally we do here. That’s what inclusion is. Inclusion is buried in the culture where it should be. It's not just one thing that you do. It's how everybody makes people feel. It’s easier and easier to be inclusive the more diversified you are because people are coming from different backgrounds.  

Exclusion comes when everybody's the same, but when everybody is talking about different things with different viewpoints and are coming from different backgrounds, inclusion happens naturally. You have to be intentional about not being exclusive, and inclusion will come. 

What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry? 

Don't be afraid to speak up. Don't be afraid of being the first because you definitely won't be the last. People are afraid to be the first because all eyes are on you. You become the example if you fail. Don't be afraid to go after it. Just go for it. Know that the landscape of the tech industry is changing with time. Have patience. Just like anything else, change is inevitable. It will happen. It’s a matter of if you want to be a part of that change. 

While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken.  Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?

Exclusivity doesn’t necessarily happen because people don’t want a particular person around. We have to be more okay with people talking differently than we talk, with people looking differently than we do, especially when we're defining what a successful person looks like, what a professional person looks like. 

Years ago, I worked as a business coach back when we didn’t use video cameras and I was coaching people over the phone. I was giving clients million dollar advice and really helping them. I remember when I did my first video calls with clients, and I had to prep them. I had to give them a heads up for our first video meeting, for when they saw me, that I have a big afro, I’m black, and I’m younger than most of their kids. They couldn’t believe this. I had to say that I’m the same person who you were taking advice from before and this doesn’t change my knowledge base or my intellect. Our biases stand in the way of a lot of change that needs to happen. 

Intentional training around eliminating bias is very important, and not just in the workplace. It's something that people have to do in their free time as well. A company can only do so much. If you keep all your biases for the other 16 hours of your day, change won’t happen. If you want to eliminate your bias, make a new friend. If you feel like all men are a certain way, it's probably because you don't have many male friends to contradict your bias.  

I intentionally don't dress overly professional. It can be quite intimidating to a new group of SDRs coming on board. New hires always ask, how should I dress? You're not going to get diversity if you force people into a box they don't belong in or they don't fit. You'll never see the best of that person. We need to become more okay with things not looking like what we want them to look like.  

That's where your imagination comes into play. Can you imagine a company where everybody's got on sneakers or roller skates and they are still making a million dollars every day? It's possible. It's doable. We have to get to a place where we get out of our own heads about what things need to look like. That's the biggest piece of change we need to see.  

For positive change, we have to have these conversations all day long. I’m constantly forced to think about this. I wake up thinking about this. My dad facilitates DE&I training for YW Boston, so we are always having these conversations in our household. I have an elevated passion to want to help black men as well because I know what my dad has been through with two master's degrees and a doctorate, and there have been times where I've made more money. That doesn't make any sense. 

There are many companies that are not part of the conversation, so I’m happy to be a part of positive change. Change is inevitable. How are you going to be a part of it?  

About the
Company

Smartbear's tools are built to streamline your DevOps processes while seamlessly working with the products you use – and will use

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Black in Tech: Baron Washington, Application Support Analyst at PrismHR banner image

Black in Tech: Baron Washington, Application Support Analyst at PrismHR

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Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Baron Washington, Application Support Analyst at PrismHR shares his story.


Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work?

I grew up in a small town called Kingstree, SC, which is located in Williamsburg county and is one of the poorer places in South Carolina based on median income. My mom worked hard, as she would complete her undergrad and Masters degree in Accounting while also working and being a mom to my siblings and I. She would eventually become the Clerk of Court of the county of Williamsburg. My father lived about 2 hours away and I would see him on weekends. He worked his way up and eventually became a supervisor at his job, where they produce pasta noodles. 

Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating? 

I started out going to Francis Marion University in Florence, SC right after high school. I was not quite sure what I wanted to major in and would eventually leave school. I went into the US Army National Guard and after a few years my friends convinced me that it was time to enroll in school once again. I thank them for that push or in all honesty I may have never gone back. I started my educational journey once again this time at Horry Georgetown Technical where I would study and obtain my Associate's degree with honors. I am now enrolled at USC Upstate, where I am studying for an undergrad degree in Information Management & Systems. 

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

I would say it is almost as if life forced me in this direction, I never imagined that I would join the tech industry in all honesty. That paired with my good friend Carlos Cunningham giving me the push in this direction led to me enrolling at USC Upstate and studying Information Management & Systems. In addition, I would just read the stories on social media of how the tech industry was changing individuals lives, some of whom had never even been to college. That inspired me, as well as knowing that technology is constantly changing and it is the way of the world. 

