170 : STEM While Black (w/ Anthony D. Mays)

Ade chats with Anthony D. Mays, a software engineer at Google and the founder of Morgan Latimer Consulting, in this episode themed around helping people who are interested in breaking into the STEM fields, particularly tech. Anthony shares his unique career journey with us and talks about how he transitioned from consulting to writing to Google. He and Ade also discuss how to both assess personal progress and adjust when you feel you’re not making as much progress as you should. Listen to the full episode to hear some great advice for first-time conference attendees and so much more!

Connect with Anthony on LinkedInTwitter, and Instagram!

Find out more about Morgan Latimer Consulting at MorganLatimer.com. Check out their socials: TwitterInstagram


Ade: Welcome back to Living Corporate, and I admit my name is Ade Adesina. Today with us we have the awesome, amazing, talented Anthony D. Mays.

Anthony: Grateful to serve.

Ade: [laughs] The man, the myth, the legend. Please, Anthony, tell us all about yourself.

Anthony: Sure. So I am a software engineer at Google and the founder of MorganLatimer.com, a new firm that I just started, to help people who are interested in getting into tech learn what they need to do to pass the interviews. So I’ve been working at Google for five years, and I tell everybody that’s five years longer than I thought that I’d be working at Google. As a foster kid from the hood, you know, who went through some difficult times, I just never imagined I’d have the opportunity to work at a place like Google. And so now that I’m there, I’m trying to help lift out a hand to everyone else from my community and from other communities.

Ade: Yeah, that is dope. Could you talk us through how you got there? I was doing some quick LinkedIn stalking and noticed that you transitioned from consulting to writing to Google. Like, what was that transition like? How did life take you through all of these different spaces?

Anthony: Yeah. So for me it started in college as I was first starting my computer science degree at the University of California, Irvine. I was approached by a Google recruiter and given an application to apply for an internship. I took the application and threw it in the trash almost immediately, because I just didn’t see myself fitting in. I wasn’t doing stellar in school. I had horrible math grades. Did fine in computer science, but I just didn’t think that I had what it took to rise to the caliber of what I thought a Google engineer would be. I didn’t have a conception of what a Google engineer was, other than what I saw in movies and TV shows, where, you know, typically these are predominantly white or Asian guys who have the money to transform their basement into a computer lab and to innovate and all of these kinds of things. These are the people who can afford to drop out of college. I could definitely not afford to drop out of college. So, you know, I did the best I could in terms of securing internships and jobs after that and did do some time consulting, and yeah, I got a call in 2011 from Google to–you know, they reached out and wanted me to interview, and I had no idea how to interview with Google. Like, I didn’t have a mother, brother, sister, cousin, uncle, friend who had done that before. So I went in trying to prepare the best that I could, but I ultimately failed, because I was prepared to answer brain teasers, and that’s not what I got in the real interview experience. So I got called another two times by Google recruiters. Both times I said no. But that last recruiter changed that no to a yes, and I appreciate her so much, because she understood that I was coming from a place that most people don’t come from and that I needed the extra encouragement. And so with her encouragement and just working hard, studying every day for about a month, I was able to secure a job at Google. And after I joined Google it wasn’t like everything was perfect. I really struggled with impostor syndrome. I struggled with this idea that no matter what people were telling me, I was different. I couldn’t trust even positive feedback, because sure, you might think that I’m doing a good job today, but how do you know that I’m going to be able to rise to the occasion tomorrow? So I struggled with that until Google released their diversity numbers, in which case I sort of woke up to this idea that the reason why I felt such discomfort was because I didn’t see people who looked like me, who came from where I came from. I had no frame of reference, and I felt like I was floating in this new, foreign world without having a good sense of direction. And so determined to make sure the next generation of technologists wouldn’t have to deal with things the way that I dealt with them. I’ve began to dedicate myself with Google’s support and with Google’s help towards reaching this community and doing as much as I could to share my own story, but then also point people to the reality of what it’s like to be me, or to be like me, and work in this space, with all of the opportunities, benefits, and challenges that come with that.

Ade: And you just mentioned with Google’s support. How did you kind of scaffold the support that you needed, and how did Google support you within that context, both as your own individual as you grew your career trajectory and then as you started to reach out to your community to breach that divide of what a technologist looks like?

