Inspirational profiles featuring the
career path & advice from Black
professionals in the tech industry.

Cover Photo: 
Thumbnail Photo: 
Banner Color: 
#000000
Alternate Thumbnail: 
Black in Tech: April Cowan, Customer Service Manager at Duck Creek Technologies banner image

Black in Tech: April Cowan, Customer Service Manager at Duck Creek Technologies

Open Jobs Company Page

Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, April Cowan, Customer Service Manager at Duck Creek Technologies shares her story.


Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work?

I grew up mainly in Des Moines, IA. However, due to my father’s job, we did move quite a bit.  As a child, I was a sports fanatic.  My parents tell the story of me trying to dribble a basketball before I could walk.  I would even sit and watch the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears with my dad at a very young age.   

Professionally, my father was a Regional Executive for GTE (General Telephone and Electronics which is now Verizon).  My mother was a Hospital Administrator.  Both are retired. 

 

Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating?

I went to Northwest Missouri State University. I started off majoring in Art History however later changed to Business Administration.  After graduation, I moved to St. Louis where I worked as an Assistant Manager at a bookstore.  I loved to read and what better place for free books.  

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

My inspiration came from a project I was assigned to lead by my former manager (and current mentor) that involved providing business requirements for a new claims application that was being developed internally at the insurance company where I was working. I became intrigued with understanding the behind the scenes / development work being performed to make the business requirement ‘come to life'.  Ultimately that role evolved with me becoming the liaison between the technical and business teams. 

What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining Duck Creek Technologies? 

While working on the aforementioned claims adjusting, I moved from a claims handling role to a Project Manager role. I left that company and joined another insurance company resuming a similar Project Management position, and later moving to a National Claims Director - System Administration and then AVP of Claims IT. During that tenure, I also led a team implementing new claims adjusting and first notice of loss tool.  Over the last 10 years, I’ve been in roles that support insurance providers in the capacity of Consultant and to most recently, Customer Service Manager.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Customer Service Manager at Duck Creek Technologies?

As a Customer Service Manager, I’m responsible for managing multiple major, medium to large accounts.  I am the primary contact between clients and our internal operations team.  My main focus is customer satisfaction which may include being responsive to their needs from an infrastructure perspective, making suggestions on improvements and/or other Duck Creek product offerings, and providing metrics and other key performance reporting.  I also provide mentorship/training to more junior or new Customer Service Managers.

What has attributed to your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional? 

My ability to adapt to my surroundings and still be my authentic self has mainly contributed to my success navigating through corporate America as a black woman/professional.  I refuse to lose the essence of what makes me a good employee but I’m open to growth, critiques, and change that will continue to enhance my ability to be a valuable asset at any company.  I’ve been lucky to have a mentor who is well respected within the insurance-technology industry and has provided some guidance along the way. Finally, watching my parent's work ethics at an early age has also definitely helped.

What types of programs and initiatives does Duck Creek Technologies have that support diversity, equity, and inclusion? 

Over the recent year, Duck Creek Technologies has established a Diversity and Inclusion group, a Women’s Employee Resource Group (WRG), and a Black Employee Resource Group (BRG). I’m a member of all of them and a founding member of the BRG. I believe Duck Creek Technologies has done an amazing job supporting and speaking out on diversity, equity and inclusion internally and externally.  

What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry?

My main advice would be to ‘stay true to yourself,’ the world is evolving and while you need to keep up from an educational and knowledge perspective, don’t be fooled into losing who you are, ‘unless’ it brings you continued growth and success in pursuing your career goals and aspirations.  

About the
Company

Duck Creek Technologies gives P&C insurers a genuine path to the future.

View Company Page
 Black in Tech: Jessica Wilson, Revenue Enablement Manager at LeanIX banner image

Black in Tech: Jessica Wilson, Revenue Enablement Manager at LeanIX

Open Jobs Company Page

Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Jessica Wilson, Revenue Enablement Manager at LeanIX shares her story.


Jessica Wilson LeanIXWhere did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work? 

I am from Minneapolis, MN. I was a shy kid, good student, and active in school sports. I played softball and basketball all the way through college. I worked at various places since I was fifteen such as at the local YMCA, Target, Sonic, and so on through college. My mother works in the insurance industry and my stepfather works at a furniture company. They were amazing parents who sacrificed much to provide opportunities for my brother and myself.

Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating? 

I graduated from St. Olaf College in MN. I double-majored in Exercise Science and Spanish. I didn’t pursue my majors post-college. I ended up working in sales for the first two years after college, trying to figure out what career I truly wanted.

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

After college, I was a bit lost about my career and decided to move out East to figure out what I wanted. I started out as a Verizon sales rep. This job provided my first opportunity to explore sales training and I knew I wanted to continue on that track.

Fortunately, the east coast is a hub for technology. After my sales/training role with Verizon, I took a job at LogMeIn, Inc. I had to work from the ground up and learn about an industry I knew little about. They had an amazing onboarding program that taught a range of skills in customer service and technology. I learned I had a knack for IT and had found the perfect industry for me.  

Jessica Wilson LeanIXWhat has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining LeanIX? 

The best way I can summarize my career path in tech: there wasn’t one. There was no direct guidance on how to pursue Sales Enablement and rise through the ranks in tech companies.

If anything, I had to create opportunities for myself through self-education, collaborating with peers, being my own advocate, and learning to say no to responsibilities that wouldn’t help me move forward. When I started selling Verizon, I worked up the nerve to share with my manager that I would like to practice public speaking and training. He generously gave me a platform to teach the sales skills I had mastered to others.  

At LogMeIn, I started in level 1 tech support and customer service. After a year, I vocalized to my manager that I would like to participate in their mentorship program, help train my peers, and shadow their Learning and Development organization. All the while, I still had to fulfill my job’s responsibilities. It was all worth it.

My breakthrough came with NetBrain Technologies as an entry-level Sales Enablement Specialist. Every prior opportunity that I chased helped prepare me for the interview with a company that targeted network automation. I had to demonstrate an ability to learn and articulate tech concepts in a concise, meaningful way to sales and engineers. I reported to the VP of Sales Enablement and her mentorship was invaluable. She taught me how to value my business worth, never apologize for my success, and negotiate to achieve new career heights.

Next, the next opportunities I took at Benefitfocus and Syniverse stayed in the sphere of Sales Enablement and technology. My career was shook, as were many others, with the impact of Covid-19. I, fortunately, found LeanIX, Inc. where I reached a milestone of achieving a manager title. Of course, there is still much to achieve career-wise and LeanIX has proven to be a great place to continue my professional development.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Revenue Enablement Manager at LeanIX?

I am currently on a team of four and report to the Head of Revenue Enablement. I am responsible for the learning and development for all global customer-facing teams which include sales, technology, and product skills. Customer-facing teams apply to leadership, pre-sales, and post-sales. Although I have a focus on the US, I collaborate with the rest of the team to achieve global support. It’s a great job because I am able to build relationships with the team members and be part of their professional development. I often act as a facilitator between leadership and sales to help drive new concepts, processes, and skills.

What has attributed to your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional? 