What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining PrismHR? 

I would like to thank Stacie Burton and Lee Moreau for seeing the potential within me, as this is my first true “tech” position. Before joining PrismHR, I previously worked for Spectrum in our retention department for close to two years. After that, I would transition to Verizon Wireless where I was employed for approximately 4 years as a Solutions Specialist.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as an Application Support Analyst at PrismHR?

As an Application Support Analyst, it is my duty to assist with product testing, stay current with system information, and respond to client inquiries or concerns in a timely manner via Salesforce. In addition, I must be able to identify and escalate application defects and issues. 

What has attributed to your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional? 

My resilience, as well as my will to want to win have contributed to my success thus far. My friends and family have helped me to continue to push forward as well. There have been setbacks along the way, but I continue to strive to be a better version of myself. As a black professional, I believe at times we can be up against stereotypes and a lack of representation in senior-level positions. Sometimes lower pay, retention rates, and fewer promotions than our counterparts. In addition, sometimes you have to be much better than your white counterparts that are interviewing around you for a similar position. I have had friends that said that their degrees were not looked at the same as their counterparts because they graduated from HBCU’s versus a PWI, although they can do the job and are qualified. 

What types of programs and initiatives does PrismHR have that support diversity, equity, and inclusion?

We have transformed our workplace into an inclusive environment where individuals are valued for their talents and empowered to reach their fullest potential. At PrismHR, we strive to continually lead with our values and beliefs that enable our employees to develop their potential, bring their full self to the workplace, and engage in a world of inclusion. 

Ensuring an inclusive environment for our employees is an integral part of the PrismHR culture. We aren't just checking a box, we are truly committed to creating a workplace that celebrates the diversity of our employees and fosters a sense of belonging for everyone. This is essential to our success.

What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry? 

My advice would be to take advantage of the “FREE” resources available. There are truly so many resources available out there. Get active on LinkedIn and Twitter as there is so much information I have been able to come across on these platforms. Not only is the information valuable but the individuals you are able to connect with is priceless. Individuals that I have met online have shared countless Google drives with me at no cost. I was able to get my Scrum certification for free simply because of an account I followed on Twitter. No matter what career path you have started out with I assure you that you have transferable skills for the technology industry. Lastly, I would suggest that you perfect your resume as that will always be a representation of you, your past work, and the skills that you possess. 

While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken.  Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?

I think as employees, we have to be willing to share the information and knowledge that we have with our inner city youth. I would like to see more of our tech companies donating to our schools in the inner cities and HBCU’s while also having individuals come out to speak and share their experiences. I also would suggest offering summer programs or bootcamps to individuals in school that find interest in tech. These small steps can begin to go a long way on a much larger scale. Investing in more black people can begin to change the landscape of these companies and how we are represented.

About the
Company

PrismHR creates exceptional software and services for HR service providers and their SMB clients.

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Black in Tech: Emmanuelle Alexandre, Product Manager at Pluralsight Flow banner image

Black in Tech: Emmanuelle Alexandre, Product Manager at Pluralsight Flow

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Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Emmanuelle Alexandre, Product Manager at Pluralsight Flow shares her story.


Where did you grow up, and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work? 

I grew up in a very (very) small rural town in central Florida. Although I have an older brother and sister, I was raised as an only child. I became the first American in the family when my mom immigrated from Haiti four days before I was born. She didn’t know an ounce of English but after a great deal of tribulations, she later became a highly respected nurse. Till this day, she stands as my source of inspiration for how to navigate this mad life. 

As a kid, I was painfully shy and timid, but my head was always in a fictional book or sheets of music. I was a band nerd and played the flute for about 8-9 years. Music became the first love of my life, and that love for music later transformed into my love for dancing tango, which I still do to this day.

Where did you go to college, and what did you study? What has your career path looked like in tech, and what positions have you held before joining Pluralsight? 

I went to the University of Florida and received my bachelor’s degree in Digital Arts & Sciences. A year later, I received my master’s degree in Project Management from the University of Southern California.

After graduating, I worked as a project manager and continued to pivot directions within my career in hopes of finding my “home”. I later completed a 4-month bootcamp at Flatiron School in Cybersecurity, and that (oddly enough) sparked my interest in product management.   

