Earlier this week, Code2040 hosted our first PopUp, a new series of stand-alone workshops and panels designed to engage a broader community of participants, particularly rising Black and Latinx tech professionals. For this inaugural event, we explored the theme Getting Ahead. 75 audience members gathered at the headquarters of our host, CircleCI, for stories and strategies on how Black and Latinx talent can not only survive, but thrive in their careers.
Panelists Jose Browne, Staff Engineer at CircleCI; Marco Rogers, Director of Engineering at Lever; Raena Saddler Schellinger, Head of Product & People Operations at Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation; Nadia Gathers, Internal Communications at GitHub and a member of the Stanford d.School teaching team; as well as the moderator, Code2040’s Senior Director of Community Mobilization Mimi Fox Melton, offered personal and professional insight into their own experiences and what they’ve learned as Black & Latinx professionals. We’ve taken that knowledge and condensed it down to 10 tips.
1. Be honest with yourself and your coworkers. If you’re unhappy at the office, you don’t need to pretend like you are. If your workload is unsustainable, don’t pretend that it is. Lying about work happiness doesn’t help anyone, most of all you. It’s a survival tactic to put on a happy face or project a muted version of yourself in spaces where you might not feel safe to be angry or overwhelmed, but if you want a long and fruitful career, you have to do more than survive.
2. Salary negotiations: Do your research. California is the fourth state, after Massachusetts, Oregon, and Delaware, to make it illegal for employers to inquire about past compensation. Cities such as New York, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia have also passed laws forbidding employers from asking about your previous salary. Regardless of laws, don’t offer it up first. Know what the market value is for your role. Before you go into the interview or salary conversation, have 2 numbers in mind: The Floor, aka the lowest number you’ll work for and feel good about, and The Ceiling, your dream number. If you need to come up with a number for your desired salary, you’ll have it ready to go. And if they offer you less than your lowest number, you’ll know in advance how to react. This will save you from having to come up with numbers on the fly.
3. Build and cherish a network of peers. Find your people and support your people. No one is an island.
“15 years ago it was just white people and me. My journey had me getting further and further from my people to get ahead. Now, being able to sit in this room full of black & brown people, this only happened in the last few years. I had to convince myself that it’s not a big deal and that it’s okay. I’m still unlearning that. You can’t just let that trauma go. I feel better and more centered with more of my people around me. I can be black in a space where I couldn’t always be black.” — Marco Rogers
4. If you’re getting raises, don’t worry about title. More responsibility, more money, and more leverage doesn’t necessarily mean management. Particularly in tech, Individual Contributors, aka IC’s, can climb the ladder and advance in their careers without the titles. The IC path is parallel to the management path, not opposite from it.
“Not everyone should manage. A lot of people don’t want to! We’re moving away from the idea that more responsibility means management. Just because you hit a certain age doesn’t mean you should manage.” –Raena Saddler Schellinger
5. Advocate for yourself. There will always be bad managers. And managers rarely get fired because there are systems in place to keep them in power. Learn how to advocate for yourself, speak truth to power, and work around them. Remember that bad managers are people too and that they learned their maladaptive behavior from someone else. Put yourself in a position with other job prospects, so if they’re aren’t valuing you, you can move on. Always remember that you have agency to leave. Sometimes leaving is the most powerful thing you can do.
6. Document everything. If things are going well, you’ll have tangible proof that showcases how amazing you are at your job. You can leverage that to advocate for yourself in talks of promotions and raises. If things are bad at work, you can build your case in the event that you have to stand up for yourself or leave. Screenshot your work, any feedback, or off-putting correspondence and put it in a folder. You might need it one day.
7. Send the application, even when you’re not sure if you’re ready. Put yourself out there and don’t be afraid of failure. Don’t skip out on an interview because you’re afraid of being embarrassed. Every interview is a learning opportunity, as is every job. You have to be aware of imposter syndrome, the persistent feeling of inadequacy even in the face of evidence that shows you’re qualified.
“You feel like you’re going to get fired the first weeks of a new job. You’re afraid you have no idea what you’re doing and that they know you have no idea what you’re doing. The higher you climb, the more intense that pressure gets.” –José Browne
8. Always practice self-care, but figure out what type of self-care you need. This might seems self-evident, but it has to be said. If you don’t take care of yourself, every other aspect of your life suffers, including your work. But not everyone requires the same kind of self-care. If facemasks and Netflix don’t do it for you, try something as simple as blocking out a lunch hour or taking the evening off of social media. See also: #9.
“In the past, I hid pieces of myself that didn’t conform. Now I need to say out loud that I’m in pain and focus on myself instead of thinking how can I just do my job. If I’m not okay, none of that matters. I’m a boundary queen now. I set boundaries for my time. I need to keep myself healthy completely outside of tech. That transfers over to work life.” –Nadia Gathers
9. It’s not your job to catch and call-out every microaggression. If you have the energy for this and are up for the challenge, by all means, have at it. But being the only or one of few Black and Latinx employees does not mean it’s your responsibility to do so.
“Some days it’s ‘gotta catch them all’ and you call out every microaggression. Sometimes you’re up to the challenge. But it’s not your job. The white people in the room aren’t doing it either.” –Raena Saddler Schellinger
10. Don’t forget about side projects! If you aren’t finding fulfillment or inspiration at work, pick up a side project. These take time and resources and are largely a labor of love, but they have benefits that your day job might not provide. Excitement, the unknown, full creative agency. Personal projects are also a great way to level up and improve your skills. A lot of tech jobs are repetitive and don’t offer much forward motion on a day-to-day basis. Side projects allow you to keep pushing yourself to learn new things. You can learn anything on Youtube these days. But remember, coming back to #1, be honest with yourself and don’t take on more than you can handle.