Zach welcomes Unqork employees Damilola O. & David Fadairo to the show this week on Real Talk Tuesday. Unqork is a completely visual, no-code application platform that helps large enterprises build complex custom software faster, with higher quality and lower costs than traditional approaches. Click the links in the show notes to connect with Dami and David and/or to find out more about Unqork!
Want to find out more about Unqork? Check out their website.
You can learn more about Arika Pierce on The Millennial Boardroom.
Zach: Dami, David, welcome to the show guys. What’s going on, how are you all doing?
David: Hi. Good.
Dami: Thank you for having us.
David: Yes, thank you.
Zach: I’m excited, and we don’t typically do two at a time, but we’ve done two in the past. Let’s round table this, because both of you all have such dynamic backgrounds and careers in tech that got you to your management roles at Unqork. To start with, what is Unqork and what do each of you all do at Unqork?
David: Sure. I can go first, I guess. What’s Unqork? Unqork is a no-code enterprise platform that’s used by organizations to build mission-critical applications. Basically, no code means we’re not writing any code. A lot of the work we do is using drag and drop to build these applications that our clients use. So in a nutshell, that’s what Unqork is. Unless Dami wants to add anything.
Dami: No, you’ve done it.
Zach: And so then, when you say no code–and I heard what you said. So I am not a STEM person. I don’t have a STEM background, so I can go on Unqork and essentially build a website, or build things, not using code? How does that work?
David: Yes, pretty much. Think of them as in a way form builders that allow you to drag in different components. So if you want it to build like an email form, “I want to get emails for everybody who’s going to be on this podcast,” you can pull in a field for the first name, last name, email address, add some rules under that. Let’s say the email has to be this particular structure, David@blahblahblah.com, something like that. Add a button that allows people to submit it, send them a confirmation, all without writing any code, and just pull in data fields in to do all that stuff.
Zach: Let’s talk a little bit about what you all do, and Dami , I know David went first last time, so let me give you the ball real quick. How would you describe your role at Unqork?
Dami: I am an engineering manager here. I manage two of our engineering teams, and in more practical terms, that involves people management on one hand. So I’m responsible for the growth and development of the engineers on my team. Making sure that they are happy and making sure that they’re challenged, that they have the right opportunities available to them to help them grow, and then there’s delivery ownership as well, ensuring that as an engineering team we are able to deliver on our commitments, and that involves helping my team clear any blockers in their way, really shielding them from any issues that will slow down their work, defining processes to help us work smarter and more efficiently as a team. Another piece of that, of engineering management, is owning, hiring, and building out of the teams. So Unqork is rapidly growing and we’re always hiring, and so I’m involved in just owning that entire process for the teams that I manage and also defining what our recruitment process looks like for engineering, and I’m also involved in helping to shape our engineering culture, shape our identity as an engineering organization, as we expand.
Zach: And so we’re going to get into this a bit. I do want to understand the dynamic of just what it means to lead in tech as Black professionals, as Nigerian professionals, but let’s talk a bit about your respective journeys and how you got your current roles at Unqork, and I know David, really, maybe you can start, because we didn’t really get into what it means to be an engagement director. But I’d love to hear more about that and your broader journey and how you got here today.
David: Sure. As engagement director at Unqork, my role is more on the client facing side. So I’m responsible for the execution of our projects for our enterprise clients. Building out those applications that we talked about earlier on. A lot of project management, program management, working with the customers to understand what it is they’re trying to build, what we’re actually trying to accomplish and what problems we’re trying to solve with the applications we’re building for those clients. It involves two facets of management. The first one is just pure people management and having direct reports. But on the other side of that, because we’re working with a project team, there are multiple different groups of people on that project team. So I have developers, business analysts, solutions architects that, as far as the project is concerned, more or less report to me, and from that perspective, I’m responsible for them. I’m responsible for–the way that we put it is making sure that they’re happy and they’re fulfilled in the work that they’re doing and they have everything they need to do their job, whether that’s clearing blockers or making sure they’re doing the right work on the project. That’s one aspect to it. How did I get here and what was my journey getting to Unqork? I come from a technical background. I have a Bachelor’s in aerospace engineering, a Master’s in computer information systems, and I decided early on in my undergrad that I wasn’t going to be an aerospace engineer. It just wasn’t for me. But this was three years in. So I thought, “We’ll see this through and then we’ll see what happens,” and I was fortunate I was able to do a Master’s in computer information systems, and I started off my career in consulting, implementation consultant to be specific, and followed that throughout my journey, software implementation, and that’s how I got to Unqork today.