Being a Black woman in a predominantly White industry can often feel like there is a magnifying glass hovering over your head. You are painfully conscious that you stand out and that others are watching you carefully. They clearly are trying to ascertain will you be like them or will you be something else? The pressure to represent has been a heavyweight always at the back of my mind. The problem was that I often didn’t even know what “to represent” truly entailed. All I knew for certain, was that White people held positions of power and leadership.

Early in my career, I often under-valued myself in interviews and business opportunities because I thought I was just lucky to have whatever they gave me. I thought success would come if I mirrored everyone else. I adjusted my language, cultural references, and listened more than I spoke. I tried to fit into the box that would make the person across from me as comfortable as possible. The sad truth is that this made me forgettable. It was enough to keep my job, maybe I received praise here and there, but my career progression was clearly stunted.

Finally, I realized I had buried pieces of myself that differentiated me from my peers. A beautiful aspect of “African-American” culture is how we nurture and encourage traits such as emotional intelligence. When we ask you how you are, we want to know the breadth and depth of it. It isn’t just a pleasantry. It is never an inconvenience. Once I embraced this and intertwined it with my work, it changed the way people connected and partnered with me. I built bridges across departments based on human connection and, in turn, their stories and willingness to collaborate helped me succeed.​

Jessica Wilson LeanIX

What types of programs and initiatives does LeanIX have that support diversity, equity, and inclusion?

LeanIX is supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion in many ways. For example, LeanIX has a volunteer DEI committee that brought in third-party evaluators to help identify inclusion gaps within the company. Additionally, Leadership offers our All-Hands meetings as a platform to promote findings, acknowledge areas of improvement, and solicit employee feedback. There is a “Ladies of LeanIX” group as well which provides another channel for women to collaborate. I appreciate that LeanIX also honored Juneteenth before it was officially a federal holiday. There are still huge strides that need to be made, but the effort thus far is appreciated.

What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry? 

It is clear that black leaders and board members are scarce in the tech industry. That being said, I want my black colleagues to understand that our insights, culture, language, experiences, and drive are needed now! There are more opportunities than ever for you to take your place in this exciting industry. Technology breaks borders and companies are global citizens. In order to service a global customer base and range of cultures, companies need diversified insights to survive. When you interview, don’t sell yourself short by reducing who you are. Breaking the mold can equate to millions for a company’s future prospects.

While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken.  Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?

First, there is a significant disparity that starts with the leaders hired into a company. You will find many black employees in individual contributor roles such as customer service, engineering, professional services, and more. Unfortunately, they are often overlooked when leadership positions are offered.

As a solution, implement mentorship programs to help nurture future leaders from within. Teach interviewing and leadership skills to everyone at all levels. Promoting leaders from within saves thousands in recruiting costs and increases time to value because they already know your business.

Second, expand the recruiting net to more regions. With remote work proven to be sustainable and productive, there is no need to limit recruitment locally to a physical office. You will inherently open the door to more ethnic and gender diversity, and new sources for innovation.

About the
Company

LeanIX offers Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) for managing Enterprise Architecture and multi-cloud environments to enable organizations to take faster, data-driven decisions in their IT.

View Company Page
Black in Tech: Meisha-ann Martin, Ph.D., Director, People Analytics at Workhuman banner image

Black in Tech: Meisha-ann Martin, Ph.D., Director, People Analytics at Workhuman

Open Jobs Company Page

Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry.  In this Q&A, Meisha-ann Martin, Ph.D., Director, People Analytics at Workhuman shares her story.


Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work? 

I grew up on the lovely island of Jamaica, in a city called Portmore. Most people have never heard of Portmore, but it’s right next door to Kingston, the capital of Jamaica. My mother worked in life insurance and was spectacularly good at it. She provided a great example of how to have a successful career as a woman. I am so fortunate to have grown up with such a powerful female career role model. My father is an accountant. He also has inspired the way I approach my career. He taught me about the importance of balance. He still does accounting, but he also got into the farming business. My father does things in his own way in the way that works best for him, and I greatly admire that. 

Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating? 

I left Jamaica to attend Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. Morgan State is an HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) and was a soft spot for me to land in the US as I slowly adjusted to my new status as an racial minority. I studied Psychology. From there, I went on to University of South Florida in Tampa, FL where I earned a Masters and Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. In graduate school, I built on the diversity research I started doing while I was an undergrad and both my thesis and dissertation were on diversity-related topics. When I left graduate school, I took a role leading the pre-hire assessment process for a financial services firm. This was the beginning of me incorporating diversity into roles that did not have diversity in the title. I was responsible for selecting, designing and administering pre-hire assessments. In this role, I took the opportunity to advocate for fair hiring practices even beyond the pre-assessment process. That approach worked well, and the role later expanded to include employee engagement and more people analytics, and I approached all of it in a similar way. 

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

I worked for a huge semiconductor company that was very good at incorporating technology into operations and analytics. I was responsible for designing and creating real time dashboards for our People and Resources Department. This required me to lead a project to create integrations between the Human Resources Information System (HRIS) and a data warehouse that then automatically updated our Tableau dashboards. I learned so much and started to understand the importance of data structures and see how people analytics benefited from technologies like data warehouses. This inspired me to get into the tech industry and learn more. My current work in technology has also taught me about how technology can improve the employee experience, particularly for remote or partially remote workers.

What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining Workhuman? 

After my work at the semiconductor company, I led a talent management team. That gave me the opportunity to learn about learning management systems and more about setting up talent processes in our HRIS. This was really the beginning of my thinking about how technology impacts how people experience work. 

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Director, People Analytics at Workhuman?

In this role, I am responsible for leading a strategic research agenda that proves the impact of humanistic work experiences. Since we believe that without the human it’s only work, my team engages individual clients, showing them the impact of our human-centered technology on business outcomes. We also do studies using the millions of data points collected over time and across clients. This allows us to identify emergent patterns in how people are experiencing work. Lastly, we do independent surveys of the workforce on topics like recognition, stress, psychological safety, and timely topics such as hybrid working and return to work. As the leader of the team, I do a lot of communication around our findings to prospects, clients, and others. We want to show the world that humanistic work practices are good for the human and good for businesses. 

What has attributed to your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional? 

One of my uncles tells me that I have been asking “But why?” ever since I was a little girl. I think this natural curiosity has served me well in my analytics roles. Digging deeper helps me find the most meaningful insights. As for obstacles, the biggest thing I faced was dealing with how to present insights on diversity and inclusion as a Black woman. Earlier in my career, I would downplay my identity as a Black woman and worry about coming across as self interested. Now I consider my identity and experiences as a Black woman to be part of my expertise, and now I freely share my story and my experiences in tandem with our research findings. I also use my own experiences and the experiences of those around me to inform our research agenda. That has been working out really well. It’s also helped me facilitate the idea that users of our award-winning peer-to-peer social recognition platform feel psychologically safe; to bring their whole selves to work, take risks and be vulnerable without the fear of negative consequences.

What types of programs and initiatives does Workhuman have that support diversity, equity, and inclusion?

With diversity, equity, and inclusion a core part of our connected global culture at Workhuman, we aim to be the unwavering champion for our people, customers, and partners through our pioneering product vision and our commitment to the diversity that is changing our world, our perspectives, and our future for the better.

