September 16, 2011

Why Technology Networks Are Important to African Americans

by Kai Dupé

The lack of support networks has been identified as a critical aspect to involving more African Americans in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).  While I agree that this is very important, I do not agree that African Americans lack technology support groups.  I assert that the problem is that the African American community at large is not aware of the networks that do exist.

There are three that I have worked with over the years. I am sure there are others and I am even more certain that most of our people, particularly our young people are not aware of these groups.  I know this because I do quite a bit of public speaking around the country.  When I ask students if they are familiar with The Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA), BiTWiSE, or Blacks In Technology the answer is invariably no.

In all fairness, BiTWiSE and Blacks in Technology are recent developments.  But BDPA has been around since 1975.  I have been a professional software developer since 1986 and I only recently became aware of BDPA.  We must do a better job of making our folks aware of these organizations.

This is not an indictment against BDPA as I personally know that they make every effort to ensure that our people know about their good work.  The charge is ours.  Any time I speak to a young person who has demonstrated an interest in technology, the first question I ask is ‘where do you live’ and if BDPA has a chapter in that city, I direct him or her to contact the chapter in their area.

The abundance of knowledge, experiences and social capital that exists within BDPA must be leveraged if our community is to become a player in the global technology game.  As a speaker and blogger I am constantly receiving questions related to technology and how to get involved in the technology arena.

I am happy to answer these questions but how much better would it be for the learner to not only pose the question to a larger group but possibly someone who has experienced the same circumstance.  This is a common occurrence on the web community, Blacks In Technology (BIT).  BIT is a wonderful online community of Black technologists who are ready to share their stories, knowledge, wisdom and encouragement not only to those who are looking for others like themselves who are already involved in technology careers but also technology aspirants.

Without these kinds of support groups, African Americans in technology may began to deal with feelings of isolation.  I can attest to this circumstance personally.  Since I graduated from college with my undergraduate degree in computer science in 1986 I have rarely had the pleasure of working in an IT department with another African American.

This issue of isolation occurs in high school, the workplace as well as on college campuses.  It is also one of the main reasons that African Americans do not persist in STEM careers.

Many scholars studying this issue from S. Craig Watkins in his book The Young and the Digital as well as Jane Margolis in the book Stuck in the Shallow End have reported on the importance of support groups or networks to combat the issue of isolation.

I would have loved being a part of either of these groups when I first became a software engineer.  Why? Because it is great to be able to speak with someone who can relate to your circumstance.  Someone who can understand what you may be going through.

I can remember having to explain to members of my family and friends what exactly it was that I did as a computer programmer.  The people in my community simply did not understand that I was CREATING software, not using it!  I also never had anyone to talk shop with for the early years of my career.

This is why I am so excited about this third group, BiTWiSE, which is a networking group dedicated to the African American software engineer and is sponsored by Microsoft.  You can find BiTWiSE on LinkedIn under LinkedIn Groups.  You can simply search Groups and enter ‘BiTWiSE’.

Technology support groups do indeed exist in the African American community.  However they become less effective if they are unknown to the people who can benefit from them the most.  We must do a better job of promoting the efforts of these groups in order to remove yet another obstacle to the inclusion of African Americans participation in the digital society.

 Kai Dupé is a doctoral student at Pepperdine University where he is conducting research on Why African American Males Are Underrepresented in Computing. Kai can be reached by email at or by visiting his website at or follow him on twitter @KaiDupe

No comments: