Below is an article originally written by Portia Kibble Smith, Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Karat and published on March 2nd, 2021. Go to Karat's company page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
Brilliant Black Minds unlocks opportunities for Black software engineers
At Karat we believe interviews unlock opportunities and change lives.
Today's tech companies are creating the future. Every time a developer gets a job, they create a new opportunity for their company to create, grow, and innovate. And every time a developer gets a job it's an opportunity for them to build the lasting financial stability and economic empowerment that comes with a high-paying career.
The tech industry is the biggest opportunity generator of our lifetime.
And yet, those opportunities are not distributed equitably. Black software engineers have been mostly kept out of the highest levels of tech. Most people who look like me simply don't have access to the opportunities or networks that come with a career in tech.
When I first started working with Karat's co-founders, Mohit Bhende and Jeffrey Spector, we were on a mission to make interviews predictive, fair, and enjoyable. Part of that involved building a startup with DEI at its core, so I joined them (and occasionally pushed them) throughout the journey.
Early in Karat's startup life, we conducted primary research to understand the problem that Karat was solving from the candidate's perspective. We toured community colleges and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to interview students about their job searches.
In most of our focus groups, we'd hear similar stories. There was a common theme, especially among first-generation college students, around needing to pick between security and their dreams. "We don't have the luxury to fail," said one student.
Compounding the problem, most of the students we met with didn't know that a technical interview was different from a behavioral interview. Without access to people who worked in tech, they didn't understand the process. They didn't have a way in without risking failure in an unfamiliar world.
Today, Karat launched Brilliant Black Minds, our flagship purpose program. Brilliant Black Minds honors the heritage of genius and brilliance in the Black community while removing barriers to the information, networks, and resources Black engineers need to ascend to the highest heights of tech.
Sabrina Williams, Uchenna Okoye, Forest Harper, Angela Roseboro, Wahab Owolabi, Portia Kibble Smith, Jeffrey Spector, and Mohit Bhende after the first Real Talk panel
Bringing this program to life has been an incredible journey at both the programmatic and personal level. Karat has innovated and created new interview content to meet the needs of our candidates. We've worked with great companies like Intuit and Databricks to help diversify their engineering teams and make recruiting more inclusive. We've shared interviewing tips and best practices with members of the National Society of Black Engineers, offered workshops on negotiation and resume building, and elevated the voices of Black engineering and HR leaders with forums like Real Talk: Diversity in Tech.
And we interviewed! We interviewed a lot, actually! Karat has conducted over 80,000 technical interviews on behalf of some of the world's biggest tech companies, and we have also delivered thousands of practice interviews.
What is the Brilliant Black Minds program?
Last spring, Karat shared our commitment to the Black community. As part of that commitment, we promised to deliver $1M in practice interviews to Black software engineers, to focus R&D on new, more inclusive technical interview formats that broaden the criteria used to make hiring decisions, and to ensure that Karat as a company is inclusive of all our employees' identities and points of view.
More than three-quarters of the Sophomore, Junior, and Senior students in Howard University's computer science program participated in our Brilliant Black Minds interview series last quarter. This is no small feat considering the students were all juggling the demands of school, adapting to learning virtually, and navigating the pandemic which has impacted the Black community disproportionately.
Participants receive a series of virtual technical interviews just like the ones they will encounter throughout their careers. After each interview, participants received feedback from professional Interview Engineers about their strengths and areas for improvement. Participants also had the opportunity to measure their improvement over the course of the series, which kicked off in the middle of last fall's peak University Recruiting season–the busiest time of year for companies hiring interns and new grads.
These practice interviews helped participants build confidence and hone their technical interviewing skills and ultimately get full-time jobs and summer internships. What's been most incredible is seeing the progression of having participants go from asking us for interview tips, to asking for salary negotiation tips as they weigh the offers that are pouring in!
Why Brilliant Black Minds?
Black students have long faced an access gap within education. Over 7 million children in the U.S. live in households without a computer—including over 1.8 million Black children. In addition, nearly a third of Black households don't have high speed internet.
Despite these challenges, there is no shortage of Black brilliance in the world, only a shortage of some people's ability to see it. Last fall as we were kicking off our work at Howard University, the University's president wrote a passionate op-ed for CNN reinforcing the limitless pool of Black talent because where we see brilliance others see a "pipeline problem."
Brilliant Black Minds aims to help bridge those gaps. Karat is giving Black software engineers first-hand interview experience, performance feedback, and professional development. And Karat is also illuminating the brilliance of our participants for the tech industry to witness and recognize.
"Being able to work with the people who directly make these questions and then get feedback and know that it's not people that are judging you, but here to just help you and make sure that when you get to the next step of the interview process, you know exactly what to do has just been so beneficial to me." – Demetria Mack, Howard University, class of 2023
Brilliant Black Minds today
It's been incredible to meet and mentor many of these actual brilliant Black minds, and feedback like this quote from one of our Fall 2020 participants lets me know we're heading in the right direction.
"The interview was really helpful for me because last semester I was going through technical interviews. I wasn't as confident in speaking to my thought process and that's one thing the program helped me build. I felt more confident going into the real interviews." – Shondace Thomas, Howard University, class of 2021
This is why I'm here at Karat doing this work, and that's why today's official announcement is so personal for me.
In addition to creating a new content series and set of questions for the four interviews we're offering students at Howard this semester, we're also opening up the program to all computer science students at Morehouse College, an HBCU in Atlanta, and we are working with our first industry partner, Jopwell, to extend invitations to professional software engineers as well.
The long-term impact of Brilliant Black Minds
In addition to supporting today's Black engineers, we're taking a long-term look at hiring in tech.
All those years ago, when Jeff, Mo, and I first sat down with students at Howard, we heard how the lack of familiarity with the process of getting hired in tech was a barrier.
People with a cousin who works at Google or a parent at Amazon have immediate access to how the job search process works. They know what's expected and how to prepare and what to do on their first day of a new job. For many Black engineer students who are the first in their family to go to college or pursue a career in tech, this is not the case.
We're working with our partners at the department of computer science at Howard University to anonymize participant data from the practice interviews and produce insights that will change the way the interview process works for the better. These insights are already highlighting places where the curriculum that students are learning doesn't match industry expectations for the skills that we assess during internship and new-grad interviews.
Karat unlocks opportunity
Karat has grown so much since those initial HBCU focus groups. I'm proud to say that in addition to making the individual interviews more predictive, fair, and enjoyable, we're now able to open some of those closed doors and help the industry see the brilliance coming from the Black engineers we serve.
Our mission and purpose at Karat are more important today than ever. The Brilliant Black Minds program is going to have an incredible impact, not just for the Black community but for society as a whole. Tech is shaping the way we live today and the way we will live in the future. It is imperative that the people who have the opportunities to code our future represent all of us.
To learn how to get involved with Brilliant Black Minds, email: Brilliant_Black_Minds [at] karat [dot] com
Yun Freund considers her background to form the “typical immigrant story” — but sitting down with the SVP of Platform and Product at Equinix, it’s clear she’s made it her own.
“I came to the United States about 30 years ago with $80 in my pocket. I earned a CS degree from a Beijing university when computer science was new. I was good at math, so that’s what I studied,” explains Yun.
Fast forward a few decades, and Yun is now running one of the largest organizations at Equinix, a Fortune 500 digital infrastructure company focused on providing an interconnected platform to its global 10k customers. While focusing on external growth — the business has grown nearly 40% since her arrival — Yun has also invested in internal progress, especially when it comes to Equinix’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DIB) goals.
“I know first-hand how hard it is, as an Asian and a woman, to be able to survive and excel at a workplace, and I’m proud of how Equinix has grown to be an amazing workplace where employees feel that they are safe, belong, and matter,” says Yun.
That’s not just her opinion. Glassdoor confirms this, having given the company a “best place to work” distinction in 2021, and a special award for best places to work for LGBTQ+ equality list by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
We were excited to learn more about Yun’s strategies for empowering her team — including her belief that making room for failure is just as important as celebrating success.
The Intersection of Technological Innovation and People Management
Yun first heard about Equinix through a recruiter. Decades into her career in tech leadership, she was looking for a role where she could drive innovation in both technology and people management.