In addition to ongoing recognition from our own product, Workhuman Cloud, we have a number of employee resource groups (ERGs) to support our people and to help elevate the discussion and urgency around diversity, equity, and inclusion.  These groups – which include DEI, Women & Allies, and Sparkle - help educate their peers and serve as a community of belonging where everyone can share openly about their journey as either a person of color, women, or LBGTQIA or any ally. Our employee resource groups are a place where members and allies can come together to connect, share resources, and celebrate and learn about the many unique backgrounds that represent our humans. This group also sponsors educational opportunities where people across the organization can participate in meaningful discussions from both internal and external speakers. I have been very fortunate to be part of our ERGs and have not only been able to share my story but have learned so much from my colleagues. We often say at Workhuman how we’re on a journey together and being open and vulnerable about what we don’t know is a first step toward learning and growth. 

What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry? 

The tech industry is really hot right now. Take the time to figure out what your particular passion is, which roles in tech align with that passion and target those roles specifically. Doing meaningful work that feeds your passion makes life so much better and is more rewarding than just being able to say you work in tech. And of course, read and study what is happening in the industry. It is critical to stay on top of trends, particularly in the tech industry that is always rapidly evolving and changing.

While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken.  Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference? 

There are a couple of specific things I strongly recommend. We all know that access to education is unequal in this country. Examine the educational requirements for all of your roles and ask yourself if those requirements are really necessary. Also, offer a path internally for those who want to go into certain tech roles. With all the online learning available currently, motivated individuals can self study and gain certifications and knowledge that would qualify them for these roles. Advertise these certifications, courses and positions within your company. Maybe there are current employees who would be interested. Secondly, be purposeful about the environment you create and what you are defining as “professional.” Our old antiquated ideas of professionalism are exclusionary and make some people feel like they have to downplay their authentic selves in order to be a part of your organization. Create an environment where all talented people feel welcomed regardless of what they look like or how they choose to dress or style their hair. These two things should create an environment that attracts, grows, and retains diverse talent. 

About the
Company

Pioneering the human workplace™

View Company Page
Black in Tech: Clarence Hinton, Chief Strategy Officer at CyberArk banner image

Black in Tech: Clarence Hinton, Chief Strategy Officer at CyberArk

Open Jobs Company Page

Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry.  In this Q&A, Clarence Hinton, Chief Strategy Officer at CyberArk shares his story.


Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work? 

I was an Army brat.  My father was a field Artillery officer in the US Army.  My mother was an elementary school teacher up until the time I was born. 

Both of my parents were born in Norfolk, VA, where they grew up and went to school through college in the area.  The military took my parents to the states of Washington and Oklahoma before they returned to southeast Virginia where I was born in Portsmouth Naval Hospital. 

My father found creative ways to stay in southeast Virginia as the Army sent him to grad school at Old Dominion University, then taught ROTC at Norfolk State University before going off on an assignment in Korea for a year while mom and I stayed back home in Virginia Beach, VA.

Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating?

I attended Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology in Fairfax Country, VA, before heading to University of Pennsylvania where I graduated with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. I loved the problem-solving aspects of engineering and was intrigued by the opportunity to apply this problem solving to business management which was the opportunity that Capital One presented to me. 

I spent three years at Capital One where I began as a business analyst and progressed to a role with P&L responsibilities before heading to graduate school where I received an MBA from Harvard Business School.

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

I went to a science and tech high school and took a detour through the business realm in the financial services market. Given all of the excitement around the rise of the dot.com industry and tech in general towards the end of the millennia, I was compelled to go back home, so to speak.

What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining CyberArk? 

I’ve had extensive experience leading strategy, mergers and acquisitions, venture capital investments, and business development in technology software, services and hardware. Prior to CyberArk, I served as SVP of Corporate Development at Nuance Communications and Head of Strategy and Corporate Development at BMC Software. I also held business development, strategy and operating roles at Dell, Bain & Company, and Capital One.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Chief Strategy Officer at CyberArk?

I am responsible, in collaboration with my colleagues on the executive leadership team, for establishing the strategic direction of the company.  I formulate, assess and execute global strategic growth initiatives including organic investments, acquisitions, joint ventures and strategic alliances.

What has attributed to your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional? 

I have been consistently recognized as a high-performance executive leader with excellent analytic and problem-solving skills, and strong business acumen who delivers exceptional results.

My advice:

  • Put in the work, focus on learning, improving and adding value.  

  • Take advantage of opportunities that present themselves, sometimes taking on opportunities that others overlook.

  • No matter what you're working on, no matter what the assignment is, take it seriously, own it, excel at it and demonstrate your value.

  • The margin for error as low as typically managers, peers, even subordinates will expect the worst and be quick to validate their hypotheses with any missteps. However, you must remain confident in yourself and your abilities while being genuinely open to feedback and constant improvement. It's not easy.  It's a full-time job in and of itself.

What types of programs and initiatives does CyberArk have that support diversity, equity, and inclusion?

At CyberArk, we are committed to driving diversity and inclusion across the organization and our initiatives include: 

  • Diversity Speaker Series, HR diversity training programs such as the Partnership Inc.

  • Ongoing communication and feedback from employees

  • Continually reinforcing our Core Values. 

  • More specifically, our employees have initiated a pilot program to support the TRIBE Academy. TRIBE Academy is a career and professional development organization committed to serve those from traditionally underrepresented racial and cultural backgrounds in business and STEM sectors.

What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry? 

Technology is a broad and complex industry that crosses a number of vertical markets and has numerous discrete components such as software, services and hardware. Given this, my first piece of advice is to really educate yourself in such a way as to gain more specificity with respect to the target.  That is, determine what it really is that interests you about technology. In my case, I wanted to get myself in to the flow of innovation and growth that seemed to be driving essentially everything in the world as I was getting started in my career and was somewhat flexible in terms of how and where I got started. 

During the education process, it's extremely important to establish, extend and leverage your professional networks to explore.  Reach out to black professionals in technology, solicit their thoughts and opinions, learn what it's really like on the inside.  Focus on the networking and education aspects.  I can tell you that black professionals in tech are eager to see more within the ranks and are more than willing to lend a hand. Once you've gotten through this step, it is extremely important to dive in, get and engaged and get busy learning.  The tech industry moves extremely quickly and features a steep learning curve that never really flattens.  That's also part of what's so exciting about it.  

While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken.  Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?

Companies really need to make genuine efforts to reach out and attract young black professionals to technology even before they enter the workforce.  Start with internships and consider scholarships.  There is a vast pool of black talent that is not being effectively deployed and is not even considering the tech sector for various reasons.  Companies really have to make an effort and address this proactively. 

For those of us already in the tech sector it's important to provide various levels of mentorship.  We must make ourselves available, provide guidance, support and encouragement.  Formal programs are important, but we need to do this through informal methods as well. At the end of the day we must remember that we are all in this together.  All races, nationalities, genders and orientations.  We must support each other as we are stronger together.

About the
Company

CyberArk proactively stops the most advanced cyber threats – those that exploit insider privileges to attack the heart of the enterprise.

View Company Page
Black in Tech: Uzemoya Peters, Senior Product Manager at Smartbear banner image

Black in Tech: Uzemoya Peters, Senior Product Manager at Smartbear

Open Jobs Company Page

Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Uzemoya Peters - Senior Product Manager at Smartbear shares his story.


Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work? 