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

I grew up in a time when the digital revolution was rampant, so technology was always something that fascinated me. Intuitively, I knew that if I didn’t catch the big tech wave, I’d be left out at sea in an ancient paradigm. The evolution of technology was transforming everything in my day-to-day life, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that evolution. 

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as a Product Manager at Pluralsight?

As a product manager for Pluralsight Flow, I am the mouthpiece for our customers to my internal team. I try to drill down on customer pain-points, and collaborate with a product designer and developers to provide simple solutions to complex problems. I strive to ensure that my team is providing continuous value for our customers (and Pluralsight) by making data-informed decisions and prioritizing rigorously. 

What has attributed to your success thus far, and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional? 

I attribute my continuous journey towards success to sacrifice, intuition, and grit. 

As my mom navigated a new life in the States, we had very rocky circumstances and limited resources. But one thing she always told me was, “Mama, never say you can’t do something. Go get what you want.” And from a young age, I knew what I wanted and what life I wanted to live. So my mom’s sacrifices coupled with my intuition propelled me through the obstacles I would later face.  

As a black professional, I had to overcome many moments of belittlement from others … and myself. When you have perfectionist tendencies, it can be easy to fall into the traps of self-criticism or belief in the stereotypes/assumptions placed in front of you because of your race. But through those moments of fear and weakness, grit and strength loudly emerge.   

What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry? 

“Go get what you want.” Tech isn't designated for only a particular gender or race. You can find your home in this ever-evolving tech world regardless of your personality type or skill set. Accept and dedicate yourself to the continuous education of this industry, and you will thrive. 

While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken.  Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?

First and foremost, I think it all starts with the awareness and acknowledgement of the lack of diversity. 

Then, I would suggest meeting people of diverse backgrounds where they are. For example, setting up a company booth at a conference that targets diverse backgrounds, recruiting at HBCUs, mentor/mentee programs for seniors in high school/college, etc. There are people all over this country and all over this world that are hungry to apply themselves.

Lastly, I would propose celebrating the beauty of diverse cultures and backgrounds. There is power and greatness that comes with diversity. 

About the
Company

Pluralsight is the leading technology workforce development organization that helps companies and teams build better products by developing critical skills, improving processes and gaining insights through data, and providing strategic skills consulting.

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Black in Tech: Damien Atkins, Chief Legal Officer at Aura banner image

Black in Tech: Damien Atkins, Chief Legal Officer at Aura

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Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Damien Atkins, Chief Legal Officer at Aura shares his story.


Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work? 

I am originally from Oakland, CA, but moved around a lot because my father was a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. I lived in Ecuador, Panama and went to high school in Washington, DC. My mom was a special education and elementary school teacher. 

As a kid, I was a sports and sci-fi fanatic and somewhat of a know-it-all. I still am. 

Damien Atkins Aura

Did you go to college? If so, what did you study and what did you do after graduating? 

I went to Stanford University for undergrad and New York University Law School for my law degree. As an attorney, I have worked at law firms, three startups, AOL, Panasonic, and Hershey. 

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

I kind of fell into the tech industry by accident. By chance, I joined an internet startup in 2000 and since then I have always loved the tech space. In many ways my career journey has been characterized by working in organizations that are grappling with changes driven by technology. Some of the organizations have been part of driving the change and others have been trying to adapt to it. It’s fascinating to me.

In addition, the tech sector is extraordinarily talent dense and full of intellectually curious and forward thinking people. Being around people like this is a constant source of inspiration. 

What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining Aura? 

I’ve worked in mature tech companies like AOL and startups like govworks.com and now Aura. At each one, I’ve worked as a lawyer helping the company execute its strategy. Sometimes the companies have succeeded and created a lot of value, while others didn’t do as well and went bankrupt. Each experience, however, has been immensely valuable. 

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Chief Legal Officer at Aura?

As Chief Legal Officer at Aura, my primary aim is to add value, insight, and energy to the organization. In addition, I aim to develop and inspire our team as well as develop future leaders. Lastly, I strive to identify and mitigate legal, compliance, financial and reputational issues such that the enterprise can successfully execute its strategy. 

What has attributed to your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional? 

I think having a deep sense of curiosity as well as having confidence are critically important. In addition, having a well developed network of relationships across industries and specialties has enabled me to increase the chances for me to be in the path of opportunities. Lastly, I think being willing to help others on their journey irrespective has been hugely beneficial. 

