264: #BlackTechTwitter and Black Tech Pipeline with Pariss Athena
December 22nd, 2021 · 59 mins 46 secs
About this Episode
00:54 - Pariss’ Superpower: Being Vocal and Transparent
- The Villian Origin Story
08:01 - #BlackTechTwitter & Black Tech Pipeline
- Job Board
- Labor Compensation
15:56 - Being Okay with Losing Opportunities
- Announcing Success
- Criticism & Privilege
- The Great Resignation
- Generational Wealth
- Hustle Culture
28:57 - UX Design vs Software Engineering (What would you do if you weren’t in tech?)
- Thinking About Vulnerable Communities
- Coding For Work
- Foley Artist; Working Behind the Scenes
- Tech Supporting People’s Real Passions
35:11 - Pariss’ Passion for Acting & Being On Set
- Watching Marginalized People Succeed: “BE BOTHERED!”
43:38 - Growing & Evolving Community
- A Note to #BlackTechTwitter/Black Tech Pipeline Potential Successors
Chanté: Being intentional about community.
John: The impact an individual person can have on culture.
Jamey: Be bothered. Ways that marginalized communities share some things and not other things.
Tim: Having these discussions because people who are not Black do not understand the Black experience; Making sure the Black experience is changed for the better moving forward.
Pariss: Being an ally vs being a coconspirator.
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JOHN: Hello and welcome to Greater Than Code, Episode 264. I'm John Sawers. My pronouns are he/him. And I'm here with Chanté Thurmond.
CHANTÉ: Hey, everyone. My pronouns are she/her and ella. And I'm here today with Jamey Hampton.
JAMEY: Thanks, Chanté. My pronouns are they/them. And I'd like to also introduce Tim Banks.
TIM: Hey, everybody. My pronouns are he/him. And I would like to introduce today's guest, Pariss Athena.
PARISS: Hey, everyone. I'm Pariss Athena. My pronouns are she/her.
I'm founder and CEO of Black Tech Pipeline and creator of the hashtag movement and community, #BlackTechTwitter.
JOHN: Welcome to the show!
We're going to start off with the question that we ask every guest that we have. What is your superpower and how did you acquire it?
PARISS: This is such a downer, because I really don't know. I don't have one. I don't have a superpower, I don't think.
JAMEY: Just because you don't know does not mean that you don't have one.
CHANTÉ: One of them that I think is obvious to me, when I found you on Twitter, was your ability to see the problem, see the opportunity, and obviously, to find the talent. So those are three clear distinct talents you got there.
PARISS: Yeah. Okay, I didn't consider them as superpowers, but we can definitely go with that.
TIM: I will tell you; it was interesting to me because Pariss and I don't interact very often on Twitter, but I've been a follower and a fan for a while. The one thing that I've noticed about you is that you are always unapologetically yourself and I think that is a huge thing that cannot be underestimated. Because your ability to do these things, and your ability to inspire and empower others is because you first inspire and empower yourself. That's something that myself as a Black man, especially as a Black woman, we don't see that a lot and we don't see that a lot in a way that uplift others as well.
So I've always been super, super impressed with your ability to do that and to do it unapologetically, and to stand there against all the people that level hate at all of us just to be there, complete yourself and let it go off. So always been inspired by that and I don't think you should underestimate that as a superpower.
PARISS: Thank you! See, I didn't consider these things superpowers, but I guess, now I do. [laughs]
JOHN: There you go.
PARISS: Thank you. You're making me realize things about myself. [chuckles]
TIM: Oh, yeah. That's one thing; we'll tell you about yourself. Whether it's good, or bad, we'll still tell you.
PARISS: I love it. I love to hear the feedback.
CHANTÉ: The other thing you might want to do now is we can ask #BlackTechTwitter what they think your superpowers are. I'm sure that they'll give you lots of insights of interacting with you over the last few years.
PARISS: Yeah. I think the whole saying kind of what I want to say no matter what will probably be a big one.
PARISS: For me, I like doing that. I guess, I don't mind losing opportunities because I wanted to be honest, like it just is what it is, but I feel like I've always been that way. Maybe because I've been bullied for so many years and I'm just one day I just had it. I was like, “You know what? I'm fed up.” I'm done trying to appease people and I didn't care if I didn't have any friends, or whatever. I was like, “I was tired being a pushover,” and from there, I've just always been very vocal and transparent.
CHANTÉ: Ah, there it is. It's like the superhero wound that turns into your superpower.
PARISS: Yeah. Some people will say that. Some other people will be like, “Oh, that’s my villain origin story.” But I don’t know, I’m at a breaking point [chuckles] and I was like, “All right, I'm done. This is just whatever.”
TIM: See, I always thought that was interesting because the “villains,” or “heroes;” any character in a story is most sympathetic when you understand where you're coming from. It's interesting that we talk about the villain origin story. It's because my favorite villains would be heroes in a different setting. You take like Magneto and I take Magneto because for me, the X-Men comic books, for those of you don't follow, has always been about civil rights.
TIM: Always from the get go. Always about civil rights, always about the marginalized, and always about the people who are different. Sometimes they're different in ways that you can't tell and sometimes there's different in very, very obvious ways.
I think that I always spoke to marginalized folks because some of those mutants had powers that you wouldn't know by looking at them. So some people are marginalized in ways where they're neurodivergent, where they have disabilities that you can't see, and some of them are very, very obvious about what they are.
But the big thing that made the villains sympathetic is you understood why they did what they did. You may not have agreed with the methodology, but you could understand and were sympathetic to those costs. It’s like I said, Magneto from the X-Men was a great one.
The heroes oftentimes had to endure the same kinds of problems that the villains did, but they went about it by a different approach and I think that's what makes a real big difference in our society today. It's not that whether folks are marginalized, or not, it's not whether folks have been bullied, or anything like that. It's how they choose to use that experience to go forward from that.
TIM: So people who haven’t had those kinds of experiences say, “Yeah, it's a choice.” People can simplify it, or oversimplify it and say, “Oh, well they just had a choice to do good, or bad,” and it's like, no, it's never that easy. It's never that easy. In the right circumstances, all of us would probably do something that we would consider and the privilege that we do enjoy now—bad, or wrong, or whatever. But it was a thing that was necessary at the time.
