Inspirational profiles featuring the
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Black in Tech: Kahlil Adamson, Senior TechOps Engineer at Cedar banner image

Black in Tech: Kahlil Adamson, Senior TechOps Engineer at Cedar

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Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Kahlil Adamson, Senior TechOps Engineer at Cedar 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 Brooklyn and grew up in Mount Vernon, a suburb of New York City. Both my parents are physicians, and they practiced  in communities throughout Brooklyn and Harlem. Growing up, my parents were always teaching my sister and me about our heritage, and finding ways to show us the importance of understanding our history. For example, we enjoyed many memorable road trips to National Parks and Black historical sites throughout the country throughout our childhood. Visiting Detroit was one of my favorite trips—we went to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the Motown Museum, which was Motown’s first headquarters and recording studio.

As a child, I was always curious and eager to learn new things. I learned how to play the trumpet in elementary school and stuck with it through high school (and even a little bit in college). I also was a Boy Scout, and eventually attained the rank of Eagle Scout. I still think about how much fun we had on our fifty-mile canoe trips in upstate NY and the cavalcade in New Mexico. I also played a lot of sports, especially baseball when I was a young kid and tennis when I was a teenager. I’m still a big sports fan, rooting for the Mets, Knicks, and Giants.  

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

I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences from the CUNY City College of New York (CCNY). I then decided to pursue my interest in computer programming and went back to school to earn my Associate of Science degree in Computer Science at Westchester Community College (WCC) in Valhalla, NY. My first tech position was as an intern with Success Academy Charter Schools in NYC. It involved configuring hundreds of MacBooks and iPads for incoming teachers and running onboarding sessions. I’m very thankful for the experience because it allowed me to build a real skill-set with Apple devices.

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

I have always been fascinated by innovations in technology. I remember how excited I was as a kid when we first got AOL in my house. That interest never waned, and when I graduated from CCNY I made the decision to refocus my efforts on technology by taking an introductory programming course at WCC. That decision has led me down the path to where I am today.

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

After I completed my IT internship at Success Academy, I took a position at Aon Hewitt in NYC, providing on-site technical support. I then became an IT Support Analyst at Michael Page in Stamford, CT, where I provided remote IT support for all the offices in North America. I later returned to Aon for an IT Support Technician role at their newly-created Tech Bar in NYC, which was similar to the Apple Genius Bar, except it was for Aon employees. Based on my success, I was promoted to the position of IT Support Specialist where I had the opportunity to mentor junior members of our department. 

I eventually moved into the healthcare IT space by joining Clover Health in Jersey City, NJ in 2016. I started as an IT Support Specialist and was later promoted to IT Systems Engineer. In Summer 2020, I accepted a role as Senior TechOps Engineer at Cedar, and that’s where I am today.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Senior TechOps Engineer at Cedar?

As a Senior TechOps Engineer I am responsible for designing, managing and automating tooling for Cedar's internal data integration processes. For example, I collaborate with leaders on other teams to ensure that I create and deploy the best solution for them. I recently partnered with our People Operations team to automate the flow of employee data from Cedar's HRIS (Human Resource Information System) to Cedar's identity management provider, and then finally to Cedar's internal directory and performance management solutions.

I also create baselines for role-based access to Cedar systems and automate the management of groups that assign access to those systems. Additionally, I work on configuring applications that are added to Cedar's Identity Management provider.

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

Hard work, determination, thirst for knowledge, the support from family and friends and a little luck have been the biggest contributors to my success. While there have been times I felt discouraged being the only, or one of very few, Black people in a department or a company, I have been fortunate to work at organizations that created opportunities for me to learn new technologies and advance my career.

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

Cedar has created an environment that allows its employees to bring their whole selves to work. This year, I co-founded an employee resource group (ERG) called [email protected] (BIPOC Empowerment at Cedar.) Our mission is to support and uplift BIPOC-identifying employees. In our inaugural year, my co-chairs and I hosted several professional development workshops and cultural celebrations, and we are planning some exciting events for next year. Additionally, there is an ERG called Pridecones, which fosters a sense of inclusion and awareness and provides a safe space for LGBTQ+ employees and allies. There is also an ERG called Cedar Women, which strives to connect all women employees and those who identify as female by creating an environment of empowerment and removing gender barriers. Cedar also has a Cedarversity initiative, which aims to create an inclusive and safe organization that is representative of the communities we live in and serve; I had the privilege of serving as a Cedarversity Champion this year. Finally, Cedar announced an Anti-Racism Pledge earlier this year, which will help us make measurable, sustainable progress in improving the healthcare outcomes of those our products serve. This was another initiative that I had the pleasure to work on and help shape. 

