WIP Olden and Harris

Accelerating Black representation in the tech workforce through career exploration and coaching

A conversation with Rachelle Olden, lead, Google's Tech Equity Collective, and Ruben Harris, co-founder & CEO, Career Karma

On this episode of Work in Progress, I’m discussing increasing representation of Black talent in the tech industry and the new career exploration tool Black Genius Academy with Rachelle Olden, head of Google’s Tech Equity Collective, and Ruben Harris, co-founder and CEO of Career Karma.

Black talent is underrepresented in some of the fastest-growing jobs in the country. According to a report from McKinsey, Black talent makes up 12% of the U.S. workforce, but only 8% of the tech industry.

Tech Equity Collective (TEC) – a Google initiative – is on a mission to accelerate Black innovation and representation in tech. TEC has partnered with Career Karma – an app and web platform that connects career transitioners with coding and tech boot camps – to launch the a new career exploration app – Black Genius Academy.

Ruben Harris says Black workers in the U.S. are overrepresented in some industries and underrepresented in others, partially because of lack of exposure to certain career pathways and training.

“Of the 17 million Black workers in the United States, 65% of them developed their skills through alternative routes. Those alternative routes are often not the career paths that we are talking about in technology,” says Harris. These alternative routes can be work experience, some community college, or even military service.

He adds, “Even if you might have heard of a career path and you have been exposed to the right training, if you don’t have access to someone that can guide you, or that has been through what you’ve been through, a lot of times you don’t move forward. And so having someone that can mentor you or guide you, that also has been through what you’ve been through, is a very powerful thing.”

Rachelle Olden agrees that there is an exposure gap and that there are multiple challenges in getting Black workers better access to the tech industry.

“There are series of different exposure points to prepare someone to enter into tech, whether that is early childhood and you are playing with LEGO (bricks), so you are learning how to build. Whether that’s having STEM available in your school. Whether that’s having engineers who are in your community or in your family. It’s a plethora of things,” explains Olden.

She adds that “we, as an industry have to continue to think holistically about talent and how we identify talent and how we bring talent in. What schools are we going to? What communities are we going to? What organizations are we going to? How are we evaluating talent? Everybody is coming into the tech space with very different lived experiences and really placing value on those lived experiences.”

Addressing these issues is what has brought TEC and Career Karma together to create the new Black Genius Academy.

“Black Genius Academy (BGA) is a career exploration app that gives Black people resources and knowledge and access to people that help them identify, enroll, and succeed in technical education programs,” says Harris.

Olden describes BGA’s goal as demystifying the tech ecosystem. “A lot of people may ask, ‘Oh, is it for me? Can I do it?’ We want to demystify that for so many people who have been underexposed to opportunities in tech. In addition to that, we want to celebrate all of the amazing contributions that the Black community continues and has made to the tech ecosystem.”

BGA has audio and video of successful Black tech leaders to give app users/learners guidance and coaching in one of three career paths – cybersecurity, UX design, and software engineering.

She continues, “Once you choose a career pathway, you’ll take a deeper dive and you’ll start to hear from Black industry leaders in these spaces about their experience. You’ll learn more about what is it, for example, what does it mean to be a software engineer? What do software engineers do? How do software engineers spend their day? What is required and expected of a software engineer?”

Harris says they want to start small, but think big. “Starting today, we want to really focus on 5,000 Black people. We want to make sure that all of them are served well, all of them are enrolling in the right training, and then they’re hitting their desired goals.

There’s no cost to the learner.

“We wanted to make sure that this resource was free to the community, but I use that word loosely because you are making an investment of time, you are making an investment of energy. We know that that’s not a small in investment. It is open to those who are eager about exploring a career in tech. We ask them to be committed to their careers and to themselves, and we ask them to use their imagination and curiosity,” Olden tells me.

Harris adds, “Time, to Rachelle’s point, is your most valuable resource, and it’s also the best way to invest in yourself. Even if you’re picking a company to work for, a school to go to, you’re making an investment with your time, an investment into yourself. Ideally, whatever investment that you’re putting into yourself or into that education program, the return that you get is greater.”

“We help people think about how to evaluate time trade-offs and opportunity costs and other things that they can be doing versus where they want to go in the future. That’s another piece where the coaching comes in,” he explains.

Final Thoughts

I asked Harris and Olden to each share their final thoughts on why this collaboration is so important.

Ruben Harris:

“I think it’s probably the most exciting time in history. It’s almost like the new Enlightenment Period. Technology has launched so many people online, whether they’re working online or learning online, collaborating online. Anything that they’re excited about, they can find an audience for it. If you want to participate in the economy, it’s like exploring a new world. It’s like a land grab.

“And a lot of times when you are looking at a new world, it has to be explored by other people. When you’re thinking about Black Genius Academy and people that have never been exposed to this new world, they’re in the best position to be able to go where we’ve never gone before.”

Rachelle Olden:

“I think why I am so passionate about this work is that I really want to make sure that my community, the community that I love and feel so passionate about, has every tool and resource to challenge the status quo. Technology is doing just that, and I want to make sure that we’re not only the users and the consumers of technology, but we are also the architects and builders of technology.

“So that, for me, is very important because I do also think that technology will transform not only our community, but it will transform the world. I want to see our people do that and lead that.”

Listen to the podcast here, or find it and download it wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode 282: Rachelle Olden, Tech Equity Collective, and Ruben Harris, Career Karma
Host & Executive Producer: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan Lynch and Melissa Panzer
Theme Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4
Download the transcript for this podcast here.
You can check out all the other podcasts at this link: Work in Progress podcasts