Once you’ve “made it” – then what? I like to set a goal at every event I attend, to meet ten black people over the course of the event. People of marginalized and underrepresented groups are frequently enticed into tech by the prospect of security, respect, intellectually challenging work and the prospect of building generational wealth. However, these opportunities frequently come at the cost of splitting the self. It can be stressful as well to balance issues of entitlement against impostor syndrome, to arrive at a healthy level of self-esteem that is reality based. For first-generation people who are suddenly making more money than both parents combined, the situated experience of being the “first” or the “only” to occupy this space causes them to resort to cobbling together ad hoc techniques of coping. I argue that the best strategy is to normalize yourself in the spaces you’re in – whether its a conference, meetup or office. This can take the form of setting goals, understanding class structures, and operating from first principles. While the hiring and work cultures of tech is reflective of society at large – they are also a part of the process of creating that same society. What I mean by that is nothing exists in a vacuum. Companies have problems with diversity because the world we live in has problems with diversity. The hopeful message in all this however — and I hope the real takeaway — is that by changing the spaces and ways in which we work, we have the opportunity to effect powerful change to the society we live in.
Jocelyn Matthews began working in tech during the 1990s. She has been black her whole life and is getting pretty good at it.