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

Definitely build and utilize your networks. Reach out to both your professional and personal contacts who are in the industry, and let them know that you’re interested in exploring the tech space. Many of the opportunities I have received have been the result of cultivating relationships with people in the tech industry. I also encourage people to find local meetups (IRL or virtually) and seek out opportunities for professional development. Conferences—especially those that are geared toward professionals from underrepresented groups—are incredibly empowering. They are also effective ways to learn about new innovations, discover opportunities, and make professional connections. It is also helpful to earn certifications in areas that are relevant to your work or the work you want to pursue. Some require quite a bit of studying, but it’s worth it to make yourself more competitive when your goal is to advance in the tech space.

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 develop and foster relationships with organizations for professionals from historically underrepresented and/or excluded groups, as well as schools (colleges, universities and bootcamps). It’s also a good idea for companies to engage with current employees and work with them to identify strong candidates in their networks. This will help them add more diverse candidates to their searches and possibly even create new sourcing pipelines. Once those candidates are hired, the company needs to ensure they are creating an inclusive environment and sense of belonging so that they retain those employees. I also think it is important for tech professionals from underrepresented groups to speak with children and spark their interest in the tech industry. We need them to see that people who look like them are succeeding in this exciting field. 

About the
Company

Cedar is the only digital health platform that addresses all of the challenges consumers face when paying for care.

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Striving For a Diverse and Equitable Workforce - 13 Inspirational Black in Tech Profiles banner image

Striving For a Diverse and Equitable Workforce - 13 Inspirational Black in Tech Profiles

Our Black in Tech series shares the inspirational stories of Black professionals in the tech industry at all levels of responsibility and across all job functions.

It is one of the ways we are trying to support a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce, as we hope these profiles will provide some guidance and advice for other Black professionals to pursue opportunities in the tech industry.

Each profile below features either a quote based on overcoming adversity or advice for black professionals. Make sure to check them out!


Jasmine Clarke Rapid7

“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.”

Check out the full Article   View unqork's Jobs


Bianca Sullivan DraftKings

“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.”

Check out the full Article   View draftkings' Jobs


Eric Brown CyberArk

"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.”

Check out the full Article   View cyberark's Jobs


Norman Hall CrossBorder Solutions

“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.”

Check out the full Article   View crossborder solutions' Jobs


Uzemoya Peters Smartbear

“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.”

Check out the full Article   View smartbear's Jobs


Clarence Hinton CyberArk

“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.”

Check out the full Article   View cyberark's Jobs


Meisha-ann Martin Workhuman

“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.”

Check out the full Article   View workhuman's Jobs


Jessica Wilson LeanIX

“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.”

Check out the full Article   View leanix's Jobs


April Cowan Duck Creek

“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."

Check out the full Article   View duck creek technologies' Jobs


Kwame A. Appiah ZoomInfo

“Being black should feel more like a superpower than a weakness in any industry. Being a minority allows you to see things in different ways from most people. When you consider that effect in collaboration, the power of perspective empowers ideas. Ideas create new opportunities, and opportunities define new possibilities. Work hard, believe in yourself, and find a company that is willing to believe in you.”

Check out the full Article   View zoominfo's Jobs


Rachel Brunson Scipher Medicine

“The biotech industry is growing rapidly, so I recommend discovering what your passion is first so that you can have a career you love versus a job that stresses you out. It is ok to start at the bottom; once you have your foot in the door, you begin gaining skills from that job onward. For what you want to accomplish long-term, determine if additional skills/degrees could help you move forward in your career.”

Check out the full Article   View scipher medicine's Jobs


Gaelle Baptiste Unqork

“Be yourself! Tech is about innovation, original thought, and standing out from the old guard and antiquated solutions. Nothing is more welcomed in this space than creative solutions for long standing problems. Black and brown voices have been muted in traditional spaces, so tech is where we can bring our authenticity to provide a much needed different perspective.”

Check out the full Article   View unqork's Jobs


Ean Nugent Panorama Education

“Find ways to connect. Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, socially/culturally connecting with the white majority will be a valuable skill in this industry. Blacks make up 4.7% of America’s software engineers. This means you may be the first black software engineer your teammates have ever met. Learn how to be true to who you are while finding opportunities to connect. Connecting does not have to mean “code-switching”. Connecting may mean reviving your high school interest in the MLB because that’s what those on your team are into.”

Check out the full Article   View panorama education's Jobs

Black in Tech: Ean Nugent, Senior Software Engineer II at Panorama Education banner image

Black in Tech: Ean Nugent, Senior Software Engineer II at Panorama Education

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Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Ean Nugent, Senior Software Engineer II at Panorama Education shares his story.


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

My parents raised my sister and I in the Orlando area. During my childhood, my mother was a teacher and my father was a mechanic. We were deeply immersed in our family and faith communities, both of which were quite large. We had many people in our life from a variety of backgrounds. These exposures to diversity during our formative years have greatly benefited my sister and I both personally and professionally.

My parents (Betty and Evert), sister (Joy), and son (Micaiah)

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

I went to Andrews University in southwest Michigan. For undergrad, I studied Computer Science, with minors in Math and Music. I also did a Master’s in Software Engineering. After college, I began working as a software developer at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a Christian denomination.

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

I wish I had a better story for you here … Around age 9, while waiting for my mom to finish her after school work/meetings, I sometimes played around on the computer in her classroom. I taught myself a decent amount of QBasic and was into it for maybe a year and a half. When it was time to choose a college major, Computer Science was suggested based on my math scores. I didn’t know much about it, but when I found out it had something to do with programming I remembered enjoying QBasic. So … here I am.

I will add that I almost didn’t make it. My 9-year-old QBasic fiddling didn’t prepare me for “Intro to Computer Science” in my freshman year of college. Despite my high math aptitude, my lack of any serious programming experience proved to be a real impediment to my understanding of the most basic computer science concepts. However, the teacher was Nadine Shillingford. She was the second black teacher of my entire academic career. And it was then that I learned the value of social connections with one’s teacher. Nadine Shillingford’s classroom was the first classroom I voluntarily sat in the front of. It was the first classroom I stayed in after the bell with some of my boys to make jokes with the teacher. It was the first classroom where I felt culturally native. It is no exaggeration to say that having a different professor for that introductory class could have ended my software engineering career.

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

In my 14 years in the field, I have worked as a software engineer/developer, manager of developers, and associate director of IT for software development. However, to date, I still find the greatest satisfaction in direct solution design and implementation.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Senior Software Engineer II at Panorama Education?

Engineering at Panorama is organized into squads of ~4-7 engineers with an engineering manager and product manager. The Senior Software Engineer II is expected to function as a leader within their squad, as well as the entire Engineering department, and a facilitator of collaboration between other squads and teams.

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

To be honest, throughout my career, my faith in God has been central to who I am. I ultimately attribute whatever success I’ve attained to His presence and leading in my life.

As a part of following God’s leading, a primary criteria for me in choosing a job is personal alignment with the mission of the company. This gives me a greater drive to add real value to my work which stretches me to maximize my potential. Related to this is an attempt to maintain adding value at the center of my motivations. I’ve too often fallen to the temptation of trying to impress others, but at the end of the day, creatively, efficiently, and humbly adding real value has always worked out best.

Also, as I mentioned before, I was fortunate to be raised around people of diverse backgrounds. This prepared me to be comfortable with people of different backgrounds and, to be frank, to “code-switch”. Unfortunately, I believe these skills (that ain’t taught in nobody’s college) have been more contributory to where I am today than many of my Computer Science credits.

Finally, I have to mention that none of us gets to where we are without other people. My first boss out of college, a white man about 15 years older than me, always had very high confidence in me – even more than I had in myself at times. During my 12 years at that company, he was promoted twice and pulled me up the ladder behind him both times. Had he not been so observant and supportive of the value I was adding, my professional growth would have certainly been stunted. He, and others like him, have had a significant positive impact on where I am today.

For the second question, I believe I can say I have not faced any career obstacles because of my race. Yes, I have experienced what I believe to be racial bias in various forms throughout my career. However, I can think of no project, raise, promotion, or job that was denied to me because of my race. But how I wish this was a normal story. How I wish it was normal for black kids to grow up in environments where they learn to interact with people of different backgrounds. How I wish it was normal for black “Intro to Computer Science” students to have teachers who connect with them socially and culturally. How I wish it was normal for black college graduates to have bosses who believe in them more than they believe in themselves. How I wish mine were a normal story.

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

Panorama is deeply committed to “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging” (DEIB), which is one of the company’s 5 core values. I have personally been skeptical of corporate America’s recent emphasis in this area, but I have found Panorama’s efforts to be substantive and sincere.

At the time of this writing, the company has 12 “Affinity Groups” which are informal spaces (mainly Slack channels) for members of a particular identity. In addition to these informal spaces, there are presently 4 Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which are composed of employees from underrepresented groups, allies of those groups, or people who share a common purpose of interest. Each ERG has an executive sponsor and serves as a resource for the company in areas such as networking, talent development, diversity and inclusion strategy, employee retention, and employee engagement.

During my time at Panorama, I have been impressed with the extensive effort that is put into celebrations of the various underrepresented group months such as Asian American and Desi Pacific Islander Month, Pride Month, and Native American Month.

As a part of Panorama’s Juneteenth celebration, the company hosted a book study of Clint Smith’s “How the Word is Passed” as well as a panel discussion with the author. 

Panorama also provides training for employees around DEIB issues. I recently attended an engineering-specific Behavioral Interview and Unconscious Bias Training for interviewers. This high-quality, specialized training was conducted by an internal expert in this area.

What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the software engineering field? 

I won’t pretend to have any studied expertise in this area, but here is some advice based on my experience and observation:

  • Find someone safe to ask your dumb questions. Everyone asks dumb questions when they start a new job (and even beyond). Unfortunately, some individuals may (perhaps subconsciously) attribute it to your blackness rather than your newness which can then lower their already low perception of you. If possible, find someone that seems to be in your corner to ask your questions.
  • Find ways to connect. Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, socially/culturally connecting with the white majority will be a valuable skill in this industry. Blacks make up 4.7% of America’s software engineers. This means you may be the first black software engineer your teammates have ever met. Learn how to be true to who you are while finding opportunities to connect. Connecting does not have to mean “code-switching”. Connecting may mean reviving your high school interest in the MLB because that’s what those on your team are into.
  • Choose your battles. I think it’s inevitable that racial bias will lead someone to unfairly criticize your work at some point(s) in your career. You will likely experience various microaggressions along the way. Carefully weigh the likely consequences of your reaction. Even if they are wrong, carefully consider whether there will be any benefit in calling it out. On the other hand, some situations may be toxic enough that making a stand is necessary, even if it only benefits the next person.
  • Talk to someone. If you don’t feel at home in the dominant work culture, navigating it can be mentally exhausting if not damaging. Intentionally find a safe relative/friend/therapist you can express your thoughts, feelings, and frustrations. Holding it in can be destructive. Be aware of Imposter Syndrome and other mental health conditions that can arise in these environments. If you, or anyone close to you, suspects you may need professional help, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Lay low. You’re black and that needs no apology. My sister, rock your afro puffs. My dude, don’t cut your locks for anybody. BUT, you don’t have to be the one organizing a team-wide BLM event. Even if a vocal minority seems to be crazy supportive, I can be pretty sure a silent majority will think less of you for it. Feel free to protest in the streets on the weekend and post on every social media platform. But I recommend being very selective in how you engage racial issues in the workplace even if some co-workers seem to love it.
  • Remember the weight of your voice. If you do feel inclined to discuss racial issues at work, be aware that your words may be received by your co-workers and quoted (or misquoted) to their family and friends as the voice of black America. In a work conversation during the aftermath of Mike Brown’s death, I, the only black in the discussion, confidently stated something that turned out to be false. It is possible that some of those who participated in or just overheard that conversation used my mistake to write off the legitimacy of the thousands protesting police brutality. But on the other hand, I have been told by some on that team that my participation in those kinds of discussions provided valuable contributions to their understanding of the black American experience.
  • Feel free to be free. Life is hard. Software engineering is hard. If you choose to spend all of your mental and emotional capacity on these, sparing none to meet race-based expectations imposed by whites and/or blacks, don’t allow your conscience to endure the slightest shadow of guilt. You should feel no guilt for choosing to live your life like the overwhelming majority of Americans. Feel free to be free from being the resident urban dictionary, an on-demand black history course, a living museum exhibit, or the spokesperson for 40 million black Americans. Neither the elevation of the black race nor the education of the white race are inherently your burdens to bear. Some voluntarily take these upon themselves, but let neither them nor any other persuade you that all are obligated to this sacrifice.

