It has been 2.5 years since I updated my personal blog. I’ve not been completely silent during this time. I’ve been posting to social media and Medium while actively building up The Difference Engine, NFP as well as my day job at Salesforce/Heroku. However, recently I was challenged to share my own story in a public way since I am at a completely different point in my career. Shout out to @Ebony Beckwith for pushing me without even knowing I needed the push.
I often share openly and honestly with people in my immediate circle and those I direct to my small social media updates. This challenge (or encouragement) to more courageously step out and share with a wider audience seemed almost comical. As I listened to the self-talk I was having in my head as to why this piece of advice was not for me- “I’ve come so far, I’ve shared so much, no one cares…” I knew at that very moment. I had to do it.
I took a stab at this back in 2015, telling a little bit about my why. The one thing I have always been very clear on was that there were some more vulnerable things I did not share. There were experiences I had yet to encounter, wins I could never have seen coming, and unprecedented times I would never have believed I’d be a part of. It is because of these unexpected experiences I now know that sharing is part of the process as well as a way to lead others. I don’t know where to start telling this story, so I’m going to start where I am now and see if through a series of postings I can uncover the trajectory of the last decade.
Being the First Black Female Software Engineering Manager at Heroku
It has never been my plan to be the first Black … anything, to be perfectly honest. The biggest I dared to dream in my youth and most of my adulthood was being self-sufficient, respected, and financially stable enough to help provide for my family in the 21st century (family size six – a daunting task by any standard). The truth is I am not a limelight seeker, attention grabber, flashy, or super charismatic person eager to lead a movement. What I have learned is that I am a sincere advocate of racial equality, passionate about technology, unapologetically ambitious, and a deeply empathetic human being who will work relentlessly and fervently for those I connect with.
This drive to achieve, lead, mentor, support, and provide opportunities for others motivated me to start The Difference Engine, NFP as well as strive to lead within the tech industry as a people leader. Working for a company as large as Salesforce was never something I fathomed as an option or a fit for me. Why?
There is much truth behind the saying that many folks must “see it to believe it.” (Apparently this is also a song by J Cole. #todayIlearned) I grew up in the era of seeing phenomenal Black people achieve amazing things. There was no doubt in my mind that someone truly gifted, blessed, and given the right opportunity to shine could accomplish absolutely anything regardless of the obstacles. I also recognized that these trailblazers opened the door of opportunity to others to achieve more than they otherwise would. The message that I did not see was how an average woman from an average background with an average intelligence could become something other than an average citizen with less than substantial achievements.
The technology industry has transformed in my forty plus years on this planet in ways I could never have imagined. The Black people fortunate enough to have helped in any way or contribute have always been the creme de la creme (cream of the crop), the valedictorians, the gifted individuals with exceptional backgrounds and academic achievements. In no self-deprecating way, I can state… “That ain’t me.” So because I did not see myself reflected in any capacity in an industry that I naturally gravitated towards, that I had an uncanny intuition for yet no direct connection to, becoming a technical leader was nowhere on my career path. I was happy to just secure a job and gain more knowledge.
The tech industry has quite a way to go in this aspect; it has not matured much over the last twenty years on the actual opportunities and composition of critical leadership roles in tech. I am now here to represent and have committed to making a difference here by fully representing in the best way I possibly can. Working hard to increase my influence, expertise, and network.
Self Limiting Beliefs
A direct symptom of that lack of representation (at least in my mind, which I have recently unpacked thanks to some strong coaching) is that for most of my career in tech I have contributed in some capacity to limiting myself, separate from the obvious biases encountered periodically throughout my career. Me, internally… within myself, my own mind.
Self-limiting beliefs are known to lead to limited opportunities and outcomes. The psychology behind this idea is that:
False and limiting beliefs are like parasites: they stay inactive in the mind until some thought or event triggers their response. Then they impede people’s ability to think sensibly and rationally, and they affect perceptions and perspectives in a pernicious manner. —- (Sisgold, 2013)Sisgold, 2013
What does self-limiting behavior look like for me?
- Shrinking back from vulnerable moments amongst a group
- Avoiding challenges that might reflect poorly on my technical skillset
- Not applying for roles that appear to be a stretch
- Verbally downplaying many of my achievements
- Failing to celebrate the small wins and personal accomplishments
- Running from self-promotion and speaking opportunities
Overcoming some of these unconscious beliefs has proved to be one of the most challenging obstacles in my life. However, by making small amounts of progress in this area I have found the results multiply faster and more abundantly than I could have ever imagined. Understanding that who I am is good enough- to lead others, to make hard decisions in a way that adds value, and to make a major impact within this industry- has been one of the most rewarding achievements of my career.
GOODBYE LIMITS! I SAID GOODBYE… NOW GO.
I have to apologize to every recruiter who encounters me. I am sorry but I am going to challenge you on why you reject those resumes that don’t sparkle and shine like the stereotypical software engineer you have become accustomed to making a quick close on. For the first five years of my career (if not more) I was excluded from opportunities based on the fact that my resume did not read like a traditional software engineer and I was not academically groomed to hack the standardized computer science testing issued to so many aspiring candidates. I have been rejected by more companies (hundreds) than I could ever possibly count before I could even get an interview. Recruiting screens, software, and all the efficient processes we’ve put in the way of finding talent kicks out some of the most promising software engineers in an otherwise predictable pipeline.
Being nontraditional does make it more challenging to secure the job, this is true, but it also makes it very uncomfortable in many circumstances to retain a job should you get hired. (If this is a topic of interest to you, let me know- I’m happy to share more experiences here as it is an article on its own.) This lack of assimilation to a very clearly defined culture fed my imposter syndrome monster for most of my career. I would never have thought that my differences, my perspective, my leadership style could ever be seen as an integral part of a high performing team of talented engineers.
The best part of my current career trajectory is discovering that I am proving myself wrong, while providing opportunities for others who are often overlooked or underestimated and contributing to something so much bigger than myself in such a big way (i.e. I am working at Salesforce!). As I am working to remove any and all thoughts that will limit my future I cannot say what the future holds but I am excited to walk the path before me.
Disclaimer: I have done my best to be concise and direct, but many of the topics I’ve touched on could stand alone. Given that it has been two years since I last posted something personal, this one was longer than I normally write- but very therapeutic. It is my hope to inspire, motivate, or at the very least provide some insight to anyone reading my blog. Anything I write is from my own personal journey and does not reflect the entire experience of every Black female in tech. Thanks for reading.