Black History Month is a time to reflect on the contributions, stories, and progress made by Black and African Americans, across the country, the world – and for the LaunchCode community– the significant impact on the technology industry. We sat down with Rob Thomas, Jarrod Sharp, and Kumba Janga to hear a little of their story, perspective, and advice. You can read Part 1, Learn: with Rob Thomas, here, or Part 2, Work: with Jarrod Sharp, here.
Flexibility and adaptability are critical traits to sharpen in your toolkit and excel in the tech industry, and that can be sought through mentorship, both as the mentor, and the apprentice. Black people face the issue of having access to fewer mentors in the field who come from similar backgrounds, but as the diversity of the field expands, that is changing. For the final piece in our Black in Tech series, we spoke with Kumba Janga, senior software engineer and data modeler at JP Morgan Chase in Philadelphia.
I grew from the Philadelphia area as a first-generation immigrant. My parents came here from Sierra Leone. I had a feeling I wanted to go into technology, so I enrolled at Drexel University, but when that didn’t work out, I tried going directly to the workforce. I started as a tester for a company in New Jersey. Since then, I have been at Chase for 11 years, in technology for 16. I have been able to get into technology through grit and taking advantage of climbing the ladder. In that time, I have served in a slew of positions, which I got by raising my hand, and going for opportunities as they came along. This spurred my belief that a person should be well-rounded and poly-skilled so that they can move around within the technology field and find where they truly excel.
I started off volunteering at JP Morgan Chase, my current employer, for different DEI initiatives and enjoy working with the Black community both inside and outside of work. I am also the president of Black In Technology’s Philadelphia chapter.
I have found situations that stifled me by being the only Black person in the room. I have run into various situations where that set me back because of the cultural differences among colleagues. There were hindrances through the years that barred me, because I didn't see representation across the organization.
Being Black means that you have to be very careful. People have unconscious biases, racism and assume things about you that have no basis in the truth. You have to work harder to push them to see you past that judgment to see your worth. There are stark disadvantages to being Black because culturally, Black people are taught different things, and expected to do different things right out of the gate.
Being aggressive is also not allowed as a Black person, whereas it’s often highly sought out for white counterparts.
As a first-generation immigrant, I have a depth of understanding of people that has helped me and given me an ability to broaden my perspective, overcome these difficulties and reach across biases to be comfortable with anyone.
In order to change this experience for others, I mentor young people in the world of technology to help provide them with the support and leadership they need. I needed it when I was their age, and by helping them feel less lost, I can help them navigate the issues and challenges they may be facing. I view my different background as one of my biggest contributions to technology.
During my college years, I saw how minimal Black representation existed in technology, especially representation of Black women. There is such a low level of exposure to computer science and programming for many Black communities, that so many of them never understood the path was there for them.
Now that the situation is changing, I think that organizations like LaunchCode – which works to broaden the exposure of that possibility – help people to see the opportunity to contribute to technology.
I work with teams that help address the issues I faced in my early career and work to create pathways for youth to introduce them to the world of technology and new opportunities for them to take advantage of.
"I love to mentor people and inspire them to reach for career opportunities and try things that they may not see themselves represented in, but to forge their own path to get there."
Some of the early challenges I faced while in school stemmed from the fact that I was a mother of two. Taking care of two children and navigating the world of education was difficult in balancing work and my home life. This could have been made easier through equitable programs. Now, I am able to help advocate for others that may be facing struggles similar to mine, and work to create a more equitable system overall.
LaunchCode is actively working to elevate Black experiences like the stories above and continues to break down the barriers that keep so many talented individuals out of tech. Interested in getting involved?. If you’re looking to add diverse, skilled employees to enrich your teams, reach out to our company team. If you’re seeking volunteer or mentorship opportunities to shape the next generation of talent, get in touch with our course management team or apply to be a teaching assistant.