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?

My first recommendation is to honestly work personally first. Over the years I have had to put in a lot of time in prayer and self-reflection to address the negative views and biases I have towards certain groups. At the end of the day, I believe a better me is the best contribution I can make to society for advancement. As my story illustrates, one equitable boss can do more than one thousand surface-level initiatives. So first, let’s start with the harder, less-praised, long-term work of addressing our own biases.

Beyond the personal work, here are a few suggestions:

  • Increase cultural competence. The line between what’s cultural and what’s professional is quite difficult to delineate. I believe more workplace awareness of things that may vary between cultures could increase the sense of belonging for minority employees. This applies socially as well. For example, a popular virtual company social activity has been trivia games. However, the questions are usually taken from movies, TV shows, and music groups that are popular with white Americans. This can unintentionally leave minority employees (especially immigrants) feeling excluded.​
  • Minority recruiters. If a black (or other minority) employee has been working for a company for a while and has established their value beyond their skin color, I believe it’s a harder sell for them to leave for another company even if salary and other benefits are slightly better. I believe having a black or at least non-white recruiter can be beneficial in reducing the anxiety of having to re-establish oneself in a new white-majority environment.
  • Follow Panorama’s example. I believe the Panorama initiatives on these issues (listed above) can go a long way in this effort.  
  • Commit to going all the way. The background of most of the blacks I know in corporate America represents a minority of the overall black experience. Like me, they attended higher-performing majority-white schools. It is much easier for us to survive in environments dominated by white culture than it is for most black Americans. So equity is not satisfied by simply getting and keeping us in your companies. Equity demands more.

My wife Jodi-Ann, and our children, Micaiah (9), Saraiah (7), and Seth (1)

About the
Company

Panorama’s mission is to radically improve education for every student.

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Black in Tech: Gaelle Baptiste, QA Manager at Unqork banner image

Black in Tech: Gaelle Baptiste, QA Manager at Unqork

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Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Gaelle Baptiste, QA Manager at Unqork shares her 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 Brooklyn and grew up in Philly (Philadelphia, PA). My mother has always had a career in the healthcare industry, while my father, now retired, was an insurance salesman. 

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

I went to Temple University (Go Owls!) for both undergrad and grad school. I studied English w/ a minor in French and African American Studies, and my grad work was in Digital Innovation in Marketing. 

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

I’m a millennial, so a lot of my adult life has been shaped by the innovative spirit of tech like social media and cord-cutting platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Netflix, etc. To see how these companies reshaped how we communicated, socialized, and moved around in the world has always fascinated me, and that led me to pursue my grad program. 

Gaelle Baptiste Unqork

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

I entered into the Unqork family as a QA Analyst. Since then, I’ve become a QA manager with my own team, leading the Public Enterprise vertical. 

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as QA Manager at Unqork?

As QA Manager, primarily it’s my responsibility to make sure my team has what they need to identify and obviate risks for our projects before going into production. Trusting my team and their calls, I support their decisions on how to handle their workload. I also translate our work into digestible reports for those outside of our department. 

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? 

Having a support system that includes mentors, managers who advocate for me, who say my name in impactful rooms, and connecting with other Black and Brown women in the industry has been really helpful. 

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

There are the DEI initiatives and plenty of ERG groups that actively support these causes. Each group has a significant budget provided by Unqork to execute interesting and valuable initiatives that serve the Unqork community as well as local impacted communities where Unqorkers are members. For example, the Chocolatety group has held several virtual game nights, hosted guest speakers during monthly meetings, and even had an in-person happy hour for those in the NYC area recently.)  Additionally, leaders in the ERGS are compensated for the time and each group has an executive sponsor, ensuring accountability from top-down and vice versa. All departments have really been dedicated to executing and taking their respective DEI pillars seriously.  

