Black in Tech: Rob Thomas, VP of Education at LaunchCode

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.


Learn; Rob Thomas, VP of Education at LaunchCode


Tell me a little about your background.

My career path started in poverty surrounded by crime, drugs and unstable homes. This is or was true for most of the kids I grew up with in Saint Louis and not all of us “made it”. The definition of “made it” depends on who you ask and sometimes, it’s not until we have a life-changing event that we start to define what it means to us as individuals. For me, that life-changing event was joining the military and having a son. A much longer story cut short, I enrolled in college. This is when I started defining what “made it” was going to look like for me. 

My first attempt was a failure. Literally, I got an F in the first class I took and it took about a year and a half to enroll again. During that year, I tried anything I could to provide for myself and my son, be it odd jobs or a hands-on technology course in building computers. This helped alleviate the doubt I had previously felt. I came back to St. Louis when my mom got sick and started to work towards a Bachelors of Science degree from DeVry University. Once I completed this, I worked as a contractor for thirteen years and found that work very rewarding, but as my skills and capability grew, my personal time diminished.

My last role was at Mastercard working as a Site Reliability Engineer (SRE). This role required me to use all of the experiences and knowledge I had gained in previous work. I also realized quickly that my bigger family required more of me. While I enjoyed my role at Mastercard, LaunchCode won me over with the mission and when I saw an opportunity for me to help others who look like me, I jumped at the opportunity! 


What is it like for entry-level Black technologists? 

Confusing. Being part of a marginalized group in the workplace can cause discomfort to the majority group, in this case, white folks. Black people are often given the least-paying jobs and by the time entry-level technologists learn how underpaid they are, they are a few years in and being paid like they are fresh out of school. 

There is often a lower level of community within those industries and oftentimes, the lack of a support system can make it less advantageous to Black people who feel out of place. 


What advice would you give to other Black folks in technology? 

Be selective when job hunting and ask the right questions to avoid becoming a ‘diversity hire.’ When it comes to interviewing and understanding diversity hiring initiatives, it is difficult to determine, “am I being hired because of my skin color?” or “did I not get the job because of my skin color?”. There’s a certain power in knowing and owning what skills and experiences you bring to the table. Let the work and skills be the reason you’re there!


Why is it important to create pathways into tech for Black people?

Knowledge transfers.  It’s important that people entering the industry have the knowledge they need in order to succeed, whether it’s around salary negotiations or up-to-date information on emerging technologies. . Technology is allowing us to get back our rights and privileges that were taken from us by leveling the playing field, using the tools you know and the skills you have developed within yourself. We have new opportunities to learn various skills and access career paths that were not accessible or even allowed in the past. 


What do you want to accomplish through your position at LaunchCode? 

I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a leading voice at LaunchCode.

"Through the work the LaunchCode staff does everyday, we can change the technological divide of corporate America."

Through LaunchCode, I’m creating curricula that will shape data-conscious people who can draft a better congress, a better state or just a better version of themselves with the skills they’re learning.