So I think we, as folks, especially as Black people, or other marginalized folks in this industry, need to be able to look back and to reach down and pull folks up and say, “Hey, there's a different way to go about it.” Because sometimes they just don't know that they have options and that's why it's important for us to inspire and empower folks to be that.
PARISS: Yeah, and I feel like there's always that argument of yes, there is this problem, but the way you're going about solving it is not okay. But that's one perspective and then there's another perspective. At the end of the day, you're like, “Who's really right, who's really wrong,” and it's like that type of war. It's hard.
TIM: Yeah. We don't live in an actual right/wrong, like very black and white thing.
PARISS: Mm hm.
TIM: Not to delve too far into it, one of the things I always liked about some of the Sergio and Morricone movies, the spaghetti westerns, was that they were never really heroes. Everybody was just shades of gray and it's like, did they do the right thing this time? Yeah. They may have been despicable people, but they did the right thing and I see that.
We see that when we look through our history, regardless who it is, every “hero” has got some darkness to them and so, they didn't do everything right. That's all of us and none of us has ever done everything. It's just a matter what is our aggregate. So we always try and do the best we can.
But like I said—not to steal the spotlight. I apologize for going off on this. But one of the things I've always looked at you, Pariss for is because you never claim to be always right. You never have said, “Everything I do is right,” or you follow me like that. It's always like, “Hey, look, I'm just doing the best I can.” When we are very open and transparent about that and vulnerable about that, that's what's inspiring.
PARISS: Yeah. It's funny he brought up superheroes. I guess, he says he's not a hero, or a villain, which is why I love him so much, but Deadpool. I absolutely love Deadpool because he doesn't claim one, or the other. He's like, “I'm a guy making my own decisions and that's that.” I love that because you're not asking people to side with you, you're just this one person and you're going about life the way you want to do it, or go about things. I feel like that's just sort of what I do. I'm just doing what I do and like it or not, I don't know. I don't want to claim to be a role model, or like you said, that I'm always right. I'm not. I'm a human and that's that.
CHANTÉ: Pariss, I'd love to take that as our cue to ask you. Let's talk about what you do, how you started #BlackTechTwitter and the Black Tech Pipeline. Tell us about what inspired you, what you were going through at that moment, and give us high level overview of where you've come from and where you are now.
PARISS: I'll start off with #BlackTechTwitter. So I got onto Twitter in September, or August of 2018 because I had just been laid off for my first job as a software engineer and I wanted to just talk about my journey, finding a new role. When I got on there, that's when I noticed that there was a really small community of Black technologists and up until that point, first of all, I was new to tech so it's not like I really knew the industry, but also, I never worked with anyone who looked like me since I entered the industry. So when I saw that there was a community, I was excited about it.
So one day I just posted a tweet asking what does Black Twitter in tech look like. I wasn't trying to start anything. I didn't even have followers. I just posted a tweet. That was it and then that tweet just ended up taking off and it gained so much traction. I didn't expect that. Black technologists from all over the world posted themselves into that tweet and it just created that really long thread with their pictures and captions of what they do in the industry and overnight, it really formed this movement community in #BlackTech Twitter. Again, that was not my intention. It just kind of happened.
Black Tech Pipeline then also fell into my lap pretty much just because that tweet and the traction that it gained; all of these employers were DMing me on Twitter. It was weird to have all these really big-name companies just in my Twitter DMS. I'm like, “Oh, wow.” Like, [chuckles] “[inaudible]. That’s so cool.” And they’re like, “Hey, we saw that. There's no pipeline problem. You brought exposure to this community. We want to hire people. Can you send us candidates?” Now I wasn't a recruiter at all. I didn't have recruiting experience. I didn't know what to do, but I was just like, “You're just connecting people. It's not that hard.”
So what I did was I created a Discord community. I moved a lot of the members from Twitter into there and that's what I used to ask people like, “Hey, are you looking for work? I'm working with this employer.” I wasn't actually working with anyone in terms of having a contract. I was helping people for free. [laughs] So I was like, “Hey, let me connect you to this guy at Amazon, this guy at Google, this guy at Etsy,” that's just what it was.
I was connecting people just like that and people were getting jobs and so, it was working. But I formed this entity, Black Tech Pipeline, after a lot of the candidates that I “recruited”—I'm doing air quotes for people who can't see—recruited into these companies. I started Black Pipeline because they came back to me and let me know that they left the companies that I recruited them into. When I asked why, it was like the typical just, “They weren't actually inclusive. It was very performative. It was a negative environment. They didn't really have any goals for me. It's like I was a diversity hire.”
I felt horrible because I didn't vet these companies. I just was like, “Yeah, sure. I'll bring you candidates,” and that was it. So I felt horrible about that, especially being a Black woman enduring so much negativity within the industry. I was like, “If I'm going to do this type of work, then I want to do it right.”
So I formed Black Tech Pipeline and I created this recruitment model, which was inspired by my bootcamp model. Anytime someone got hired from Black Tech Pipeline, I would stay on the job with them for 90 days and that meant I would biweekly virtual check-ins with those hires just to ask, “Hey, how's it going? What's your experience been like? Do you have the tools and resources that you need?” Those hires would give me feedback on their experience and I’d take that feedback and I'll relay it to the employer. So it was this feedback loop for 90 days to ensure that everyone's being set up for success, they have what they need, and they're happy and healthy in their environment. And then I eventually launched a job board.
CHANTÉ: Yeah. I remember actually when you started off this conversation, because I was a headhunter at the time and looking for tech talent. So I stayed, I followed, watched, and I was so excited.
One of the things that, as you were telling back that story, but I remember now that you're retelling it. Initially, I was like, “I love what Pariss is doing. It's very organic, it's real, it's needed. It's an opportunity that had been long overlooked.” I was so grateful that you were just building this movement, but I was also a little sad that you weren't necessarily getting paid. I know it was a labor of love, but I felt like all of a sudden, people started coming to you.