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

Be yourself! Tech is about innovation, original thought, and standing out from the old guard and antiquated solutions. Nothing is more welcomed in this space than creative solutions for long standing problems. Black and brown voices have been muted in traditional spaces, so tech is where we can bring our authenticity to provide a much needed different perspective. 

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?

Looking in different spaces outside of the traditional pipeline (Ivy Leagues, Wall Street alumni, etc) has to be constant. Looking around the room and making sure it is actually diverse should be a consistent practice. Advocating for Black and brown professionals in spaces that can positively impact their career must be done each time the opportunity arises. Ultimately it’s about deconstructing the unconscious habits of only acknowledging the peers that look like you. Change is uncomfortable but that is where the magic happens.

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.

 
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Black in Tech: Rachel Brunson, Manager of Customer Operations at Scipher Medicine banner image

Black in Tech: Rachel Brunson, Manager of Customer Operations at Scipher Medicine

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Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Rachel Brunson, Manager of Customer Operations at Scipher Medicine shares her story.


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

I lived in Connecticut my entire life, and I was an only child. However, I have numerous aunts and uncles, with many cousins that I consider to be my brothers and sisters. As a child, I was carefree and saw happiness in little things. I truly enjoyed being around my family, as whenever we got together, the room was filled with nothing but love, laughter, hugs, smiles, and delicious food. Both of my parents Solomon & Ruby Brunson, worked for Pratt & Whitney, where my father was a machinist for over 40 years, and my mother's last position was as an NDT Inspector, and she was with the company for over 27 years. My parents worked very hard to provide for me and instilled the virtue of hard work at an early age. If you want anything in life, you must work for it as nothing is given to you, and that is a motto I still live by to this day.

Rachel Brunson Scipher Medicine

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

I studied Computer Graphics & New Media at Johnson & Wales University, where I obtained my Associate's degree. Then I transferred to Central Connecticut State University and started working part-time as a laboratory assistant and also had two internships to get a feel for what I wanted to do after graduating with my Bachelor's degree in Marketing. However, after graduating, the country was in a financial crisis. I knew that I wanted to continue working in the laboratory, so I gained full-time employment from my part-time job in college. In late 2017, I decided that there was more that I wanted to do and went back to school to obtain my Master of Business Administration from Southern Connecticut State University and graduated in 2019.

Rachel Brunson Scipher Medicine

What inspired you to get into this industry?

When I started working at the hospital as a laboratory assistant, I had the opportunity to walk by the emergency room every day. Seeing all of those sick patients impacted me and I knew that I wanted to do more especially with both of my parents, and other family members being affected by cancer. However, watching my mother fight for her life as a sophomore in high school, I knew I wanted to do more. So that started me upon my path in this industry but then losing my father to cancer in 2016, that forever changed me and ignited my passion all over again. In the biotech industry, I gravitated towards it because it allows a patient to be empowered by their DNA. With genetic testing, it helps patients understand their data and that strikes a deep chord within me. It’s great to be a part of a company like Scipher Medicine, whose mission is to solve America’s largest drug problem. It means a lot to help patients understand what’s going on and how they can improve their health trajectory and improve their lives.

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

I started my career path in 2007 as a laboratory assistant at Clinical Laboratory Partners, which started my foundation for understanding how a lab works. I joined the client services team as a Problem Resolution Specialist, where I was nominated to be the chairman, and worked with numerous departments monitoring metrics for daily and monthly problems to decrease trends. I became a Home Draw Coordinator, where I created and maintained a schedule for twenty phlebotomists, which enabled route optimization and tracking capabilities allowing for faster turnaround of results for upwards of 200 draws per day. In 2017, I joined Sema4 and I thought that might be the end because I didn’t see that many people that looked like me in those types of roles. However, I realized that I didn’t have to limit myself so, while working full-time, I went and got my MBA and had numerous positions. With being an Inside Sales Manager, Manager of Customer Excellence Education and Training and lastly a Senior Manager, Inside Sales – East Region. In these roles, I worked closely with field sales management to execute account and sales strategies across the east coast region in Women’s Health and Oncology. I developed and launched the infrastructure for Customer Excellence programs within Account Management/Inside Sales and Customer Success, implementing industry best practices, strategies, and processes to support a best-in-class service experience.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Manager of Customer Operations at Scipher Medicine?

