Makinde Adeagbo knows how isolating it can be to live and work in Silicon Valley as an African American. He says it’s even more isolating to be a software engineer here.
Adeagbo, who is an engineer at the San Francisco company Pinterest, says he can go weeks without spotting another black engineer in America’s tech hub.
“It’s not only that you are the only black person in the room or in the company, often times you are the only black person you see in Palo Alto or Menlo Park,” says Adeagbo, 30.
About 1% of engineers at Facebook and Google are African American. The population of Palo Alto, Calif. is 2% African American, Menlo Park, Calif., is under 5%.
Over the summer Adeagbo founded /dev/color, a nonprofit group for African-American engineers that officially launched on Wednesday. The group brings together engineers from top companies such as Facebook, Uber and Airbnb to provide support and a voice to African Americans and give them the opportunity to raise up the next generation, Adeagbo says.
Adeagbo says he hit on the idea while volunteering as a mentor to a couple of computer science students.
“These students knew they had someone who had their backs, whom they could look up to and reach out to when they needed help. I thought to myself: Every black software engineer could accomplish a lot if they had someone like this,” says Adeagbo. .
The name /dev/color is a reference to a common directory on computer systems “as well as our efforts to strengthen the community of Black software engineers, engineers of color,” he says.
Adeagbo’s /dev/color is joining Black Girls Code, Code 2040 and the Hidden Genius Project, a new and growing wave of enterprising organizations founded by African Americans aimed at addressing the scarcity of African Americans in the tech industry.
“Other black software engineers need to provide this for the black engineers coming behind them,” says Adeagbo, who is splitting his time between /dev/color and Pinterest. “We all need to work together to pull ourselves up and make sure we are accomplishing all that we can.”
The challenge is daunting: A fraction of the tech work force in Silicon Valley is African American and little progress has been made to address the problem. Only 1% of venture-capital-backed start-ups are led by African-Americans and less than 1% of general partners at major venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, the ones that back tomorrow’s Facebooks and Googles, are African American.
High-tech’s diversity problem is being met with a growing sense of urgency. The predominantly white male industry runs the risk of losing touch with the diverse nation — and world — that forms its customer base. At the same time African Americans are being excluded from the fastest-growing, highest-paying jobs in the nation.
“We are a community that helps one another, and part of that is that younger people get to see these role models: black software engineers who are getting into management, or trying to start their own companies or are becoming real experts in their technical domain,” Adeagbo says of /dev/color. “Those examples help lead someone to believe: I can do this because someone like me is doing this.”
The group has held fireside chats with tech pioneer Ken Coleman and Facebook’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer, and plans more in the coming months.
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