Meet The Startup That Wants To Solve Silicon Valley's Diversity Problem

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Answers by Makinde Adeagbo, Founder @ /dev/color. Former Engineer/Manager @ Pinterest, Dropbox, & Facebook, on Quora.

A: My experience at MIT was great! Well, great looking back. At the time, it was hard to appreciate the experience when pulling lots of all nighters to finish problem sets.

As an African American, my experience was shaped most by where I lived (New House 2 FTW). My section of the dorm, and the one next to it, was almost all Black and Latino/a students.

This is the result of an often-debated policy at MIT where students choose where they live, which creates specific cultures in each dorm (often specific hallways). So these areas end up being rather homogenous. Some opponents of the policy say that college is about getting to know new people, and getting out of your comfort zone. But it was this exact policy that allowed me to get to know new people.

I went to a public magnet schools in Louisville, KY. While the whole school was racially integrated, my classes were not. Out of the ~60 students in my program, 4 were Black. I spent all of elementary, middle, and high school not seeing more than a handful of other Black students. Getting to live in a dorm with others like me was my chance to experience something new. I lived with people who'd shared similar experiences being the only Black student in their classes growing up. Finally we got to be together. I learned about America's Black, Caribbean, and many other cultures. I wouldn't trade that experience for the world.

Living in this environment also changed a bias I'd developed growing up. I'd never seen other Black and Brown students who were as smart (and often, much smarter) than I was. Being around these folks boosted my self confidence. I now could see that being smart and Black wasn't the exception, as it had been growing up, but rather the norm.

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A: We bring Black software engineers together to provide one another support, and help one another accomplish their career goals. Members do this in small groups that meet monthly.

But I'll actually paste in some of the benefits a recent member was recently talking about ...

  1. Networks matter. We've seen the success of NSBE in helping with the community and with careers from job connections. /dev/color is capable of doing the same but with more emphasis on software and tech startups.
  2. Peer coaching. This is a bigger thing than people realize. While we're 99% the same, the 1% difference that engineers of color deal with in their careers is enough that there's an additional benefit to talking to people within this group. There's a huge benefit of already speaking the same "culture" and a huge benefit of having a "safe space" to discuss career issues, including race.
  3. Career development. /dev/color offers engineers the opportunity to take on leadership roles in a supportive environment. This is great for those looking to test the waters of becoming an engineering leader. There's also a great number of engineering leaders in /dev/color that can offer peer coaching for those looking to take that step.
  4. Access! /dev/color has been working to create an audience with top-tier founders, leaders, and VCs of tech startups. This access has traditionally been hard/rare for engineers of color.

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A: It's interesting. I think of myself very much between both. My parents raised me to know and be proud of my heritage as a Nigerian. That said, I didn't visit the country of my birth until I was in high school. Wow, was that an interesting experience. For the first time in my life I didn't have to explain to anyone how to say my name (in fact they could say it better than I could). At the same time, I was now the one with the foreign accent, who didn't know how to get around, and had to adjust to the different way of life.

Back in the US, I still celebrate my culture, go to Nigerian weddings, mix in bits of Yoruba when talking to my family. This is how I grew up, so my default way of thinking is mainly rooted in being a Black American. That said, I'd still love to work with folks in Nigeria, and on the continent as a whole. I worked for a while with Bridge International Academies back in 2011, and would love to find more opportunities to work "at home".

It is certainly a feeling of having one foot in each world.

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