As a Java Developer, I believe my University education (B.Sc. Business Information Technology degree) set a good foundation for a career in Tech. It introduced me to the importance of information technology in supporting business growth, as well as introducing the wonders of the World Wide Web. However, I don’t believe it made me job ready. I learned far more to prepare me for a real career in Tech from the Internet, than I ever gained from my degree course. However, there are things that your University degree and the Internet cannot prepare you for, and there are a lot of things I know now from experience, that I wish I knew at the start of my Tech career, such as…
I am a Unicorn… There has rarely been anyone that looks like me doing Java Development (or any kind of Server Side/Back-end development) in any of the four companies I have worked for in the last 15 years, and it’s always been the same landscape and vibe, so I naturally end up being forced to become ‘one of the lads’. I have recently had the pleasure of working with four Male BME Java Developers, which was definitely a change in scenery, but I think I must have come across only one other Black Female Java Developer in the last 10 years at my current company, and that was a contractor working there for 6 months back in 2008.
Also I have had to get use to shocked looks and disbelief when I tell people I am a Java Developer. A regular comment I get is ‘Noooo way! But you look…. normal’. I kid you not, I have been mistaken for a PA, Manager, Secretary, Tea Lady, Cleaner and…. Nothing wrong with any of those jobs, but I mean couldn’t it be possible that I can be Black, Female and a Developer all at the same time?
After all these years I finally learned to accept that I am indeed a Unicorn, and I have learned to embrace it. But I still have high hopes of seeing a revolution lol… There must be other Black Female Java Developers out there in the UK? Maybe we’ll discover more of them through UK Black Tech :-).
It’s OK to not know what direction you want to go in Tech… In the first few years of my tech career, tech innovations and updates weren’t very speedy, so your employer expected you to learn everything and anything about a version of a tech product, and be the SME in that product. Not anymore. Tech now changes quicker than the weather, so you will constantly be researching and experimenting with different tech, and therefore your tech interests and ambitions will change rapidly too, opening up a wealth of opportunities to change direction numerous times during your career, and fall into an area of tech you truly enjoy working with. So don’t sweat it if you don’t know for sure which area of tech you want to get into from the get go.
You have to believe in yourself first… Imposter Syndrome is a killer of dreams. You must believe in yourself, before expecting your employer or anyone else to believe in you. Speak up in meetings and be a voice to be heard. Usually there’s no right or wrong answers, and there’s probably about 10 different ways to solve a tech problem, so if you have an idea share it amongst your team and get the recognition you deserve.
You have to take responsibility for your own career development… Don’t sit and rely on your employer to map out your career development plan, organise courses, and constantly pay for it all. Some employers are great and will flash the cash every year or two, but a lot of them will choose the paths/courses relative to their agenda only, and not necessarily meeting your tech career desires. You need to be the author of your tech career journey, and you MUST invest time, and some of your own money, in your continuous development and education, or your tech skills will eventually go down hill. Climbing up that hill once you realise you’re near the bottom is a bittersweet pill to swallow, when you realise your skills are 5 years behind, due to the ageing tech your company is still using, or your skills are no longer marketable, so just don’t do it to yourself. Invest in yourself, both in tech and soft skills, and keep the opportunities knocking at your door until you’re ready to answer it. REMEMBER, your tech career development is your responsibility.
BS never works in the long run in tech… I’ve never been one to BS in the workplace as I’ve always felt it was best to be honest and upfront about my knowledge on a tech subject, rather than play like I know it all. Over the years some of my colleagues have tried to persuade me to just tell the ‘boss’ what he wants to hear, but time and time again I’ve seen previous colleagues go down this route and it’s always come back to bite them firmly on the behind when they get found out. I still believe in honesty first. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing about something. As long as you are honest and you can demonstrate the desire and adaptability to learn and figure it out quickly, you should succeed.
You need to learn the art of Networking… I’ve always been on the shy side when I initially meet people, and I have learnt the hard way and lost out on a few good opportunities because of this. Whether it’s face to face or via an online community it is important to build up your experience of networking and get comfortable with it FAST. Even if you hate it, push yourself to go and find an informal group to break your networking fears to start with. Many job opportunities have been identified, collaborations started, and tech problems solved through a quick chat with someone new at a networking event. It also definitely pays to tell an authentic story of yourself when networking.
It is a pleasure to be involved with UK Black Tech. UK Black Tech is a well needed resource for BME tech professionals and businesses, and I hope through the wealth of experience and connections it offers we can support many people at the beginning of their tech careers and ventures, setting them off on the right path with less unknowns.
By Dionne Condor-Farrell – Java Developer