01.19.2017People

Giving a boost to black software developers

By: Kendall Lee
Makinde Adeagbo builds a more inclusive tech community with /dev/color

Saying you want to have a positive impact on the world is one thing. Figuring out how to do it? That’s the hard part. But not for 31-year-old Makinde Adeagbo — he makes it look incredibly easy.

The young software engineer is “trying to push others so they can transform the world” through his company /dev/color, a nonprofit geared toward building a community of black software engineers who help each other reach their career goals.

And while a move to Silicon Valley inspired him to start the company, Adeagbo incorporated a lifetime of experiences into /dev/color’s mission.

Growing up STEM

Adeagbo started his STEM-focused education in grade school. As a young boy, he first recognized the field’s lack of diversity.

“I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and they have great schools with math, science and technology focus areas,” he says. “But in classes in elementary, middle and high school, I was one of a handful of black students.”

But when Adeagbo got to college, that shifted. His experience at MIT was the opposite of what most people might expect. For starters, he lived in a dorm that housed mostly black and Latino students.

“It was empowering because, growing up, the lesson that I couldn’t help but take away was that being a talented engineer who’s black was the exception,” he says. “When I got to MIT, I was awakened to the opposite: Wait, this is normal. There are lots of amazing, talented, really smart black and Latino students. You’re not one of few, you’re one of tons.”

When I first brought up the idea of an organization like /dev/color to my manager at Pinterest, the head of engineering, the company did nothing but throw their full support behind it

Silicon Valley — a new reality

After graduating in 2007, Adeagbo moved to California to take a job at Facebook.

“Moving to Silicon Valley took me out of that world and back into a world of being one of few,” he says. “There were a few shocks when I moved out here. For one, the price of housing! But also, the lack of diversity. Finding people who looked like me was more of a challenge than it was where I grew up or where I went to school.”

After Facebook, Adeagbo went on to work at Dropbox and Pinterest, taking on a spectrum of roles, from hands-on Android engineering to running product teams to working directly on recruiting teams.  And while his experience at each company was positive, Adeagbo recognized “gaps in my knowledge and experience, and my network.”

“As I gained more experiences and learned more about what it takes to identify a job that you’ll really love -- what it takes to move up in that job and what it takes to decide between being an individual contributor or manager -- I realized there were people out there who could help me, but I wasn’t connected to them.”

Another theme Adeagbo noticed: He wasn’t alone.

“A lot of my friends who are black engineers at other companies didn’t feel like they had anyone they could ask or get that information from,” he says. “I started out helping out some of my friends and I thought to myself, ‘How can I scale this?’”

“When I first brought up the idea of an organization like /dev/color to my manager at Pinterest, the head of engineering, the company did nothing but throw their full support behind it,” Adeagbo says. “Pinterest was one of the companies that really helped get the organization off the ground.”

In just a year, /dev/color’s grown from 20 members to 120. And they’re looking to expand even further next year, including to New York. And while there have already been many iterations of the program (Adeagbo says they’ve changed 60-70 percent of the program this year alone), at its heart remains community.

Finding inspiration

While there are nationwide efforts to identify, train and recruit minority engineers, Adeagbo launched /dev/color to focus specifically on retaining and developing black engineers who are already in the industry.

Seeing members achieve their goals is what inspires Adeagbo most.

“When an engineer comes into our program, they say, ‘In the next five to 10 years, this is what I’d love to accomplish with my knowledge of computer science and my ability to lead.’ These are transformative goals — they want to transform themselves, they want to transform their communities, and they want to make a really big impact on the world. If ever I’m not sure about what I’m doing, reading those goals and vision statements, and realizing my job is to help them impact the world in that way — that’s really empowering.”

#WeNeedMore

When asked what we need more of, Adeagbo responds without hesitation, “talking to one another.”

“When I talk to CEOs and they ask me for advice on recruiting more black software engineers,” he says, “I usually say to them, ‘Go to lunch with your black software engineers. Ask them what their challenges are, what they feel uncomfortable with in the workplace.

“If you start by talking to the people at your company, you’ll find out a lot of great information.”

Learn more about how technologists of color are supported at Verizon Innovative Learning.

About the author(s): 

Kendall Lee is a senior manager in the Verizon Foundation.