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Software Development / Tech Culture

#BlackTechTwitter for Life

On Juneteenth, TNS delves into the importance of #BlackTechTwitter -- a community for Black people in tech.
Jun 20th, 2022 6:19am by
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Featured image by Mars Sector-6 on Unsplash

Today marks the second time the U.S. is celebrating “Juneteenth” as a federal holiday. Juneteenth, typically observed on June 19, commemorates the emancipation of slaves in this country. Yet, a recurring question on #BlackTechTwitter (BTT) has been who has the day off. Seems like a lot of people don’t, including me.

That’s the thing about #BlackTechTwitter, it delivers a steady drumbeat of information. For me, the Black Tech Twitter community and the #BlackTechTwitter hashtag represent a lifeline for Black folks in tech. It represents a community where people can go for help with technical issues, job search advice, interviewing and salary negotiation advice, mentoring, sharing and communicating with like minds. It’s all that and a lot more.

Fountain of Information

There’s a fountain of information for beginners/newbies as well as advice and direction from (and for) seasoned pros. There’s also wisdom from established leaders who have built major systems and who regularly give talks at tech conferences and have authored books on various technologies.

The pool of talent is deeper than I thought, but we need more. From the press side of things, most of what I’ve seen are the sad stories of people being rejected left and right, or facing different levels of discrimination. Of course that stuff certainly exists. Yet, while Black people are still grossly underrepresented in tech, #BlackTechTwitter has shown me that many Black folk are out here doing their thing in the business.

To me, #BlackTechTwitter says “We’re out here.” We’re out here to let the world know what we have to offer, and we’re out here for each other – to help bring more people into the fold. (We out’chere!) It’s a place where Blacks in tech can be their/our natural black selves.

#BlackTechTwitter Saved My Life

But for real, I’m not gonna lie (NGL), #BlackTechTwitter saved my life. That’s right, not a DJ, but #BlackTechTwitter saved my journalistic life. I was getting burnt out writing about tech. Let me explain.

I still love the hunt and digging in and writing about the technology and constantly learning new stuff, but I also like to follow the personalities and to get a pulse of the people and companies I cover.

And I was having way less fun than I used to have when I started out and the industry had charismatic, competitive, cutthroat leaders like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Scott McNealy, Larry Ellison, Steve Balmer and others. Any one of these guys would get onstage and openly diss the competition and tell why their offering was better.

Gates would hold press conferences and go toe-to-toe with even the most loudmouthed reporters to let them know how uninformed they were. His favorite line was “That’s the stupidest question I ever heard,” and he relished in spelling out why in no uncertain terms.

“Generally in tech, people of color, black people in particular, make up single-digit percentages at even the biggest tech companies. And so most of the chatter about people of color in the space is people talking about us and not even necessarily talking to us.”

— Wesley Faulkner

Today’s tech leaders tend to maintain a focus on pleasing shareholders or VCs and little else. I mean Mark Zuckerberg is a dud when it comes to getting anything out of him. Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai are also pretty ‘dud-ly,’ as are Jack Dorsey and Parag Agrawal (who is Parag anyway?).

Meanwhile, in the day, we had Steve Ballmer jumping up and down onstage with his shirt sweaty and his voice cracking, hollering about “developers, developers, developers…!

So, yeah, I was getting a little bored. Then one day I found the BTT community, and I became rejuvenated seeing how many Black folk were meeting up and sharing through this vehicle. I began to notice different voices.

For instance, I would see my “cuz” Bryan Liles (@bryanl) making all kinds of sense and imparting wisdom while not taking no ‘ish’ from no body. I call him cuz because he grew up not too far from where I did and when I interviewed him it felt familial.

The Importance of Community

That’s just the thing; BTT is a community. It’s a place where you can find what’s familiar to you.

“I think community is really important for us, because most of us don’t come from a background that can truly succeed in the same way as our white counterparts,” said Stephanie Ihezukwu (@StephandSec). “They know a lot about the capitalist world they created, and we weren’t allowed to participate, so a lot of us are playing catchup and trying to figure this career stuff out — while battling loads of propaganda and programming. So, communities help us with representation, with inspiration, with knowledge of what’s possible.

