27 Badass Black Techies: Part 2

Thoughts on Black History Month

Women of Silicon Valley
Mar 2 · 10 min read

By Raquel Small

In our conversations with 27 Badass Black Techies, we asked a simple question:

“What’s on your mind this Black History Month?”

Madison Jacobs

Content Marketing Strategy Lead for Google for Startups | she/her

Madison leads the content marketing strategy at Google for Startups. She was raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana where she fell in love with writing and entrepreneurship while spending afternoons dreaming inside the four walls of her grandparents’ small business. Madison received degrees in Journalism and Mass Communication and African American Studies from Arizona State University and is a member of Omega Phi Chi Multicultural Sorority, Inc. She’s a Yoga Alliance registered yoga teacher, an instructor at CorePower Yoga in the Bay Area, and a former Brand Ambassador for Athleta.

What’s something that’s on your mind this Black History Month?

The Black tech community’s definition of allyship. What does allyship mean to us, and how do we work to welcome people in while holding them accountable? Allyship isn’t about positioning. It’s not just about throwing funding at a program for Black folks. It’s not just wearing “I support the [insert cause]” t-shirts. It’s about being willing to put something real on the line. It’s about trust, and it’s about consistency. It’s not a one-time act. It is a way of life.

Aleta Hayes

Lecturer at Stanford University | she/her

Aleta Hayes is a lecturer at Stanford University in the Department of Theater and Performance Studies, director, and choreographer. Her latest passion is offering Embodied Leadership workshops, which utilize performance techniques to enhance and transform leadership skills within the d.school at Stanford University and beyond.

What’s something that’s on your mind this Black History Month?

When I was growing up, my parents made sure I understood the accomplishments of African-Americans in the United States and the brilliant cultural achievements stretching back to Africa. So what comes to my mind is how important it is for me to pay that forward and to share that rich legacy with students and colleagues alike. My parents gave me this gift sitting around the dinner table, and not just during Black History Month. So right alongside my great education in European classical forms and traditions, I was schooled in Black excellence, and that gave me an unshakeable confidence I can access in any performance arena.

Annie Jean-Baptiste

Global Product Inclusion Evangelist, Google | she/her

Annie Jean-Baptiste is Google’s Global Product Inclusion Evangelist. She is passionate about making the web and Google’s products work for underserved communities and ensuring that Google is a place where everyone shines for their differences. She’s responsible for working with Google product teams on the creation and execution of their diversity strategy, and formerly created programs related to Diversity talent management/career development within several technical product areas within Google. Outside of Google, Annie is an American Heart Association spokesperson and a One Young World ambassador, focused on healthy lifestyles in underserved communities. She most recently was featured in Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B campaign to help people find resilience in the face of adversity. She has also been covered in Vogue, Essence, Milton Magazine and the Boston Globe. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with degrees in International Relations & Political Science.

What’s something that’s on your mind this Black History Month?

We need to build products for everyone, with everyone. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because all people deserve to be seen. When we do that, we’ll fully reflect the beauty and diversity of our world. We’ll leverage the brilliance of Black people and all underrepresented communities to innovate to our full potential.

Stoyan Francis

Special Projects Manager, GetFeedback | she/her

Stoyan is currently a Special Projects Manager at GetFeedback Inc. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Women and Gender Studies and a Master’s Degree in Social Justice. Her passion for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has lead her to speak on national levels at various conferences including: LGBT National Task Force Creating Change conference, Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom, & UC Berkeley’s Empowering Womxn of Color Conference (to name a few). It is her hope that the creation of more inclusive spaces will lead to a powerful cultural climate change.

What’s something that’s on your mind this Black History Month?

This specific quote by Nikki Giovanni: “Once you know who you are, you don’t have to worry anymore.” One of the biggest issues with tech is visibility. Black people can not see ourselves at every level of a tech company, from entry to C-level. So it is my hope that we start to highlight the contributions from communities of color to the tech industry. Giving young children of color a new lens to see their future and their ancestors’ legacy has the potential to create even more Mark Deans or Lisa Gelobters. Visibility leads to vision.

“Visibility leads to vision.”

Yoli Stancil

VP of Wireline Operations, Verizon | she/her

Yoli is a Vice President of Wireline Operations for Verizon. Her team is tasked with delivering excellent customer service, growing revenue, increasing margin and innovating while keeping their customer’s needs first. Her team supports a complex network infrastructure of cables and equipment that delivers services for both the fiber optics and legacy copper network across Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Prior to her current role, she was the Director of Network Engineering and led Network Center Operations. Yoli received her Bachelors degree in Organizational Behavior from St. Joseph’s University and earned a Master of Public Administration at Long Island University. She sits on the Board of the Northern New Jersey chapter of Junior Achievement and is active in her local PTA.

What’s something that’s on your mind this Black History Month?

The importance of the next generation knowing they can do anything they put their mind to. When I listen to young people in my community speak about their future, some of them have this misconception that their only option for success is to be a star on TV. That’s great of course, but what our youth need to realize is there’s so much more for them out there. There is so much opportunity for them in the tech industry. With technology changing at a pace faster than ever before, they can be entrepreneurs, innovators, inventors. They can have a successful career in corporate America.