I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, West Africa. It is the busiest city in Africa with the largest economy and population. As a kid, I was pretty inquisitive and super athletic. I pretty much played every sport available to me, from track to soccer and rugby. I think it’s fair to say that I was the most outgoing and adventurous son out of six boys in my family, though I’m sure my brothers will beg to differ.

My dad is a retired Colonel in the Nigerian Army. Currently, he's an entrepreneur, philanthropist and financier with investments in telecommunications, smart city and industry park developments, fisheries, power generation and distribution, and mining. My mom is the managing director of a telecommunications company that she and my dad co-founded. So, working in tech is in my blood, and I come from an entrepreneurial family. 

Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating? 

I got my bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Guelph on an athletic scholarship for football and track and field. After that, I worked in the telecommunications industry. I worked for a company called Alpha Technologies, working on designing voice-over-internet protocol applications for the Nigerian telecommunications ecosystem. 

Subsequently, I worked in investment banking with Merrill Lynch on their over-the-counter fixed income trade securities. I also worked with an ad tech company on building B2B advertising widgets within their consumers’ APIs.  

Then, I got my master's degree from Harvard in management and social policy. Subsequently, I co-founded my own startup named NIFI Communications, Ltd, which is a wireless communication/telecommunications provider in Lagos, Nigeria. 

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

I would say my parents inspired me to get into the tech industry and really assisted with my career development. They have continued to guide me through my technology upstarts, and educated me on how to deploy tech to impact the lives of a magnitude of people in a positive way. 

They guided me throughout the process of my entrepreneurial endeavors. They are a lynchpin in my career decisions as well. They were definitely a crucial, integral part of building my confidence, education and career aspirations.

What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining Smartbear? 

Prior to SmartBear, I had the bulk of my skill sets in product management. I've worked in multiple work streams in the product development lifecycle,  from conceptualization to working on feasibility studies with management consulting firms to deploying and managing products and companies. I have successfully driven major product initiatives on digital fixed income securities products in Investment Banking with Merrill Lynch, as well as managing the development and go-to-market for VOIP APIs in telecommunications. Prior to SmartBear, I co-founded a startup in Lagos, Nigeria called NIFI Communications, Ltd. I was the CEO of the company. 

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Senior Product Manager at Smartbear?

As a senior product manager at SmartBear, I am currently responsible for defining product vision in collaboration with the Director of Swaggerhub. I am also responsible for managing and driving our product development and enhancement initiatives on our roadmap.

Additionally, my role is focused on refining the user onboarding process for the SwaggerHub API design and collaboration platform. My objectives are to build mechanisms to drive product-led growth, while bolstering our sales enablement programs, to drive product growth and expansion. 

My goals for the year are to drive improved conversion and retention rates within the product. I am excited about driving users to our key features within the product, by making them more accessible, more discoverable, and more usable for end users. Essentially, making new users super users of our product. Additionally, my mission, in line with our global product initiative at SwaggerHub is to improve the efficacy of our users within the product by building in-app guides and tools that guide users to their first aha moment. We will continue to deploy various methods to enable them to engage with the product and ultimately convert them into long-term, high value customers.  

What has attributed to your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional? 

I would like to bifurcate my answer. One of them is a cultural barrier of moving from Nigeria to the U.S. where the way of life is entirely different. Even spoken language is different. I mean, Nigeria’s first language is British-English. However, there are some nuances to grammar. There are differences in the way we enunciate words that are easily misunderstood in the US. The way we contextualize and frame our sentences, syntax, all that is very different from the U.S.  

On the other hand, Socializing in the U.S in a professional context was initially pretty difficult for me. You have to deal with a lot of language barriers as well as cultural barriers.  

There are also issues with immigration here as well, where you have to jump through several immigration hurdles here to get a job. There are many obstacles immigrating from Nigeria to the U.S. I was one of the lucky few to do it successfully because my parents were super proactive, and they made the right applications with guidance from their lawyers. 

I would say the biggest issue within corporate America is the lack of diversity and not having people who look like you, speak like you, and who share your same interests. These are key proponents to socialization and networking within corporate America.

As for the obstacles, I've overcome them. Like I said, I have a very strong support system around me, I have 5 brothers who have done this before me. So, they were able to elucidate the path to follow. I learn from their lessons, I don't make some mistakes they did. They’ve been instrumental to my career advancement.

As a wise person, Warren Buffet once said, it's good to learn from your mistakes, it’s better to learn from other’s mistakes. I pay really close attention to other people's experiences, and I try to leverage that to my advantage, to my learning, to my improvement. Moreover, coming from an entrepreneurial family, I've been brought up with a lot of forbearance, so I'd say I am highly resilient. I perform well under pressure. I'm super open-minded and like to learn new things. 

What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry? 

From a professional standpoint, take on risk. If there is a business or product idea you are passionate about, study it, learn the market, figure out how you can impact other people's lives positively, and figure out what problems people have and what solutions you can provide for them. Build the product, starting from zero and take it to market. 

Do not worry about the unknown focus on what you can control. Just go for it. Build your first product. Learn from it. Try to drive it to market. Fail, and learn from your mistakes. Always take stock. What you will learn is the more you build products in collaboration with others, the more sophisticated you become at people and product management. You will develop more people management skills, persuasion skills and leadership skills that are integral to drive product and get people aligned with your objectives and goals. And collaboration and leadership are fundamental to be successful as a product manager. Ultimately, when taking on new product ideas you try and fail a lot, but the lessons you learn are indelible and will ultimately culminate into success. 

You will imbibe them for life, and you will hopefully impart them on the second generation after you. So, to me, I think that's very important to understand from a professional perspective, because I do get that question a lot. How do I become a product manager? You have to collaborate with a team of people to build a product and take it to market, get market validation and iterate on it and try to drive as much value as you can to your target customer. Do that enough times and you will have the tools you need to take any product from zero to one.

Often, we practice negative self talk. We externalize success and internalize failure. You watch movies, and because humans are heavily influenced by what we see in the media. We see many executives in movies, making awe inspiring decisions in boardrooms with the overdramatized politics and aggrandizement. We see the stereotypical highflier CEOs, which may not match our persona and that affects our confidence or seems unattainable. One thing you should make a dictum of your life is this; no one can do it better than you can. Have faith and believe in yourself. If you are passionate about an idea, no one is going to drive it with as much exuberance, resourcefulness, and resilience as you can. With time, education, and practice you’ll develop the mastery to be effective.There are many shapes and sizes of leaders, not just the stereotypes you see on TV. You can be a leader too.

I don't want to be cliche but believe in yourself, that's one of the most important doctrines to follow. Make it a daily habit to practice positive self reinforcement. Outline all your goals for the day and try to achieve them. Overtime you will start to build confidence and develop self-efficacy. Everyone fails sometimes. Even the most famous CEOs of the world go through multiple failures throughout their careers. However, they are quick to learn from their mistakes, don’t dwell, and move on quickly.

While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken.  Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?

The most important thing to me is advocacy. I think we all have a voice within the organization. Once we realize the power of the voice we have, we should use it to its maximum capacity. Speak up. Be the arbiter of change you want to see. 

If you have new minority hires in your company, work with them to develop their skills to be the best they can be at their positions. Work with upper management to design training programs if they're deficient today. It's important to empower our community to not just be represented as an executive or as a leader, but to also develop the skill sets to be very successful at their positions. 