In terms of obstacles that I have overcome, I tend to see obstacles as opportunities and a chance to have a high performance mindset. One of my favorite sayings in my favorite book “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius is “the obstacle is the way.” What that means is what stands in your path will become the springboard to propel you along the path. So, being the only black person in a role or a company helps with what may be perceived to be an obstacle. But in reality, it's a great opportunity to stand out and show your value. Lastly, it's important to focus on those things that are in your direct control like your attitude, willingness to work hard, and delivering value. 

What types of programs and initiatives does Aura have that support diversity, equity, and inclusion?

We have some great business resource groups that have developed second to none programming. For example, for Black History month we have a book club where we are reading “Caste”, by Isabel Wilkerson. 

What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry? 

First, acquire skills that are in demand in the space, whether it's software engineering,  marketing or IT.  And be excellent at those skills. Second, be confident in your abilities and don’t shy away from opportunities to learn from people who are different from you. Third, build relationships with people in the space and make yourself valuable to people who are doing interesting things in the space.

While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken.  Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?

First, companies need to focus on what the real drivers of excellence are when recruiting and evaluating talent. For lawyers, those drivers are grit, curiosity, excellent communication skills, and high EQ. I look for and measure for that when I recruit and promote. Second, it's critically important to have a diverse slate of candidates for every role or promotion. Lastly, it's important that companies measure and compensate leaders based on their performance against diversity goals to truly make a difference. Incentives drive behavior always.

About the
Company

At Aura, we’re making comprehensive digital security simple to understand and easy to use, so everyone can stay safe online.

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Black in Tech: Kahlil Adamson, Senior TechOps Engineer at Cedar banner image

Black in Tech: Kahlil Adamson, Senior TechOps Engineer at Cedar

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Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Kahlil Adamson, Senior TechOps Engineer at Cedar shares his story.


Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work? 

I was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Mount Vernon, a suburb of New York City. Both my parents are physicians, and they practiced  in communities throughout Brooklyn and Harlem. Growing up, my parents were always teaching my sister and me about our heritage, and finding ways to show us the importance of understanding our history. For example, we enjoyed many memorable road trips to National Parks and Black historical sites throughout the country throughout our childhood. Visiting Detroit was one of my favorite trips—we went to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the Motown Museum, which was Motown’s first headquarters and recording studio.

As a child, I was always curious and eager to learn new things. I learned how to play the trumpet in elementary school and stuck with it through high school (and even a little bit in college). I also was a Boy Scout, and eventually attained the rank of Eagle Scout. I still think about how much fun we had on our fifty-mile canoe trips in upstate NY and the cavalcade in New Mexico. I also played a lot of sports, especially baseball when I was a young kid and tennis when I was a teenager. I’m still a big sports fan, rooting for the Mets, Knicks, and Giants.  

Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating? 

I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences from the CUNY City College of New York (CCNY). I then decided to pursue my interest in computer programming and went back to school to earn my Associate of Science degree in Computer Science at Westchester Community College (WCC) in Valhalla, NY. My first tech position was as an intern with Success Academy Charter Schools in NYC. It involved configuring hundreds of MacBooks and iPads for incoming teachers and running onboarding sessions. I’m very thankful for the experience because it allowed me to build a real skill-set with Apple devices.

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

I have always been fascinated by innovations in technology. I remember how excited I was as a kid when we first got AOL in my house. That interest never waned, and when I graduated from CCNY I made the decision to refocus my efforts on technology by taking an introductory programming course at WCC. That decision has led me down the path to where I am today.

What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining Cedar? 

After I completed my IT internship at Success Academy, I took a position at Aon Hewitt in NYC, providing on-site technical support. I then became an IT Support Analyst at Michael Page in Stamford, CT, where I provided remote IT support for all the offices in North America. I later returned to Aon for an IT Support Technician role at their newly-created Tech Bar in NYC, which was similar to the Apple Genius Bar, except it was for Aon employees. Based on my success, I was promoted to the position of IT Support Specialist where I had the opportunity to mentor junior members of our department. 

I eventually moved into the healthcare IT space by joining Clover Health in Jersey City, NJ in 2016. I started as an IT Support Specialist and was later promoted to IT Systems Engineer. In Summer 2020, I accepted a role as Senior TechOps Engineer at Cedar, and that’s where I am today.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Senior TechOps Engineer at Cedar?