“After many rounds of discussion with our executives, I realized Equinix is a company that’s full of potential. It was doing a lot of innovation on interconnected SaaS products and networking products, and I thought I could really help drive, from a culture and process perspective, the company's digital transformation journey,” reflects Yun.
Her first order of business? Building a strategy for scaling product development. Yun had long worked at the intersection of engineering and people management, and she embraced the challenge to scale a talent strategy as well as changing the culture.
That resulted in clear growth — not just for Yun’s career, as in promotions and new responsibilities, but also in what the company was able to do.
“Helping to cultivate a DevOps culture, move products to the Cloud for high reliability and availability, and build operational excellence for our customers is contributing to us fulfilling our purpose, which is to be the platform where the world comes together, enabling the innovations that enrich our work, life and planet,” says Yun.
Diverse Ways of Measuring Impact
Yun doesn’t manage her team by the balance sheet alone.
“Improving the bottom line, or operating more efficiently, is just as important as improving the top line, or driving more revenue and more customer adoption,” she says. “Sometimes it’s not about how we get new products and services out the door, but how we run things more efficiently.”
For Equinix, says Yun, that includes committing to becoming carbon-neutral by 2030.
“We’re a company that really touches life every day, from online shopping, to sending emails and streaming movies, to smart cars,” says Yun. “We want to be doing that sustainably. For example, by using AI and machine learning to lower our power consumption and using green sources of energy.”
Yun knows that to drive the most impact, Equinix needs a diverse team. She has partnered with other senior leaders and employee connection groups and started driving a more coherent DIB strategy across the company. She is excited to see the progress and wants to continue the effort in building a diverse and safe workplace for everyone — including by leading through her own example.
3 Key Ways to Empower Your Team
When Yun says that it’s important to empower your team, she doesn’t mean that you simply transfer the responsibility to your team and call it done. Here’s what she does mean:
- Embrace failure. “It’s easy to say, ‘Ah, empowerment. Here’s the purpose, go drive impact.’ But sometimes it’s not all rosy,” she says. “The road to empowerment can sometimes be a failure. How do you support your employees along the way? When they fail, you should not blame them. You should be there, on their side, to help them do a retrospective and learn from it.”
- Show trust via delegation. “Giving your team the opportunity to make their own decisions helps give them a purpose. It shows them they can make a difference. Accountability and ownership will help drive your team to have deeper engagement and commitments, and ultimately deliver results.”
- Tie individual responsibilities to company OKRs (Objectives, Key Results). “I always communicate to my team that every engineer and individual contributor’s work will have an impact on the business, no matter how small that is,” says Yun. For example, if an engineer is working on a new digital experience component for the customers, their work will contribute to some kind of business outcome such as, hours saved from many customer support calls or customer satisfaction score improvement, and that in turn drives operational efficiency and customer experience improvement for the whole business. “When employees realize their impact on the business, it elevates their motivation as well as their state of mind.”
We all have our favorite websites– the ones we frequent, bookmark, and recommend to others. You might even enjoy some website features so much that you’ve found yourself wondering why they aren’t more popular. Or maybe you’ve experienced times where you were frustrated with a website and wished you could add features or even design your own!
If you’ve ever found yourself intrigued at the prospect of designing and developing your own websites, then a career as a web developer might be just for you!
As a web developer you would be responsible for coding, designing, optimizing, and maintaining websites. Today, there are over 1.7 billion websites in the world and, in turn, the demand for web developers is on the rise. In order to figure out what kind of web development work best suits you let’s start with an introduction to the three main roles in web development that you can choose from.
The Three Types of Web Development Jobs
Front-End Web Development: The Creative Side
In addition to programming skills, front-end developers need to be detail oriented, creative, willing to keep up with the latest trends in web development, cyber security conscious, and geared toward user-friendly designs. The median salary for a front-end developer can reach well into the $90,000 to $100,000 range.
Back-End Web Development: The Logical Counterpart
While a house can be beautifully decorated, it’s incomplete without a solid foundation and efficient infrastructure. Similarly, a well-designed website depends on logical and functional code to power the features of that website. Back-end web development is code-heavy and focused on the specifics of how a website works. If you enjoy the analytical challenge of creating the behind-the-scenes code that powers a website, then back-end development is for you.
