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Where Are All The Black People in IT?

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Recently, I flicked through the faces of all of the presentations titles from Google I/O 2014 videos, I saw only one person who was black. She was from Ethiopia and was talking about a very worthy cause, solving the food shortage in Africa and making the cost of food production cheaper so that everyone could eat and be entitled to a decent life expectancy. She is Sara Menker, she flew in from Nairobi to give .

The proposition to improve food production is great and I don’t think that this purely the fault of the organisers, I am just sad that in the 21st century there are not a lot of black IT developers, designers or even architects around. For a profession that is much newer than a say Law. The London Metropolitan Policing in the United Kingdom has been found to institutionally racist, it is disappointing. In fact, I certainly have only ever seen a few black senior managers in my personal career. I can count them on three fingers and I met one of them a few times when Sun Microsystems was running JavaOne at the Moscone Center. When I worked at Deutsche Bank in the year 2001, my boss’s boss was a black senior manager responsible for OTC Derivatives IT trading desk. The other fellow worked in another financial organisation in the early noughties and I am not sure where he ended up in recent years.

When I look at this video listing page for I/O 2014, unfortunately it confirms my belief that the industry has failed to attract black people with significant talent or allow them to progress up the food chain. This is a massive big technology conference about mobile computing platforms and about exciting IT project; it has global attention. I am sure that there are good or great black people working at Google or outside in Android / Chrome space. Perhaps, they work in the background, or do not want the publicity (or celebrity). Probably smacking down Google is not fair, one can also point the finger at other technology businesses too, like Apple for instance.

As I scroll-flicked my touch pad up and down this videos page, I had an introspective. I looked within myself and I wondered why I had no trust with companies roles that promised great projects, exciting challenges and the prospects of career progression. I knew the answer to the riddle, somewhere I had learned to remember, “I believe it, when I see it”. That was what eventually said to myself. I remember begging my manager at the time, in 2002, at Deutsche Bank to use my allocation annual training budget so that I could visit JavaOne in 2002. The answer I got from him was typical and patronising, “How does this [JavaOne trip] help the business?”. No matter how much I tried to convince him about Java development and this conference was better than eyes forward training. He wouldn’t budge, so from then on, I lost my faith with companies and trust with senior management, I suppose. They talked a good game about your career, but seriously they couldn’t give too monkeys, because they were only concerned with theirs, and the truth was, that you in their eyes were just a resource that arrives at 9AM and leaves 18PM in order to complete yet another system integration or migration. I knew then that I had to find a way to make JavaOne by myself and achieve my dreams and future inspirations. I wanted to improve myself and get good at what I do. Eventually, two years later in my first stint as an IT contractor, I funded the whole trip to San Francisco. It was so worth it, there was no free ticket, just the conference, hotel and plane tickets. I was flush enough. It was also this experience with management that led to my foundation of the JAVAWUG, the Java User Group. There simply had to be other software developers out and about in London who cared about their experiences outside of the boundaries of commuting daily into and out of the workplace.

Never trust just words: It is a tough lesson that I learnt in my younger career and one that I hold up as rule of thumb. People say all kinds of things, usually laudable ideas that appeal to the greater or common good: but until they actually do it then it is not worth even remembering platitudes; and that is perhaps one more reason, why I choose to remain as an IT contractor, at least for the time being. It appears that I am not one of those fortunate people with the skin colour or the background who reach the IT Director or chief architect level. Sad, but true, so I go my own way,hard-core, no compromise.

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Published at DZone with permission of Peter Pilgrim, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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