Ultimately, as much as we preach the idea of diversity, we want to make sure that we are successful in our roles and responsibilities. We have the capacity. We have the talent. We have the skills to prosper. We just need to build that community deliberately and not defer to others. Use your voice. 

About the
Company

6+ million software professionals and 20,000+ companies in 194 countries use SmartBear products to build and deliver the world’s greatest applications.

View Company Page
Black in Tech: Norman Hall, Manager of Strategic Projects at CrossBorder Solutions banner image

Black in Tech: Norman Hall, Manager of Strategic Projects at CrossBorder Solutions

Open Jobs Company Page

Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Norman Hall - Manager of Strategic Projects at CrossBorder Solutions shares his story.


Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work?

Norman Hall CrossBorder SolutionsOriginally, I was raised in Mount Vernon, NY. For a short time I lived in Fort Lauderdale, FL with my family before settling back in Wappingers Falls, NY with my mother, father, grandmother, and younger sister.  

My parents both found their careers at a young age over 20 years ago. My mother worked in Operations Management for Fedex, and my father serves as a Lieutenant of the Greenburgh Police force. With the combined effort of my parents, they made me into the hardworking go-getter professional I am today. Without them, I don’t know where or whom I would have turned out to be. My grandmothers and great uncle helped mold me into the person I am today. Small things such as “Always smile, it costs you nothing” helped me a long way in my career. In a previous interview an interviewer commented they were happy to see my smile, and said it gave me a personable aura that would be great when speaking to customers.

As a child I was definitely a sports fan, but I always loved the time I spent with my family, especially my grandmothers. They both gave me a driving force to be better and bigger than I ever thought myself to be. They both raised my parents single handedly, then provided the support to my parents to help raise my sister and me. Hearing how these women worked tireless hours and made sacrifices to give my parents a fighting chance at life, made me realize their work doesn’t stop with them but continues with me. My competitiveness and ambition to put in the extra hours stem from my drive to make them proud, while achieving my personal aspirations and goals. My younger sister looks up to me so I think about that every day when I make choices. My choice to work at XBS proved to be a positive one that has made my family really proud of me.

Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating? 

Norman Hall CrossBorder SolutionsI went to York College Graham School of Business to study Economics. I graduated in December of 2017, and began working for XBS in January of 2018. Ever since January 2018, I have been working at XBS and XBS alone. Although I started as a Professional Services Analyst, about November 2018 I was approached by senior leadership to be the Manager of the Tagging Operations here at XBS. 

Before getting promoted, my boss and leaders shaped me into a well-rounded professional and provided the tools to take on more responsibilities to lead an entire team. One of the biggest lessons I learned was understanding the difference between managing up and managing down to my peers and executives. My dedication, effort, and hard work paid off when I got promoted, but growing as a professional continued. My abilities as a manager were put to the test when I had to manage my own team of 10 young professionals. It was not easy at first, but I always felt supported by everyone at XBS. In the end, I would like to thank everyone at XBS who believed in me and continues to do so since my journey continues at XBS. 

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

Right after college, I knew I wanted a career that could help me grow professionally and financially. My biggest fear was getting stuck at a job where I wouldn’t get promoted or get a raise for 5-10 years. With an Economics major, I knew I had many options. 

After applying for jobs, I stumbled on an opening at XBS. At first, I didn’t consider XBS a “tech” company as it was a financial services/accounting organization. In the beginning, I was a Professional Services Analyst and my day focused on generating transfer pricing documentation reports. As I got familiar with the company over the months, I realized it was a tech company since there was an AI component called Fiona. At this moment, the company continues to be market leaders in AI tax matters and I’m grateful to be part of this growing tech community. 

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Manager of Strategic Projects at CrossBorder Solutions?

While managing a team of 10 direct reports, I lead a review of data submissions collected by my team. My role focuses on ensuring the data’s accuracy before it is moved from the internal XBS software to our AI Fiona solution to then be used for transfer pricing reporting. The reports are directly relying on my team to successfully tag companies correctly. My role is vital to the organization as data integrity is top of mind towards retaining and preventing the loss of clients due to errors. If the data is incorrect, it will mess up reports and provide inaccurate pipeline growth to the Professional Services department. In the event the reports are not to standard, it causes a huge risk towards client relationships and data privacy. Which is why, my team takes their job very seriously because data integrity is key towards our success. 

What has attributed to your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional? 

Watching how hard my parents worked day in and day out while growing up showed me the kind of dedication I needed to have to be successful in life. I would also attribute the mindset I learned from playing basketball as a key contribution to my success. I personally believe basketball took the laziness away from me and shaped me into a competitor, which I then applied to all aspects of my life. If there are metrics to show who is a top performer, I want to be the person that is number one every month. 

The biggest obstacle I have faced along the way as an African American is prejudice or misconception. I’ve heard previous comments while in college or summer jobs such as, “I didn’t expect you to be that smart” or “Really? You went to college? I didn’t expect you to say that.” As an African American professional, I always wonder why people have the need to make these remarks. These comments helped me realize the kind of environment I want to work in, which is a work culture where bias does not exist and meritocracy is highly valued. Luckily, my time at XBS has proved to me it’s an environment where I have grown over the past 2 years.

Norman Hall CrossBorder Solutions

What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry? 

I would say to go for it! Tech is a growing and thriving industry with plenty to offer. Most tech companies are driven by data and results, which do not see color. Data is data. XBS provides an environment where you have the opportunity to be successful as a result of your own hard work and merit. 

My best friend since elementary school has always worked in tech and we talk about how different our companies are, yet we are in the same industry. Working within the tech industry provides ample variety and opportunities versus other industries. My goal for my next professional development will be within project management. 

While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken.  Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?

Hosting seminars or sending employees to recruit at college campuses has a direct impact on diversity and inclusion practices. Letting more young black professionals know that this is a viable option for their career is important. I can personally say that throughout my years of education, I never thought about working in the tech industry at all, simply because I never saw it as an option until CrossBorder Solutions (XBS).

Norman Hall CrossBorder Solutions

About the
Company

CrossBorder Solutions is the global leader in technology-driven tax solutions. Our advanced AI tax expert can help your business move from the old ways to the new with greater clarity, efficiency, and more cost-effectively than ever before.

View Company Page
Black in Tech: Eric Brown, IT & Support at CyberArk banner image

Black in Tech: Eric Brown, IT & Support at CyberArk

Open Jobs Company Page

Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Eric Brown - IT & Support at CyberArk shares his story.


Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work? 

I grew up in Boston as a young child but lived most of my life in Massachusetts in different towns. Spent my high school years in Randolph, MA and Brockton, MA. My mother was a single mother who raised 3 children including myself. She worked primarily as a secretary/administrative assistant for Teradyne and Harvard Pilgrim Health care.

Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating?

I attended only one year of college at the New York Institute of Technology. I studied Business Administration and after one year, I landed a job working in retail and then customer service at Harvard Pilgrim.

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

I had always been the go-to or even the go-between of non-IT and IT at my companies. I had always been interested in computers, but after I did some outside learning on my own, I found out that I really enjoyed helping with computer issues. My best friend worked in IT at the same company and saw that I had an interest. He was leaving the company and his new company needed a help desk tech. He got me the job interview and it started my career in IT.    

What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining CyberArk?

