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Five Things I’ve Learned as a Person of Color in Tech

Hear some of the lessons Code Fellows graduate and current software developer Dezireé Teague has learned as a person of color working in the tech industry.

It’s no secret that tech is not the most diverse industry. And for people of color currently in tech (like myself), work or school often comes with its own set of challenges: the feeling of isolation, imposter syndrome, dealing with microaggressions. Everyone’s experience will of course be unique to them, but here are some of the lessons I’ve learned as a person of color working in the tech industry.

(1) What makes you different makes you valuable

It may feel isolating to have a different background and collection of experiences than your coworkers—but your perspective makes you different in a good way. Your diverse mindset and the experiences you bring to the table are valuable because they create a better and more inclusive user experience for your customers, helping the code you create reach a wider audience.

The way you approach your work will differ greatly from others, and the cultural implications of your code will be more inclusive to those from your community and others because of your familiarity and ability to socially adapt to and navigate diverse groups of people—especially in the workplace and classroom. Overall, being able to see the big picture and understand the users of your code makes it more accessible.

(2) It’s OK to stand up for yourself and others

For people of color, microaggressions—defined by Merriam-Webster as “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group”—can unfortunately be common in a workplace or classroom. Oftentimes, the individual perpetrating a microaggression may not even realize the implied prejudice hidden within their statement, question, or act. Some common examples include: asking where someone is from; telling a non-native English speaker their English is good; or, for black women, touching their hair.

When something is said to you that feels like a microaggression, know it’s OK to say something. It might feel like the easy thing to do is keep it to yourself, but by speaking up either in person or through an email to whoever said it (or to a superior you feel comfortable with) you have the power to educate everyone in the office or class—while also creating a moment of empowerment for yourself. It can feel like a huge weight to carry on your shoulders to educate those around you, but it may spark a chain reaction in creating more educated allies. Likewise, be an ally whenever you can to other minorities and stand up for them as well.

(3) Be a bridge and bring others along with you

For workspaces to be more diverse and inclusive, there need to be more diverse individuals. Be a helping hand in that process, and bring others up with you. If your place of work is hiring, first reach out to other people of color you know who are qualified or offer to give their resume to your company’s hiring manager. Be that foot in the door for as many people of color as you can.

Intentionality is necessary to create diverse and inclusive spaces. If your workspace is homogenous, and you’re in a position to change that, change it. Increase the amount of opportunities for people of color, work toward equal pay (the latest stats show white women still make 78 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make, while black and Latina women make 61 and 54 cents, respectively), and continue to educate yourself and others on how to be a reliable ally to all minority groups to help diversify the tech industry.

(4) Use your network and your resources

When you’re helping others, they’re likely to return the favor. Join—or build—a community of people like you, and help each other as much as you can. There are a multitude of meetups already happening for people of color and women in tech, and Facebook or Google can help you find the one that’s best suited for you. Don’t be afraid to lean on your friends and family for support, too.

If you’re in school or taking classes at programs like Code Fellows, apply for diversity scholarships, take advantage of your professors’ office hours, and get assistance from classmates. You may have to look for these resources yourself, but know they’re out there. For example, Code Fellows’ Partner Power Hours are a great opportunity to meet and hear from people already in the industry. I got my current job by approaching one of the speakers at a Partner Power Hour and asking if they offered any apprenticeships or internships—and that internship then turned into a full-time position. (In November, I’ll be speaking at a Partner Power Hour on accessibility!).

At work, don’t be afraid to ask your coworkers questions or for a hand when you need it. It can be scary to admit to others that you need help, but it will save you time and stress later down the line if you speak up rather than keep your questions to yourself.

(5) Reflect on your progress—and don’t count yourself out

As a person of color, many times you may be in a room where no one looks like you—it’s times like this when imposter syndrome creeps in and makes you doubt whether you belong. Fighting that negative self-talk can be a struggle, so take the time to reflect on how far you’ve come. Celebrate the small victories and all forms of encouragement coming your way—and know you deserve it, too. You’re still learning, and each day will bring its own unique hurdles. Recognize everything you’ve been able to accomplish and use it as inspiration to keep growing and learning every single day.

You, your story, and your experiences are valuable—and you are meant to be where you are. The tech industry, like others, may still feel incredibly far behind; it can be difficult to feel like you belong, but you do. Take every day as a learning experience, celebrate all of your accomplishments, and continue to support others—and especially yourself—every chance you get.

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