Zach: And then Dami , how about you?
Dami: So the question is how did I get into tech? Let’s see, I stumbled on tech entirely by chance. I started college as a pre-med major, and along the way, just ended up finding computer science, because it wasn’t something I was exposed to growing up, and once I graduated, I also got a Master’s in software and [inaudible]. I worked at a couple of small setups down in Georgia, and then, got into consulting for many years and, eventually joined Unqork, but I’ve been in tech my entire career as well.
Zach: And then, how did that transition into Unqork?
Dami: Let’s see. So after doing consulting for many years, I decided I needed some stability in my career, and I initially went to a pretty large company, and it wasn’t a good match for me. I didn’t really enjoy the large company culture and I wanted to be in a startup environment. But I also wanted to be in a place where I knew that my contributions would be impactful, and appreciated, and coming to interview at Unqork, I felt that immediately, and so, I joined probably about a year and half ago, and it’s probably been one of the best decisions of my career so far.
Zach: Let’s talk about Nigeria. Both of you are Nigerian. Now, let me ask a follow-up question. Yoruba, Igbo? Like, what is the—[Dami and David laugh] you all didn’t know I know. I can tell you’re all surprised. Remember, I live in Houston, right, so a lot of my friends–
Dami: Oh, of course.
David: Oh, yes that makes sense.
Zach: Everybody knows Houston is the land of the Nigerians. I love you al. It’s great out here. So talk to me a little bit about your cultures, please, and background, and tribes, and all of that stuff. I’d love to learn more about that piece, your journey in Nigeria, and growing up there, and how you were introduced to STEM there, the transition to America. Talk to me about how those things came together.
Dami: Yes. So both of us are Yoruba, but I’ll let David talk for himself when you get to him. Honestly, like I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t super exposed to technology growing up. Maybe I should say I didn’t think much about technology growing up. I don’t recall how young I was the first time I played with a computer, but it was somewhere in my tween years. I attended a summer school and one of the classes I took had us working on these early Apple machines. But that was really nothing noteworthy about that experience, and I didn’t do much with computers after that, other than playing video games, and then, in the last couple of years of high school, that was when email became popular. So I had my first email address and I didn’t honestly didn’t think much about technology. Like I said, I was a pre-med student, so I never even really thought about engineering. What I will say though is that there’s this sort of I guess false notion that women are not good at STEM careers. Growing up in Nigeria, I was exposed to quite the opposite belief. The common belief was that women and girls were in fact better at sciences, and they were better at math, and so I just always excelled at math, I always excelled at sciences, and there was never anything said to me or anything I was exposed to that made me feel like I wouldn’t be good at it.
Zach: And so then, when we talk about the background and growing up in Nigeria and then transitioning to the States. What did that look like for you all?
