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.
At LaunchCode, while we teach the tech skills needed to enter the industry, it also takes personal drive and ambition to land an entry-level job in tech. These skills and attributions are critical to succeeding in the industry. One of the best ways we can support our LaunchCoders is to create communities where all our learners can see themselves and help each other succeed. Here we asked Jarrod Sharp, a LaunchCode alum, a few questions about his experience.
I grew up in East Saint Louis, Illinois. My entire family hails from there and I grew up in an underserved area, yet from a community that was loving and supportive. I ended up dropping out of college while I was studying computer networking because there just wasn’t any representation of someone who looked like me working in tech.
Being Black in tech often includes a lot of imposter syndrome because of a lack of representation. You don’t have a lot of people that look like you to give insight on the challenges that you will face in the workplace. It’s important for us to see others we can identify with working in the field and be able to relate to them.
When I went to college, I didn’t know what kinds of opportunities were there for me to pursue. There was no template for me to follow and no roadmap for me to understand my path. In the early 2000s, there weren't as many options for alternative routes into technology. I was first introduced to LaunchCode after seeing a YouTube video of Lashawna Lewis. She was a bus driver from East Saint Louis and we had a similar perspective coming from that background. Her example showed me a way to get where I now dreamed of, so I applied and got accepted to a LaunchCode course.
The course’s difficulty posed a real challenge to me. I ended up dropping, but I didn’t feel like I had really given it my all. I mustered the grit and drive to reapply when there was a shorter program available and decided, “this is it”.
There was no Plan B anymore. I was very transparent about the struggles I faced with past courses, and knew that I would need to put everything else on hold to focus on completing the course. Yes, things got tight with money, but I had a good support system with my wife, parents and my teaching assistants.
With about two weeks left in the course, Centene reached out to LaunchCode for talent and LaunchCode recommended me for the position. I interviewed and received an offer with Centene before the course concluded!
In the beginning, it was a huge culture shock to enter an industry where I didn’t culturally understand most of my coworkers.
Being Black has helped me to connect with marginalized people from other communities in that we understand what it's like to be marginalized in various ways, and how our unique challenges can look and feel similar.
Through my experience, I have seen Centene and other companies I’ve worked with hire more diverse teams through LaunchCode and see how diversity contributes to growth.
"Focus on your craft. Don’t enter this industry casually. Come into it with intention, with goals, and with the understanding that this is FOR YOU. You belong here."
You won’t get your first opportunity because people want to help you, or people want to add to your story as a charity case. They will hire you because of your power, your value add, your skills and the assets that you bring to the table. Continue to develop your skills and you will ensure you belong. You may feel like you don’t belong from time to time, but focus on your skills and your ability and you’ll beat the imposter syndrome.
You have to accept criticism and still do the work.
The landscape is wide open now in ways that it has never been before! The iron is hot and it's a good time to grow your skills and enter this field. There has been such an influx in Black technologists entering the workforce, now we are seen as assets and great additions to the team, not only for our skills and talents, but also for our experiences outside the workforce.
I want to go as far as I can in the world of tech leadership and project management. Working on high-performing agile teams has helped me find a passion in helping support teams of which I used to be a part of.
"I can give support and guidance to new professionals who come from backgrounds similar to mine, and offer support to marginalized professionals in a way that wasn’t given to me."