Anthony: So it started with the site director in my office, and the site director sort of identified me very early on as someone who might be inclined to lead this office initiative that we had called Giving Week–well, a Google-wide initiative called Giving Week, where we encourage employees to donate their money towards charitable causes and Google matches the amount. So I don’t know how it was, but the site director I guess had an eye on me and thought that I would be a good person to lead this effort. And I thought it was really strange because it was only my first year, and I don’t know what they saw in me, but it was, like, the first official vote of confidence from someone within in the company around my skills and abilities. So I went and led that event for the office, and as part of that I sponsored an organization myself, InRoads. InRoads was one of the companies that helped me secure my first internship and my first job in tech. And, you know, in seeking to honor that organization, I shared my life story, and that story went from my office to going viral all across the company. And we’re talking about offices all over the world. And that was the first real signal to me that people within the company at least cared about my narrative and what I had accomplished in becoming a software engineer at Google. And so that led to some other opportunities to demonstrate leadership and to lead various initiatives. PR reached out to me one day and asked if I might be willing to write up an article about my journey in tech and about the challenges that I had overcome, and they–you know, I wrote it all up, and they helped to edit it and make sure that my English and grammar were on point, and they helped to connect me with The Huffington Post. So that article ended up getting published in The Huffington Post, and now all of a sudden my impact is spreading from beyond Google to the outside world. And so I began to reluctantly understand that my story and my journey really was worth telling, not just within Google, but also outside. So I’ve grown to understand that my narrative is a powerful one, and one that is powerful because it proves what can be done. It proves what can be accomplished when someone who looks like me and comes from where I have come from is able to persevere and get into this space that traditionally hasn’t been occupied by folks like me.

Ade: Right. I just wanted to share that the first time I heard of you was the video that went viral, and it was inspirational for me personally because I’m doing the self-taught thing, and it started very much as a lark. I had just gotten out of a terrible relationship, moved back in with my mom, and it was, like, the eve of my 23rd birthday, and I’m like, “I have to change something.” And I had just–a few months before that I had attended this class that is, you know, directed–it’s a space for women and non-binary folks to just learn, literally just printing “hello world” in Python, and I had this rinky-dink computer that did not last six months, but it was just so empowering to figure things out, because again, I’m one of those people, kind of like you, who never thought math was my thing. I have a story about being in a math classroom, and the instructor looked at me and told me that I did not belong there, right? Like, all of these different ways and places, points in time, where I felt like I did not belong in STEM, and just being able to hear your story was incredibly empowering for me, and I think I revisit your story, that video, once every, like, six months or something. [laughs] I know I said I was fangirling before we started recording, but I’m so serious. Fangirling.

Anthony: Yeah. No, I think I too have to look at that video every six months or so. Once to remind myself that it happened, and two to remember that there is value in the things that I’ve endured and that I have a mission and purpose beyond just writing code.

Ade: Yeah, yeah. That is such a huge deal too. Zach tries to tell me all of the time that I hide my light in a lot of ways, because it takes a lot for me to start telling everyone about the things that I like to do, that I’ve accomplished. What advice would you give, you know, budding technologists, whatever end of the spectrum they’re on, about kind of owning that strength, owning that light, being able to hone their ability to talk to people about who they are and what they’re bringing to the table?