I remember just all this activity and I was like, “Dang, that's a lot to take on,” and as a person in this industry, too. I feel like I'm oftentimes like, “Let me go help you.” I take on this role of being a Black woman caretaker of my community. I feel like I have this obligation to look out for people, which I think is pretty common in our Black community specifically. But it just feels like this problem that was so pervasive to technology and quite frankly, in a lot of other industries, became now this responsibility of you.
People were like, “Hey, can you –?” They're sliding into your DMS and they're like, Hey, can you connect us with talent?” And then the fact that they didn't say, “And let us compensate you equitably for the labor that you are doing on our behave that we don't even have the capacity to do, or to maintain, sustain.” So just want to say I hope that now, as you're getting into this work and understanding the game of it, the business and the economic model that you are charging what you're worth on behalf of doing this labor.
PARISS: Yeah. So that wasn't even – when I thought about that later on, I did it for free for 2 years. I wasn't thinking about it then, but now that I think about like, wow, I really build these companies up with Black technologists and no one offered to pay me at all. No one mentioned money at all and I'm like, “That's performative within itself.” I had to really think about that and it made me upset.
I've actually even had a few of those companies come back to me after I launched Black Tech Pipeline and they expected work for free again. I was like, it just gives me insight into who's just here for the check the box and who's not. I've had tons of different experiences. I've even had companies – like I said, I do that recruitment model where I stay on the job with people for 90 days. I've even had companies offered to pay me more money to not stay on the job with the hires and just place them and I was like, “That's not, no. That's mandatory. I have to stay on the job.”
JOHN: Yeah. Red flag.
PARISS: Right, and I ended up not working with them anyway, but it's just like, so much is revealed in this work and it's frustrating. It’s emotional all the time.
TIM: I think that underlies the whole problem of around diversity and inclusion in tech is that companies are willing to do it as long as they're not out anything. But as soon as they have to make an investment that's going to determine whether, or not they see the value in it. So if someone else is going to do the work, if someone else is going to do the labor of getting the talent to them, they don't have to pay nothing for it. Great. Well, that's just easy, but when you tell them, they actually have to invest in that, that's when they balk.
TIM: Because it's not actually worth it for them. And the companies that will pay, or offer to pay, the companies that will pay Black speakers, the companies that will pay Black talent equivalent to the other ones, the companies that will pay to go and look for talent out of marginalized folks, those are the ones, they may not always do it right. But they're doing it better than the ones that just – if we happen upon some inclusive, great.
PARISS: Right. Exactly. Yeah.
JAMEY: One thing you said earlier when we were talking about your superpower of saying what you mean all the time was that you're not afraid to lose opportunities because of the things you say and stuff. I thought that that was really interesting because folks from marginalized backgrounds have to think about what they're doing and if it's going to lose them opportunities in a way that other people don't have to think about.
So I guess, I was kind of wondering what your feelings are about that. I know I've talked about this with people in my network and the way I feel about if a company doesn't want to work with me, or an opportunity wants to overlook me because of this, this, or that about myself, then maybe I didn't want to work with them. I'm wondering what your philosophy is on that and how you came to that conclusion about it.
PARISS: Yeah. So for me, I do not judge.
I've had a few candidates who, they got hired at Google, but they were scared to announce it because of all of these issues with Google internally when it comes to their Black and brown hires. I was like, “No, you got hired at Google. That's a big deal. Say it. I know Google has issues. Trust me, even the smallest businesses have these issues and I don't think it's something we can actually escape, but you accomplished something, you got thing that you wanted, you should be proud of that so, say it.” That doesn't mean that you're here claiming like, “Oh, Google is the gods of technology.” No, but you got hired at your dream job and that's great. Announce that.
For me, there are certain things I wouldn't do, but that's just me. Personally, like I said, I'm not scared to lose opportunities and I think that's because I'm so angry, I'm fed up, and I'm tired of needing to think of something before I say it, when people in privilege, they can just say whatever they want with no repercussions.
I understand that other people aren't like that and that's totally fine. If you don't want to say something because you're scared you might lose opportunity, then don't say it. I would hate for someone to be like, “You know what, let me try this,” and then they can't sleep that night because they didn't really want to do it. They felt pressured to. If you don't want to do it, don't do it. If you want to, then do it. But I'm not going to judge you based off of that. You do what you want.
JOHN: Yeah. I think a number of times on the show, we've talked about companies that have less than stellar reputations for the way they treat their people, places like Shopify and Google. Pretty much like you said, any company's going to have some issues like that. Some people have the privilege and the place where they can quit that job on principle based on that sort of thing. But we also don't want to criticize the people that have to stay there, that they need that job. They don't feel like they can just pick up the next one immediately.
So you can criticize the company and all the things, but we want to separate that from criticizing individual workers who are working that job. Like you said, you’re going to be proud of getting a job at Google. That's a hard thing to do. That's something you should be proud of regardless of what other crap they're doing in their other departments, or at various levels.
PARISS: Exactly. Yeah. I feel like the only people I criticize are the employers themselves because they’re the ones making the policies, they’re the ones making these roles and these changes. If they're only benefiting you, or the people in power and people in privilege, then I have no problem just roasting you, it's fine. You'll be fine. You still make your money.
JAMEY: The way I kind of see it sometimes when someone that I care about takes a job with a company, Google is a good example, where I have this simultaneously, “I'm really happy for you that you accomplished this big thing and it's not that I'm judging people, but also, I'm a little worried for you.” Like, “I hope that that works out for you.” [laughs]
PARISS: Well, yeah, same. I feel that way, too all the time, but I don't tell them that.
But I don't want to raid on your parade, but in the back my mind, I'm definitely like, “God, I really hope they do have a really good experience and if not, at least you got Google on your resume, you can go somewhere else.” But I try not to rain on anyone's parade. I think my negative thoughts, but outward, I’m like, “I’m so proud of you. Congrats.”
JAMEY: [laughs] Absolutely.
CHANTÉ: Yeah. As you all were talking, it reminds me, too. I think for the last few days, or week, I've seen some pieces around the great resignation and just people having privilege to quit their job and what that means about your social location and your circumstances. Many times, the people who have the privilege to quit are folks who have other things in the pipeline, or other means to cover their expenses and just the cost of living, or they have opportunities galore.