You meet people who change your life forever in these communities. And, if nothing else, having people to do this thing with is priceless. I’ve been the only Black person on my team for YEARS. It’s a lonely road when you’re doing it alone. So, community helps us with our stamina in this corporate world.”

In much the same vein, Wesley Faulkner (@wesley83) told me: “Generally in tech, people of color, Black people in particular, make up single-digit percentages at even the biggest tech companies. And so most of the chatter about people of color in the space is people talking about us and not even necessarily talking to us.”

BlackTechTwitter gives me a place where we can talk amongst each other, where we can learn from each other and get real experiences — not just the aspirational, but the real perspective of what it’s like to be in tech and how to navigate the space and help make it more welcoming for those who are coming behind us.”

Secure the Bag

I love to see my people shine, and I particularly enjoy seeing Black folk find their way in tech and get that bag! (Git dat money!) I love to see folks on the come-up.

That’s why I always try to watch the NFL and NBA drafts so I can see young prospects in the green room waiting for their names to be called to see their dreams come true after all the grinding and work they put in. And NGL, I always get misty-eyed when they say my mama will not have to work another day.

Top software engineers are making as much or more than what the average NFL player makes.

Well, my man Mekka (@mekkaokereke) — whenever he tweets I always think of Mecca and the Soul Brother, and the Mecca Don CL — broke it down that top software engineers are making as much or more than what the average NFL player makes.

“He did such an amazing analysis of that,” said Leslie Miley (@shaft), the former CTO of The Obama Foundation who has held engineering leadership roles at Google, Slack, Twitter and Apple. Miley took a break from Slack earlier this year to become Executive in Residence at Venture for America — where he is an advisor to several startups founded by women and minorities and is an investor in a fund dedicated to helping minority entrepreneurs.

Miley, who acknowledged that he’s earned as much money (or more) as a majority of NFL average-salaried players over his career, added: “When you are waiting in that green room to get your name called you know [your life has changed].” Likewise, “if you make it through the interview loop at Google or Amazon or Meta or Apple or Microsoft, that can be as life-changing as going in the first round.”

From Chocolate Chips to BTT

When I started in this business there were very few of us representing at tech events and even fewer in positions of power at the major tech companies. There was nothing like BTT, the numbers weren’t there. But I did belong to a small, informal group called the Chocolate Chips, which met on an ad hoc basis typically at big tech conferences.

The group consisted of press, analysts, and tech company execs and engineers that just wanted to mingle with people that looked like them. Today the name sounds corny (it did then, too) but it was a good outlet and there were some heavy hitters amongst us.

But here comes Pariss Chandler (@ParissAthena) with the brilliant idea to mobilize a community around the #BlackTechTwitter hashtag. She also is the founder and CEO of Black Tech Pipeline, which focuses on getting jobs for people in tech. Chandler was recently listed among the Boston Globe’s top 50 tech power leaders in the Boston area.

However, one weekend Chandler came to find a usurper camping out, squatting on a namesake BlackTechTwitter spot claiming the hashtag was up for grabs and that Chandler didn’t create it because it was already there. Maybe she didn’t create it, but her efforts generated a groundswell and people began to identify with her cause. Real ones know.

“I think of #BlackTechTwitter as a virtual barbershop, where a diversity of incredible opinions on any given subject is argued, just like you would find at any Black barbershop”

— John Obeto

The community also provides checks and balances on itself. For instance, on another weekend recently (seems like stuff is always jumping off on the weekend), a vocal young man made an unfortunate tweet that called out some members of the BTT community in prominent cities.

Immediately, a prominent member of the community set up a Twitter Space to clear the air. I joined in, as did more than 200 others (I believe the max number was over 400, but I don’t really remember) for several hours on a Saturday afternoon talking about community business.

The Space was productive, and folks aired out their feelings. Finally, an esteemed member of the community (some called him the “OG”), Kelsey Hightower (@kelseyhightower), weighed in and provided sage advice that helped to settle the situation down.

In short, the community handled its business.

All Flavors, All Postures

#BlackTechTwitter is a vibrant community with all manner of voices. Like the overall Black community, there are all hues, shapes and flavors of us – from alabaster pale to Kilimanjaro coffee black — with social and political views ranging from those like Clarence Thomas, Herschel Walker (@HerschelWalker) and Candace Owens (@RealCandaceO) to those like Hakeem Jeffries (@RepJeffries), Elie Mystal (@ElieNYC) and Maxine Waters (@RepMaxineWaters).

I’ve talked with some Blacks in tech who said they did not identify as part of BlackTechTwitter. That being Black and on Twitter doesn’t mean they should be labeled. Well, no, it doesn’t. But people make assumptions. And, as The Rude Boys and Gerald Levert said back in the day:

It’s written all over your face
You don’t have to say a word

Either way, the representation counts, and I’m pleased by the presence of Black folks in the tech space. It’s sort of like the issue of Black Lives Matter. I am adamant about the fact that Black lives matter, but I don’t feel like I’m part of the “movement” and I’m not part of the parent organization.

Moreover, BTT is not exclusionary. The information shared is universal and it’s largely about the craft. There are super-talented people providing technical advice for anybody.

For example, one day @VladimirVivien posed a question asking if Kubernetes needed a lightweight scripting environment? Within minutes, @bryanl chimed in and said, yes, let’s build one. Boom!

The Culture of It All, Baby

I know I can count on BTT to learn something new every day. Not only about tech, but about the NBA and NFL, or who won the latest Verzuz battle and who should be on the next one. I even learned a little about whiskey (something I thought I knew a little bit about) from Taylor Poindexter (@engineering_bae). Meanwhile, the queen, Angie Jones (@techgirl1908), got me to use an air fryer and then I went out and bought my son one.

“#BlackTechTwitter is a hoot. You have never come across so many varied, vibrant, and diverse opinions on any subject as you can find on BTT,” said John Obeto (@2Obeto), who said he considers himself more of a lurker than an active participant in the community.

“I think of BTT as a virtual barbershop, where a diversity of incredible opinions on any given subject is argued, just like you would find at any Black barbershop,” Obeto said. “Because of the age, location and experience ranges, any given topic is likely to ‘escape’ into tangents that might curl one’s hair further, or conversely, have the reader reaching for a roll of aluminum foil in order to fashion a beanie out of. It is that good!”

Moreover, BTT is an acknowledgement, a celebration of Blacks in technology, a position generally denied us by our being ignored by the general tech community, Obeto said.

“My hope is for a way to funnel #BlackTwitter in general, and #BlackTechTwitter specifically, into a virtual portal where plunging in becomes very natural, and where the discovery of true talent becomes easier,” he added.

If not for BTT I would not have learned about organizations like DevColor and Baddies in Tech, or events like RenderATL and Hackin With the Homies, among others.

BTT is truly an eclectic community. There are unpaid CTOs (@Dayhaysoos), VCs (@ArlanWasHere and @MacConwell), Unfriendly Black Techies, a mayor and at least one pastor.

Elon Musk Factor

When Elon Musk made a bid for Twitter there was lots of talk about where BTT should go, with a person known for enabling hostility in the workplace against Black folks possibly taking over.

“In my opinion, Black people in the United States, we’ve done a wait and see, and it generally doesn’t end up well for us,” Miley told me. “So, I’m not going to wait until it becomes a place that I think doesn’t align with my values… It could be he gets up there and decides that he wants to allow Nazis to have free speech. And then I’m out. I’m not about that, we know where that ends up. And I’m not going to partake in a platform that supports that.”

Jyrone Parker (@mastashake) had a similar but slightly different take. We should “stand pat definitely. We shouldn’t run on assumptions of increased racism,” he said.

Who I Follow

It does my heart good to see Black folks in tech coming together. I’m inspired to see us excel in STEM. For instance, I can’t get enough of the twins, Malik and Miles George, from Microsoft’s Windows 11 commercial.

So I’ll end with a list of people I follow that are related to BTT – directly or not. Though this is a long list, it doesn’t represent everybody I follow as I’ve already blown my wordcount for this piece. This list doesn’t even tell the half. So, sorry if I missed you (and also sorry if I included you and you don’t identify). But, off the top, some of my main follows include:

I entitled this post “#BlackTechTwitter for Life” because, as I said, it’s a lifeline. It reinvigorated me. And it’s a community that needs to be — whether on Twitter or anywhere else. I need it “For Life!” like Taraji said to Tyrese as she flashed her ring at him at the end of the film “Baby Boy.” Y’all know. “Please believe me!”

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