February is Black History Month in the United States — a month we honor the important contributions of the Black community throughout history.
We’re grateful for the contributions of Black pioneers that have broken barriers and paved the way for more inclusivity and diversity in the tech industry. We’ve come a long way — but there’s still a long way to go. That’s why this year, in honor of Black History Month, the Skillacademy Team is celebrating Black leaders that are continuing to build a more inclusive, more welcoming, and more diverse tech industry.
The inspiring programmers and technologists on this list were nominated by members of the Skillacademy team. Their work inspires and motivates us, and we hope they’ll inspire you too.
Kimberly Bryant founded Black Girls CODE in 2011 to empower girls of color ages 7 to 17 to become innovators in STEM fields. Black Girls CODE hosts after school programs, community outreach programs, workshops, hackathons, and more, dedicated to introducing coding to a new generation of coders.
“Imagine the impact that these curious, creative minds could have on the world with the guidance and encouragement others take for granted,” writes Kimberly on the Black Girls CODE website.
Jovanay, an associate recruiter here at Skillacademy shares, “I grew up understanding that programming was for men in the dark staring at their computers all day. I had no idea it was this world of imagination and exploration and I only wish that the message of ‘Imagine. Build. Create.’ was shared with me at such an impressionable age.”
Find out more about how you can support Black Girls CODE here.
Bria Sullivan is an entrepreneur and software engineer at Google. She’s also the CEO and founder of Tech Stack’d. The mission of Tech Stack’d is to help underrepresented software developers and non-technical entrepreneurs advance their careers in tech through workshops, courses, and a supportive community. “By recognizing common pitfalls, Tech Stack’d fills in the gaps that cause many underrepresented people to fail when trying to break into tech.”
Bria describes Tech Stack’d in an interview with POCIT:
“It’s a community for underrepresented people who are trying to break into tech. They didn’t necessarily go to college. They maybe did a boot camp, or they’re self-taught. It’s a place where they can go where they can have a community. I also provide workshops on resumes and interviews and also plug them with different people and just webinars with other experts. It’s also for nontechnical start-up founders so that they can all grow their careers and tech together.”
And Bria managed to create Tech Stack’d all while working as a full-time software engineer at Google. “Bria is such an inspiration to all who want to create the change they want to see in the tech industry,” says Roger, a Skillacademy software engineer.
Photo credit: Tech Stack’d
Michael Berhane is the founder of POCIT (People of Color in Tech), a resource dedicated to telling the stories of people of color in tech, and host of the Techish podcast. In addition to articles and interviews from individuals in the tech industry, POCIT also hosts a recruitment platform, pocitjobs.com, that helps connect people of color with tech jobs.
Michael shared the inspiration behind POCIT with Forbes: “I wanted to switch up the narrative around the type of faces we usually expect to be a ‘techie’ or work in tech. Partly to place some overdue spotlight on those fantastic individuals, but also to inspire the next generation coming up behind.”
Saron Yitbarek built an inclusive, supportive developer community, CodeNewbie, from scratch. Acquired by the DEV Community last year, CodeNewbie offers a wide range of resources, including a Twitter chat, an annual conference, podcasts, and more.
Today Saron is building Disco, making technology more accessible through audio courses on subjects like machine learning, cryptocurrency, and ethics in AI.
“As a tech educator, I’m completely in awe of all that Saron has accomplished (and continues to accomplish),” shares Skillacademy curriculum developer Mariel. “She offers so much to so many people, breaking down concepts as easily as she breaks down barriers for newcomers.”
Photo credit: saron.io
Tony Effik is a managing director at Google, an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s engineering school, and the co-founder of Black and Brilliant, an organization he founded with his wife Perky Noah-Effik last June. Black and Brilliant is an advocacy network dedicated to upskilling talented people of color and indigenous people.
“There’s a need to help people break through the glass ceiling in a time of digital transformation,” Tony shared during a U.N. webinar on Youth Engagement for Global Action: Digital Skills and the Power of 3P in October 2020. Black and Brilliant is dedicated to this mission.
Here at Skillacademy, we’re inspired by Tony’s mission too, which is why we’re excited to announce that we’ve partnered with Black and Brilliant on an upcoming accelerated course in Applied Artificial Intelligence.
We’ll be sharing more details about this partnership in the coming days and weeks. Follow the Black and Brilliant Advocacy Network on LinkedIn to stay in the loop.
Sofia Ongele is a 20-year-old student, coder, and activist. She not only uses her platform to educate, but also builds tools that provide access for people to engage and take action towards important social issues. For instance, Sofia built an award-winning app, ReDawn, to help survivors of sexual and domestic abuse and their loved ones find support.