David: I’m Yoruba, like Dami said. I honestly don’t remember my first introduction to technology. Honestly, it was probably quite a long time ago. I think I was fortunate that when I was younger, I had video games, all of that stuff. So I kind of knew what technology was. I’ve always had a knack for taking things apart. I wanted to be an engineer in some capacity. I started off wanting to be an architect, because I grew up around architects. I realized I had no interest in building a house or designing a house, so I wanted to build planes, which is how the whole aerospace journey came about, and that became where I am today as far as that’s concerned. For me, I think it was a shock. When I came to the States, something like that, it was actually my first time in America. I had been other places, I just had never been to the States, and I think my parents put me on a flight and they’re like, “All right, go forth and prosper,” pretty much. It was “All right, go do your thing. Good luck.” I was young, wide-eyed, I think. I came here, and one of the biggest shocks was coming from Nigeria, there’s a distinct lack of teaching in terms of code and the core sort of software engineering or computer science. I had never written code in my life when I moved to the States. I didn’t even know what code was, I’ll be honest, and that was one of the challenges for me, ‘cause, I got into school, I was a freshman, and I was working with these other freshmen who knew what this thing was. They knew how to manipulate it. They knew what they were looking at. It made sense to them, and there was a bit of imposter syndrome because it was, “Oh, I should know this stuff. But you don’t know what you don’t know.” So it took a little bit of time to wrap my head around what code was and how it was used to build software.” Coming from Nigeria, technology is engineering, and that means mechanical engineer, civil engineer, or whatever other engineering majors you can think of. But it doesn’t really go deep into the actual learnings of being able to write code or use MATLAB and things like that, and that was the biggest challenge for me personally. It was not understanding this stuff and having to start in a way so far behind everybody else [?]. It always felt like I was playing catch up at the beginning. Eventually I caught up. But yes, I think that was the biggest challenge for me personally.
Zach: So Dami, when you hear David’s story about the transition, and catching up and the sense of impostor syndrome. Can you relate to that at all? Is that anything similar to your experience?
Dami: Oh yes, absolutely. The education system in Nigeria is very different than the one in America, and exactly what David said, I can remember signing up for calculus one, and I think they signed me up based on my SAT scores, but the math classes I had taken in Nigeria were nothing similar to the calculus test, and so I just wasn’t ready for that, and exactly like he said, I had to use MATLAB, and I just didn’t know what I was doing, whereas everyone else in class had been exposed to this before, and the additional thing about being Nigerian is that Nigerian families and parents are just sticklers for excellence, and you can’t say it’s a good or a bad thing, but being second best or having less than a perfect score on anything is never acceptable. And so I remember being in those first few calculus classes and just being terrified. Am I really going to fail at something? And so in that situation I was able to get out of the class and actually move to a pre-calculus class that had prepared me, but there was definitely a sense of imposter syndrome just in general, even going back to the way that American schools teach. It’s so different than the way that Nigerian schools teach. Everything here is more practical, and you’re learning things in a way that you have to understand how you apply the knowledge you’re learning, whereas in Nigeria, a lot of things were taught more theoretical. So very different.
Zach: Can you give me an example of what you mean?
Dami: So I was pre-med when I started, so I took chemistry classes and physics classes. In Nigeria, my chemistry classes, I had to memorize the periodic table. You were never given a chart when you’re going in for exams, and you had to memorize all of the chemical reactions, and things like that. In America, you are in a lab and you’re actually performing the chemical experiments, and you’re practically learning how these chemicals interact, whereas in Nigeria, it’s very theoretical. It’s very book-based. We did some lab work, but it was primarily–you just had to learn and cram the theory behind all of the information you’re supposed to be learning.
Zach: And then David, does that resonate with you as well, in terms of, like, the education style between Nigeria and America being different?
David: Exactly what Dami said. I guess the difference is, to what she said, theoretical versus just “You’ve got to know this stuff.” Coming from Nigeria, it was just about “You’ve got to know this stuff to regurgitate it once you go into an exam so that you can pass, then get your A and keep it moving.” It wasn’t about understanding why you needed to know this stuff and what the applications of it could potentially be down the road, and I think that was what I struggled with. I took further math classes when I was in high school. I think when I actually moved to the States, Florida Tech, like Dami said, I skipped pre-calc. I think I skipped Calc and they put me in a Calc class. I ended up having to go back to Calc for that particular reason, because I just knew how to pull it down on paper, but when you’re in college and you start to take more advanced classes, it’s not only about knowing, it’s about understanding how you apply it to certain real world scenarios, and again, because of the major I was doing, the calculus things that we were doing were starting to show up in my aerospace engineering classes, when we were talking about propulsion and all this stuff, and it’s “Okay, I know what this formula is supposed to do or what it looks like, but I actually have no clue what the actual effect is,” and, at that level, that’s what’s important. It’s understanding the effect and how to use it to achieve the outcome you’re trying to get. So yes, it’s pretty much what Dami said.
