Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Bert Amadi - Head of Platform Operations & Services in Technology at Unqork 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 Nigeria to Nigerian parents, who were both of the Igbo ethnic group. My mother was a director of nursing at the teaching hospital and my father was a war veteran (from the Nigerian Civil war) who owned one of the biggest bakeries in my city at the time. At the age of 12, my parents sent my older brother and I to the United Kingdom to continue our education.
My first impression of what schooling in a new country would be like was very disappointing. We visited a school in London, where we were viciously targeted by a group of kids chanting racist abuse and throwing bananas at us as we walked through. For a child who grew up in a more homogeneous society it was quite traumatic, because I witnessed racism for the first time. After that experience, my parents decided that a boarding school outside of London might offer us more protection from the obvious negative bias towards black people at the time.
Attending boarding school abroad was not the easiest path for a young child who missed his home country, but I adapted quickly to this new reality and made lifelong friends. I excelled at sports such as Rugby where I was top scorer in an unbeaten rugby team (one of the 2 unbeaten teams in the school’s 150 years history), soccer and Field Hockey.
Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating?
After boarding school, I returned to London to study computer science at Middlesex University in London before attending City University to complete my master’s in Information Technology (Computer Science). After my post graduate degree, I was accepted on the IT Graduate training program with Morgan Stanley UK.
What inspired you to get into the tech industry?
When I was younger, I loved taking systems apart and trying to put them back together or figuring out how things worked. This innate curiosity made studying computer science a natural path because I had the aptitude for anything tech based. I was interested in how to automate and write code that would impact society and as a developer, I knew that my coding would speak for itself rather than my color or background. After University, I wanted to be in an industry that offered varying opportunities, and I chose the financial industry at the time because I felt I would have more global access. My relocation to the United States with Morgan Stanley was destined because I finally worked in a team that recognized my skills and allowed me to grow and also gave me a path to leadership roles.
What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining Unqork?
I started my career with a graduate training entry at Morgan Stanley and I spent over 18 years with various global investment banks in both the technology and the business divisions up to executive levels across 3 continents in various specialist fields - development, data acquisition, shared-services, DBA and electronic trading.
I worked for 6 years at Bloomberg as the Global Head of Enterprise Technology.
I am currently at Unqork as Head of Platform Operations and Services. Unqork is an enterprise no-code platform that allows businesses to create mission-critical software much faster than traditional methods, without writing a single line of code.
Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Head of Platform Operations & Services at Unqork?
In my current position as Head of Platform Operations and Services in Unqork I am responsible for Unqork’s Production Support, Shared Services (incl QA, Program Management, Incident, Problem and Change Management, Telemetry, TCO..etc) with an overall remit of Implementing a scalable and repeatable framework that maximizes operational excellence while managing and operating a high-quality platform and providing services that fulfill both customer needs and expectations of an industry leading product
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?
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.
There was an early incident where I was the most qualified person, only black person and having been given a stellar review, I was given half the bonus everyone else got. This escalated and rectified by HR because there was no valid reason. Over the years, there were incidents where I was always being passed over for a promotion or promotion was delayed for no apparent reason. I always wondered if the fact that I looked different and was either the only or few black person had something to do with these decisions
These experiences did not faze me or break me, instead they continued to fuel the desire to prove just how capable I was. My hope was that as long as many black professionals rise above the unconscious bias, we might be paving the way to the day when the next generation of black professionals can be seen as capable by merit.
What types of programs and initiatives does Unqork have that support diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Netta Jenkins - our VP global inclusion has set a comprehensive DEI framework focused on 3 pillars: Executive Buy in, Accountability, Continual Learning
- Executive Buy-in:
We have executive buy-in and leaders are sharing their 2021 DEI KPIs with their teams.Our Head of Asset Management and New Markets, emailed his team last week and shared his commitment. Managers with direct reports are selecting one of the three KPIs to work on for the year: Recruiting/Retention, Growth/Development, Engagement/Branding.
All executives are sponsoring an Employee Resource Strategy Group (ERSG). Here are the designated ERSG Channels covering but no limiting to LGBT, Gender, Race, Veterans, Caregiver/Parenthood, access..etc
- Accountability - At Unqork DEI KPIs are tied to performance. Netta is building a DEI Application on Unqorks platform that provides access to all employees to add our DEI KPIs. This platform will track microaggression trends and provides monthly internal diversity data
- Continual Learning: We are embedding our DEI and Anti-Racism training that encompasses a quiz after each lesson in our onboarding process for all new hires on Unqorks platform.
What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry?
To the black professionals who are interested in joining the industry my first advice would be to get ready as the journey is not easy. Realize that the deck is stacked against you.
Remember that “talent is a pursued interest, anything that you are willing to practice you can do.” – Bob Ross
To get to the top of your profession and be recognized as one of the leading talents in Tech you must work hard at it and perfect your craft and skills. No one questions excellence.
Most of all believe in yourself and go for it even if it is outside your comfort zone. It is important to build a network of other black tech professionals, surround yourself with what you aspire to.
Getting a sponsor is more important than a mentor. A sponsor is someone who can speak to the quality of your work and will go to bat for you during performance reviews.
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?
- Tech-Industry diversity agenda is improving but the framing of the diversity challenges as a “pipeline problem” is not 100% correct. The ideas of fixing the flow of talent of the minority (HBCU colleges participation, STEM programs in primarily black neighborhoods and their schools without prior access to those opportunities) to these tech companies, is a good step in the right direction but the ability to code might not change the thrust of the tech industry as it currently operates. The skills of the future are more creativity driven, so AI literacy should be promoted in these programs as much as coding skills.
- Ultimately it is all about “Diversity by way of integration”. We need to diversify with not just token inclusion that makes the numbers look better but with integration that covers influence, power, change and partnership. With proper integration, the behavior of the entire industry would change due to the presence of black professionals in leadership roles.
- The tech industry also needs to involve their future potential users in regions with a growing population like Africa and Asia. Nurturing and developing talents from those regions are better for inclusivity and benefits the future positioning of the tech industry as a whole.