Anthony: I think that’s a fantastic question, and it’s one that I’ll answer in two ways, one from the perspective of someone who comes from an underrepresented, non-traditional background. When you come from that kind of a background, you have this added burden because there aren’t many of you in this space. So the first thing that you become is a bridge into a different world for an entire population of people who have not seen many people like you, and so there’s this responsbility to communicate between these two different worlds. I go to Compton and I talk to kids about what it’s like to work in tech, but I go into tech and I talk to people there about what it’s like to grow up in the hood as a child. So there’s this connection that happens through me and through my experiences and through what I share that gives people on both sides visibility, you know? And through that visibility, we break down stereotypes. We break down assumptions. We break down biases of things, of notions that we’ve formed as a result of watching TV or seeing movies or hearing things in the news. We break those things down by bringing our experience to the table and showing that there’s a different way, that there are different people, that we’re not just a monolith, whatever group we represent. So there’s that perspective. And it’s hard. It’s a burden. You don’t go to work planning on sharing these intimate details of your life, but for those of us who can, we do it because we understand that we are paving the way for the next generation so that when they come in they won’t have to have those conversations. So there’s that perspective, but then also from the perspective of someone who does represent the traditional Silicon Valley stereotypes or tropes or what have you, or someone who is well-represented–I think that’s a better way to put it–there’s a responsibility for those folks to be inviting and inclusive of this wave of talent from these diverse backgrounds. And one of the ways that they can do that is think about the ways in which they have felt [differentness?] and use that as a way of connecting with these people who are different. And so one of the things that the specific Google office in which I work is that there really aren’t a lot of black people there, which is understandable based upon the area, demographics and all those kinds of things, which means that I can’t just rely on people who look like me and come from where I come from in terms of, like, partnering with people to pursue positive change. I’ve got to reach people who don’t look like me and invite them to the conversation so that they will join me in the work. And so one of the things that I’ve emphasized a lot is helping people who don’t think that they have a narrative, who don’t think that they have [that plight?], convincing them that they do, and convincing them to share where they’ve come from. You know, a lot of people come to me and say, “Anthony, I didn’t grow up in the hood like you,” and I’m like, “I don’t care.” [laughs] That doesn’t matter. You didn’t have to grow up in the hood. Have you experienced any kind of poverty in your life? Have you dealt with a difficult situation before? Have you ever felt like an outsider? Were you always part of the in crowd, or was there a time where you weren’t? If you can identify that situation, then you know what it’s like to be me. Even if it hasn’t been for a lifetime. Even if it’s just been for a moment, you can take that moment and begin to build the empathy necessary to engage in meaningful, thoughtful conversation, and that’s important. And that’s why–I think that’s one of the most inclusive ways to bring everyone into the conversation. This is the way that you reach groups who aren’t black or brown or female or what have you, right? That’s how you reach them, is by helping them to understand that it’s not about being in one or more protected classes, it’s about being human, and as humans we’ve all dealt with the situation of not being like everyone else in one way or another.

Ade: I just want to, like, snap my fingers, but I can only snap my one finger, so I’m just gonna–or my one hand. Additional question – it sounds like you have spent a lot of time not just honing your technical craft, but spending a lot of time being very intentional about how you engage in these different worlds. What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned so far as you define yourself in these spaces?

Anthony: I think that’s a really good question, and you’re gonna catch me in a very honest moment, because I hadn’t thought about this before. I think one of the things that I’ve learned more than anything else, and this may be surprising, but it has to deal with the sufficiency of my faith. And what I mean by that is the most important identity that I cling to as a human being isn’t my blackness or, you know, the fact that I’m from Compton or from the hood, or even that I’m a Googler. My most important identity is my identity in Christ, my identity as a Christian, and I’ve brought that worldview and way of thinking to everything that I do. It drives my hard work and my pursuit of excellence in the work that I do, ’cause I want to be a good representative as a Christian and a good representative of Christ. But one of the reasons why I’m so keen on being inclusive of everyone [is] because, at least according to the Bible that I read, all people are made in the image of God, and that has helped me to have the proper mindset and attitude with regards to how I deal with people, even those who are different than me, because have that common bond of dignity and that common sense of value. And so because of that I’m not thinking about specifically how do I help just these people–and it’s true that folks who are underrepresented and come from non-traditional backgrounds do need a little bit more help than the rest of us, because of any number of reasons, whether that’s systematic oppression or the failures of our parents or the generations beforehand, whatever that may be. You know, some additional help is needed in some cases. I’m not saying that there isn’t, but it’s not to be at the expense of that sense of common dignity that we all share. So for me, it’s never about putting down one group so I can bring another one up, and I think that people have reacted strongly to that approach, to the approach of genuinely trying to be inclusive and respectful of everyone. I think there was a time, and there still is a time, particularly in today’s divisive American politics, where you can’t talk about your agenda and your platform without putting the other party down, without putting people who are different from you down, and it has just led to these deep and lasting fissures in our society, and it just–it doesn’t help, because if you haven’t–and I say this all the time. If you haven’t solved inclusion for everybody, you haven’t solved it for anybody. Because systems of oppression and discrimination and bias, they don’t die, they just move. They just transform. You know, much like energy itself does, and so I’m looking for enduring solutions. I’m looking for real answers. And again, to just bring this back home, I’ve relied on my faith and the things that I’ve learned from the Bible and from the word of God to drive how I do things, and it’s great to know that I haven’t had to change my faith or deviate from those principles that I grew up on in order to be effective at what I do.