Zach: So I have Nigerian acquaintances in my network, and I have Nigerian friends and, I recognize that culture informs experience and that we are all Black. There’s a large diaspora, and then there’s unique experiences within each culture and community. I’d love to learn more about your childhoods and what part of your culture has influenced you and helps you prepare for your career?
Dami: I’m going to echo something I just talked about, actually two things. The first thing is that I wasn’t hindered by the fact that it wouldn’t matter that I was Black or anything like that, and so, getting into tech, I got into it because I loved it and I was good at it, and I was never burdened with the idea that I didn’t belong, because in Nigeria, first of all, it’s a bit of a monolithic culture [inaudible] majority of Nigerians are Black, and so you’re never made to feel inadequate because of your skin color, and so I just knew that I could do whatever I wanted to do. So that was one thing. The other thing is that Nigerian parents always expect you to over-perform, and that completely prepared me for a career in a field where I am underrepresented. At various points in my career, I have had to outperform my peers to be on equal footing because I am a Black woman, and I’m not the norm in this field, and I think that growing up in a Nigerian family, where that was an expectation, definitely helped prepare me to do that by default.
Zach: There’s something about–when I speak to, and again, and you can’t generalize or paint a whole group with a broad brush, but one thing I love about Nigerians that the people, the folks that I’ve met is, there’s a certain level of resiliency. Like, “we’re going to get it done. We’re going to do it right. Yes, that’s wrong, or that didn’t go well, but I’m pushing forward. I’m going to achieve this goal,” and then, there’s also something–and Ade, who is a co-founder of Living Corporate, she’s also Nigerian, and we were talking about the culture of sending money back to your family. May I ask, what does it look like to manage responsibility of supporting your family while you’re also building a career here? Do you feel as if that’s something that your colleagues understand? Or frankly that your other Black colleagues who are not Nigerian understand and appreciate?
David: I’ll be honest. I think my family and support. In that sense, it’s my siblings. My brother lives in New York. He came here for college, also similar to the way I did, and he’s working. My sister’s old, she’s in Nigeria, but she decided she wanted to stay. So I haven’t had to do that in that sense. But I think the support goes beyond finance. It’s support in terms of “What do you need?” Sometimes, my mother and I are thick as thieves, and she’s never going to ask me for anything, to be honest. But sometimes it’s just realizing that somebody needs something and just being there, and just offering it up without them having to ask, and that’s the extent, and I think that’s something everybody does, whether you’re Black, white, whatever it happens to be, Nigerian. I think if you’re empathetic and you have a family that you love, it’s something you do for them, because you feel they’ve given so much to you in your life that you’re now in a position where you’re able to give back to those people. My mother has sacrificed a lot for me, just personally, and I am now in a position to where I can give back in whatever little way I can. So it’s about being able to do that. It’s not about for me, at least, just because I have to, but because I want to, and it’s the right thing to do.
Zach: You have names that—well, for David it’s not. Oh, you know what, let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about it.
David: Yes, that’s my middle name.
Zach: Yes, and so, let’s talk about that. So, culturally, did you come to the States and immediately start using your middle name?
David: Yes, I did, and part of that was just because, when I was younger, I knew when we traveled how hard it was for people to just pronounce my name. So when I moved to the States, I had made a conscious decision before I got to the States that, I don’t have time for this, and this is just too much. So I’m going to use my middle name, My Nigerian friends that are here, they know my first name. It’s [?] by the way, and they sometimes call me by that. But I made a conscious decision, just because I didn’t want to have to continually correct people on how to pronounce my name. Part of that, just by my nature, I’m an introvert and it was so much stress to have to do that, and I was, “I’m just going to make it easy for everybody and myself. My name’s David, let’s go with that.” It helps that it’s on my license, it’s on my passport and all that stuff. So it’s an easy thing. But yes, that was kind of why.
