By Lorcan Stokes, The Seattle Medium
TechRise Global, an organization focused on community building for Seattle Black tech workers, recently held the first in a series of planned networking events where BIPOC workers can build connections, advance their careers, and have conversations about what it’s like for them working in the tech industry.
Google software engineer Chisom Okwor and Google privacy engineer Vivian Kiniga, TechRise Global’s co-founders, explained the importance in providing these spaces.
“I really like that people get to come together and talk about tech and how it’s impacting their lives and how it could impact their lives,” Kiniga said. “I just want to make sure that people of color aren’t left out of these very important conversations. Just creating a space where people can talk about it and challenge things and contribute to making things better.”
Okwor had a similar opinion.
“People who are going through similar problems, similar struggles at work and finding community and moving to Seattle,” said Okwor. “We wanted to create a space where people can share it because it’s tough having all that and having to deal with it by yourself.”
On Saturday, April 29, the Black Tech Mixer, which lasted from 1-4 p.m. at the Level South Lake Union hotel, featured panels, workshops opportunities for attendees to get free professional headshots, and guest speaker Jehron Petty
Petty is CEO and founder of ColorStack, a not-for-profit focused on aiding Black and Latinx college students in computer science with the hopes of increasing their numbers in the tech industry. While primarily using Slack as a tool to connect students of color in computer science around the country with others, they also provide financial support, scholarships and mentoring events..
Petty, who is a graduate of Cornell University, noticed the low numbers of Black and Latinx students within his field at school. He felt like an outlier.
“Me being successful in that space was an anomaly and what was I going to do about it,” Petty said to a seated audience at the mixer.
At Cornell, Petty said he built up a club that focused on helping and encouraging Black and Latinx students with an interest in computer science. After graduating, Petty still wanted to give back to BIPOC in some way. He rejected a position with Google to focus on creating ColorStack, a move that worked out.
“It’s all about calculated risk,” Petty said after the event had taken place. “What would I need to make sure I still can take care of my own financial obligations while still pursuing this as a passion? If I didn’t raise any money at all in 2020 towards ColorStack, I would probably have done it as a side project.”
Petty also explained what things like BlackTech Mixer mean to him.
“Going to these events is important to me so that I can further build that community within the tech ecosystem here because I know it’s deep and there does exist a good amount of tech influence here,” Petty said.
Providing a space for BIPOC people to discuss their personal and professional lives is important, especially in a place like Seattle where tech is so prominent. According to a report published by the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility this past February, only 8% of tech workers in the United States are Black.
“If we keep building products without voices or representation of what the actual population looks like, we’re going to just have products that are either harmful to diverse communities or just not usable,” Kiniga said.
Additionally, it inspires others to see representation in industries often lacking it.
“As a woman who’s black, I can be in tech,” Kiniga said. “Having people who look like me in tech encourages people who look like me who are currently in school that it’s a possible route.”
While no official date for the next event is planned, the cofounder’s are mapping out the future of their organization.
“A lot of people found it valuable that we created a space where people could talk and share their true feelings about their life at work and even outside of work,” Okwor said. “We definitely want to keep it going. We’ll maybe switch up the themes, the topics, the breakout sessions, and figure out other ways we can engage with community outside events like this.”
In time, they hope to expand TechRise Global beyond Seattle.
“We are building up a community where we can bring underrepresented people in technology to come together and discuss matters about tech, matters about how to live in Seattle as a person who is in tech,” Kiniga said. “But also the main goal is to create a community for underrepresented communities first in Seattle but then hopefully, globally.”