I've been at Scipher Medicine since July of this year and I came in when everything was changing. Knowing that I’m on the ground floor and able to implement instrumental changes is so rewarding. I work cross-functionally with many departments like laboratory operations, billing operations, clinical operations, sales, marketing, and I.T. teams to help those on the front-line in client services deal with inquiries optimally. I am currently tasked with launching a mobile phlebotomy program, upgrading call center, and streamlining processes to enhance the customer experience. The best part of my job is managing my team and helping them grow in their careers. I find that the most rewarding aspect of my job, and I am so happy to join this dynamic team of individuals.

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 whole family has contributed to my success, and I am so thankful for every one of them. First, my parents enabled me to achieve my goals by setting me on the trajectory I've been on to ensure I've had the best education and helped push me to greatness. Then my entire family has always been there since day one to give me an encouraging/motivational word. They celebrated with me in my victorious moments, and in sad times when I needed a shoulder to cry on, they comforted me. I've faced many obstacles that I had to overcome in my career that most people of color deal with, such as being the “only one” in the room. Numerous microassaults and microinvalidations have happened to me, such as being told to be grateful for my salary and comparing my work history to a widget. The same individual made a food comparison stating the other person's work history was like an apple, "something you can bite into, and they deserved a higher salary" versus me being an orange "my work history is sweet but not the same, so I should be paid significantly less for the same job." Perceptions were often made about me before I even started talking or when having the opportunity to speak was cut off. The list could go on, but conclusions weren't drawn about my abilities or track record but on my skin color. As the great civil rights activist and poet Maya Angelou stated, "you may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them." Thankfully, my parents taught me early that the aim in life is to push your limitations constantly. I know that I must frequently prove and showcase myself and put in long hours to be given half of an opportunity even though it is evident.

Rachel Brunson Scipher Medicine

 

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

The biotech industry is growing rapidly, so I recommend discovering what your passion is first so that you can have a career you love versus a job that stresses you out. It is ok to start at the bottom; once you have your foot in the door, you begin gaining skills from that job onward. For what you want to accomplish long-term, determine if additional skills/degrees could help you move forward in your career. Look at different job descriptions of what you consider your dream job and tear them apart in tiny pieces. Set target goals for yourself and celebrate as you start achieving them; it gives you the momentum to keep going forward. There also are many benefits to networking by attending conferences/trade shows. Expanding your LinkedIn connections and joining black professional groups so that you can benefit from their knowledge along with benefiting from newer opportunities. Finally, finding a mentor(s) who will listen, coach, and give you sound advice as you start is essential. They can help make sure you stay focused and be a sounding board that you trust when different situations arise throughout your career.

Rachel Brunson Scipher Medicine

While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the various industries 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?

Diversity inclusion isn't a one-time fix, and where you can throw your hands up in the air and say I did an initiative as that won't create a lasting change. It's an ongoing effort that must be invested into constantly and worked on continuously. An inclusive workplace model is a start, expanding recruiting efforts and investing in the future with partnerships in different professional organizations, schools, and community organizations. Individuals in marginalized groups may not be aware of the opportunities. Companies must get involved locally and consider using multiple avenues to target underrepresented communities in their current workforce. Allowing current/future employees to know the employer is a part of the long haul and willing to do what is necessary to create a real change.

About the
Company

By deciphering RNA, Scipher Medicine is opening the door to a new era of patient treatment.

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Black in Tech: Kwame Appiah, Manager of Business Development at Zoominfo banner image

Black in Tech: Kwame Appiah, Manager of Business Development at Zoominfo

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Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Kwame Appiah, Manager of Business Development at Zoominfo shares his story.


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

I was born in Ghana, came to the states at the age of 8, and landed in Gaithersburg, Maryland. My parents slowly moved us west to Germantown, then Frederick where I spent most of my teenage years. I was pretty quiet in my early youth, I really only spoke up when I was comfortable around people. Having a thick foreign accent at that age wasn’t really “in” yet, but once that faded away, it made me more confident to speak up, and I eventually became a bit more talkative and confident. 