Zach: And what does your first name mean?
David: My mom’s going to kill me, but I don’t know.
Zach: Dami, I do want to ask about, again, my initial question was coming out of university, in tech. What was that experience like? But I asked David about his name. Is Dami your first name?
Dami: Yes, my first name is Dami. It’s Damilola but everybody calls me Dami, and unlike David, I walked into this entire thing quite blindly. So, in undergrad, I tried to get people to call me Damilola at first, and that tried my patience, and so I went down to Dami, but even that was difficult. They ended up calling me Domi, and I’m like, “No, no, my name is not Domi. It’s Dami,” and it got to a point where, on the first day of every semester in class, when they do the roll call, and then the professor will just pause right at my name, and it’d be this awkward silence for about seconds, and I slowly raise up my hand, “Hi, that’s me.” So I want to say probably in my sophomore year I started having them call me Dee instead of Dami. And that was because I just got tired of trying to explain how to pronounce my name on one hand, and on the other hand, sophomore year, it was the first time I created a resume. I remember going up to the Career Services Department, and they saw my name and they said, “Nope, don’t put this on your resume. You’ve got to put something simpler, something that would not make it obvious what your ethnicity is,” and so, they said, “Do you have another option?” And a couple of my friends had been calling me Dee, just as a nickname, and I said, you know what, “Let’s just do Dee on this.” I threw Dee at the time on my resume, and then I started having them call me Dee in my classes, and honestly, I went by Dee until [?], and I’ve been in the corporate world since, and in [?] I just sat down and I said, “You know what? Dee is not my name. I actually don’t like it. I want everyone call me Dami, and if it takes you a whole year to learn how to say my name, so be it. You’re going to learn it.”
Zach: I love that because, here’s the thing, and I have–yes, it’s a privilege. My name Zachary means God, God has remembered, but I’ve never thought “Yeah, I’m going to go by another name.” But that’s part of just a lot of things. Racism, white supremacy as a whole, entitlement. But I can’t imagine, and that hurts me. That hurts my heart that you’re having to think about and navigate what you want people to call you just so it’s easier for them. Because we learn all kinds of hard European names all the time. People at my job, Lebonowski, very, very challenging European names. We can learn these names, and again, shout out to Adesola, Ade. We can learn these names. I guess I’m a little taken aback though about the fact that you went to the career center, and the career center said change your name.
Dami: Yes, and they were honest with me. They said when they’re looking through resumes, if they see your name is Damilola which is what I created at first. Your resume might get thrown away.
Zach: Wow. So let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about your first job in tech. What was the process to get acclimated? Some of the challenges that you faced? What defense mechanisms? And how you kind of navigated those spaces, trying to navigate being authentic? Just talk to me about those initial lessons learned.
David: I think the first job, it was in consulting, fresh out of college. I did my Master’s and one of the prevalent things for me was, very early on, I started to notice that I was the only Black person in the room. It was just normal. You walked into a room and you’re meeting, just because of the nature of the job, you’re meeting with people that are directors, the VPs, or whatever it happens to be, and it’s white people pretty much, and you’re the only Black person there, and it became normal, and it should never be normal, but the truth was it became normal. It became my expectation, and I stopped being surprised about it very, very early on, and just be, “Oh yes, that’s normal. It’s not a big deal.” I think luckily I was in an environment at the company that I was where there were minorities in the company. But it still wasn’t that many people in terms of the percentage. It was maybe a handful of us. But there was still that. But every time I walked into these client meetings, or went into a workshop that I needed to do, I was the only one, and that became the norm. It became what it was, and in a way it’s really shaped my professional career over time, because subconsciously, I guess I go into these rooms expecting to be the only one, and maybe, somewhere in the back of my head, you change the way you behave, you change the way you talk. You have to be very conscious of the fact that in a way you’re representing a whole race of people, which is–it’s not fair to anybody to have to do that.
