I originally wrote an article on the topic of working in IT as a black man, when the black lives matter campaign seemed to reach its pinnacle. I believe my feelings were too prevalent in that post. Now that news channels have found other things to focus on, I’ve had a chance to review my almost 20 years in IT in 3 countries. This is my objective perspective of how the IT industry works for black people in the US and Canada.
The high-level summary is that the industry is not welcoming to black men or women when it comes to jobs. I doubt it will change anytime soon. Even more shocking, I don’t mind if it never changes.
Simply put, groups of white men are launching successful tech companies. When other races are involved, they are typically included at the worker level of the hierarchy with no real power or ownership in the business. This works and they are reluctant to change. After a while, I had to ask myself, why should they change at all. I’m the one begging for a job right?
The clearest data demonstrating this is the H1-B visa fight. The Trump government has tried extensively to block these workers from entering the US economy. What many may not be aware of, is that since 2008 the cap limit for the number of visas issuable per year has been regularly surpassed. The tech industry has a hunger for sub-asian Indian workers especially. The H1-B visa is a worker visa. It’s used overwhelmingly to bring tech workers into the US. In fact, Canada has been extending express entry visa options to the employees of these US tech companies for decades, helping them to house their workers there as long as needed.
The fact of the matter is that technology is an extension of the old boys club. Its a way to enhance ideas that have already existed for a long time. Luckily, there is no barrier to the technology itself, the issue is when you try to join their club. So you have to ask yourself, why should these people be forced to open up their money to you?
While we are on the topic of reality, let’s consider culture. The difference in culture between the average black person and white tech worker is an almost insurmountable delta. The reality is that the communication skills a black person in North America needs to survive will be viewed negatively in the average tech office.
Here is a simple example to consider. In the tech world, there are stressful times like those from an impending legally required deadline. In professional offices, the level of communication can deteriorate in the best of times, but especially in the worse. It’s not unusual to receive crass, unsavory, and outright rude levels of communication from co-workers. In the low-income environment where many in the black community live, these types of comments require a more hostile reaction than welcomed in a tech office. Every black person typically has to absorb some hostility on their way to and from work. The idea of more hostility at work typically is a none starter.
In the example above, it’s not that the black individual is not welcomed. Rather, the culture is viewed as hostile and unwelcoming. It’s very hard to decipher what’s racism and just plain rude in the tech world. At some point along a company’s growth, if it gets large enough, for many reasons it will have to diversify its workforce. Cultural differences like this have to be addressed but how. The company flourished with the old boys club mentality. How are you so sure it’s going to maintain or improve once you remove these “bad actors”. The demographics in today’s IT industry confirm not much has changed so far. I don’t have a silver bullet. This isn’t that type of article.
North America Is Large & Diverse
The entire continent shares a similar mentality. However, the southern US states are notoriously different ideologically than the northern states. The coastal states have different priorities and generally larger populations than inner states. The phenomenon that made it possible to elect a black president in the US, does not exist in Canada.
Like anything, geography has a huge aspect to play. First of all, the biggest and bulk of tech companies are located in coastal cities. Your guess is as good as ours as to why technical companies that typically operate online are usually within 500 miles of water. However that became the situation, it’s a fact. These cities tend to be very well populated for well-known reasons. Stick to these areas and you will increase your chances for a successful career. People have seen black folks before. These cities are usually full of angry people and stress is high for everyone regardless of race.
In most major cities, the demand is high enough that anyone with education can get a foot in the door. However, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Executive roles have more to do with people liking you than your education. We all know a situation of the owner’s son joining the company as the new boss. Accept it, everyone knows you could do the job but they don’t care. Like with every other industry, middle management is the ceiling for most black people in North America. If you are special and think you can buck the trend, then have at her.
Not All Black People Are Alike
I personally am a 5’11, fat, black man. My momma black. My father black. My grandmamma black. I grew up in a third world country. I know nothing of the life Barack Obama lived. I’m the type of guy that black people think twice about asking for directions. No one want’s me to serve them on a mega yacht. People interpret things I say negatively on the best of days. Except for a short-lived token position, I have never been put into the position of firing other races after over 18 years in the industry. I got my start crimping CAT 5 computer network cables on a Caribbean island back in 2002.
Your experience may be very different. Maybe you are mulatto? Maybe you have a little Indian in you? As an overweight chap, I learned to tell the occasional joke. That’s my shtick, what’s yours? What’s gonna be your song and dance to be liked in the office and retained? Ultimately, this is the real key to surviving in IT (kissing behind). Now if you are the type where that comes naturally, regardless of your race, then you could thrive in this arena. Adapt or fail, you heard it here first
The news channels say there is a serious shortage of STEM students. The number of minorities like black people in this group is even smaller. In my 6 figure private school university education, my graduating class maybe had 5 black people total. Nowadays, they are saying education isn’t the barrier, performance is. So maybe that’s one less thing to worry about? I doubt it, as a black man, best to have more credentials than required. There will always be excuses not to hire you. Being overqualified is the best problem to have when it comes to the job hunt
Personally, I embrace that the internet is free territory for all to conquer. Black, Chinese, or anything else, you could have bought bitcoin at $300 and be wealthy now. Wrestling the old boys club to open up to women and minorities isn’t the way. They figured out how to make money and we can too. Once they are big enough, they will have no other option but to diversify just because of the STEM resource shortage. Are any of these garage start-up companies going to ever evolve beyond their roots to a truly inclusive culture? I won’t hold my breath. If you are looking for a North American based black web developer, contact us today.