Full-Stack Web Development: A Little Bit of Everything
A full-stack developer is essentially the Jack (or Jill)-of-all-trades in web development. Full-stack developers need to be knowledgeable about both front-end and back-end roles. This does not necessarily imply that you would need to be an expert in both roles, but you should fully understand the different applications and synergies they each imply. In order to work in this position, you will need to know the programming languages used by front-end and back-end developers. In addition to these languages, full-stack developers also specialize in databases, storage, HTTP, REST, and web architecture.
Full-stack developers are often required to act as liaisons between front-end and back-end developers. Full-stack developers need to be both problem solvers and great communicators. The end goal for a full-stack developer is to ensure that the user’s experience is seamless, both on the front-end and on the back-end. In return, you can expect to earn a median salary of $100,000 – $115,000 a year for this role.
Taking the Next Step
Web development is both in-demand and lucrative! All three roles described above contribute to specific aspects of web development and the scope of each one can be customized to the industries and positions you feel best suit you. Regardless of which role you choose, all of them need a foundation in programming.
To gain the programming skills needed in each role, you can enroll in courses or learn independently. Coding bootcamps are a great way to boost your skillset quickly and efficiently.
Click here for some of our highly rated programming bootcamp options! Make sure to check out the discounts available to PowerToFly members.
💎For a successful job search you need to be very strategic, focused, and intentional about your career. Watch the video to the end to get advice on how to achieve it!
📼Be successful in your job search by identifying the career goals you’d like to achieve over the next 12 to 18 months. LaMont Price, Senior Recruiter, and Meg Fronckowiak, Senior Talent Acquisition Recruiter at Tenable, share with you the benefits of having a short-term career development plan and understanding your unique value proposition.
📼A successful job search requires you to take a deep dive into the job description. Look at your resume and try to match the skills and the qualifications and highlight that on your resume, so it stands out. Secondly, do your research. You want to make sure that you've taken a look at the company website. You've looked at the leadership of the company, the size of the company, and the culture of the company. And to go one step further, look at the interviewer. Look them up on LinkedIn, and take a look at their background. Recruiters always look for people who have great insightful questions that show the level of research the person did.
📼You’ll be successful in a job search if you know how to face the interview process. Every interview includes some don’ts. Don't be late. There's nothing worse than showing up late for an interview. Dress Professionally. Try to be in a quiet place so that you're not distracted. Get through the interview process, show that you're engaged, and have good body language. At the end of the interview, you always want to ask if there's any question that maybe you weren't able to answer. And always ask about the interview process to get a good understanding of the timeline.
A Successful Job Search Requires Research - Learn About A Company’s Values!
Recruiters need to know if you are aligned with the company’s culture. If you want to apply to Tenable, you should know that its core values are diversity, equity, and inclusion. They work together and they win together, and this is an idea that resonates throughout the entire organization. Tenable celebrates all of its employees. This allows them to focus on the equal representation of women and minorities in technical roles, sales roles, and leadership roles. The company provides training for all of its employees in diversity, equity, and inclusion. This helps employees to understand how their behaviors can impact others. Make sure to show that you are aligned with these values during your interview!
🧑💼 Are you interested in joining Tenable? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know LaMont Price and Meg Fronckowiak
Over the last 25+ years, LaMont Price has researched, analyzed, and optimized services and products by exploiting the latest tools and tactics aligned with the strategic goal via Attention, Differentiation, Trust, and Memorability. Meg Fronckowiak has been working in the recruiting and talent attraction since 2003 and she spent the majority of her career working across all disciplines including, Building out GTM Teams, Accounting & Finance, Marketing, Operations, and Sales Leadership. If interested in a career at Tenable, you can connect with LaMont and Meg on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Tenable
Tenable empowers all organizations to understand and reduce their cybersecurity risk. Over 30,000 organizations, more than 50% being fortune 500 companies worldwide, rely on Tenable to help them understand and reduce cybersecurity risk. The company has some of the greatest minds. That’s because they bring people who come from diverse backgrounds and give them the resources and support to partner together to bring new ideas to life.
