A Morehouse Student’s Take on Tech and Diversity Recruitment
“So, who exactly is on your platform?”
It’s the most common question people ask me after learning about Jopwell, which introduces great underrepresented ethnic minority candidates to great job opportunities.
I hope I’m not disappointing anyone in reporting that there’s not a single “type” of Jopwell candidate. Thousands of students and professionals are on the platform — from computer scientists and consultants to Rhodes Scholars and Olympians — and each brings his or her own experiences.
Here I’d like to share the perspective of one user we’ve had the chance to chat with, Scooter Taylor.
A senior at Morehouse College in Atlanta, he is a passionate entrepreneur and digital marketer. He has interned at Yik Yak and Qualcomm and rubbed elbows with Silicon Valley titans like Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Here, he shares his personal experience breaking into tech and reacts to Vauhini Vara’s recent Bloomberg Businessweek cover story, Why Doesn’t Silicon Valley Hire Black Coders?.
The Bloomberg Businessweek article touched a lot on students’ exposure and access to tech education and opportunities, particularly at HBCUs. How did you get interested in technology?
I first became interested in technology in middle school, when a friend and I started a YouTube channel. We called it “MacintoshTipz” and would review some of the latest tech gadgets. We became YouTube partners and grew to have 20,000 subscribers. It was my first foray into entrepreneurship. I grew up in Memphis and didn’t know many entrepreneurs, but building the channel taught me that I could really start something if I wanted to.
How did you manage to make connections in Silicon Valley while in college?
A professor sent me to the Net Impact Conference in California, which is for young leaders passionate about social responsibility. I came back with a stack of business cards, but the most important thing that happened during that trip was probably on the plane ride home: I randomly sat next to a Qualcomm recruiter, and we chatted the whole ride about my YouTube channel and the clean water initiative I’d been working on on campus. I walked off the plane with an internship, largely because I could speak to the side projects I’d been working on.
In November, I got to visit a handful of Silicon Valley companies with 63 other HBCU students on a trip through the United Negro College Fund. It was this sudden jolt of information and energy. You’re there. This isn’t some mystical land. Anyone can come and really kill it. That was incredibly motivating. It’s something I’m going to keep with me forever.
In what ways do you think being an HBCU student with an interest in working at a technology company differs from being a student at a non-HBCU with similar aspirations?
At HBCUs, you may have to grind a little harder to break in. You might be a great engineer, but you truly have to work to create opportunities because there isn’t the same precedent. It’s all the more important to leverage platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Github, Medium — and now Jopwell — to connect with people on the inside. And any time you’re the first student from your school to intern at a particular company, you should feel really motivated to do a great job. You want to leave a positive impression so that when the company is hiring for the next cycle, they see another candidate from Morehouse and remember what a good experience it was the last time around. In that sense, there’s a pressure to be twice as good.
What’s your advice to student coders for how they can position themselves to get “discovered?”
You should strive to be the best at what you do — and show it off! Basically, don’t wait for Google to tap you on the shoulder and ask you to apply, or for Apple or Slack to come to your career fair. Go build something now. Code something for a charity you care about. Write a Medium article about the future of tech and show your thought process. Post to Github. Find people more talented than you and go learn from them. And then, when they do have a booth on campus or you have the chance to sit next to someone on a plane or step into an interview, you can have something real to show for it. Be enriched in what you want to do. Pick yourself first.
What about for students who don’t have access to top technical education programs?
If your particular program isn’t as robust, get entrenched outside of the classroom. There are great ways to using the Internet as an equalizer. Sure, Stanford students might get close access to a semester’s worth of lectures from Y Combinator founder Sam Altman. But luckily that’s all online, too. Anyone who has access to the Internet can soak up that same knowledge.
How do you view the value of learning to code?
I always try to remember that tech skills can be applied to many areas of life. Learning how to code or build websites or create something in Photoshop really teaches you how to solve problems and make something from nothing. We don’t want more workers. We want more creators. If you can code, then you can create whatever you want. If we’re pushing people to learn tech skills just so they can work at a top tech company, then we’re missing out on a huge opportunity.
While interning at Yik Yak, Taylor brought 40 African-American middle and high schoolers on an office tour through Estella’s Brilliant Bus, an organization that introduces kids from underserved communities to technology education and opportunities.
Are there any misconceptions you think people have about the experience of being an underrepresented ethnic minority from an HBCU working at a tech company? Or about the definition of “cultural fit”?
HBCU students want to work at great tech companies, yes. But from the people I’ve talked to, it’s not like we all want a red carpet and expect everyone to laugh at all our jokes. No! We want the opportunity to add value to companies and learn, just like the students at Stanford and MIT want to do. Yes, I probably do have some different experiences from you because of my racial background. But just ask me if you have a question about it. Let’s not overcomplicate it.
What’s the simplest way for recruiters to reach out to and recruit more students at Morehouse and other HBCUs?
Visit an HBCU campus. Walk around and connect with students. Host a lunch or set up a Google Hangout for an hour. We have a lot of talent.
Scooter Taylor is a senior at Morehouse College and the cofounder of Water Wars Atlanta, a nonprofit that helps provide clean water access to several regions in Sub-Saharan Africa. Porter Braswell is CEO and cofounder of the diversity recruitment startup Jopwell. This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.