IBM Chairman and CEO Thomas J. Watson wrote a letter about equal opportunity for all at his company.
“It is the policy of this organization to hire those who have the personality, talent and background necessary to fill a given job, regardless of race, color or creed,” Watson wrote Sept. 21, 1953, which was a restatement of an already established company policy.
People of color had already been working at IBM when he wrote it. In 1946, the company had hired its first black salesman.
Fast-forward to 2013: Rod Adkins is appointed IBM’s senior vice president of Corporate Strategy. Before that, he was senior vice president of the company’s Systems and Technology Group, a position he held since 2009.
While it is easier to be identified in a corporate setting, opportunities in technology for blacks abound if you have a good idea, said Brian Brackeen, founder and CEO of Kairos, a facial recognition company based in Miami.
Brackeen, born in Philadelphia, said he was exposed to technology at an early age. Before coming to Miami, he worked at Apple and IBM among other places.
Now 35, he remembers how enamored he was with his first computer.
“My mom thought my dad was crazy to spend all that money on a computer,” said Brackeen of the move more than 20 years ago. “I fell instantly in love with it.”
An early introduction to computers also put Kevin Michael on his career tract in technology. Born in Antigua, an island in the Eastern Caribbean, he too was excited when a computer showed up in his house.
He wanted to know how the computer worked and why it worked. By the time he was 15 years old he could build computers.
Today, Michael serves as co-founder and Managing Partner of Invizio LLC, a South Florida IT services and consulting firm. His niche is to fill in as an IT department for companies who need to outsource the service.
Both Michael and Brakeen said innate curiosity led them to their careers and insist that interest in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics must start at a young age.
Michael, a University of Miami graduate, cites organizations such as Black Girl Code and Code Fever as avenues for young people to grow their curiosity about the fast-changing technology space.
Blacks working in the technology industry is not new. Greg Greenlee, founder of the organization Blacks in Technology, said that George Washington Carver and his inventions in the 1800s was a part of the technology movement. By 1932, Richard Spikes invented the automatic gear shift. Since then black astronauts have gone into space.
But the modern language of coding is “the type of movement we’ve been nostalgic for when we complain that “we haven’t made significant progress since the Civil Rights Movement,” according to the article, African Americans use tech and code as the next movement.
“Learning code is like being multilingual,” Brackeen said. “It’s a language and you think in it and just do it.”
While there are huge gains of blacks in technology over the last 15 years, a 2013 study conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that blacks are high consumers of technology. For example, the study shows that 92 percent of blacks have a cell phone and 52 percent have a smart phone. It also reported that 73 percent of African American internet users – and 96 percent of those ages 18-29 – use a social networking site of some kind. The preferable social networking platform? Twitter.
Michael said that while it is good that blacks are consumers of technology they need to turn that interest into creating technologies. A lack of expertise in the technology is not a barrier to entry, Michael said. Presenting ideas how to improve or create new technology can be done at Hackathons, where programmers, designers and people with ideas come together to form partnerships.