In an interview with KTLA5 last year, Sofia spoke about how coding can be a catalyst for change. “Coding has a really unique ability to be able to impact so many people with just a few keystrokes,” she shared. “Without having a diversity of thought and diversity of opinion, we’re losing on so many incredible inventions and innovations that can impact a lot of people.”
The Skillacademy team has found inspiration in seeing how Sofia has created actionable and accessible solutions to make and inspire real change. She’s not only teaching, but she’s pushing those around her to think more critically and conscientiously.
Timnit Gebru is a computer scientist, advocate for diversity in tech, and co-founder of Black in AI, an initiative geared towards increasing the presence of Black people in the field of artificial intelligence. Black in AI provides mentorship, academic programs, advocacy, events, and community building.
“Tech — especially cutting edge tech — is often imagined to be this rising tide that lifts all boats. Gebru correctly identified that, however well-intentioned technologists may be, the products they create tend to carry and, in the worst cases, magnify the biases they hold,” shared Devin, an associate product designer here at Skillacademy. “Her work has made and continues to make a case for the critical importance of diversity in fields like AI, and exposes the limits of the kinds of technological progress that don’t consider the lived experiences of marginalized people.”
Rebecca, a senior software engineer on our team says, “I’m inspired by her perseverance in fighting for a higher standard for ethics in AI, standing up for what’s right, and lifting up other underrepresented voices in the tech industry.”
Find out more about how you can support Black in AI here.
Photo credit: Black in AI
Hadiyah Mujhid is the Founder and CEO of HBCUvc, a nonprofit dedicated to racial equity in venture capital and technology. HBCUvc supports students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), teaching venture capital and providing funding, mentorship, culturally-affirming curriculum, and access to paid internships at tech and venture capital companies.
“HBCUvc envisions a global economy where Black, Indigenous, and Latinx innovators can boldly create, fail, invest, and thrive. Our origins are rooted in Blackness and the legacy of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which forged education opportunities for us in a time when our country would not,” Hadiyah wrote in a Medium post last year.
In the post, Hadiyah shared ways to get involved with HBCUvc and to advance racial equity in VC and tech. “Advancing racial equity means making space in your networks for more teams and leaders that look like us. It means listening to our expertise and providing long-standing and unwavering financial support for the necessary work.”
Learn more about how to get involved with HBCUvc here.
Tope Awotona is the CEO of Calendly. He launched Calendly using funds from his 401(k), and has been outspoken about the difficulty he faced in raising VC funding. He shared in an interview with Inc., “I had a working product, and customers using it, and everyone said no… The only thing I could attribute it to was that I was black.”
Tope grew up in Nigeria and says, “Where I grew up, everyone looked like me – all of our leaders were black, so color didn’t set any limits to my dreaming. But I have learned that growing up black in America is very different. There are not nearly enough examples of people who look like us in positions of power or who have a lot of success in the tech field. Unfortunately, that limits people and can hinder the idea that they can do whatever they want.”
Tope’s story is an inspiring one of overcoming the odds to build a business worth over $50 million in annual revenue without funding. But it also serves as an important example in the case for making venture funding more equitable.
Photo credit: LinkedIn
Stacy Brown-Philpot is the former CEO of TaskRabbit and was one of the few Black women CEOs in Silicon Valley. In a 2019 interview with Know Your Value, Stacy shared, “I’m focusing on changing the face of technology by creating a diverse company where people feel they can bring their whole selves to work.”
At TaskRabbit, she succeeded in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace — and her work didn’t start there. Before TaskRabbit, Stacy was at Google, where she also worked towards a more diverse and inclusive workplace. While she was at Google, she founded the Black Googler Network, an employee resource group.
In an interview with The New York Times, she shares, “There’s been so much momentum in terms of creating gender equity in tech. We have a long way to go with minorities. We have a long way to go with making sure we have more black people represented in tech.”
Stacy is currently helping to run the SoftBank Opportunity Fund as a founding member. The SoftBank Opportunity Fund is a $100 million venture fund supporting Black, Latinx, and Native American founders.
Photo credit: LinkedIn
Dr. Gladys West
Dr. Gladys West is a STEM pioneer whose work is the basis for the Global Positioning Systems we now take for granted. Her programming work on the IBM 7030 STRETCH (the fastest computer of its time) and data analysis resulted in the ability to develop a highly accurate model of the earth, serving as the groundwork for the GPS systems in use today.
After a 42 year career working for the Department of the Navy and Department of the Air Force, she completed a PhD when she was 70 and was inducted into the Air Force Hall of Fame in 2018.