Zach: But it’s true.
David: Yes. It’s true. That’s the truth. That’s the reality. You’re representing a whole race of people, and you’re representing everybody who happens to be Black. You are also somehow representing everybody who’s Nigerian or an immigrant from another country, and you have to bear that in mind every time you have these interactions, and just keep that in the back of your head. Because it’s “If I mess up, I don’t want that to be the only thing that people remember.” Again, because when you think of your name, the way you look, you stand out. The thing with being the only person in the room that looks the way you do is that you stand out. Everybody notices you when you walk in.
Zach: They’re not going to forget you.
David: Right, and if you do something wrong, they’re not going to forget. If you do something right, I guess they’re probably not going to forget either. [laughs] But nobody really thinks about that. It’s “If you do something wrong, they’re not going to forget.”
Zach: And so David, that’s just a good point, and I think, so for me, I think about my own experience in corporate America is–and this is common for a lot of Black folks. Black and brown folks is, it’s your mistakes that they remember, and now you have to have some huge, undeniable wins for them to really count. The scales are not even for wins and losses. The losses count much more, and there’s some neuroscience to that. Other than the fact that people remember negative negative experiences and emotions much more vividly than they do positive experiences and emotions, but it still speaks to some of the structural inequity and challenges from the social hierarchy perspective that Black and brown folks have to deal with in that, where in one room, let’s say you have a meeting and you don’t have a perfect agenda for the meeting. Then all of a sudden, the whole meeting’s done, whereas—Dami, were you laughing?
Dami: I did earlier. Yes.
Zach: But then if you could look at your white counterpart, they don’t always have an agenda. They just come in and say, “Hey, y’all, we’re going to talk about this today.” You know what I mean? So that can be exhausting. Dami, I’m curious, as you were hearing what David was speaking to about his experience and things that he’s learned, what has your process been like and what have you really been picking up? And what have you picked up, especially in light of the murder of George Floyd, the presidential election, the insurrection on January th? What has it been looking like? How have you been processing just navigating, not just Unqork, but just tech as a Black professional?
Dami: Okay. So loaded question. I do want to talk about being in tech as a Black professional. I got really lucky because my first tech job right out of college, both of the founders of the company, it was a small dev shop in my college town. Both of the founders were Black, and it was a very racially diverse company, and so it was probably almost – as far as white versus Black engineers, and so, I was able to be fully me, and I was encouraged to be that, and it was a completely safe environment. I could make mistakes. I was given equal opportunities as everybody else. I had all the challenges and all the opportunities I wanted, but I didn’t realize that it was such a bubble. Once I left that company, I quickly realized how much of an anomaly that was in technology, and all of the things that David said resonates completely with me. I realized, once I left that company earlier, that I had to always be a thousand percent prepared for every meeting, and that, if I was going to propose an idea, I needed to be a thousand percent sure about it. I wasn’t allowed the same equal luxury of being wrong, or an equal luxury of making mistakes as my peers that didn’t look like me, and exactly like David said, if I made a mistake, I was worried that it would stack up, not just against me, but against other women at the company or other brown and Black people that happened to be at the company. So that’s one part. The other part of your question was about everything that’s been happening in the country in recent times. I think that last summer after the George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight, I had a really challenging time coming to work and being able to perform at my normal level, and because I had only been at the company for a few months at that point, I didn’t know what it was going to be like. I didn’t know if I could come to work and talk about it. But luckily, the meetings I had early on in that week, the people I spoke to, really created a space for me to talk about it. They were like, “Hey, I know we have this meeting scheduled, but we don’t have to talk about this deliverable. Let’s actually just talk about what’s going on. Is there something you want to talk about? Do you want to share how you’re feeling, or do you want to not share how you’re feeling?” And, it was just really reassuring to be able to have those conversations at work and to be able to say, “Look, I’m not okay, and I’m not going to talk about this deliverable today, because I just want to talk about all of the craziness that’s happening in the country right now,” and then, we also–I know David was a part of this–we had a company-wide town hall meeting where various Black and brown people just openly talked about their experiences and shared how they were feeling, and I think that it was just very, very important for us to create space for all of us to have those difficult and uncomfortable conversations in light of everything that was going on.