As a Senior TechOps Engineer I am responsible for designing, managing and automating tooling for Cedar's internal data integration processes. For example, I collaborate with leaders on other teams to ensure that I create and deploy the best solution for them. I recently partnered with our People Operations team to automate the flow of employee data from Cedar's HRIS (Human Resource Information System) to Cedar's identity management provider, and then finally to Cedar's internal directory and performance management solutions.

I also create baselines for role-based access to Cedar systems and automate the management of groups that assign access to those systems. Additionally, I work on configuring applications that are added to Cedar's Identity Management provider.

What has contributed to your success thus far, and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional? 

Hard work, determination, thirst for knowledge, the support from family and friends and a little luck have been the biggest contributors to my success. While there have been times I felt discouraged being the only, or one of very few, Black people in a department or a company, I have been fortunate to work at organizations that created opportunities for me to learn new technologies and advance my career.

What types of programs and initiatives does Cedar have that support diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Cedar has created an environment that allows its employees to bring their whole selves to work. This year, I co-founded an employee resource group (ERG) called [email protected] (BIPOC Empowerment at Cedar.) Our mission is to support and uplift BIPOC-identifying employees. In our inaugural year, my co-chairs and I hosted several professional development workshops and cultural celebrations, and we are planning some exciting events for next year. Additionally, there is an ERG called Pridecones, which fosters a sense of inclusion and awareness and provides a safe space for LGBTQ+ employees and allies. There is also an ERG called Cedar Women, which strives to connect all women employees and those who identify as female by creating an environment of empowerment and removing gender barriers. Cedar also has a Cedarversity initiative, which aims to create an inclusive and safe organization that is representative of the communities we live in and serve; I had the privilege of serving as a Cedarversity Champion this year. Finally, Cedar announced an Anti-Racism Pledge earlier this year, which will help us make measurable, sustainable progress in improving the healthcare outcomes of those our products serve. This was another initiative that I had the pleasure to work on and help shape. 

What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry? 

Definitely build and utilize your networks. Reach out to both your professional and personal contacts who are in the industry, and let them know that you’re interested in exploring the tech space. Many of the opportunities I have received have been the result of cultivating relationships with people in the tech industry. I also encourage people to find local meetups (IRL or virtually) and seek out opportunities for professional development. Conferences—especially those that are geared toward professionals from underrepresented groups—are incredibly empowering. They are also effective ways to learn about new innovations, discover opportunities, and make professional connections. It is also helpful to earn certifications in areas that are relevant to your work or the work you want to pursue. Some require quite a bit of studying, but it’s worth it to make yourself more competitive when your goal is to advance in the tech space.

While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken.  Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?

Companies can develop and foster relationships with organizations for professionals from historically underrepresented and/or excluded groups, as well as schools (colleges, universities and bootcamps). It’s also a good idea for companies to engage with current employees and work with them to identify strong candidates in their networks. This will help them add more diverse candidates to their searches and possibly even create new sourcing pipelines. Once those candidates are hired, the company needs to ensure they are creating an inclusive environment and sense of belonging so that they retain those employees. I also think it is important for tech professionals from underrepresented groups to speak with children and spark their interest in the tech industry. We need them to see that people who look like them are succeeding in this exciting field. 

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Cedar is the only digital health platform that aligns payers and providers, empowering healthcare consumers with a personalized, end-to-end financial journey.

 
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Striving For a Diverse and Equitable Workforce - 13 Inspirational Black in Tech Profiles banner image

Striving For a Diverse and Equitable Workforce - 13 Inspirational Black in Tech Profiles

Our Black in Tech series shares the inspirational stories of Black professionals in the tech industry at all levels of responsibility and across all job functions.

It is one of the ways we are trying to support a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce, as we hope these profiles will provide some guidance and advice for other Black professionals to pursue opportunities in the tech industry.

Each profile below features either a quote based on overcoming adversity or advice for black professionals. Make sure to check them out!


Jasmine Clarke Rapid7

“The discipline instilled in me by my parents when I was growing up in Nigeria, where failure or giving up was not an option has been the bedrock of my mindset. The expectation on me is one of success so I have had to strive to achieve what is expected of me.  Over the course of my career, I have learned the value of persistence, humility, and leadership by example. I am a person of faith and so to this I add prayers and my faith.”

