I was the only black person in most of the classes related to computer science. I grew up in Toronto, and if you know anything about this city you know that it is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. It is not unusual for someone from Toronto to have friends with backgrounds from at least 4 or 5 different countries. I went to college in this great city and I can’t remember seeing another black person in any of my computer programming classes. From college I decided to go to university. The one that I chose was 2 hours away from Toronto in the beautiful city of Peterborough. I can remember having one other black person in one or two of my classes. Why were there so few of us?

The Digital Divide

While in university I took an interesting course called Computer Ethics. My professor’s name was Dr. Byron Styoles and he lead a discussion about the digital divide that has stuck with me ever since. The lack of representation of people of colour in the industry was result of a lack of access to technology during childhood. This is due to socio-economic class and historic discrimination. Students with lower incomes have lesser access to technology. Now remember I did graduate from university a decade ago. It was before cell phones and tablets were prevalent. Tech, up to this time, was very expensive, and anyone that grew up with access to cell phones, computers, or the internet was very fortunate. The discussion also had  associated readings and they showed that for someone to strive toward a goal they must know that the goal actually exists and is achievable. We need to see people like us in those fields to picture ourselves in them. This sentiment is also echoed in one of my favorite books called The Other Wes Moore. There were some trailblazers in the technology field that we are beginning to hear about now, like the women in Hidden Figures, but none of them had the celebrity of a Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.

In 2016 Google conducted research among school aged children and their parents to get to the bottom of why Blacks, Hispanics, and women are so grossly under represented in Computer science. You can read about their findings here https://services.google.com/fh/files/misc/diversity-gaps-in-computer-science-report.pdf. I thought that the situation had to be getting better now that technology is integrated into society, but the researchers found that things are pretty much the same as they were when I took that class all those years ago. Something that stood out to me is that access to computers and to computer science education is still lacking in black communities.

“Black and Hispanic students are less likely than White students to use a computer at home every day, and Hispanic students are less likely than White students to say they use a computer at school every school day. More than six in 10 students know an adult who works with computers and technology, although fewer Hispanic students know such an adult. Home Computer Access Is Higher Among White Students, With Large Majorities of All Students Reporting Daily Cellphone Usage” Diversity Gaps in Computer Science: Exploring the Underrepresentation of Girls, Blacks and Hispanics p. 12


Due to the lack of black representation, while I was in school I found that my peers and professors treated me differently. I wasn’t abused or anything like that, but prejudice was real. I remember someone calling me “dawg”. I had to explain to him that I don’t refer to myself that way (or speak using black colloquial terms around non-black people). When I would do well on tests, quizzes, or assignments the looks that I would receive from my professors were telling… it was almost as if they were saying “huh, I didn’t think you had it in you”.

Prejudice is as normal as the most normal thing that you can think of. We all pre-judge. It becomes a serious problem when opportunities are taken away or granted due to that prejudice, that’s when it transforms into racism.


Is this field worth pursuing for Black people? Absolutely! Sometimes we have to put up with negativity in order to promote progress. Black developer and prospective developer, you are a trailblazer. There are still many firsts that we will eventually achieve. Which one of us will be the next Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs. Which one of us will be the next Jeff Bezos, or Mark Zuckerberg. It could be you. You and I are the bridge to the Digital Divide, and with more representation in the industry, my hope is the prejudice will end. We are part of a close-knit family full of shared experiences. I implore you to write code without fear, knowing that you have a place in the development space.

Photo by NESA by Makers

This is not going to be an exhaustive approach to getting your foot in the door of software development. I have heard stories from several developers about how the got their first job, and their education level when they got it. I’ve worked in companies that were small (literally 4 developers), midsized (just around a hundred employees, with 3 developers), and large corporations (ten thousand employees, with a huge development team). Regardless of company size, I have found that most, if not all, of the developers that I worked with had a post secondary diploma or degree in a technical field. Often, they have a degree in computer science, electrical or mechanical engineering, or a diploma in computer programming. If you want to get into the field starting with a degree will only help.

There are many great things said about online or offline code schools, nano-degrees and such, however, personally speaking, I have never worked with anyone that solely had one of these certifications. I have worked with many people who have had a post secondary degree/diploma and have additional certifications. I’ve taken some courses, and this is commonplace in this field. Udacity and Code academy boast of great success stories, so if you did go that route or you are thinking about going that route there are success stories.

However, due to my lack of experience with getting a job without a degree, I’m going to stick with how I became a developer, working consistently and professionally for 10 years. I can’t believe that I’ve been doing this for as long as I have but looking back I’ve learned a few lessons that can help you.

Earn a degree in a technical field

This is the easiest way to get your foot in the door of major and minor corporations. Just about all job descriptions for developers/programmers from companies require the candidate to have a degree in computer science or engineering. Getting around this fact is somewhat difficult, so if you are serious about making a life through development you really should start here.

Humble yourself

Ok, you have the degree now it’s time to show the world what you can do… whoa not so fast. The enthusiasm is great, keep that, but always know that you don’t know everything. After graduation you really don’t know much about writing usable code and writing code that others can edit if you are unavailable. You don’t know about trying to understand and fix problems that are in other developer’s code, or how to refactor code and optimise it. Forget about coding, you probably don’t know how to solve real business problems yet either. These skills all take time to acquire and a lifetime to master. Also, if you think that your .Net, Java, T-SQL, html, CSS, or JavaScript skills are amazing you will meet people that you work with and learn that their years of experience in these languages put your skills to shame. Bosses and developers don’t like to work with conceited people. You will not move ahead in a career in this field with that attitude.

Be honest in your interviews

Normally the hiring process consist of you applying, a phone interview, and one or more interviews in person. Be truthful! If you lie about any of your skills you will be found out. It is okay to not know something. If you don’t know AngularJS but you are familiar with jQuery say that. Developers are constantly learning, and no employer expects you to know everything. What they do want to know is that you are willing and able to learn new technologies. That being said, if the position is for a .Net Developer and you don’t know a .Net language you should not be applying for that job.

Practice Practice Practice

If you’ve done all of the above you will probably get a job. Hurray! Now take some time when you’re not working to practice. The more you program the better programmer you will become. Is there a little application that will be beneficial to you or a friend? Code it up. Is there a new framework that you want to learn? Take a weekend and learn it. Is there a technology course that you want to take to broaden your programming skills in a certain area? Take it! Get certifications if you can. Build up your personal skills, resume, and LinkedIn profile.

Be on LinkedIn

Take a look at the skills that other people in your position have acquired. This can give you an outlook of some steps to take in your career. In addition to this, another reason to be on LinkedIn is for searching out new opportunities. Head hunters are constantly patrolling LinkedIn for people like you. If you are thinking about leaving your position a head hunter may be helpful. However, be careful some will call your work line or try to contact you at all hours to get you be their client. Be cautious when you are picking one to work with.

These 5 steps will help you to not only get a job is the development field but keep a job in this field. Longevity in any career is hard to attain, especially in a every changing industry like ours, but it is possible. I been doing this professionally for the past decade and I know that you can do it to.

Photo by Jefferson Santos