Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Kenton Belton, Sr. Software Solutions Engineer at Duck Creek Technologies 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 Columbia, SC with my mother, father, and younger sister. I have always had a passion for sports and music. I was always the youngest kid in the neighborhood, so I always had to work a little harder to be competitive when playing with friends. Whether it was sports, video games, card games, etc. Naturally I developed a nice sized chip on my shoulder.
My love for music began early in life, my mother plays the piano and she would play when I was small and I developed a good ear for music. I began playing the cello in 5th grade and continued playing through high school, I began playing the drums in middle school and I played for my church for many years, and I also learned to play piano by ear. Music makes the world go round in my opinion. I also began playing sports early in life. I started playing baseball around 6 years old and played for years, then my focus shifted to basketball and football.
My mother worked for the state Dept Of Revenue and my father is a Pastor as well as an entrepreneur. Both of my parents were college graduates so education was stressed in my home.
Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating?
I attended Clemson University as well as South University. I began as an engineering major. It took about 5 minutes for me to realize that I didn’t really want to be an engineer at all, I was enticed by the earning potential of engineering majors. I learned early on that it’s much better to have a career that you enjoy and not one that you are in only for the dollar and cents. I then switched my major to computer science and never looked back.
I actually began working in an application support position before I graduated, so upon graduation, I continued my career with the company I was working for. Seeing the real world application of what I was learning in school helped me in both my studies as well as my job.
What inspired you to get into the tech industry?
I grew up in the era where technology sort of took off. From the bag phone/car phone to the tiny computers that we use now. And this all happened within about a 10 year period. I was always interested in what made those things work the way they did. I was also influenced heavily by the gaming industry. To see the technological advances happening around me so quickly sparked a curiosity in me.
I was also influenced by MySpace, if anyone remembers you could actually add html and css to your profile. While this isn’t the same as coding C#; it was a high-level look at what it’s like to create things with a computer. That definitely influenced my focus area when it was time to choose one in school.
What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining Duck Creek?
I began my career in application/production support. I was the one support tech in the company and I had to lean heavily on my peers and had to learn quickly. This position is what exposed me to the Duck Creek platform and all the tools that come with it. After a few months we began adding more resources to the support team and eventually I became team lead of the Support Team.
Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Sr. Software Solutions Engineer at Duck Creek?
I like to think of my responsibility as a Sr. Software Solutions Engineer as being a swiss army knife for the company. We may be called upon to do DevOps, optimize reports, or create a custom application for a client to assist with a business need. We also are very proficient in all the tools that come with the Duck Creek platform. It all depends on what the project that we are assigned calls for. I’ve always told new solutions engineers that in this position you can never have too many tools in the tool belt. Get as close to having a Batman utility belt as you can. As a senior member of the solutions engineering team we coach the newer members of the team.
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 am a very competitive person, and I believe that part of me has always driven me to be the very best I can be. My parents also set the bar high for anything that I participated in whether it was sports or academics, I was expected to give my very best effort. As I got older, the foundation of always trying my best and seeing the results transformed into a standard of excellence that I hold myself to.
As far as obstacles I didn’t face many in the tech industry itself, it was more on the path to get into my career. Having to deal with people’s surprise when I tell them I’m a programmer and having to ask the question “What exactly does a programmer look like?” “What do I look like I do for a living?” That would get frustrating and it took me a few years to let that roll off my back.
What types of programs and initiatives does Duck Creek have that support diversity, equity, and inclusion?
In the last year Duck Creek has started a Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion group, BRG(Black Employee Resource Group), WRG(Women’s Employee Resource Group), Volar(Hispanic Employee Resource Group) and there are other groups in the works. I’m on the operating committee for the BRG and it has absolutely been a benefit to me and my career. Duck Creek is doing a great job in attacking the issues with diversity and inclusion, and I commend the company for that.
What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry?
My advice would be to simply go for it. Set realistic goals and take the steps necessary to get there. We are in an industry where performing well and producing results directly correlate to your success.
Also develop your soft skills such as communication, time management, active listening, etc. Those skills can truly elevate your value, and that’s in any field, not just tech.
My last bit of advice was given to me by one of my first managers in tech. He always said “Always continue to grow and learn. If you become the smartest person in the room, it’s time to find a new room.” This advice has taken me a long way. I’m always looking for an opportunity to learn and improve. It may not be directly related to tech, but it could be a concept that can be applied to a career or to life in general. We can learn something from anyone at any time, so always keep an open mind.