Ade: I feel like I have to take a second every time you finish speaking so I can, like, internalize that. [laughs] You just spoke about help and how folks from underrepresented minorities will need extra help. I know personally I struggle with asking for help, and that’s in everything that I do. There was a time where I would much rather, like, chew my own arm off than, like, ask for help or say that I’m struggling with anything. How do you know that you need help, and what are the ways–or how do you reach out for help, and who do you trust to reach out for help? That’s, like, a three-parter, so if you need me to repeat it, let me know. [laughs]

Anthony: Nah. I mean, I connect with that immediately, because one of the first things that I had to learn getting to Google was how to ask for help. You’re surrounded by people who are so incredibly smart that you feel like your own sense of intelligence and knowledge pales in comparison, and, you know, my thinking was that as soon as I admit that I need help, I’ve now also admitted that I’m inferior. But of course this is a misguided thing, right? It’s a misguided thing to think that way when in reality we all need help with something. We can’t be experts at everything, and so we’ve got to get real about the fact that there are things that we don’t know. When we acknowledge that, then we can reach out and ask for help and derive benefit from being in a team with other smart people. And I had to learn that the hard way, and it took a while for me to understand that I was letting–I kept rehearsing in my mind my differentness and making that the focus of how I engaged with everyone else as opposed to thinking about how I’m similar to them, instead of thinking about what’s in common. And I began to learn this because I started asking people–like, I started asking people questions, and, you know, they would have the nerve to tell me that they don’t know. “You don’t know this? I just… Really?” But they would know where to look, and they would sit down with me and say, “Okay, let’s try this, or let’s try that,” and one of the most important things that I had to learn to do when asking for help was to, before I asked the question, admit what I had tried already. And this is a really important interviewing tip too, right? You need to try things, and when it seems that you’re not able to move forward, that’s when you ask for help. And you make sure to say, “Okay, I’ve been trying these things, and the parts that I’m confused about is this.” So that’s what helped, and fortunately for me, and particularly at Google, I work on a great team, and just part of the company culture is about being helpful and thoughtful and working in a team and making sure that we have the humility to serve one another. So sometimes it works better than at other times. It’s nothing that we’re anywhere near perfect on, but more often than not when I’ve asked for help or for assistance, I’ve very rarely ever been disappointed. As a matter of fact, I’ve always been surprised at how quickly people will drop what they’re doing to assist and to help. And I think it’s because we’ve all been there. We’ve been in situations where we need help with what to do next. And it always pains me when I talk to someone who, you know, comes from an underrepresented background, and they’re talking about these horrible experiences that they’ve had at companies where they’re trying to ask a question and they were put down and they were discouraged by people on their team, and, you know, it really breaks my heart. And this is one of the reasons why I’m so much of an advocate not just of getting people into tech, but specifically people getting into Google–and not to say that Google doesn’t have [?], but I’ve been very fortunate in my career, at every place that I’ve worked really, not just at Google, to be surrounded by people who genuinely were supported and cared about helping me to get from one place to another. You know, so I’m thankful for all of that encouragement along the way. So yeah, perhaps it’s been a little bit easier for me than it has been for other people, depending upon where they’ve been. I thank God for that, but yeah.

Ade: So I kind of want to ask a more general question, ’cause we’ve been asking or talking through more tech-focused questions, but in general, you know, for folks who are underrepresented minorities, sometimes you don’t have guideposts, right? You don’t necessarily know how far you’ve come, how to measure your progress. How do you assess your personal progress? How do you adjust when you feel you’re not making as much progress as you should? And I understand that you’re probably going to give me a response within the context of tech, but any way that you could provide some advice, I’d love that.

