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The Lost Jet Magazine Interview

posted Jul 22, 2016, 1:10 PM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated Jul 22, 2016, 1:10 PM ]
I did a written interview about Minority Tech with Jet Magazine in 2014 that was never published. Fortunately, I saved the email which I'm republishing here:

1) Tell us about your book. What do you hope folks take away from it? What inspired you to write it?

"Minority Tech" (http://www.MinorityTech.com) is a curated essay anthology of my experiences as a Black man who has worked in the technology industry for over 20 years. It covers topics that I think many Blacks in technology experience such as understanding the nature of Blackness. In fact, the first essay in my book is a frank discussion about the "N word". "Minority Tech" also presents my "Code of Conduct for Black Men" which I think will solve many of the challenges that we have in our communities. In addition, my book discusses the duality of loving technology despite the challenges of working as a minority in technology, and I also make the case for greater diversity in the technology industry.

People who read my book will gain an understanding of both sides of the technology diversity coin. On one side, minorities are often economically disadvantaged (e.g., our unemployment rate has been double that of Whites for decades) and need the financial benefits of working in technology, an industry that pays significantly higher salaries than other sectors of the economy. On the other side of the coin, the technology industry needs the innovation that comes from diversity. Studies have shown that diverse teams create better ideas than homogeneous teams. So, the argument for more diversity in technology is not about giving hand outs to minorities. It's about strengthening the technology industry and positioning it for a workforce and a customer base that is getting browner every day. Soon, technology companies that lack diversity will find it almost impossible to hire talent and create products that people want to buy.

I was inspired to write "Minority Tech" because I've read a lot of technology books, but none of them had a Black person on the cover. As the saying goes, "You can't be what you can't see". I wanted to write a book about technology that underrepresented groups, especially Black people, could see and realize that if Anjuan Simmons can build a career in technology, then they can, too. I took part in a high school program designed to get more Blacks into engineering degrees, and that program was a key factor behind my decision to earn my undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from The University of Texas at Austin. "Minority Tech" is my way of paying forward the investment that was made in me to the Black youth of today.

2) What's the biggest barrier you see in having more minorities in tech? What are some sustainable solutions? You were a software developer. How was that? How can companies become more inclusive?


Contrary to popular belief, the pipeline problem is not the biggest barrier to getting more minorities in tech. There are plenty of women and minorities who want to work in the technology field, and they have the skills to be successful. The biggest barrier is bias. There is hidden bias in the technology sector that works to the advantage of Whites and Asians and excludes women and minorities. This bias exists in all aspects of the business model behind most technology companies from recruiting to promotions. Technology companies overwhelming favor applicants who come from schools (Stanford, MIT, Cornell, etc.) or companies (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc.) that have low diversity numbers. So, it's not surprising that the technology sector has poor diversity. After all, you can't get trout from fishing in lakes that only have salmon. Also, the women and minorities who make it through the selection process and become employees often face harassment and discriminatory behaviors. Many have their very existence ("Are you here because of our affirmative actionprogram?") questioned as well as their competence ("Do you really know how to code?").

One sustainable solution to getting more minorities and women into tech is continual exposure of the hidden bias in the technology sector. We also need the willingness to ask uncomfortable questions. Technology companies will continue to use the "pipeline problem" as the reason for their low diversity numbers, but that just passes the blame from them to underrepresented groups. The best way to stop powerful companies from blaming marginalized people is the courage to question them. What are your diversity numbers and what are you doing to retain women and minorities? Where is your exit interview data from women and minorities who have resigned from your company? What programs do you have in place to teach those in the majority (White and Asian males) how to be more inclusive? Why don't you look for qualified candidates at schools with more diverse student bodies?  These questions are often unpleasant for technology companies to answer, but they are crucial to solving the diversity problem in tech. Companies can only become more inclusive if they aggressively remove the parts of their business that are exclusive and discriminatory.

I spent the first five years of my technology career as a developer. I enjoyed the process of understanding business problems and creating software solutions to solve them. After five years, I was promoted to a management position where I guide the work of software developers. My experience as a developer has been a key part of my success as a software project manager for the past fifteen years.


3) What are some of your upcoming plans with the book? Anything new and interesting that you could use your book as a platform for change?

When I launched "Minority Tech", I did a national roll-out that included book signings and media appearances in places like Harlem, NY and various other locations. I next plan to do a college book tour where I speak to students who are pursuing degrees that lead to careers in technology. For example, I was involved in the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) as an undergraduate engineering student, and I want to visit as many NSBE chapters as possible. I also want to speak with other student groups and organizations that are based around engineering and computer science. My goal is to share with college students the things that I wish an experienced technology professional shared with me when I was in college. This includes the key things you have to do in order to be successful in technology and the real challenges of working as a minority in technology. My goal is to use my book as a platform to create an army of minority technologists that is too massive and skilled to be ignored by the technology industry. So, look for me on a campus near you!