Catt Small was taught at a young age to be humble, and humility meant not talking about her achievements.
For a black female game developer, that approach didn’t work.
Small, 27, co-founded Brooklyn Gamery, a maker of games for different devices and operating systems including new, experimental technology. She also co-founded the Game Developers of Color Expo, which has its second annual event scheduled for June 24 in New York.
Small didn’t become a force in the male-dominated world of gaming development by being quiet. Her experiences helped give her confidence in her abilities and a voice at the table.
Small began her journey into the tech world at age 15. She has worked with companies including NASDAQ, Etsy and SoundCloud.
She has also taught at Code Liberation, a nonprofit with a mission to teach women and girls how to program using games and creativity:
Code Liberation says its aim is to reach women who have never considered entering the field of computer science or who have left it because it is male dominated.
The first Game Developers of Color Expo, held in January 2016, drew 200 attendees. The goal for this year’s upcoming event is to create an intersection and open discussion for developers and women who are just getting started in the industry to learn about marketing, publication and awards.
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Small talked to Moguldom about what the world can expect from black female developers.
Moguldom: How did the Game Developers of Color Expo get started?
Catt Small: Initially, it started with a group of game developers of color, and some people like marketing specialists for example, who work within the game space. I think we all felt like there were things that no one was really talking about.
There were fledgling conversations happening around race in the industry, and within games itself. But I think there was a feeling that there were a lot of initiatives that were happening to get closer to gender equity within the industry.
A lot of those efforts weren’t very intersectional. We wanted to see if we could start a conversation about what it means to be a game developer of color within these spaces.
Moguldom: Tell me a little bit about the obstacles you’ve had to overcome as a person of color. Can you elaborate on how it is equal or similar to being a woman?
Catt Small: There were a lot of times when I felt marginalized as a person of color existing within those spaces. I would be one of a very few number. It’s not because there aren’t women of color who aren’t interested. It’s more that those spaces didn’t feel very accessible, open and welcoming.
There were a lot of times where I had white women who were peers. I found it very interesting because, when I was starting out in terms of games, people were a bit more interested in hearing their ideas and collaborating with them.
It felt really frustrating for me as a woman of color specifically. Sometimes I would try to figure out what I was doing wrong. In reality, it’s not something I can control. A lot of these things are microaggressions. It’s hard to figure out why it’s happening. Everything that people say about working twice as hard and doing twice as much to get equal representation has been very true in my regard. A lot of times, people aren’t willing to reach out and take a chance.
I feel like it worked out for me because I learned a lot. I don’t think that’s how the industry needs to be. I don’t think that’s how society should be. I think that pushes people who have a lot of great potential out of the industry. Our hope is that, with this expo, we can provide that space so that people don’t have to go through what I did.
Moguldom: What is one thing that you wish you had known before you started working in development?
Catt Small: One thing I wish I knew earlier was the value of publicly sharing my work. Part of the issue for me was that I was taught at a very young age that I should be humble. Humility meant not talking about what you were doing, and downplaying yourself.
When people automatically underestimate you, and you never talk about what you’re doing, then people will assume that their assumptions are correct. For a very long time, I didn’t submit things to award shows, for example.
If I had known when I was in school, I would have submitted my work to different award ceremonies. I would have submitted my games to things. The people who did are the people who win awards. They get funding and different opportunities that I didn’t know were possible at the time. It’s the value of celebrating my work, talking about it, submitting it and making sure that people see it.