Vanessa Whatley

UX Researcher, Google | she/her

Vanessa is a UX Researcher at Google where she works on improving the advertising experience for small and medium sized businesses. She studied Anthropology at UC Berkeley and went on to get an MS in Human Factors in Information Design at Bentley. Vanessa loves connecting people and sharing strategies on career navigation with recent grads and those looking to pivot.

What’s something that’s on your mind this Black History Month?

Resilience & vulnerability. I love the quote by Maya Angelou: “We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated. It may even be necessary to encounter the defeat, so that we can know who we are. So that we can see, oh, that happened, and I rose. I did get knocked down flat in front of the whole world, and I rose.” For me, it captures the resilience, the strength, the magic of Black people in the face of inequality. It inspires me to keep going when things get hard.

On the other hand, I also think about the need for vulnerability, acceptance and rest. I worry about what happens when the “worth” of an entire group is marked by their ability to endure suffering. Even seemingly positive attributes like strength can have negative implications when they fail to acknowledge the humanity and needs of an individual. A good example of this is how a perceived higher pain tolerance leads to discrimination in the medical system.

When the glorification of “struggle” begins to harm mental health, and physical well-being, it might be time to rethink the narratives that continue to perpetuate injustice.

Victoria Ekwenuke

Global Brand Manager, eBay | she/her

Victoria is the Global Brand Manager at eBay working in Silicon Valley. With more than 10 + years of traditional CPG and entrepreneurial know-how, Victoria brings an unconventional outlook on the magic between brands, people and experiences.

With an MBA from Howard University, her career in brand management spans across manufacturing companies like Colgate Palmolive in New York, Wrigley in Chicago and Unilever in Toronto. Born in Canada, Victoria’s family is originally from Nigeria. She initially moved to the US on a soccer scholarship in 2002 and has traveled, worked and lived all over the globe. She gives back to the community by speaking at various events, blogging using her alias @AnalogBlackGirl, and contributes to the diaspora movement via her pet project @SpeakNowAfrica.

What’s something that’s on your mind this Black History Month?

The time for generational excellence is now. We need to be the authors of our own stories. This time is so interesting… it’s like we’re on the brink of breaking silence. I know that once it’s broken fully, there’s no turning back. It’s not good enough for our sons, daughters, nieces and nephews to read about omitted events or be fed half-truths via the media. The next generation needs to hear from us directly. We’re surrounded by so much excellence — Black founders, CEOs, etc. Literally, we’re revolutionizing the game. There is no better time than now.

Miyishia Slay

Senior Product Marketing Manager, LinkedIn | she/her

Miyishia is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at LinkedIn, where she leads go-to-market strategy for LinkedIn Talent Solutions. Over the the last 10 years, she has built a career in product marketing working on B2C and B2B products for companies such as Google, Samsung, Asana and Intuit. An advocate for community service, Miyishia has served on the board for Soulciety, a nonprofit focused on youth workforce development, and volunteers with Black Girls Code.

What’s something that’s on your mind this Black History Month?

“Lifting as we climb” — I used to be a part of NABA (National Association of Black Accountants) in college and this was their value statement. Now that I am further along in my career, I realize fully want this means. While I still have my own goals to accomplish, I still need to make sure I’m looking back and to the side to help others along the way. We are better together.

Afiya Addison

Education Lead, LinkedIn| she/her

Afiya Addison is the North American Education Lead for the Agency and Channel Sales business at LinkedIn. Afiya is passionate about helping people develop themselves both personally and professionally, and through her work at LinkedIn she helps businesses and individuals promote their brand on the platform. Through delivering educational and inspirational content in a meeting room or on the main stage, Afiya aims to help women and young professionals develop what it takes to become successful in tech, advertising and all forms of media.

What’s something that’s on your mind this Black History Month?

How I can promote self-care in women of color communities. Given my recent surgery, I realized that although we’ve been having a rich dialogue about self-care for the past several years, women of color are still held to impossible standards. As a Black woman in tech and advertising, I want to change the narrative. While it’s important to continue highlighting that Black women are often the smartest in the room and the best at our jobs — we also should acknowledge that this is HARD to maintain. It is okay to take care of yourself, take time to relax, and de-stress.

Lauren Reeves

Backend Software Engineer | she/her

Lauren is a Backend Software Engineer and tech (s)hero. She started her journey in tech at the University of Michigan, where she received her Bachelors in Computer Science Engineering. After graduating she began her career at BlackRock working on various financial technologies, then transitioned to Postmates, a logistics company in the delivery space. In her spare time, Lauren serves on panels, speaks at conferences, writes a blog and mentors.

What’s something that’s on your mind this Black History Month?

What are we doing to leave a legacy? One of the reasons I love Black History Month is every year, I learn how someone I identify with has left an impact on the world. From inventing the stop light, to reimagining equality, to influencing a genre of music, it’s inspiring to see how Black people have contributed so much to the generations after them. I hope to leave my own footprint for years to come.

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Women of Silicon Valley

Celebrating accomplished women and genderqueer folks in tech. The Women of Silicon Valley team consists of Clarissa Bukhan, Lea Coligado, Tamar Nisbett, Jessica Sullivan and Marianne Abreu.

Women of Silicon Valley

Written by

Telling the stories of resilient women & genderqueer techies, especially those of color.

Women of Silicon Valley

Celebrating accomplished women and genderqueer folks in tech. The Women of Silicon Valley team consists of Clarissa Bukhan, Lea Coligado, Tamar Nisbett, Jessica Sullivan and Marianne Abreu.

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