Zach: All that being said, we’ve been having this conversation very much all from the perspective of your two lived experiences as a Black Nigerian professionals in tech at Unqork. The reality is though that diversity, equity, inclusion, and our experiences, aren’t going to systemically or meaningfully change without the real investment involvement from white leaders, and so, talk to me about what are things you think leaders can do to better engage and support Black and brown talent?
David: I think for me, it’s just—and I know that people use the word ‘ally’ a lot. “Be an ally.” That’s great, but for me, it’s being able to understand that people don’t know what they should ask for or attain for if they’ve never been in that situation before or they don’t know people who’ve been there before, and this is pay and equity, just generally how you pay minorities, women, Black and brown people compared to non-minorities or non-Black and brown people. By and large, the folks in those positions are non-Black and brown people. I think the most important thing is making sure you can get people on equal footing. I always use the analogy of, “If you give somebody bucks and you give another person $, and then you say, I am giving both of you a % increase,” there’s still a gap. % sounds great, but you have to do the intentional work of moving the person who’s further down the pole all the way in line with the other folks, and the problem is that person who’s down that pole doesn’t always necessarily know that they’re being short-changed or they’re not on equal footing with everybody else. So the onus is on leaders to make sure that they’re doing that work and fighting for people behind the scenes, because people only ask for what they’re aware they can get, and I think this is something that is prevalent in just minority circles, and I know there are studies that have been done about this, about how minorities generally ask for less, whether it’s pay benefits, whatever it happens to be. They generally ask for less because they just don’t know. So the onus now becomes on the person who’s given to say, “Actually that is not correct. That’s not where you should be. This is where you need to be, and be in line with everybody else,” and they need to do that work because the folks that don’t know what they don’t know aren’t going to do that work. They’re not going to be able to ask. And I think also just listening and empathizing with how people feel. A lot of things happen in the everyday lives of minorities, Black and brown people that is not always out there in the open. People deal with a lot of these systemic issues and racism on a daily basis, and sometimes they just brush it off, but just understanding the people you’re working with, understanding the people that you’re responsible for, and being able to pick out when something’s wrong. And you don’t need to talk to them about this, but just giving them the space to be able to say, “Hey, I need a minute because stuff’s going on,” and giving them the opportunity to say that I think is very important.
Zach: And Dami, how about you?
Dami: Yes. I completely agree with everything David said. I’ll say the other thing is making sure that you actually have an inclusive environment. I think that right now everybody’s talking a lot about having a diverse workforce, but you’re not going to reap the benefits of that unless you actually allow that diversity to flourish, and that’s making sure that people are able to express themselves fully at work and that their unique perspectives are valued, especially as someone growing teams, like me, for instance. It’s being mindful about bringing in people that will treat their colleagues fairly and with respect, regardless of how different they are. So I’m a hiring manager and one of the things that we absolutely keep tabs on during the interviews that I own is making sure that we talk about how the candidates treated the brown and Black people or the women on the interview panel during the day of the interview with us. So even if we have a person that is a x engineer, but if we manage to treat the only woman on their panel poorly or if they went out of their way to disregard the only brown person on their panel, then we unfortunately cannot hire them because bringing them into the organization will mean that they’re going to treat their colleagues that don’t look like them in a poor way, based on the interview. So it’s just making sure that we’re having those conversations openly and we’re considering these things as we grow out teams. I think that’s a big part.