My positions in tech prior to CyberArk have been primarily Help Desk and Support with cross-training in system administration and some information security. 

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position in IT & Support at CyberArk?

In the current role, there are many high-level responsibilities. However, we are ultimately responsible for building secure end-user machines so employees in the company can access our resources.  

What has attributed to your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional?

For myself, I attribute my success to the support I get from family and friends and never letting “what I am supposed to be” define me. I believe in the skills I have developed and the ability to improve those skills with proper training. As for obstacles, I have been subject to people not believing I could perform a job before even seeing qualifications. Recruiters and HR assuming one thing and then suddenly being surprised when interviewing me that I have a brain. Nothing more insulting than being told you “speak very well” during an interview. This, I have run into several times throughout my professional career.    

What types of programs and initiatives does CyberArk have that support diversity, equity, and inclusion?

In my short time with the company, I have seen CyberArk initiate conversations/webinars speaking on diversity. Utilizing outside speakers to drive the conversation. Along with women in tech speakers as part of the talks. 

What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry?

Find a specialty that interests you and engage in as much learning in that specialty. The tech world is vast and technologies are always changing. Don’t be afraid to apply for and reach for positions that may seem difficult. If it is what you want to do, it can be obtained. Patience and hard work are the key.  

While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken.  Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?

Companies can reach out to communities of color and form partnerships to supply equipment to students interested in tech, as well as supporting STEM programs. Employees in tech can be encouraged to mentor at all levels. Companies can offer internships aimed at people who may not normally have opportunities to explore the depth of the tech community.

About the
Company

CyberArk proactively stops the most advanced cyber threats – those that exploit insider privileges to attack the heart of the enterprise.

View Company Page
Black in Tech: Bianca Sullivan, Inclusion, Equity & Belonging Specialist at DraftKings banner image

Black in Tech: Bianca Sullivan, Inclusion, Equity & Belonging Specialist at DraftKings

Open Jobs Company Page

Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Bianca Sullivan - Inclusion, Equity & Belonging Specialist at DraftKings shares her story.


Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? 

I was born and raised in “Title-Town,” also known as Boston, Massachusetts. I learned most of my values from my parents, who migrated to the United States from Jamaica. Growing up, my family and I volunteered with numerous philanthropy organizations to provide resources to impoverished neighborhoods allowing me to serve as a change agent for the Jamaican Diaspora in the Greater Boston area. Besides volunteerism, I was a competitive student-athlete involved in Track & Field, Tennis, Double-Dutch, and Lacrosse. Lacrosse was my favorite sport, and I played from grades 5-12 and played D1 Lacrosse at Howard University. 

Where did you go to college? What did you study, and what did you do after graduating? 

I went to Howard University, a private HBCU in Washington, DC, and studied Communications. In addition to being a student-athlete on the Women’s Lacrosse Team, I also contributed as a Sports Writer for the student newspaper of Howard University, The Hilltop, to create visibility on women’s sports.  My passion for writing, sports, entertainment, and advocacy sparked my interest in Media. As a student, I held numerous internships with professional sports leagues and TV stations. After graduating, I worked for FOX News Channel in New York City and NBC Sports Group in Boston. 

Bianca and her Lacrosse teammates at HU

What inspired you to work in Tech, Sports & Entertainment at DraftKings?

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, employees are not only expecting employers to talk the talk on diversity but walk the walk by taking actionable steps to disrupt systemic biases and policies. Tech is the birthplace of innovation, growth, and global advancements, and DraftKings is a leader in this space. DraftKings is deeply committed to achieving and maintaining parity across our worldwide organization. 

I look forward to continuing to make a positive impact on the business of sports and inclusion. 

What has your career path looked like and the various positions you’ve held before joining DraftKings? 

Before joining the team at DraftKings, I held several positions within the media industry. Recently, I worked with NBC Sports Group in Boston, working in Sales and Production closely with The Boston Celtics. Before NBC, I worked at FOX News Channel in New York City in Sales. I held several internships with media companies like The Washington Football Team, ESPN, CBS, NBC, and the U.S German Embassy in college. 

Assisting Tommy Heinsohn and Mike Gorman at a Celtics Game

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Inclusion, Equity & Belonging Specialist and some of the advancements DraftKings has made in the IEB space?

The IEB Team at DraftKings aims to foster a culture of inclusion and belonging that makes our employees feel safe, empowered, engaged, championed, and inspired to be the very best.  In my role, I am responsible for assisting in advancing diversity across our global work-force, supporting efforts on knowledge sharing, promotion readiness, and career progression opportunities, and cultivating strategic partnerships that align with our Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging strategy.  

DraftKings has made considerable strides to become more inclusive such as $1MM annual investment in IEB, increased diverse representation on our Board of Directors, cultivated new partnerships and social justice compact commitments, enhanced gender affirmations benefits and accommodations, and announced International Women’s Day, Juneteenth, and Election Day as company holidays. 

What has attributed to your success thus far, and what are some of the obstacles Black professionals overcome along the way? 

My perseverance, leaders, and support system have been attributed to my current success. There have been countless moments in my life where I have leaned on someone trustworthy for advice or assistance from professors, coaches, peers, or others, the importance of mentors is undeniable. My mentors have helped guide, direct, and shape my present situation and future opportunities for the better.  

The systemic barriers rooted in race and gender bias contribute to the challenges Black professionals experience. Many of us face difficulties securing jobs, fitting into the work culture, and are paid less than our white counterparts. These disparities exist at all levels regardless of education and accolades. According to data collected by Forbes, “only 3.2% of C-suite executives are black, and only four fortune 500 CEOs are black.” The data speaks for itself and shows that racism still exists in the workplace. Black CEOs are all around us if we would just let them grow!   

Can you tell us about the affinity groups at DraftKings and how you celebrated Black History Month?

DraftKings has three Business Resource Groups: DK Shades, DK Pride, and DK Women’s, all of which are committed to supporting and providing stewarding leadership and action within these communities that are welcome to employees and allies. Our Business Resource Groups act as strong cultural voices for DK, driving meaningful change and decision-making with our senior executives’ participation that affects our employees’ day-to-day experiences. 

For Black History Month, we held several initiatives to celebrate black culture. We kicked off the month with our Buy Black February Challenge, encouraging employees to invest in Black economic empowerment and bridge the racial wealth gap by utilizing our crowdsourced resource catalog to support Black-Owned businesses. Just as voices can effect change, so can the dollar. We also worked with a black-owned organization named TriLuna Wellness to host a workshop on Meditation for Stress Management to provide employees with tips and tricks on navigating in times of uncertainty through journaling, mediation, and breathing exercises. Lastly, we launched our virtual career role-modeling speaker series with our newest Board of Directors to talk about navigating industries, the importance of diversity and mentorship, and the future of DraftKings. 

While general awareness of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, real actions need to be taken to make a lasting change.  Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference? 

Diversity is a fact; equity is a choice, inclusion is an action, and belonging is an outcome. I believe that organizations should amplify ongoing educational opportunities for employees and carve out safe spaces for diverse thought to tackle optimal results. I strongly encourage organizations to consider recruiting at Historically Black Colleges & Universities to find diverse talent for your pipeline effectively and recruit where diversity thrives. 

About the
Company

It’s simple, at DraftKings, we believe life’s more fun with skin in the game.