Anthony: So, you know, one of the things that’s been a key principle to live by is having an attitude of gratitude and gracefulness and thanks-giving. When you’re someone like me, who’s come from growing up as a foster kid, former physical and sexual abuse victim, there’s so much that I have to be thankful for as I think about my life now versus what it was back then. And even–and I’m even grateful that those situations happened, because if they hadn’t happened I wouldn’t be where I am today. And so one of the things that happens is that we lose that sense of gratitude and thanks-giving for the incremental progress that we make, and I generally address that by asking people a series of questions. You know, things like, “Did you get a high school degree?” “Was your GPA okay?” “Did you go to college?” “Are you passing your classes?” “Did you get at least an A on something?” You know, “Did you graduate?” “Were you the first to graduate from your family?” “Did you get a job?” “Do you still have that job?” [laughs] Right? You know, there’s just all of these things that we minimize. And it’s not even that we minimize them, it’s that we forget, right? We’re not good at keeping track of the progress that we make. You know, I think one of the reasons why I post on Instagram and Twitter and all of that stuff isn’t so much for other people as it is for me to, like, in a month’s time just go back and review, because I always tell myself, like, “What have I done today?” Like, “What have I done for me today?” [laughs] Like, “What have I done to help somebody today?” And the other thing too that’s been dangerous–so I’ve talked about having a sense of gratitude, which you absolutely have to have, but the other thing that you need to do is reframe how you think about yourself, and you need to reframe how you think about yourself in such a way that you stop comparing yourself to other people and start to understand who you are and how you fit in, focusing on your strengths and what you bring to the table. A lot of times it takes other mentors and champions to see in us and to be honest about what they see, but even in the absence of that, I think it’s important for all of us to understand that, you know, again, we’re made in the image of God, and when we put ourselves down, it’s a criticism of God himself. Let me put it that way. So, you know, we have intelligence. We have the ability to think and to reason, and we have the ability to do good. That’s how we’ve been made, and so understanding that, it’s important for us to use our gifts and talents and abilities in a way that’s gonna be a positive influence on humanity. You know, pride can be such a killer thing. And it’s [?]–when I talk about [downsides?], ’cause there are downsides to working at Google and downsides to working in tech, one of the biggest downsides is that it’s just so full of pride. The culture is full of pride. People are full of pride. And, again, I think that a lot of the Googlers that I have met, you know, do better than most, but even then there is this sense of pride and thinking “We can do everything with technology.” Well, no, you can’t. That’s not really true. You know, there’s some problems that you can’t just throw technology at to fix it. You know, there isn’t an app that’s gonna fix thousands of years of discrimination and bias and slavery and all of those kinds of things that human beings are really good at. So, you know, we’ve got to confront that pride and realize that it’s about working harder. It’s about having the humility to realize that you don’t know everything and that you’ve got to take steps that are comfortable for you to make progress little by little. And do that. So I know that’s a longer answer, but– [laughs]

Ade: No. Again, fantastic answer there. I’m gonna throw one out that–and that’ll be, like, my last semi-heavy question for our conversation, [Anthony laughs] but how would you recommend people–like, junior aspiring, whatever you wanna call us, how would you recognize [recommend?] that people reach out to find mentors? One thing that I’ve realized is that it’s–tech is no fun when you do it by yourself, especially when you are coming from a non-traditional background, if you’re self-taught, if you’re in a boot camp. Whatever your circumstances might be, if you’re isolated, it’s really, really–it’s awful. Like, I went through a period where, like, for seven months I was just, like, beating up on myself every day for not knowing very, very basic things, and it took me finding somebody I could just, like, sit beside and have a conversation with, who was saying something–like, he would literally sit beside me and, like, Google to make sure that he had the right answer before he told me himself, and just having that sort of relationship has been a huge boost for me. How would you recommend others seek out a relationship that is as affirming with someone who has a little bit more time in the industry or who is seeking to get into the industry?