David: Yes, and I think maybe to add one more thing, just because Dami mentioned hiring and recruiting, I think tech companies need to be more intentional with going to where minorities exist. If you’re simply relying on your pool and just the people that are applying to you to get that diversity, you’re never really going to get it. We know for a fact that Black and brown people are underrepresented in tech. So by that nature, you’re going to get less people. So companies need to be very intentional in going to these conferences that are specifically for minorities. Shout out the NSBE National Society of Black Engineers, and there are so many organizations like that that are built for that particular proposal, and I think companies need to start being very intentional to say, “We’re going here for this particular reason, because we’re trying to recruit people that look a certain way or that are a certain way,” because that’s the only way you’re going to increase that diversity pool and actually bring on this change and diversity that we all talk about is being very intentional about it.
Dami: One level above that is also making sure that there’s representation across the leadership levels. One mistake I see companies make is, they will hire, they’ll have diversity amongst the junior engineers, but as you go higher and higher up the ladder, that diversity starts to fall off, and for me, some of my best work experiences have been in places where I had people that looked like me in senior leadership, where I could go to them and ask them questions that are unique to me being a Black woman in technology and ask them questions and understand how they navigated the waters when they were sitting in my shoes, and so I think that not only hiring junior people but also making sure that you’re having diversity in your C Levels and other senior leadership roles.
Zach: I’m going to say something. Like, this is Living Corporate, so we’re not owned by Unqork. You all are here. We’re having a good time. I agree with everything you’re saying. I’m going to go a little bit further. The reality is that tech needs to do an exponentially better job than they’re doing if they really are serious about equity. You can’t continue to do the same things you’ve been doing. Incremental change is not enough. It’s not enough at all. We had a previous guest on say the word is ‘radical’. We need a radical re-imagining of inclusion, recruitment, engagement, retention. We need a radical imagining of leadership, accountability, behaviors, defining culture, and the work at the workplace, and then, to your point, David, we also need a radical re-imagining of where talent exists. And that really has to do with placing Black and brown people in positions to make those decisions, because the idea that I’m going to get all my STEM folks from Stanford, or all my STEM folks from this college or this program, that’s over. Because in every city there’s some organization that’s teaching Black and brown people how to do STEM. You look at it, you see them in DC, you see them in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston. Every major city, there’s some organization that is aggressively focused on teaching folks how to code. There’s plenty of traditional entryways into this space into tech, and it’s beyond time that organizations radically review and shift their policies and strategies to make sure they’re being inclusive of those spaces. There’s folks who have been nurses, or they’ve been at whole different careers, then at decide “I’m going to learn how to code. I’m going to learn tech,” and it is wrong for those organizations, it is wrong for tech to not honor the effort of those individuals who have learned and picked up these skills and can better your company. So I agree with both of you all, but I just wanted to say it a little bit more aggressive, because what I’m saying is I can do that and you all don’t have to do it and get in trouble. I’m going to say it. All right. Look, this has been a dope conversation. I’m gonna wrap it up with this. I’m going to start with Dami, and then we’ll go to David. What are each of you most excited about at Unqork in 2021?
Dami: Definitely growth. I’ve never been at a company at this phase of high growth before, and it is a very exciting time to be here. This is the time when we’re defining what our culture looks like, what our engineering identity is, and I’m in a position where I’m able to influence the direction we take, and so, I would say that that’s the most exciting thing for me this year.
David: And I guess for me, it’s growth, echoing what Dami said, but to add one more to it is growth in the work that we’re doing, especially on the engagement team and I think professional services as a whole, and the customers we are getting into Unqork, the type of applications that we’re building, I think they’re going to be very important for us as an organization and being part of that journey that helps define what Unqork gets to do moving forward in terms of how we work with organizations to build applications for them, what those processes are, how we onboard SI partners and things like that. I think that’s probably one of the thing I’m most excited about, just being part of that process.
Zach: Y’all, this has been a dope conversation. I’m super thankful. I appreciate you both. I want to shout out Mark Wheeler, but I want to definitely shout out Netta Jenkins. She’s the homie. She’s the one who really helped put all of this together, and shout out Unqork. Thank you so much for being on the show. I hope y’all come back.
David: Yes. Thanks for having us. This was great.
Dami: Yes, this was great. Thanks for having us.
Zach: We’ll talk soon, y’all. Peace.
David: All right. Bye-bye.