I'm just curious if you've had any conversations with folks about that in the past several weeks, or months, given all the things we've seen with COVID and just how the economy's being playing out.
PARISS: No, people are not – well, this is only true for me and the conversations I've had. No, people are not leaving their jobs without having another one lined up just because it's not like you need the money, right? You still have to pay your bills whether you have a job, or not.
So no, they're staying and it sucks that you have to stay in a toxic situation. Like it sucks. That's just what you have to do and yet, that's kind of just what I'm seeing and I let them know like, “Obviously, I'll help you out.” Like, “I have a job board. I'm connected to all these employers. I'll help you as much as I can.
I also don't even encourage them. I'm like, “Unless you want to quit, then go ahead and do that, and I'll help you as much as I can. Otherwise, yes, I understand at the end of the day, things still need to be paid. You have to put food on the table and regardless of what your situation is, just kind of hold out for as long as you can.” It sucks. It's like being between a rock and a hard place.
CHANTÉ: Yeah, and it’s hard, especially, I feel like what I've seen is folks who have taken the plunge and broken into tech. They're like, “Well, I work so hard to get here. You think I'm just going to quit?” Like, there's a lot of hype with my tech team right now to quit and the stuff that happened at Netflix, it was a lot of hype and it's like, that's great that people can quit and walk out and do whatever.
And then there are people who just absolutely cannot. They want to fight and they want to be in solidarity with their coworkers on things, but they might not have the privilege, or ability to really do that in such a way. It's not just performative. It's like, this is their livelihood, too. Doesn't mean that they're not in solidarity.
PARISS: Yeah. No, I haven't talked to anyone who's felt comfortable enough to literally just up and quit because they're angry, or something.
PARISS: Like for them, they just got to go with it. It is what it is.
TIM: I think, too, there's a certain amount of almost protest, or hate working where it's like, I know some folks, who were civil servants, work for federal state governments that they detest it. Especially our parents’ generations, baby boomers, they worked for the federal government. Even though the federal government was doing them dirty, they were still going to get their money. They were going to get paid. They were going to use the government that they couldn't stand to set them up. They were going to take them for all their work.
I think there's a lot of that sentiment, too among Black tech workers. Like, look, this company may be treating me wrong, but I'm going to soak them. I'm going to get every penny and dye my can out of these people and when I'm driving around in my Jaguar and going on vacation, they can eat it. When I buy that house, when I have something to leave my kids, that is what I'm doing this for. They can detest the company and you see them every day. They get home, they're like, “What’s up, man. Look, I'm just trying to get this paycheck, dog.”
TIM: And that’s legit. That is a very legitimate reason. I've worked for companies whose ethics I didn't necessarily agree with. But you know what, when I came home and I was driving a nice car, I had a big house, and my kids get fed, I'm like, “Look, man, that's all I'm here for.” That’s especially for marginalized folks, especially for folks that don't have generational wealth, never mind the actual privilege of being able to quit myself. But when you are set up with generation of wealth and you know you have something to leave the next generation, it's a whole different story than this is my opportunity for generational wealth. This money that I am making, it's a lot and I can hate the fucking company, but you know what, when I have something to leave my progeny, that's what I'm here for.
PARISS: Oh, yes. I cannot stand when people are like, “If you're not here for passion, you're not going to last. You have to do it because you're passionate.” It's like maybe for you. I think this is really for marginalized communities, but we don't have the luxury of doing something for passion.
I'm passionate about acting. I wish my mom could take care of my bills while I'm out chasing my dreams. But that can't happen for me. I have to work a 9:00 to 5:00, work on my little skits afterwards. That's the reality of my life for me. I can't just quit this company because unfortunately, even if they're just a terrible company, I can't just up and quit because I bills to pay. I have a child to feed. I have family to take care of. I don't have that privilege.
So I think especially just Black people, we're so used to just living like this, it’s like this is just our reality every day. We have to deal with the way the world is and then still grow and thrive. Just going into a company and dealing with that is nothing new for us.
CHANTÉ: Yeah. Real talk and I really appreciate you all talking about this because I actually faced the same situation not too long ago where I had two jobs and people were like, “Oh wow. It must be nice.” I'm like, “Must be nice? You think I'm working two jobs because it's a luxury, yo? Like, “It's actually because I'm making up for lost ground and for time.” This is equitable, this is reparations. In order to actually have a savings account, I have to have two jobs to be able to help my family during COVID. Are you tripping?
I got to the point where I actually did need to make a decision because it was so unhealthy. I was getting so sick at work and I lost my dad. Suddenly, he got really sick and then that kind of forced me. The life circumstances forced me. But I was ready and committed to work two jobs just because my parents both have always worked more than one job. They always have multiple incomes. That's all I know. That's all I know.
It's interesting seeing some of this play out in technology. What I noticed was, as I got into more technologically advanced, or well-funded companies and stuff, talking to people, they're like, “You can just quit,” and I'm like, “What are you talking about?” [laughs] That is not my reality.
TIM: Yeah. It's funny that people talk about the hustle culture, whatever, having this and having that, having this thing on the side. Look, Black people have been doing this from the jump, from the get go. We've been having two, three jobs. We had a side hustle. We've been doing this; we're doing that on the side. We have been doing that forever because that's what we had to do that and then second of all, if we wanted to have anything more than the basics, that's what we needed to do.
Both my parents work two jobs. I had two jobs since the time I was 16, since the time I was 35. I had two jobs and that was my present to me was when I made enough that I could only have one job and I was like, “Man, I can see my kids and stuff like that.” It's crazy, right?
But that thing is the thing that people say, “Oh, well, now you can do things like that.” “That has how our existence has been for a long time. For a long, long time and that's not new to us. So for us, it is a privilege. For us, it's a privilege to just have one job, never mind to be able to quit that job.