View Company Page
Black in Tech: Bert Amadi - Head of Platform Operations & Services in Technology at Unqork  banner image

Black in Tech: Bert Amadi - Head of Platform Operations & Services in Technology at Unqork

Open Jobs Company Page

Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Bert Amadi - Head of Platform Operations & Services in Technology at Unqork shares his story.


Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work?

I was born in Nigeria to Nigerian parents, who were both of the Igbo ethnic group. My mother was a director of nursing at the teaching hospital and my father was a war veteran (from the Nigerian Civil war) who owned one of the biggest bakeries in my city at the time. At the age of 12, my parents sent my older brother and I to the United Kingdom to continue our education. 

My first impression of what schooling in a new country would be like was very disappointing. We visited a school in London, where we were viciously targeted by a group of kids chanting racist abuse and throwing bananas at us as we walked through. For a child who grew up in a more homogeneous society it was quite traumatic, because I witnessed racism for the first time. After that experience, my parents decided that a boarding school outside of London might offer us more protection from the obvious negative bias towards black people at the time.  

Attending boarding school abroad was not the easiest path for a young child who missed his home country, but I adapted quickly to this new reality and made lifelong friends. I excelled at sports such as Rugby where I was top scorer in an unbeaten rugby team (one of the 2 unbeaten teams in the school’s 150 years history), soccer and Field Hockey. 

Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating? 

After boarding school, I returned to London to study computer science at Middlesex University in London before attending City University to complete my master’s in Information Technology (Computer Science). After my post graduate degree, I was accepted on the IT Graduate training program with Morgan Stanley UK. 

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

When I was younger, I loved taking systems apart and trying to put them back together or figuring out how things worked. This innate curiosity made studying computer science a natural path because I had the aptitude for anything tech based. I was interested in how to automate and write code that would impact society and as a developer, I knew that my coding would speak for itself rather than my color or background. After University, I wanted to be in an industry that offered varying opportunities, and I chose the financial industry at the time because I felt I would have more global access. My relocation to the United States with Morgan Stanley was destined because I finally worked in a team that recognized my skills and allowed me to grow and also gave me a path to leadership roles. 

What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining Unqork? 

I started my career with a graduate training entry at Morgan Stanley and I spent over 18 years with various global investment banks in both the technology and the business divisions up to executive levels across 3 continents in various specialist fields - development, data acquisition, shared-services, DBA and electronic trading.

I worked for 6 years at Bloomberg as the Global Head of Enterprise Technology.

I am currently at Unqork as Head of Platform Operations and Services. Unqork is an enterprise no-code platform that allows businesses to create mission-critical software much faster than traditional methods, without writing a single line of code. 

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Head of Platform Operations & Services at Unqork?

In my current position as Head of Platform Operations and Services in Unqork I am responsible for Unqork’s Production Support, Shared Services (incl QA, Program Management, Incident, Problem and Change Management, Telemetry, TCO..etc)  with an overall remit of Implementing a scalable and repeatable framework that maximizes operational excellence while managing and operating a high-quality platform and providing services that fulfill both customer needs and expectations of an industry leading product

What has attributed to your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional? 

The discipline instilled in me by my parents when I was growing up in Nigeria, where failure or giving up was not an option has been the bedrock of my mindset. The expectation on me is one of success so I have had to strive to achieve what is expected of me.  Over the course of my career, I have learned the value of persistence, humility, and leadership by example. I am a person of faith and so to this I add prayers and my faith. 

There was an early incident where I was the most qualified person, only black person and having been given a stellar review, I was given half the bonus everyone else got. This escalated and rectified by HR because there was no valid reason. Over the years, there were incidents where I was always being passed over for a promotion or promotion was delayed for no apparent reason. I always wondered if the fact that I looked different and was either the only or few black person had something to do with these decisions

These experiences did not faze me or break me, instead they continued to fuel the desire to prove just how capable I was. My hope was that as long as many black professionals rise above the unconscious bias, we might be paving the way to the day when the next generation of black professionals can be seen as capable by merit.

What types of programs and initiatives does Unqork have that support diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Netta Jenkins - our VP global inclusion has set a comprehensive DEI framework focused on 3 pillars:  Executive Buy in, Accountability, Continual Learning

  • Executive Buy-in: 

We have executive buy-in and leaders are sharing their 2021 DEI KPIs with their teams.Our Head of Asset Management and New Markets, emailed his team last week and shared his commitment. Managers with direct reports are selecting one of the three KPIs to work on for the year: Recruiting/Retention, Growth/Development, Engagement/Branding. 

All executives are sponsoring an Employee Resource Strategy Group (ERSG). Here are the designated ERSG Channels covering but no limiting to LGBT, Gender, Race, Veterans, Caregiver/Parenthood, access..etc

  • Accountability - At Unqork DEI KPIs are tied to performance. Netta is building a DEI Application on Unqorks platform that provides access to all employees to add our DEI KPIs. This platform will track microaggression trends and provides monthly internal diversity data
  • Continual Learning: We are embedding our DEI and Anti-Racism training that encompasses a quiz after each lesson in our onboarding process for all new hires on Unqorks platform.

What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry? 

To the black professionals who are interested in joining the industry my first advice would be to get ready as the journey is not easy. Realize that the deck is stacked against you. 

Remember that “talent is a pursued interest, anything that you are willing to practice you can do.” – Bob Ross

To get to the top of your profession and be recognized as one of the leading talents in Tech you must work hard at it and perfect your craft and skills. No one questions excellence.  

Most of all believe in yourself and go for it even if it is outside your comfort zone. It is important to build a network of other black tech professionals, surround yourself with what you aspire to. 

Getting a sponsor is more important than a mentor. A sponsor is someone who can speak to the quality of your work and will go to bat for you during performance reviews. 

While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken.  Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?

  • Tech-Industry diversity agenda is improving but the framing of the diversity challenges as a “pipeline problem” is not 100% correct. The ideas of fixing the flow of talent of the minority (HBCU colleges participation, STEM programs in primarily black neighborhoods and their schools without prior access to those opportunities) to these tech companies, is a good step in the right direction but the ability to code might not change the thrust of the tech industry as it currently operates. The skills of the future are more creativity driven, so AI literacy should be promoted in these programs as much as coding skills. 
  • Ultimately it is all about “Diversity by way of integration”. We need to diversify with not just token inclusion that makes the numbers look better but with integration that covers influence, power, change and partnership. With proper integration, the behavior of the entire industry would change due to the presence of black professionals in leadership roles.   
  • The tech industry also needs to involve their future potential users in regions with a growing population like Africa and Asia. Nurturing and developing talents from those regions are better for inclusivity and benefits the future positioning of the tech industry as a whole.

About the
Company

Unqork is a no-code application platform that helps large enterprises build complex custom software faster, with higher quality, and lower costs than conventional approaches.

 
View Company Page
Black in Tech: Nikki Slaughter - Validation Team Manager at Vecna Robotics banner image

Black in Tech: Nikki Slaughter - Validation Team Manager at Vecna Robotics

Open Jobs Company Page

Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Nikki Slaughter - Validation Team Manager at Vecna Robotics shares her story.


VentureFizz: Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work? 

