What Is It Like To Be Black In The Silicon Valley Tech Industry?
What is it like to be black in the Silicon Valley tech industry?
This question originally appeared on Quora, the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
Answers by Makinde Adeagbo, Henry Robinson, Karim Liman-Tinguiri, Eghosa Omoigui, Jacob Vincent and Anonymous
Makinde Adeagbo, Black software engineer and founder of /dev/color
First: How I got here. I studied CS at MIT and then interned at Microsoft (twice) and Apple. I then started my career in 2007 as an engineer at Facebook, then Dropbox, and most recently Pinterest.
Outside of a few sporadic, and interesting, cases, my race has not affected my day to day life as an engineer. I haven’t felt like my ideas or viewpoints were looked down upon because of my race. Yes, I’ve had an interviewer ask me why the Black kids sit at the same table. Yes, I’ve had a coworker ask me if Black people really are as smart as Asians. While these cases were disturbing, they don’t define my experience.
Day-to-day life outside of work can be lonely. I’ve spent much of my time out here living in Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Both of those cities are less than 5% Black. This can affect one’s social and dating lives. I believe this is a big factor that keeps people from moving here from places like Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, both around 50% Black.
I’ve found that the Black folks in Silicon Valley have a really strong community. Everyone is always willing to help and share opportunities, which is an extension of the mentality that most folks of any race have in Silicon Valley. It was this spirit of helping one another that led to the formation of /dev/color in Summer ’15. Black engineers come together to help one another reach their career goals and build a deep sense of community. So far it’s supported more than 60 Black engineers in the area, and is expanding to more places around the country later this year.
Henry Robinson, Technology Enthusiast
I have lived and worked in several regions of the US (Northeast, Midwest, South, Silicon Valley). One thing I have noticed about being black in Silicon Valley is that (and I am generalizing) people tend to rely less on stereotypes when assessing people for the first time. Versus, when I lived in south and midwest where stereotyping minorities was very common.
It’s also been my experience that engineering and technology environments tend to be far more meritocratic than say a marketing department for example. Probably because it’s easier to measure contribution and cooperation/teamwork is valued over cutthroat competition.
BTW, a disclaimer. I don’t intend to suggest that there isn’t racism in the Bay Area or Silicon Valley. One just has to look at how segregated we all live to see that we aren’t living MLK’s dream.
The best way to describe the difference is that I feel far less racial tension in Silicon Valley. I don’t feel like I need to carry the “wait was that racist?” chip on my shoulder like I have had to do living in other places. For example, when a store clerk decides to help a white customer that is clearly behind me in line (this happens A LOT by the way!), my first instinct is not to break my foot off in his ass anymore. Because of the lack of tension, it’s easy to brush things off. In other parts of the country I don’t think that is the case.