People say, “I'm going to go on and fund unemployment. I'm going to take a few months off to figure out what I want to do.” That doesn't register with me. That is not something I could ever do comfortably. That's not never going to see me do. Unless you're going to pay me to be gone. When people say, “Oh, I'm going to quit and I'm going to go take a vacation to Europe and then I'm going to come back in six months.” I'm like, “Bro, that is not a world in which I live.”
PARISS: Sounds amazing, though.
TIM: I know it does. I love that for you.
PARISS: I wish I could do that. [laughs]
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TIM: So I guess, Pariss, I want to know when it gets to a point where you get in demand, what people want to hire not just your company, when they want to, “I want to hire Pariss Athena to work for my company.” What role are you going to work? What role do you want to be in?
PARISS: Now? That's hard because I do Black Tech Pipeline full-time and I'm always like, “If this doesn't work out.” Sometimes I feel like I should be in a DEI role, but then I don't want to, because I know what DEI officers go through working at one company and it's just a shitshow. It's really hard. And sometimes, maybe I'll just leave this industry altogether, I don't know, because I don't want to be a software engineer anymore. I think I'd start over and be a UX designer, probably. Literally just start over as a junior in UX design.
CHANTÉ: Tell us more about that because that was actually a question I had. If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing? So tell me more about why UX design instead of software engineering.
PARISS: So I'm a person who loves research a lot, especially with UX because I just think it's cool. You're really thinking about such intricate things to make sure someone's having a good experience and you're thinking of all these different communities, especially the very vulnerable communities. I love that.
You're using that to build a product that people are going to use, whether it's a digital, or a physical product. I think that's amazing. I think it also makes you more empathetic and aware of things and I love that. I just think there's a lot of opportunity to grow as a human. I just really love UX design and so, I would get into that.
JOHN: And what is it about software that you're moving away from?
PARISS: Software engineering is not fun to me when I'm doing it for work, but it's fun if I have a personal project.
When I learned to code, I started coding my own – like I thought I was building this app that was going to make me a billionaire. So I loved coming home from work and building it every day. It was a React native application. Turns out, now that I think about it, it probably would have made me no money at all. The social media platforms would've killed me early. So whatever, but back then, I thought it was this golden egg idea and it just had me excited.
But doing it for work 9:00 to 5:00, I just didn't enjoy it and that could have been because of the companies I was at, or the mentorship that I lacked. I don't know. It could have been a bunch of different reasons, but I've never really had a good experience coding for work.
And then honestly, if I could snap my fingers altogether and be literally anything I wanted, I would definitely work on set of movie films. I wouldn't have to be an actor, or anything. I would really enjoy pulling curtains if I had to. I just like people on set and watching everything come to life, it's like this feeling I can't describe. It makes me very, very happy. I would probably do that, too.
TIM: I think that's interesting. That part, so many people I know have similar things like that.
PARISS: Oh really?
TIM: Whether it’s they want to do lighting, whether it's they want to do the board. For me, I want to be a Foley artist. For those of you don't know, a Foley artist is when you have a scene where somebody's walking through gravel. Well, they don't actually have a microphone at the feet of the person walking through gravel, they have somebody out there who's taking a block and smashing it in gravel in the place where they walk so, they make those sounds. That's what Foley artist does.
TIM: But so many people in tech that I know that have super diverse sets of interests, always come back to that portion of working behind the scenes.
TIM: To make something that's very visible. People enjoy it. Whether it's music, or whether it's movies, that kind of same emotional things. I love that answer. I think is really cool.
PARISS: That's so interesting. I didn't even know that.
I feel like what's funny. A lot of software engineers that I've met, they didn't start off wanting to be a software engineer. They did start off with going to art school and stuff. I'm like, “What happened?”
JAMEY: I went to art school.
TIM: I'm a musician by trade. I started off, when I joined the Marine Corps, I joined the Marine Corps to be a musician and play a bunch of music.
PARISS: Oh wow.
JAMEY: That's really interesting.
PARISS: What happened?
CHANTÉ: Yeah. That's a story you don't hear every day.
PARISS: Like, did we all grow up and realized that we have bills? Like, why did we stop?
TIM: Oh. So I stopped because the Marine Corps that I was too smart to be a musician and made me an avionics tech instead.
PARISS: Oh my God.
TIM: They changed my MOS in bootcamp.
JAMEY: I stopped because I realized that if I wanted to do big film movie kind of stuff, I would have to move to either New York, or LA and I didn't want to do that. [chuckles]
JOHN: I did actually a lot of dance in college, but I also did software and then obviously, software pays a lot more than dance so I kept doing it. But I think unlike everyone here, I actually enjoy the software for the software and then so that's what's kept me in it for so long. Although, now I'm doing management. I'm not actually writing much software these days.
But I feel like software is great because like you said, you can do it, make a ton of money, and then go do something else that you enjoy more, or that you really want to do. So it's nice in that respect, but it's also interesting that there's so many people in it that are doing it 9:00 to 5:00 and then they go do the thing they really enjoy afterwards.
PARISS: Yeah, no, it pays well and it pays to support your actual dream. So it works out.
CHANTÉ: Right. And I do think that a lot of the people in tech that I – as a recruiter, one of the things I always enjoy is well, how did you get into this field. I think that the trend is that most people don't actually to get into software engineering, but they have all this array of skill, talent, interests that actually make them much better at their jobs, or make it feel like I can come here, do this work, pick it up, put it down, and then I have the emotional and the bandwidth to go do the things that I really love. Whereas, if I was doing that other thing I love, that might get burnt out.
So I always find that that's an interesting – specifically, it seems like in tech that I admire about people that they have that ability to do that.
JAMEY: Pariss, you've mentioned a couple of times about acting and being on set. I can tell how much you love it because the tone of voice that you have when you talk about it. Now we're talking, getting into people's real passions and how tech supports that and stuff. I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit more about what got you into acting and what you love about it.
PARISS: Yeah. So I'm going to say it started with home videos. My mom has so many home videos of just doing what I do and I was always part of the drama class ever since middle school. I was always in the plays. I was always main character. I was doing that. And then high school came and I really got into YouTube. So I was doing videos and I don’t know, I always really loved it.
