As a Black man in tech, I have always been deeply aware of the complex duality of speaking code – moving fluently between Black and White spaces in the struggle to be seen, heard, and accepted as an equal techie. In this country, there is a complicated racial history that binds many folx like me to multiple languages of survival and success, not just HTML, Javascript, or Python. This is the code required to survive and succeed as a person of color in the United States and more specifically, in computer science and tech-related fields.

The use of variables, conditionals, loops and functions have been part of my world for over 20 years. Raised in Jamaica, Queens, in a family that celebrated Black identity and debated Black history, I grew up as the product of a public education and the juxtaposition of access that segregated resources provided. In the rich traditions of my Black culture and Black artists that surrounded me in my immediate community, I learned quickly the beauty and pride of living in my Black skin. I fell in love with coding as a hobby. I used it as a means to express both my identity and creativity on the internet in ways my local high school did not support me to do. I taught myself the fundamentals of building websites using HTML and CSS in 11th grade. Like Morpheus in the Matrix, I knew the code would appear to me.

In college, I discovered the field of computer science and its value as a pathway to the high-paying jobs of the future. Simultaneously, while on campus, I quickly learned the glaring disparity that exists in tech education. My university reflected the long history of the lack of access to computer science education that communities of color traditionally have had when compared to others. Many of my classmates already had more knowledge and experience in computer science before ever stepping foot on a college campus. In my very first computer science course, I experienced the deep and profound challenges of learning the content while navigating a lack of acceptance and feeling of devaluation by my peers. While I “spoke code,” I found myself battling infuriating comments from fellow students and educators like, “You speak so well,” and “Did you get into this class through an equal opportunity program?” The act of using language and gestures to be accepted was so draining that I eventually dropped the class and decided to pursue another major. In the face of exclusion, however, I persisted. I kept coding. Outside of the classroom, my skills were in high demand and I took on freelance work, creating interactive content and websites. When I landed my first job as a Web Developer for IBM, I once again experienced just how lonely it felt to be Black in tech in the early 2000s. This ignited my lifelong passion to dismantle inequitable access to CS education and to the tech industry.

The work of exposure, access, and inclusion is the work — my work as a Black tech leader — and continues to be the life work I do for my community. As a New York City high school teacher, co-founder of NYC Generation Tech and Startup Tech Summer, I taught students how to take calculated risks, build minimal viable products, and hone their ability to fail fast – all things that people of color do not always get a chance to do. In my former role as the Executive Director of CS4All, I helped to create policy and infrastructure that guarantees every K-12 student access to computer science, and computational thinking – building partnerships with private industry, non-profit, government, and higher education to pave pathways for students’ future careers in tech. And now as Code Nation’s new CEO, I join a community of volunteer teachers, mentors, educators, and partners across the country dedicated to building inclusive pathways to tech-driven careers.

In the tradition of Black excellence and Black resilience, my life’s work is to equip students with the skills to equitably explore tech, dream tech, and break down barriers in tech as a means to experience unimaginable freedom in and beyond spaces that are designed to exclude them.

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