Anthony: So I think there are three things to that, and I’m just gonna spit them out quickfire, and then you can remind me of what the bullet points are. The first thing is be friendly. The second thing is to understand that people love to talk about themselves. The third thing is to offer a little bit of yourself in exchange. So let me unpack those three things. I’ll start with people love to talk about themselves. A lot of times, a great mentoring relationship can start with you just asking “How did you get to where you are?” And you don’t say anything else. You just listen. And if their answer seems a little short, well, “Tell me a little bit more about this thing or that thing,” or whatever it is, but it’s just–it generally tends to be the case that people love to talk about themselves, that they enjoy it enough that you can enter into a conversation or a dialogue with them pretty easily. And so yeah, it can start with–and, you know, you can offer to buy someone coffee or sit with them at lunch or–however it is. Make it as easy as you can, but start with that. You know, “How did you get to be where you are?” And make sure that they understand that you appreciate exactly where they are. Because a lot of people are gonna say, “Well, I’m not the CEO,” or “I’m not the CIO,” or “I’m not a VP,” or an executive, whatever it is. I don’t care, I just want to know how you got to where you are. Because if there ‘s anything that I know about where you are, it’s that I’m not there. [both laugh] And I’m trying to get there. So start there. People love to talk about themselves, and if you give them an opportunity, generally folks will take it. The second thing? Give a little bit of yourself. So a lot of times people will reach out to me and they will say, you know, “Anthony, you really inspired me. I just want to share a little bit about where I come from.” And, you know, it’s especially endearing when people are like, “I haven’t told anybody this before, but I’m fixing to tell this to you, a perfect stranger, in a LinkedIn inbox message.” But then they proceed to tell me just this amazing story of how they’ve overcome struggle or persevered through challenges or put in the effort to accomplish something, or maybe they’re even still trying, you know? They’ve put their application out there 100 times and gotten 100 no’s. You know, I appreciate when people do that, and when you share something [?] about yourself, it encourages this exchange where now I feel I need to share a part of myself in return, and, you know, when you’re asking someone for mentorship, you are asking them to give up something of themselves, to be honest about who they are and how they’ve gotten to be where they are. And I think it’s only appropriate that you mimic that, that you model that yourself, right? By being honest about where you come from. And it’s not about soliciting someone’s pity, it’s about making those basic connections that allow us to communicate and to be honest with one another. So you have to be ready to give up a little bit of yourself. The last thing? Be friendly. You have to do some basic things, like being courteous, like saying hello to people, like putting yourself in situations where you are around other people. I get to mentor interns that come and work at Google and that work in tech, and one of the things that I harp on over and over and over again is you can’t just go and hide out and stay by yourself and think that you’re gonna get mentorship and help and support from the people who are around you. I’ve said to some people, like, “You need to just take a laptop and just sit behind your boss’s chair and just be there, you know, and make sure that they know you’re there and you’re looking for help and guidance.” It’s important for you to do that because people aren’t going to go out of their way to hunt you down to mentor you. You’ve got to make it known, and you’ve got to be the kind of person that can, you know, show people that you can have a respectful conversation and be polite and those kinds of things. But yeah, be friendly. Be welcoming. Be warm. You know, find ways that you can mentor other people, because I guarantee you that you could probably mentor someone else in one way, shape or form. It doesn’t have to be a one-year thing, a three-year thing, whatever. You can mentor someone for a week, you know? Or even for a couple hours, where you just spend some time with them, and a lot of times by demonstrating that yourself, you’ll run into other people who are also mentors, and yeah, it just can be a great thing. I personally love just striking up conversations with people at the lunch tables, you know? I don’t have to have ever met them ever before in my life, but I will walk up and “Hey, perfect stranger. I noticed that you also work on my floor. What do you do? How are things going? Do you enjoy what you do? Do you imagine staying there for–oh, hey, by the way, I’m new in the game. Is there some wisdom that you can share with me?” And before you know it you’ve got this mentoring relationship established. And many companies nowadays, particularly in tech, have formal mentorship programs which you can seek out or you can ask an HR representative to provide a list of mentorship programs that are available at the company. There are also mentorship programs outside of the company. There’s organizations like /dev/color, for instance, which operates in the Bay Area and in New York and certain markets, where they form a community of engineers of color who are helping each other out. You know, and there are others too, of course in other markets and other verticals and what have you, but, you know, in an age where you’ve got Google, there’s no excuse to at least not look for them.

Ade: That’s really great advice. I’ve actually never heard anybody say to offer a bit of yourself. It’s always felt like, or I’ve always felt, like, as the person who’s, like, seeking help, as little of me speaking as possible is ideal. [laughs] I never considered the flip side of, well, if you’re asking people to tell you about themselves, then you should be willing to share something of yourself as well. It’s perfectly straightforward now that you say it.

Anthony: And again, you know, what I bring as a diverse person, or as someone who comes from a different background than what you would traditionally find, I bring a perspective. I bring something of value. My differentness isn’t a liability. It’s an asset. So being able to bring my perspective to the table and my way of thinking and my worldview to a conversation, it can be meaningful, and so, you know, I need to be prepared to be honest about, you know, why I think the way that I think and where that comes from, because maybe, just maybe, there’s an insight that I can contribute that causes someone to think differently about something that was, previous to my talking to them, a long-held belief. So, you know, there’s–mentorship isn’t a one-way thing. It is a two-way street in which both parties can derive great benefit from the relationship, but you as the mentee need to think about how you bring value to the table, right? And how you’re going to thoughtfully and sincerely work hard to respond to the feedback you receive and show positive results, right? So, you know, if you’re a mentee working with a mentor, one of the most important things you need to do is to keep in touch with your mentor and let them know how you’re making progress. Let them know what successes you’ve had, where you’ve stumbled, what wins you’ve had, those kinds of things. That’s a way for you to pay back what you’ve received in that mentor relationship. One of the interesting things I’ve done is I’ve gone and basically Googled every single teacher and mentor that I’ve had to at least tell them thank you one time before I die. [laughs] You know, tracking them down on Facebook or on Twitter or LinkedIn or wherever, just to call ’em up and say, “You helped me in middle school by teaching me what the WWW means in a web address, and I wanted to say thank you, because now I work as a software engineer at Google as one of the 1% who are black and in a technical role. You had a hand in that.”