Once high school came, that's actually when I started getting bullied a lot and then I was like, “Oh, I'm going to show them. Once I graduate, I'm going to get into my top university and become an actress.”
I did get into my top university in New York. I moved there to become an actress and then that's where – no, I didn't, I lied. I went there for film and screen studies. I lied, but I wanted to be an actress, too. But when I went to New York, that's when I realized everybody wants to be famous. Everyone wants to do this work.
I was like, “Okay, let me go to LA.” Go to LA, it's even worse. First of all, I saw 80 people who looked just like me. I was like, “Okay, it's going to be really hard to make it in this industry.” It killed my dream a little bit, but I have still always really loved it, but I don't think it's one of those things I want to pursue whole time to get in front of the camera and that's when I started loving just simply being on set.
I was like, “Oh my God.” I love just watching because I just think it's so cool. I really enjoyed being a background actor on set because you get to see the actors walk by and how they build these things. It's just like this vibe.
Another thing I loved was watching – I would go on YouTube and I would buy the extra DVDs for movies. They don't do that anymore. I don't think. But DVDs for movies, they would come with watch the bloopers and how we put all this together. I'd watch that more than the actual movie. I'd watch it for hours and hours. I'd go on YouTube and watch behind the scenes of all my favorite movies. Everything was just so amazing behind scenes.
It's just so fun seeing humans in this amazing job and that's what I fell in love with it, really. I also realized I don't think I want to do acting. I just like be there.
JAMEY: I relate to that a lot about watching the behind-the-scenes stuff. I totally get it.
JOHN: Yeah. I always like that feeling that sense of knowing what's going – for example, if you work at a theme park and you know what all the trails are behind the scenes and how they set up the things, even then when you're attending, or whatever, you still know all the stuff that's going on as part of supporting the façade of the experience. I really always have enjoyed having that experience.
I can even remember that back in high school, because my parents were faculty at the school, so I got to go into the places that most of the students never got to go and talk to people in a different way. So I always had that sense of being on the inside a little bit.
JOHN: And that knowledge of more about how things operate and that's always very satisfying to me.
PARISS: Yeah. Yeah.
JAMEY: It's really interesting because I've had people ask me before like, “Oh, you know a lot about –” I was going to do film editing was what I was studying in school and they're like, “Oh, you know a lot about cinematography and editing and how that stuff gets done. Doesn't that ruin watching movies for you because that's what you're thinking about when you're watching them?” I guess, I get why people ask that, but I'm like, “Not at all.” Like, it's great. [laughs]
PARISS: Yeah, I do that, too. I'm like, “Oh.” I'll point things out and I'm sure it's really annoying to people, but I'm like, “But I never did that!”
I even do that now. As someone who used to be a software engineer, I'd be like, “Oh, I know what they use. Oh, they use these –.” I just know all these things and I know it's annoying to people.
JAMEY: I got a GraphQL error in the wild on Facebook the other day and I was like, “Look at this GraphQL error,” and all my friends were like, “I don't care about that at all.” [laughs]
PARISS: That’s [inaudible].
TIM: I think it's interesting though, because as we're talking about these things, about understanding how the sauce is made and understanding what goes into the things increases our enjoyment on it.
To bring this back a little bit, it's like when I see marginalized people, especially Black folks, succeed in tech—I'm happy for my friends and they do well—but I am over the moon for my Black friends, for Black women, for Black transwomen for anything like that when they succeed. Because I know what all it took. I understand the things they had to go through to get there and it's not the same as everybody else.
So me having understand, because I have that common experience to understand that what it took to get there, I am like, “Yes.” So if you do get that high paid job at Google like, “Yeah man, fuck Google, but yes, get that bag.”
TIM: Because I know what it took to get to that point and a lot of people don't appreciate that. Especially if they don't have the common experience because they don't understand it's not just about knowing the code. It's not just about getting the interview. It's so much more to even get to that point to get that. If you go to the Google, if you go to even Facebook, whatever they call themselves now, and you get that bag, I'm happy. You get that bag because I understood what it took to get there.
PARISS: Right. Yeah, and you understand how it's going to change your lives dramatically and that's the most exciting. Anytime I see someone just got their first – someone from #BlackTechTwitter, anytime I see that they just got their first job, or whatever it is, I'm like, “I am so excited that you're about to start this life-changing journey,” because I was on it, too. I know.
It’s like ah, it's so exciting and you know they're going to have these super amazing experiences that they probably wouldn't have and been able to have had they got a job like a 9:00 to 5:00, I don't know, as an administration person, or something. It’s the financial aspect of it is life-changing. It's exciting.
TIM: Yeah. It's like, I remember the first time I ever flew first class.
PARISS: I still have to do that!
TIM: First person in my family, in my whole family, to ever fly first class.
TIM: And I remember texting my parents and my parents cried because their kid got to fly first class and people don't understand what all goes into that. They're like, “Oh, you're in first class.” Somebody on Twitter, they came at me sideways for mentioning I was in first class. I'm like, “You know what, I am going to talk about being in first class.”
TIM: “Because ain't a lot of people like me in first class, you go hear about it and I don't care it bothers you. You're just going to have to be bothered.”
PARISS: Yeah. people are like, “Get over it.” People don't realize that, it is. It's a big deal. Again, these are experiences that we might not have ever been able to have. But luckily, we got into this industry and we became successful in it. Like I said, it's life-changing and we might be the first ones in our family to experience these sort of things and I would hope we're not the last, but that's a big possibility, unfortunately. So it is a big one and I think you should talk about it. Who cares?
JAMEY: Can I tell you how much I love, “You're just going to have to be bothered”? I'm like, [laughs] “I'm keeping that one.”
TIM: Oh no, it's funny because I've had to read somebody in-person and it's like, you're just going to have to be bothered and it goes like –
If I could turn that into a t-shirt, or whatever, it’s be bothered.
JAMEY: I would wear that t-shirt.
PARISS: Have it into a – [overtalk]
CHANTÉ: I want that t-shirt.
PARISS: Go for a gift, whatever.