Monica Arias has long been interested in the new and the next. That interest is what drove her to work in national security after 9/11, and in the cryptocurrency space after learning about modern-day crimes committed on the blockchain.
One thing she has noticed every time she’s been somewhere new: the importance of having a diverse early team to shape it.
“We need minorities to be willing to take a chance and apply to firms like ours and other tech firms,” says Monica, who is currently a Federal Business Development Lead at Chainalysis, a blockchain data platform. “As these companies grow rapidly, we need diverse candidates who can offer diverse thoughts and approaches to problems.”
Monica currently works closely with the Chainalysis federal government team to pursue opportunities to support customers that are in need of Chainalysis data to track blockchain criminals and bring them to justice. She was well-prepared for some parts of the job after holding various roles but had to come up the curve on technical skills — which is why she’s sure that other candidates like her, from non-technical, underrepresented backgrounds, will be able to do so, too.
We sat down with Monica to hear more about how marginalized people can break into crypto and best position themselves for success in the field.
Connecting to a Bigger Mission
Growing up around DC, Monica got early exposure to federal service. From a young age, she knew she wanted to help represent and advocate for people.
She went to law school, thinking that would be the best path to fulfilling her goals. But living through 9/11 inspired her to support national security missions more actively. That’s how she got her first exposure to her now-employer — she brought in Chainalysis for a demo to learn how to on leverage their blockchain analysis tools.
“I’ve always wanted to be a part of something that had a bigger mission,” says Monica. “And the crypto space had that.”
It wasn’t just any crypto company that interested Monica, though. She particularly liked the company’s innovative culture and fast growth.
“Chainalysis is a very open and encouraging place,” says Monica, who came in to interview at the startup having studied up on crypto, but never having worked in the field or with blockchain technology.
“The culture is very much about learning, and they’ve created an environment where they enable you to do so. The underlying foundation is ongoing learning, and soliciting ideas on how to evolve and expand.”
Leveraging a Non-Technical Background
Monica gets what it’s like to not want to apply to an opportunity because you feel underqualified — that’s what happened to her.
“In some conversations, the feedback I received was that I didn’t have enough of a technical background and that therefore it would be challenging to go and join a tech firm,” she says. “It’s a big deterrent for so many people. And it also compounds things. Because if you’re a minority or from an underrepresented group, you’re already less likely to apply. And if you have no technical background, you’re even less likely to do so.”
How did Monica break through that? She got creative.
“I had to take a step back and say, ‘You know, I have skills. How can I transfer those into a non-technical role supporting a tech firm?” she says.
We asked her to share more about what that process was like, and here’s what she said:
5 Tips as You Gear Up to Be Competitive in the Tech Industry
- Find firms that are in fields you find interesting. Since you’re going to have to do a lot of learning, find a tech firm that is involved in a field you are excited about. Monica found her interest - crypto! She’s excited to continuously be learning about the rapidly changing crypto landscape. She added, “the tech industry can be demanding so you need to stay motivated about the work you’re doing and believe in the company you’re with.”
- Find firms that are open-minded, too. Interviewing at Chainalysis even without technical skills on her resume didn’t pose a problem for Monica. That’s because they were willing to look at her in her entirety. “It’s not just, ‘Do you fit A, B, and C,’ but ‘Do you have the overall skills and ability to learn and grow in this type of field?’”
- Recognize your transferable skills. Monica coaches other people with non-technical backgrounds like hers to start by acknowledging their accomplishments in their own fields. “What have you done? Is it people managing? Because these firms manage people in one way or another. Those and other skills can be leveraged and transferred,” says Monica. “Literally, make a list and identify those skills, then highlight those skills throughout your resume.”
- Remember that most people are in the same boat. “You won’t come across too many candidates who have 10 years of crypto experience, because this field is new,” says Monica. “The perfect candidate who meets every single qualification listed in a job ad may not exist so instead recruiters — especially those who are good at their jobs - spend time getting to know candidates. But they can't get to know you if you are deterred from applying by thinking you don't meet all the qualifications.”
- Study up. Monica follows crypto influencers, keeps up with crypto companies on LinkedIn, follows government statements on crypto, and reads reports put out by her firm and others. “If this is your focus, you need to read, talk, and network — just be curious,” she says.