#winning: Ayo Suber & the Intersection of Art, Tech, and Black Liberation
We sat down with /dev/color A* member Ayo Suber, polymath, creative technologist, artist and UI Engineer at Square, for her thoughts about Black Liberation-focused education in tech-oriented spaces.
/dev/color’s member spotlight #winning series goes behind the scenes with the leaders, achievers, and go-getters of the /dev/color community, to celebrate how our members are shaping the future of tech. For this issue, we spoke with SF-based UI developer, Ayo Suber, on the overlap between the Black Liberation movement(s) of the mid-Twentieth Century, and the tech industry as we know it today.
Think of some Black leaders and political activists from the 1960s and 70s. You might imagine Angela Davis, Huey Newton, or Kwame Ture (formerly Stokely Charmichael). Now think of the contemporary leaders in the tech industry. Who comes to mind? Steve Jobs? Jeff Bezos? Reed Hastings?
Many of us wouldn’t envision a space where the two overlap. Enter Ayo Suber: a change maker in the /dev/color community bridging that gap.
As part of /dev/color’s mission to empower Black software engineers to help one another grow into industry leaders, each engineer in our A* program has access to the minds of all 500+ cohort members through a communication tool with themed channels, private groups, and direct messaging. Ayo, a senior engineer in design technology at Square, is very active on this platform. “I’m usually in #interestingarticles,” she tells us, a channel for sharing and reading, as one might expect, articles that have sparked a member’s interest, and might spark the interest of others. “And in my squad,” Ayo continues, “we’re always talking to each other as well.”
Recently, Ayo posted in the #general community channel about two iconic radical Black thinkers/activists, Fred Hampton and Malcolm X.
Ayo offered several resources of in depth information about these two leaders in the “Black radical” tradition of oppositional thought. We asked about her motivation in sharing these resources in a tech-centric environment, and if she believes the field has anything to learn from this particular type of education. “Absolutely,” she affirms, “I think our education system does not do a good job of talking about this facet of American history at all. And I’m lucky that my parents were very good about doing corrective education.”
Ayo’s post about Illinois Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton was sparked by the recent release of the movie Judas and the Black Messiah, but she’s always had a personal connection to Black activism. “My dad is an organizer in New Orleans; he’s been doing that his whole life. And my mom was in the Black Liberation Movement before she became a lawyer, and then she started doing pro bono work for people who were targeted by police. So that’s always been a thing in my family.”
“I think our education system does not do a good job of talking about this facet of American history at all. And I’m lucky that my parents were very good about doing corrective education.”
This isn’t ancient history, either, Ayo reminds us. “There’s a lot of Panthers still out here, especially in Oakland!” Through her position on the board of the San Francisco African American Arts and Culture Complex, Ayo recently had the opportunity to connect with the Panther’s former Minister of Culture, Emory Douglas, widely respected for his work illustrating The Black Panther newspaper.
As a design technologist, Ayo’s responsibilities fall under those of both an engineer and a creative. Speaking with Emory Douglas, with all his experience in creative design, gave her insight on the importance of impactful symbolism and accessibility in graphics. “There are people who can’t read, there’s people who don’t speak English,” she remembers Douglas saying, “and they need to be able to understand what’s being told in these pamphlets, flyers, and whatever, really quickly. So a lot of his illustrations [made it] very easy to recognize exactly what was happening in the story.”
“It wasn’t just someone just making drawings,” Ayo adds, “Everything was very well thought through. It’s a lot like the way that advertising agencies operate except that it’s coming from a place of access, instead of consumerism.”
Ayo’s role in design technology at Square is a kind of full-circle return to her unique introduction to the field of engineering. Having gone to school for photography and business, engineering wasn’t exactly an expected transition. Before settling in San Francisco, she landed an administrative position at an art-based nonprofit, where, unexpectedly, Ayo realized she had natural engineering skills. “I had to basically do everything for them, including making their website. I liked it, and one day I was just like, ‘You think I could just do this for work?’” Her experience at the nonprofit officially launched Ayo into tech consulting, giving her contractual work with Ebay and Google. “Them putting me at those big companies made it easy for me to transition into going into tech for real.”
“[Douglas’s work is] a lot like the way that advertising agencies operate except that it’s coming from a place of access, instead of consumerism.”
As a self-taught engineer, Ayo thanks her city for all the opportunities for growth it provided, and continues to provide. “I probably never would have thought about being an engineer if I didn’t live in San Francisco,” she shares, “There’s not anywhere else that would be like, ‘We want more women in tech, and we’re gonna pay for them to get into tech.’ I got to meet a lot of people who run companies who are just very well-connected.”
Ayo’s been a member at /dev/color for three years now, not-so-coincidentally the same amount of time she’s been with Square: “I actually got my job because our [chapter’s annual] kickoff was at Square. I met with a recruiter, and then a month later I had a job at Square.” Aside from the career opportunities, one of Ayo’s favorite things about /dev/color is the camaraderie. “The networking is great, you meet a lot of good people. You can get a lot of your questions answered.” But first and foremost, she tells us, “I really love my squad.”
/dev/color is a home for Black software engineers, providing a place to start and stay in the tech industry. We center Blackness, the Black experience, and Black excellence as a necessary workforce equity strategy. As we provide the framework and mechanisms for our members to hold one another accountable to ambitious goals, we’re committed to being an accountability partner in the greater industry. We encourage employers to walk the walk with us in deconstructing inequitable racialized systems and behaviors, in order to change tech for good.
Learn more about /dev/color and the A* Program at devcolor.org.