TIM: Yeah. Because I mean, that's the way we do people come at us sideways for all kinds of stuff like that whether it's been our hair, whether it's been the way we dress, whether it's because the codeswitch to back to how we really talk instead of having to codeswitch to that white professional talk, whatever it is. We say y'all, we eat spice, whatever it is, people come at sideways and I'm not apologizing anymore.
CHANTÉ: Good for you. Don't.
TIM: And again, that's something I've always appreciated about you, Pariss is that you don't apologize to that. You’re just like, “You don't like it. I'm not even sorry. You're just going to have to be bothered by it.”
PARISS: Yeah. I just tell people to unfollow me, or block me. It's fine.
CHANTÉ: Yeah, Pariss. One of the questions I have for you is just in this journey, what has been the most surprising thing you've learned?
PARISS: It's not really something I learned because there's a lot of things I already knew. Especially just working with employers, really teaching white people about diversity, equity, inclusion. Certain responses I've gotten, it's not surprising to me, or anything. Maybe things within my own community, but that doesn't really surprise me either. I think it's maybe the experiences I've had, but coming from my own community. Anything happening within my own community is more shocking, or I just feel more when it's from my own people, but I'm also like this happens in every community. It doesn't matter. But of course, this is my community so it affects me more.
CHANTÉ: And then the other question that maybe this will help to prompt that, too. But for me, it's been a lot to experience and to hold and sometimes I feel like I don't want to do it anymore, but I look for things that sustain me, or things that inspire me. So I'm curious, what are those things for you right now in this season?
PARISS: So I follow, I think it's called @BotBlackTech. It's a Twitter account and they retweet all these hashtags, including the #BlackTechTwitter one. So I get to see every – and anytime someone hashtags #BlackTwitter, I see what that announcement is and I get happy seeing that people are just asking questions to #BlackTechTwitter. “Hey, how should I build this?” “Hey, I did that.” I love seeing that. I just love seeing that the community has grown.
I love knowing that people don't know how #BlackTechTwitter started, because that shows the progress. It means that community has grown a ton and that’s the whole point. You want it to continue standing and later on people find out the origin story of it. That’s not the priory.
The priority is there are just more people here now and that's what's most exciting and I think that's just what really keeps me doing this work because I never wanted to do – what I'm doing now, I never wanted to do it. I actually promised myself I wouldn't do this work. Yet I'm here. But seeing all the good that's come from it, I'm like, “Wow, this is really, really dope.” I feel really blessed and lucky and it just makes me very happy.
CHANTÉ: That's dope. And do you ever give thought about if you ever want to step away, or you need to step away, how this would proliferate, how it would continue to grow, and evolve with, or without you? Have you given any consideration to that?
PARISS: Oh yeah. I don't know if I would want to do this forever, but I know I'd want it to stay around forever even if I'm not the one running it. I'd love to hand it off to someone else. That's something we're thinking about now, because I think the issue with Black Tech Pipeline is that the business – if I were to die, or something, that would be it for Black Tech Pipeline and that's not a good business model. It needs to be able to run with, or without me. So that's something we're currently figuring out right now, how to make that happen.
As for the community on Twitter and the just social media period, it's fine. There's no face to #BlackTechTwitter. It's just a community and it's good. It's set for life.
CHANTÉ: I'm glad you have given that a consideration. I thought about the same thing and I'm always here if you ever want to chat about it, or just have a jam session about it. I'd love to be in community with you and help you explore what that would be.
PARISS: That'd be awesome. Thank you.
CHANTÉ: Of course.
JAMEY: There's something really beautiful about doing something that you care so much about that you feel like you want to worry about what will happen to it, even if you weren't there for it.
PARISS: Yeah, no, this is necessary. Again, #BlackTechTwitter and Black Tech Pipeline have created an immense impact. It has to continue, especially for the Black community. It has to continue, no matter what. Whoever's turning that wheel, it shouldn't matter like that. Like I said, there shouldn't be a face, or just one person, or one designated area. It just needs to be decentralized. In any community.
There's so many different communities and companies that have grown out of the #BlackTechTwitter movement and I hope they're thinking of the same thing. It has to run forever. This is extremely important, especially digitally, perfect. Must continue forever.
TIM: So I guess with that in mind, what are you going to say to the next generation? Let's say, somebody calls on you to give the commencement speech at Howard and there's always that quota. What do you tell the up-and-coming folks, the folks who are going to take up your work?
PARISS: That this cannot ever be personal.
I think the number one most important thing to me is not being afraid to say no and not being afraid to, again, lose opportunity. I think that is so important because so many people can be swayed by money and we cannot—I cannot stress this enough—this cannot happen in the Black community period.
We cannot be swayed by money. I don't want to take money and then need to be silenced, or follow someone else's rules that don't benefit my community, or impact it negatively. We can't be swayed by that. We have to do what's best for our community and that's number one and money, or just that benefit even if, I don't know if it's monetary, or not, you can't be swayed by that. And that takes hiring really good humans, really genuine, good, strong humans, which is really, really hard. But I think for me, that's the most important thing.
CHANTÉ: I really appreciate that. I'm having a reflective thing, but I actually want to save it.
So I want to prompt us to move to reflections, if it's okay and I'm willing to go first, because what you just said really elicited something in the end.
What I heard you say, Pariss is that we need one, as a Black community, a Black and brown community, solidarity, and also, shared values and vision. We have to be on the same page about what we care about and also, what we want people to understand about our experience and why we're so valued and why we are that token of the month, or year, or era. I think that means that we need to be intentional about community and just building a container and having culture around what we are now and who we want to be in the future.
I've been giving myself a lot of time and space to really think about time as a spiral, connecting with my ancestors, connecting with the present, and connecting with the future and just remembering that I can heal all of those parts if I'm present. I'm in community with people who understand that, that we have an opportunity together.
So again, extending the olive branch and just saying I'm hoping that we can be intentional about building community and anybody who might catch this episode today, let's build community intentionally.
JOHN: So what's something to me is the rather remarkable impact that an individual person can have on the culture, really. Like you started this organically out of just what you were seeing and the way you were talking and then now you've built this into a company that you're running and now you're working on how to make sure this company is perpetuates itself even without your work. So you're creating an institution here that's generating all this opportunity for your community.