Ade: That’s incredibly important.

Anthony: Yeah, absolutely. Because then guess what? It teaches them that what they did has value, and isn’t that something that we always understand in the moment? You know, I have no idea when I share my life with someone how it’s going to impact them a decade from now. I go into school [?] and talk in classrooms. I have no idea how many of those kids will decide to go get a computer science degree because they met me. I have no idea. I wish I could know, ’cause then I could document it somewhere and put it on my performance review. [both laugh] But it’s not possible, and I don’t need that either, because my ancestors, who I talk about a lot–you know, those figures in black history that history proper seems to have forgotten. You know, people like Garrett A. Morgan, Lewis Latimer, Benjamin Banneker, George Washington Carver, Madam C.J. Walker. You know, these are folks that you don’t hear about their names often, but they were pioneers and engineers and innovators and patented inventors who paved the way for me to sit in the seat that I sit in, and they didn’t know that I would be where I am. They didn’t live to see the benefit of all of the sacrifices they made. Every day I think about the fact that if they were comfortable doing what they did knowing that they may not see the fruit of their labor, I should be too.

Ade: I have goosebumps, by the way. Like, you can’t see me, but I have goosebumps. [both laugh] That was such an incredible statement to make. I feel like I now need to, like, draft hand-written letters to every single one of, like, the teachers who inspired me. Okay, I’m giving myself homework after this conversation. Two last questions and then we’ll end our conversation. First, what advice do you have for a first-time attendee for a conference? I’m going to Strange Loop in St. Louis, and it’s gonna be my first conference–well, my second conference that I’m attending, but the first one doesn’t count. Whatever. [laughs] It’s gonna be the first conference I attend where I feel like a technical person, because every other time I’ve been to a conference it’s almost felt voyeuristic and like I was an impostor, but now I’m going with, like, the full intention of, like, immersing myself in workshops, and I’m super excited about the Elm conference, and I don’t even recognize myself anymore. [both laugh] But what advice do you have for someone attending a conference for the first time?

Anthony: So the first thing I would say is network. Be intentional about meeting as many people as you can and learning about who they are, where they come from, how to keep in touch, and actually follow up. You know, especially as you start to attend more and more conferences, you’ll start to see some of the same people, and you can build great, enduring relationships that way, as well as connections that will take you into different companies and into different industries even. So, you know, take that opportunity to network and to find commonalities with other people, right? Shared interests, shared goals, strategies. See how they may be doing things differently. Learn from that. Investigate. So definitely do that, and again, I’m the kind of person that will go and sit down at some random table full of strangers and ask every single one of them to drop some wisdom on me. [both laugh] So you may be inclined to do the same. So I think that’s the first thing. The second thing is, you know, if you’re attending a workshop, sit up in the front or near the front. Make sure that they see you. Make sure that you have no way to check out. [Ade laughs] ‘Cause, you know, you can sit in the back and fall asleep and no one would know, right? But it’s different when you’re sitting in the front. There’s that added pressure of, like, “I’ve really gotta pay attention. I really need to be focused.” So sit in the front, or at least sit in the middle, so that you’re soaking it up. I think that’s just a–when I went to Orientation Week at Google I sat in the front of basically every single one of my orientation classes, because I wanted them to know that I was there, and I wanted to make sure that I couldn’t just walk out and disappear. [?]