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Bianca Sullivan DraftKings

“My perseverance, leaders, and support system have been attributed to my current success. There have been countless moments in my life where I have leaned on someone trustworthy for advice or assistance from professors, coaches, peers, or others, the importance of mentors is undeniable. My mentors have helped guide, direct, and shape my present situation and future opportunities for the better.”

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Eric Brown CyberArk

"For myself, I attribute my success to the support I get from family and friends and never letting “what I am supposed to be” define me. I believe in the skills I have developed and the ability to improve those skills with proper training. As for obstacles, I have been subject to people not believing I could perform a job before even seeing qualifications. Recruiters and HR assuming one thing and then suddenly being surprised when interviewing me that I have a brain. Nothing more insulting than being told you “speak very well” during an interview. This, I have run into several times throughout my professional career.”

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Norman Hall CrossBorder Solutions

“Watching how hard my parents worked day in and day out while growing up showed me the kind of dedication I needed to have to be successful in life. I would also attribute the mindset I learned from playing basketball as a key contribution to my success. I personally believe basketball took the laziness away from me and shaped me into a competitor, which I then applied to all aspects of my life.”

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Uzemoya Peters Smartbear

“As a wise person, Warren Buffet once said, it's good to learn from your mistakes, it’s better to learn from other’s mistakes. I pay really close attention to other people's experiences, and I try to leverage that to my advantage, to my learning, to my improvement. Moreover, coming from an entrepreneurial family, I've been brought up with a lot of forbearance, so I'd say I am highly resilient. I perform well under pressure. I'm super open-minded and like to learn new things.”

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Clarence Hinton CyberArk

“During the education process, it's extremely important to establish, extend and leverage your professional networks to explore.  Reach out to black professionals in technology, solicit their thoughts and opinions, learn what it's really like on the inside.  Focus on the networking and education aspects.  I can tell you that black professionals in tech are eager to see more within the ranks and are more than willing to lend a hand.”

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Meisha-ann Martin Workhuman

“As for obstacles, the biggest thing I faced was dealing with how to present insights on diversity and inclusion as a Black woman. Earlier in my career, I would downplay my identity as a Black woman and worry about coming across as self interested. Now I consider my identity and experiences as a Black woman to be part of my expertise, and now I freely share my story and my experiences in tandem with our research findings.”

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Jessica Wilson LeanIX

“It is clear that black leaders and board members are scarce in the tech industry. That being said, I want my black colleagues to understand that our insights, culture, language, experiences, and drive are needed now! There are more opportunities than ever for you to take your place in this exciting industry. Technology breaks borders and companies are global citizens. In order to service a global customer base and range of cultures, companies need diversified insights to survive. When you interview, don’t sell yourself short by reducing who you are. Breaking the mold can equate to millions for a company’s future prospects.”

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April Cowan Duck Creek

“My main advice would be to ‘stay true to yourself,’ the world is evolving and while you need to keep up from an educational and knowledge perspective, don’t be fooled into losing who you are, ‘unless’ it brings you continued growth and success in pursuing your career goals and aspirations."

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Kwame A. Appiah ZoomInfo

“Being black should feel more like a superpower than a weakness in any industry. Being a minority allows you to see things in different ways from most people. When you consider that effect in collaboration, the power of perspective empowers ideas. Ideas create new opportunities, and opportunities define new possibilities. Work hard, believe in yourself, and find a company that is willing to believe in you.”

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Rachel Brunson Scipher Medicine

“The biotech industry is growing rapidly, so I recommend discovering what your passion is first so that you can have a career you love versus a job that stresses you out. It is ok to start at the bottom; once you have your foot in the door, you begin gaining skills from that job onward. For what you want to accomplish long-term, determine if additional skills/degrees could help you move forward in your career.”

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Gaelle Baptiste Unqork

“Be yourself! Tech is about innovation, original thought, and standing out from the old guard and antiquated solutions. Nothing is more welcomed in this space than creative solutions for long standing problems. Black and brown voices have been muted in traditional spaces, so tech is where we can bring our authenticity to provide a much needed different perspective.”

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Ean Nugent Panorama Education

“Find ways to connect. Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, socially/culturally connecting with the white majority will be a valuable skill in this industry. Blacks make up 4.7% of America’s software engineers. This means you may be the first black software engineer your teammates have ever met. Learn how to be true to who you are while finding opportunities to connect. Connecting does not have to mean “code-switching”. Connecting may mean reviving your high school interest in the MLB because that’s what those on your team are into.”

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