I think that's an amazing amount of power that you've harnessed there just with your own caring, that you've put this time in to build something and that you're going to eventually build something that can run for however long it needs to run. That's absolutely amazing, absolutely remarkable that one person can start that and bring more people in. It's not just you doing the work, but you're guiding that work. Collecting, focusing it in, and making it into something that’s going to have this fantastic impact. So it’s amazing to see one person can do that.
PARISS: Thank you. I’m telling my community none of this would have happened if each individual in this community didn’t really bring exposure to it, care about it, and bring awareness to it the way that they did. So it's a collective effort, and a collective care and love for the community and its members.
JAMEY: I keep coming back to this, my brain keeps coming back to this, “You're just going to have to be bothered,” because I love that so much.
But it's got me thinking, this whole conversation has gotten me thinking about it's really meaningful to be able to listen to you all talk about your experiences in the Black community in tech. It's striking to me how some aspects of it resonate with me as someone in the trans community. Like what Tim was saying about people will come at me and I feel that.
But then there's other aspects of it that are not the same and I hadn't thought about in the way of generationally. My parents aren't trans and they didn't have this experience and it's not this pathway of time where that kind of marginalization is happening.
So I think it's interesting and important to think about the ways that different marginalized communities share some things and not other things. Because I think that's what we really have to understand and internalize if we're going to have different intersectionalities of marginalized folks like coming together to build community together and I think that that's really important.
TIM: So I think it's important for us to have these conversations because people who are not Black do not understand the Black experience and the Black experience in America has always been difficult. The doors have not always been open to us. We have not had warm welcomes. We've had our time, our freedom, our money, and our land stolen from us from the jump.
We are getting now to a point where we can establish ourselves a little bit and we've got forces and powers in this country who are trying to cover their tracks on what they've done to us so that they can do it again. It's important for us to have these discussions so that people understand same with the Black experiences and it's important for folks like Pariss to do that work so that we can become established. So that we're not only just citizens, but we have influence with our money, our power, and our position so that the we, as the fruits of the Black experience, can make sure that the Black experience has changed for the better in this country going forward.
That is going to take us, as Black people, helping each other and relying on, unfortunately – I don’t want to say not unfortunately relying on, but relying on folks who are not marginalized to recognize that we do need your assistance and your allyship and your being an accomplice to changing the Black experience for the better in this country. Because if we don't the people who want to change the Black experience back to what it used to be will win and I'm not here for that.
JAMEY: I love accomplice instead of ally, I have to say it. That's so good. That's such a good way to describe the mindset that you want people to be in in a more descriptive way.
CHANTÉ: Yes. Thank you for that, Tim.
PARISS: I like that. There's what is it, co-conspirator. There's being an ally and a co-conspirator. My mom does DEI work full-time. She's done it her whole life. So from what I've learned from her, she's for an ally, they're saying like, “Yes, Black lives matter.” They're doing very subtle work. For a co-conspirator, they're getting in front of the Black person when a cop has a gun to their face. They're like, “Do not pull that trigger.” Like, “This is wrong.” You’re really in it actively. So I always prefer a co-conspirator, or accomplice.
TIM: An ally will film it; an accomplice will jump in front.
PARISS: Mm hm. Yes.
CHANTÉ: Yes. Yeah, for sure. And it's important, we need all of them. Everyone does play a part, but if we're going to dismantle systemic and institutionalized racism and oppression, then that is what it takes is to have multiple people willing to play multiple roles and you don't have to stay in one. You can change as your privilege, power, and your resource changes, or maybe it increases over time because you do gain strength and understanding by being in community with people, or maybe you have more money and opportunities. So you're like, “Yeah, I can fund this.”
But Pariss, I'd love to hear your reflection. Bring us on home.
PARISS: This conversation right here about accomplice, co-conspirator, and ally just because I think that conversation was really talked about when George Floyd was murdered, especially on Twitter. There were just so many different expectations coming from the Black tech community, then you have tech Twitter, which is kind of the more white tech community, and just wishing that more things were being done, or people not understanding their role, or not understanding what to say and things like that.
I like what you said about people being able to play their part and then maybe learning more and then growing into other roles. I think that's really important. For me, I always want people to jump right in. Because that's what I have to do, period. It doesn't really matter. That's what I'm forced to do because I am Black.
So for me, I'm always like, “Oh, I respect the people who are just like, ‘Fuck you. This is what it is and whatever.’” For me, I'm more so like, I didn't like when people were coming into my DMs like, “Hey, I don't know if I should say this. Should I say this?” I'm like, “I don't have time to educate you. Just do what you want to do. Just say it.” But sometimes, I have to – not that I have to educate them, or take time to respond to them. But for me, I have to understand that people need to learn how to play which roles because maybe they're good at some versus others and you're right.
They can grow into other roles and it's not something I've really thought about just because like I said, I'm one of those people who wants to jump right in. So I'm just reflecting on that. It's something I'll continue talking about and thinking about and becoming more understanding of.
CHANTÉ: Thank you. That's a perfect endcap to our conversation. I'll look for some, unless you have a favorite resource, but I'll share some so that folks can have more learning to learn about the difference between what it means to be an ally, an accomplice, and a co-conspirator because I think this is just beautiful and definitely needed.
CHANTÉ: Pariss, thanks again for joining us today. We can continue the conversation so we welcome you back if you want to come and have part 2. But really appreciate all that you have said and of course, all that you're building and doing for the Black and actually, the BIPOC tech community, but specifically the Black folks. Thank you so much.Support Greater Than Code
Compiler (Red Hat)
This episode is supported by Compiler, an original podcast from Red Hat discussing tech topics big, small and strange.
Compiler unravels industry topics, trends, and the things you’ve always wanted to know about tech, through interviews with the people who know it best. On their show, you will hear a chorus of perspectives from the diverse communities behind the code.
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I checked out the “Should Managers Code?” episode of Compiler, and I thought it was interesting how the hosts spoke with Red Hatters who are vocal about what role if any, that managers should have in codebases—and why they often fight to keep their hands on keys for as long as they can.
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