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

I went to school at Goldey-Beacom College, a small private business college in northern Delaware. Much like a lot of freshmen in school, I had no idea what I wanted to study, so I just started taking courses. By sophomore year I had changed my major to computer science, by junior year it was marketing, then I graduated with a concentration in business. I took that opportunity to continue on and get my MBA a year after my bachelor’s. 

After I graduated, I sold everything I owned and moved to Europe to play soccer professionally. I moved around for a while and landed in Sweden, where I spent a bit over a year playing for a team until an injury brought me back to the States to find my next move.

Kwame Appiah Zoominfo

MBA Graduation with my brother and a family friend

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

I had a great friend named Mason Neely from high school who I always kept in touch with that had been at ZoomInfo for quite some time. I hadn’t really seen myself stepping into the corporate world yet, but he sold this job just as well as he sold the product. Mason had seen a lot of success in his time here and strongly urged me to give it a try before I considered getting back to playing full-time. With my lingering injury, I decided to give it a go, see what it was all about. 2 years and 4 promotions later, I haven’t even considered looking back. 

What has your career path looked like since joining Zoominfo? 

My time at ZoomInfo has been incredible in terms of growth and development for my career. My sales experience prior was only at a retail level, so I stepped into this role as a complete novice at an entry-level. Since then, ZoomInfo has offered me great control of my advancement. Over my 2 years here I’d been promoted roughly every 4-5 months until my manager role in which I’m still given great support and the possibility to advance. I’m currently working towards a senior manager role, which shows the astounding rate of career advancement at this organization.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as a Manager of Business Development at Zoominfo?

I manage the inbound team here which is our entry-level SDR role, so it entails a high volume of reps. I currently manage 28 reps and focus mostly on admin work, guidance, training, and development. My focus is on ramping the newest reps and onboarding them, which means most of my day is spent on developmental coaching for the individuals on my team. Between checking reports, making sure the team is exceeding expectations and coaching them into their next roles, I get my fair share of activity throughout the day.

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 biggest contributor to my success has always been my willingness to be a team player. I am fortunate to have a roleplayer mentality in that I am just as happy to lead as I am to follow based on what the team needs from me. When I started out it helped me open up and ask questions with the desire to learn, in order to pass on the knowledge. I think the combination of succeeding from the advice I received, with a willingness to pass it on helped pave the way for my success.

The fortunate thing about ZoomInfo is that it's an incredibly inclusive environment, but no matter the company, it's more the industry. When I started out I was the only black salesperson in my office of 25+, and am currently 1 of 2 black managers on the SDR leadership team out of 30. The challenge for black professionals starting out is having people like them in positions of power to relate to, look to for guidance, and even just open up to. Representation of black people in tech still has a long way to go, but it’s growing by the day.

Kwame Appiah, Manager of Business Development at Zoominfo

Me and my family at my sister's wedding

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

ZoomInclusion is a growing initiative of the company. It started out as GIDI(Global Inclusion and Diversity Initiative) and has deservingly rebranded into a term that helps us display our belief that Inclusion is not just another part of ZoomInfo, but is built in the company foundation. I help lead the “Zoom In Color” segment along with Cam Johnson, which is focused on black people at ZoomInfo. Our goal is to invite every new black person into discussions, opportunities of growth, and a safe space the minute they join the company. We also take opportunities to help educate on our backgrounds and experiences through company-wide events that have garnered great attendance numbers.

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

Being black should feel more like a superpower than a weakness in any industry. Being a minority allows you to see things in different ways from most people. When you consider that effect in collaboration, the power of perspective empowers ideas. Ideas create new opportunities, and opportunities define new possibilities. Work hard, believe in yourself, and find a company that is willing to believe in you.

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 are doing great in hiring black employees, but more effort has to be put into retaining them as well. The attrition of the black population within tech is where we need to focus. As companies bring on more support for diversity and inclusion, the purpose of initiatives that focus on hiring and onboarding black employees lose value if there aren't initiatives highly focused on keeping them on and creating sustainable and promising career paths for minorities. 

About the
Company

ZoomInfo has the precise information you need to reach your next customer, convert your next lead, and close your next deal.

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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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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

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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. 

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

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

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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.

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

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