Why "Black Code Collective?"

A little over a year ago, some colleagues and I decided to create an organization that would provide a safe space and community for Software Engineers of color. We called it Black Code Collective (BCC). Since BCC has come to fruition, many people have asked me why such a community is necessary. They ask why people of color don’t just join the tech groups that already exist. For some white people, the idea of people of color separating themselves can come across as backwards, but I’m hoping to shed some light on why we sometimes choose to do so.

Reinforcement

As a black person in corporate America, a majority of my time is spent being one of a few black people (if not the only black person) in my workplace. Just like the outside world, white is the default at work, and this default brings about an unspoken burden for people of color. We sometimes fear that if we make a misstep at work, it will trigger the bias of our peers or cause them to assume that we only have our position because of affirmative action or similar race quotas. With an organization like BCC, this stress is momentarily lifted from our shoulders. We are among individuals to whom we can relate and among whom we are more likely to ask questions.

Asking questions is a key way for all of us to learn and grow, but if we’re in an environment where we’re too nervous to ask questions, our growth can be stunted. Not only does this brief break from the reality of the workplace give people of color chances to ask questions and sharpen our skills, being told that a question isn’t stupid, and that someone else struggled with that same topic can be a sanity check. That support can inspire us to speak up when we’re back in our work environment.

Another tentacle of this beast is the fact that the life experiences of white people and people of color can vary drastically. That sometimes makes the ideas that they value very different; particularly ideas that would solely target the black community. Others may see little to no value in an idea because it’s not applicable to their lives. For example, having an app that would teach lesser known black history facts. If a black engineer had an idea like this, she could come to BCC, run the idea by us, and the idea could be nurtured and able to grow further. The developers of color could not only provide the black perspective, they can provide technical insight into the feasibility of the app as well.

In addition, these different life experiences can also leave a gap in mentoring connections. People of color have certain work experiences that a white colleague will not, so it’s beneficial for us to have a support system to which we can turn for advice in these situations. It could be something as simple as how a black woman wears her hair in the workplace. Some styles she may sport could be deemed “unprofessional” or “unkempt”. Having the support of someone who has experienced similar stress can be comforting, and allow for more in-depth advice.  

Keeping in the know

A lot of opportunities are awarded through nepotism and other forms of favoritism toward those in a particular network. It’s uncommon for many people of color to be in the know about these positions and, even if they do know, they can sometimes be overlooked because another candidate has an inside connection. BCC aims to help bridge this gap. We talk daily through Slack (an online chat communication application) to share opportunities that we each know about as well as to make connections through our networks when necessary.

In addition to sharing opportunities, we also share information about new technologies and have technical discussions. Small conversations within a safe space such as this have several benefits. In software engineering, things change swiftly, so being in the know about new technologies is paramount. Other technical organizations also share information about new tools, but again, feeling comfortable enough to ask questions and have a dialogue is essential to being able to grow. Other than how useful a piece of software is, people of color may also find a product interesting simply because it was built by a fellow person of color or to serve communities of color. These tools typically aren’t shared within mainstream technical groups.

Empowerment

Negative stereotypes about people of color are still prevalent in our society, and they can sometimes seep into our psyches. Being surrounding by intellectual people of color that are at a similar point in their career or even where we dream of being can be incredibly empowering. People of color rarely see representation of people that look like us, and that can sometimes be discouraging. Being reminded that there are folks like ourselves that are crushing obstacles and excelling can be the extra push that we need to keep going. Not to mention the possibility of setting our own example for the younger generation. I had never dreamed of being a software engineer until an older family friend convinced me to take a Computer Science class during my time at UVA, and it forever changed my life.

You can find Black Code Collective online at http://blackcodecollective.com/ ... on Twitter at @blkCodeCollctve ... or reach them by email at blkcodecollctve@gmail.com