The face of technology and entrepreneurship is changing.
It’s getting younger, more casual, more accessible. It’s getting increasingly more familiar, with a more colloquial vernacular; and it’s also getting darker.
This was evidenced by the opening VIP panel of the inaugural Blacks in Technology Conference, more aptly titled BITCON. The conference is being held in various locations throughout the Twin Cities, with the VIP opening panel yesterday (Oct. 11) inside the offices of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx at the Mayo Clinic Building in downtown Minneapolis.
During the more than one-hour session one thing was made abundantly clear; the game may be the same … maybe … but the rules have definitely changed.
“We (Black people) are absolutely changing the culture in technology,” said Chris Lafayette, a mixed reality architect and co-founder of The Armada. “When you think about it, Blacks have been driving culture for decades. And yes, technology has a diversity problem and the issue is many don’t see the problem. But remember, Starbucks didn’t think it had a diversity problem until it had to pay $12 million for a cup of coffee.”
The reference to Starbucks relates to a well-publicized incident where two Black men were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks for asking to use the bathroom while waiting on a business associate. Lafayette said though change is occurring in a variety of tech industries the push for greater access continues.
“I don’t want our children to marvel at a Marvel movie, ‘Black Panther,’ and marvel at the technology that made the film but think they cannot do it because they don’t see people who look like them in the industry,” said Lafayette.
Saron Yitbarek, CEO and founder of Code Newbie, said BITCON is about not just cracking through, but kicking in the door to careers in technology.
“I’m tired of just talking about diversity and inclusion,” said Yitbarek. “This conference is focused on being able to help people progress in their careers.
Yitbarek said in opening doors do so by whatever means necessary and that does not mean being quiet on a job in hopes of advancement.
“Too many people believe in meritocracy,” said Yitbarek. “They believe if you do good work and keep their heads down they’ll advance. It doesn’t work like that. If you want to be seen, you have to be loud. And it doesn’t matter how you get in the door. Use whatever tool you have in your toolbox. Any card I have that’s historically kept me behind I use to my advantage. You bet I’m going to use it. And once you get in the door you can have a seat at the table. You can flip the table over. You can redesign the whole system.”
But besides getting jobs in tech, Lafayette said he’s more interested in creating jobs in technology.
“I’m no longer satisfied when people who look like me get a job at Google and Apple,” said Lafayette. “I’ll be satisfied when people who look like me create a Google or Apple.”
BITCON brought Black tech professionals from around the nation to the Twin Cities for a four-day conference Oct. 10 – Oct. 13.