Being a Boston foodie during restaurant week

Nikki Slaughter: I grew up in Cranston, Rhode Island in an area very close to where my mother grew up. Even though I am an only child, I had lots of cousins nearby who I grew up with. My parents had split when I was very young. I lived primarily with my mom, but saw my dad fairly often, too. My mom has had various jobs - from a school teacher, to a mortgage lender, to a health administrator, while my father was in electronics sales.

Growing up, I was extremely creative and very interested in art - drawing, painting, and mixed media were some of my favorites. I was also very curious about how things were made. You could always find me taking apart something in the house just so I could figure out how it was put together. My house was full of K’nex, Hot Wheels, and a pretty big bin of Barbie dolls, too. I was convinced I’d grow up to be an artist or architect one day.

VF: Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating? 

NS: I went to Tufts University for undergrad where I studied Mechanical Engineering. During school, I had several engineering internships during my summer breaks, and I ended up working for one of those companies after graduation. My first job out of school was as a mechanical engineer within the R&D team at Second Wind - a company specializing in wind resource assessment for the renewable energy industry. Over time, my role grew within that team over several years, even as we were acquired by another company.

VF: What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

NS: I had known a little bit about engineering from my father and my uncle who were both electrical engineers. But my first interest in robotics came to me in middle school when my woodshop teacher started a robotics club. I was part of an all girls team who competed in the FIRST Lego League challenge. I loved learning how different types of engineering disciplines could be mixed together to create something that moved and solved problems. I also loved being able to see something working that I had a part in making. From that point on, I was hooked. I ended up going to a vocational highschool where I could continue this interest in robotics, and eventually obtained my pre-engineering robotics diploma.

VF: What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining Vecna Robotics? 

NS: Shortly after I started working at Second Wind, we were acquired by Vaisala - they added our equipment to their weather sensing line of products. Vaisala was a much larger company and more established, so there was a lot of work to fold us into their new processes. I started to get involved in the Engineering Change Control process to roll out changes like cost savings or new designs into manufacturing in addition to my Mechanical Engineering role. I learned quickly that I liked being involved in cross team projects, process management, and continuous improvement projects. The management team at the time recognized my interest in these areas, and approached me to take on a role as an Engineering Project Manager. I really enjoyed helping to coordinate and contribute to the product roadmap, but I learned quickly that I needed to develop my skills in people management to really succeed in a management role.

From here, I went back to school to obtain my Masters in Engineering Management from Tufts University. During that time, I started work as a Project Manager at Balyo where I was able to get back to my early interests in robotics. At Balyo, I worked directly with our customers to plan and coordinate their robotic installations. I traveled to customer sites to help scope out the project, worked with our deployment teams to develop our pre-installation activities, and often got my hands dirty helping out during the site installation. I loved the work and the technology, as well as my coworkers. Eventually though, I did burn out from the extensive travel. I was also interested in finding a role where I could bring my customer facing knowledge back into product development, which led me to Vecna Robotics.

VF: Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Validation Team Manager at Vecna Robotics?

NS: Our team is responsible for validating and testing new features and product lines that come out of our development teams. In fewer words, we try to find ways to break our robots so our engineering teams can correct for them before releasing those products to our customers.

In my role, I organize and manage the testing our team needs to carry out based on the development projects from our various engineering teams. I spend time learning about what each of our engineering teams is working on so we can develop test plans and build test setups. I also help create the processes which allow for information to flow between the engineering and test teams so we can solve any issues and bugs that are found. I also spend time planning for our long term testing needs at an organizational level.

VF: What has attributed to your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional? 

Joking around during Somerville Open Studios

NS: I am lucky to have had excellent role models, teachers, and mentors who have supported me in my career goals. Just as my family has always had my best interest at heart, these folks who are my career family have my back, too. As you might guess in my profession, most of the people in my career family do not look like me - they are mostly white males. I hope one day to change that norm as I become a mentor and role model for others who come after me.

Being in an engineering discipline, I try to never let it bother me that I might be the only female or the only black person in the room. Even so, I recognize that others might discount my views or bring their own biases to the table just because of who I am. I’ve been in meetings where people didn’t listen to me and I had to rely on my male coworker (who was part of my career family) to bring the conversation back my way. I’ve had my ideas ignored earlier, just to be brought back as someone else’s idea later on. I’ve experienced racial bias from a customer I was working with - I tried to handle this situation on my own, but eventually brought it to the attention of my management team who supported me through that project. I’ve had another female engineer leave me hanging when I needed help simply because she felt I should go through the same difficulties she had in her own career. 

These are all awful situations for anyone to go through, but I’ve learned how to negotiate these situations either on my own or with the support of others. The one thing I always keep in mind is that everyone faces difficulties in their career, but the way in which you address those difficulties will either let you move forward, or deepen the divide.

VF: What types of programs and initiatives does Vecna Robotics have that support diversity, equity, and inclusion?

NS: Like many companies, Vecna has several programs that help promote diversity, equity and inclusion both internally and externally to our company. We have tuition reimbursement for anyone who is interested in continued education. Vecna also provides reimbursement for employees to join professional organizations such as Society of Women Engineers (SWE) or National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). The positive and inclusive company culture is a very important part of working here at Vecna, which was a major factor that drew me to join the team.

We also have a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee which I recently joined as a Hiring and Recruitment subcommittee co-chair. Some of the tasks our sub-committee are working on include identifying how we can broaden our reach to more diverse candidates. We’re also looking to implement changes that will reduce bias during our interviewing processes. It’s been a really great experience so far to be part of this group as we look to promote change within our organization.

VF: What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry? 

NS: Don’t be afraid to be the first… for me, that was being the only black female in a mostly white, male R&D team. If you don’t see someone in the hiring team or on the exec team who looks like you, it doesn’t mean that you won’t be valued as part of their team. You most certainly will face cultural challenges, and possibly stereotyping, but you’ll also have an opportunity to make change. You’ll need to surprise people by speaking to something they might be familiar with that you have another take on. Make those connections that will change their perspective. 

And no matter who you are or what your background is, you need to have a career family who has your back. Find a mentor or a work ally who you can talk to about any difficulties you’re facing in reaching your goals. Ask for help and make a plan with them if you need support. I asked a coworker to help me bring order back to a meeting where people were consistently not listening to me. As soon as I asked for his help, he expressed how bad he felt about the meetings getting out of control before, but he didn’t want to overstep his bounds. Luckily, he only had to help me once in that situation, but I knew he had my back for anything I might need going forward.

A Jumbo for life at Tufts University

VF: While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken.  Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?

NS: First and foremost, companies in the tech industry need to build a culture of inclusiveness that will attract talent as well as diverse candidates. You also need to consider how your company culture could affect employee retention and diversity. If you know your company is lacking in diversity, find ways that will make it easier for potential candidates to picture themselves working for you. That can be helped by having a mentorship program that pairs new hires with someone in your company who’s looking to gain mentoring skills. For other companies, it might be addressing biases in your interview process that might make a candidate run the other way. There are many ways to promote diversity in your organization, but the first step is to address in what ways your organization might be limiting it. From there, your team can create a plan and take action towards a more diverse and inclusive work environment.

About the
Company

Vecna Robotics delivers Automated Material Handling, Hybrid Fulfillment, and Workflow Optimization solutions featuring self-driving vehicles operated by our learning Autonomy Stack.

View Company Page

Pages