In 2015 I saw on Twitter that the Diversity Scholarship was available for React Conf 2016. As an under represented group in tech, I applied for this scholarship in hopes to attend. During my submission to the scholarship, I told them the following:
"I am a U.S Navy Veteran African-American male. I graduated from Old Dominion University with a degree in Computer Science. I currently work for the government but want to explore the world of new technology..."
I found out I won the scholarship while at a meet-up with NorfolkJS. When I found this news out, I couldn’t contain myself. I was finally going to go to San Francisco and learn about ReactJS. I knew I had a responsibility that came with this opportunity. I knew that I would have to help lead those who feel intimidated as I did before.
Taking a leap of faith, I left my government job and started working at Emerging Technology Advisors as a software engineer. My initial feeling of imposter syndrome quickly left when I joined this team. I had the opportunity on working on great projects leading up to ReactConf 2016. I finally arrived at the hotel in San Francisco to check in for the conference. I grab my shirt and badge which still says my previous employer and felt more confident in this position. I knew then that the decision I made to try something different wasn’t a bad decision at all.
I attended the conference and met great people who created a feeling of inclusion. I saw presentations from this great community that I never knew existed. I got to meet people that I only saw on twitter. I met with the other recipients of the diversity scholarship who also shared some of their apprehensions on trying to explore tech. We discussed some of the things that prevented us from trying to explore technology, the uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty and why we jumped at this opportunity. A lot of us felt we were capable of performing, but we were not given the opportunity. This brought about conversations about community and diversity that changed our perspective. What was great is that this conversation wasn’t just among the scholarship recipients. This conversation started to wander in the path of people wanting to help solve the problem. The insights of how we can improve diversity, how we can improve the pipeline and how we can improve retention. I felt great knowing that I wasn’t fighting this battle alone. We learned about ReactJS at this conference, but we also learned the inclusion community that I felt compelled to help build.
The conference ended and I headed back to the east coast more encouraged than when I left. I knew things and had the privilege of sharing them with people back home. I felt it was my duty to try to help junior developers in our local community lose the fear I once had. I continued to help mentor people any way I could within our local community. I continued to build this inclusive community around myself with speaking at local meet-ups. I began to try to find a way to help people understand why diversity in tech is very important. I ventured outside of my comfort zone and spoke at our local devFest about diversity in tech. Analyzed the numbers of companies spending millions of dollars to get this right. I discussed how we can all contribute in making this community great. The feedback was like something I’ve never seen before. I stood there speechless as I watched people understand and want to help contribute. A blog post was written in regards to HRDevFest and my talk was mentioned.
"Troy provided some concrete ways that diversity improves teams. People with different backgrounds and life experiences enrich the lively discussion and collaboration that teams like ours thrive on. He also talked about ways for those of us who are embedded in the community to help people of diverse backgrounds feel more comfortable participating. Being present for our peers of different backgrounds can be as easy as saying hi when someone shows for a meetup or conference.”Gabe Truitt of IssueTrack
I knew my work wasn’t done but didn’t have another stage to share this knowledge. Call for proposals opened up for React Conf 2017 in January 2017. I submitted my proposal for a lightning talk to explain how my experience last year has helped me further along the community. It’s helped me to create communities where it didn’t reach before. I continued to explain that the work done at React Conf 2016 has helped our area in Southeastern VA be more aware of ReactJS. I felt like it was a long shot trying to give them the information they could easily google with false metrics. I got the email that I was approved to talk at React Conf 2017. Immediately, I was excited that I get to speak to this great community. I told my coworkers, family, friends and those who knew nothing about ReactJS that I would be speaking. I told the community I’m involved with that I am doing this for them. The responsibility itself is something we must all do to advance something so great. I prepare my slides and calm my nerves as I stop at this point in my journey to help diversity.
This journey isn’t finished but it starts just like any other journey, one step at a time.