Ade: That’s a huge deal in and of itself, because I’m gonna be a Kubernetes workshop, and I don’t know the first thing about Kubernetes, and I am terrified, and my brain is already like, “So sit near the back near the door so we have an exit strategy in case things go left.” [both laugh]

Anthony: Sit at the front and say, “I don’t know Kubernetes, but you’re about to explain it to me right now.” And make them teach you. You know, I think it’s important to do that. If there’s another tip I have for attending a conference, don’t be afraid to learn more about things that you think have no relation to things that you care about, ’cause you might be surprised at what you find. I remember attending an AI in medicine conference. It was a conference about the intersection between artificial intelligence and medicine, and I don’t know anything about the medical world. I don’t know much about AI even, but I thought it was interesting to talk to some of the vendors and talk to some of the folks in that space. One of the gifts that you get from working in technology is that technology is ubiquitous. It’s everywhere. Everyone needs to use technology in one way or another, particularly computers, and so there’s an opportunity to get into anything doing what you do. As a software engineer, as a coder, as a product manager, what have you. Everybody needs tech, and so there’s a lot of opportunity for you to learn, you know, how is tech used in this arena versus that arena? What do the commonalities between those two teach me about what is possible using technology? So, you know, finding the patterns and taking advantage of those opportunities to think through how the work that you do in one space can impact another space is useful. And I can tell you, I’ve worked across a number of different industry verticals, and I think it’s been–I’ve worked in grocery in retail. I’ve worked in entertainment. I’ve worked in banking. I now work in internet advertising. So I’ve had the opportunity to–e-commerce. I’ve touched a number of different industries, and I think I’ve only grown as an individual by being roundly shaped by these opportunities to work across a number of different verticals. It’s been fun. Nothing but fun.

Ade: Okay. Thank you so very much, Anthony. Very last question and then I’ll let you go. What’s your favorite coding language?

Anthony: My favorite coding language has gotta be JavaScript.

Ade: Yes! [laughs]

Anthony: I love JavaScript because it is so dangerous.

Ade: …Wait, what? [laughs]

Anthony: Like, you’re really living on the wild side dealing with JavaScript. There are so many quirks and weird things in that language that you could shoot yourself in the foot multiple times, but it’s also extremely powerful. It’s also extremely accessible, and it’s everywhere. It doesn’t matter what I use. I can always open up Chrome and open up those dev tools and get right into JavaScript.

Ade: Yeah, I’d have to agree. I started with Python, and Python will always have a special place in my heart, but I definitely consider myself a JavaScript developer. That is an insane statement. I would not have said that out loud a year ago. Just, like, calling myself a JavaScript developer. Wow. That was, like, an internal thought that came out loud.

Anthony: Yeah. You know, programming is hard. It really is. Telling computers what to do is–it’s a challenge, you know? And to be able to learn how to do that and to do it well is I think such a gift, and it’s something that is also applicable in so many other areas of life. And this is why we talk about teaching kids STEM and teaching them about computational thinking, because it doesn’t matter whether I program for a computer or whether I’m planning a wedding or whether I’m trying to figure out how to organize my garage. They’re all problems within a certain domain that require the same kind of problem solving skills and abilities, and, you know, you learn how to break down really advanced, complicated problems into manageable chunks, you know, as a programmer. And, you know, it’s just one of those skills that’s highly transferable across so many different areas of life.

Ade: You’re right. Like, I just feel warm and fuzzy inside. I’ve had goosebumps. I’ve snapped my fingers. I just truly want to thank you for taking the time to, like, share your wisdom. This felt like my own personal mentoring session. I hope our listeners have picked up a thing or two, and I’m sure they have, from this conversation. Anthony, before we go, do you want to, like, plug anything? You just started Morgan Latimer Consulting, so would you like to talk about that really quickly?

Anthony: Yeah. So #1, I am very grateful to serve. I know that it doesn’t have to be me, but I’m grateful that it is. And secondly, you can find me on all of the social medias at AnthonyDMays. So I’m AnthonyDMays on all of the things, or you can just Google me. That’s fine. [laughs] If you need help with preparing for technical interviews at places like the top [?] companies or, you know, Google, Amazon, Twitter, what have you, you can reach out to me for one-on-one coaching or for coding [interview?] webinars at MorganLatimer.com, and I’d be more than happy to help show you the way.

Ade: You heard him. You heard the man. Find him. Thank you so much. Once more, I feel like I can’t, like, thank you enough for this conversation. Again, I truly appreciate the time and effort that you put into everything that you do, from tech [?] to Morgan Latimer to just, like, the different ways that you share and give up yourself. I truly appreciate that.

Anthony: Well, thank you so much for having me, and don’t forget to subscribe on my YouTube.

Ade: Oh, I’m already subscribed.

Anthony: All right. [laughs]

Ade: Awesome. Thank you so very much, Anthony. Have a great evening.

Anthony: Thank you. You have a wonderful evening.

Ade: Bye.

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