Koma, the VP of Curriculum here at Skillacademy shares, “In an era when both women and people of color were underrepresented and/or absent in STEM fields, Dr. West’s relentless pursuit of and commitment to education, perseverance in a field where few women or Black people were present, and pursuit of excellence contributed to her groundbreaking work.”
Photo credit: Wikipedia
“High school was when I started to realize that none of the characters were ever black girls,” she shared in an interview with Apple’s Developer. This was the inspiration for We Read Too.
Jovanay from our recruiting team met Kaya when they were in school together at Dartmouth. Jovanay worked as a campus hair stylist for hair braiding for Black women and had the opportunity to speak with Kaya about her computer science experience while she worked.
“Kaya was the first person that I’d met that made computer science sound so accessible and so easily available, yet she was able to make such a huge impact in the tech world!”
“We Read Too is super necessary. Seeing a black woman in tech create products for black youth to read more books written by black authors so incredibly demonstrates the power of what could happen if we created more spaces for black creators to be heard and valued.”
Khalil (Army) Armstead and Giovannie Hernandez
Army and Giovannie are both founding members of Emergent Works (formerly Code Cooperative), a non-profit that disrupts the prison cycle by providing technology education and mentorship to formerly incarcerated individuals. Participants strengthen their skills in web development and computer science, make industry connections, and create pathways into high-paying careers.
One Skillacademy Team member shared, “The entire organization has inspired me by setting an example of how people in our industries can help others on an individual level, in order to make an impact at a systemic level. There is so much discourse to be had surrounding ethics, systems, and politics in technology that create what seems like an impossible (and widening) barrier for the marginalized and disenfranchised.”
Lyndsey Scott is an actress, model, app developer, and advocate for women and minorities in tech. In a recent interview on The Step, a podcast hosted by author Luvvie Ajayi Jones, Lyndsey speaks about the issues women of color face in tech, plus talks about the work she’s doing to advance women and minorities in the engineering space.
In the interview, Luvvie Ajayi Jones asks Lyndsey how she’s seen her visibility impact young women that want to enter computer science fields. Lyndsey shares:
“It’s actually incredible that so many young girls and women come up to me and say that because of my story they decided to learn more about computer science and eventually pursue a career in computer science.”
“I wish that there were more women and people of color who were in technology when I was growing up, but I think that the more of us there are now, the more we can encourage the non-traditional tech types to enter the world too.”
Photo credit: LyndseyScott.com
Harvey Sanders is the Engineering Lead for the in-house dev-shop at Operation Spark, a non-profit coding bootcamp founded and operating in New Orleans. During the company’s 7-year history, so many people of color have been able to find careers in tech through Operation Spark and Harvey has been an enormous part of the company’s success.
Before joining Operation Spark, Harvey worked for another local non-profit, the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP). Harvey was integral in launching YEP’s bike shop to provide underserved youth with real job experience, and served as the Assistant Director of the Work and Learn Program where he taught young people in New Orleans the basics of front-end web development. He went on to attend an Operation Spark bootcamp in one of the first cohorts. After graduating, he joined Operation Spark as a software engineer, building the company’s proprietary content-delivery system and then teaching as an instructor.
Ben, a curriculum developer here at Skillacademy, began working at Operation Spark in 2017. “I could immediately see how impactful Harvey was to the company’s success. His enthusiasm and joy around technology is contagious to those around him, which I think is what makes him a great teacher and coworker. His students frequently praise his ability to teach with a special combination of confidence, approachability, and humor.”
Find out how to get involved with Operation Spark here.
Stephanie Dinkins is a transmedia artist and professor. She describes her work in an interview with Eyebeam: “I am an artist who is interested in creating platforms for ongoing dialog about artificial intelligence as it intersects race, gender, aging, the proliferation of knowledge(s) and our future histories.”
Stephanie’s most recent project, Secret Garden, illuminates “the power and resilience in Black women’s stories shared across space and time.”
Sheena Allen is founder and CEO of CapWay, a banking app dedicated to creating financial access and opportunities for everyone. “The whole point of building this company was to build a full ecosystem for people who have been left on the outside of traditional banking,” Sheena shares in an interview with Essence.
Sheena recognized a problem: there’s not adequate access to banking in marginalized communities. In 2016 she decided to build CapWay as a way to provide opportunity for underserved millennials and Gen Z.
The Skillacademy team has found inspiration in the way Sheena has taken her skills and experience and turned it into something that is making real change in the world, bettering the financial prosperity of underprivileged communities.
Photo credit: Twitter
Who are the Black programmers and technologists that you admire? Let us know in the comments.