As I write this early in the morning I am really tired on being on the back side of what counts as information technology. Recently a friend asked me to simple two questions. I could not give a satisfactory answer. The questions were why are you (as in me) not yet a manager of a team? Why are they no black people who are senior managers in banks? I could not answer without embarrassment and a bittersweet taste of foreboding of the excuses that I was about to make to the individual. In fact I was confused, disappointed and then suddenly very annoyed by the questions. Emotions ran high, as blurted out a weak answer, that I consider myself more technical and an engineer type rather than a manager. Okay I thought, I can clearly talk about my personal situation. The second question left me vacant of expression. I could not answer it at all.
Through my own eyes, you see, I have certainly met plenty of black people working in IT, inside investment banks, for over my 13 years of experience in the City of London and the Docklands. During that range of times I have met many Afro-Caribbean, Afro-North-Americans, Afro-South-Americans, and just Africans. However you are unlikely to see an abundance of smart and intelligent black people in the London work place. Much of this is down to simple city and national demographics. In the capital city, London, whose population is 7 million people. Black people would count statistically as a one in ten. Inside an investment bank it is safe to say this is 1 in 100, thus we are few and far between.
However it is not the demographic the ratio that upsets me. The job titles of have been depressingly non-inspirational such as PC Support, Oracle Database Support, IT Support, CISCO Phone Engineer, Hardware Support, Network Administrator, IT HelpDesk, Quality Assurance, Systems Tester, etc. .. I think I have met one other Black senior developer in my 13 years of investment IT software development. I cannot recall from memory any one in my career path, who has been a Software Architect, Team Manager, Line Manager or Technical Leader. Most of black staff, therefore, which I have witnessed in 13 years, have been in the non-creational roles. In other words they have not been typically software engineers or developers. Why is that so?
Where is these other notable Black engineers, designers and developers? And where is that other inspirational leader? It may be just because we are missed each other in engagements, yet, in the square mile. Maybe they have been working in C# and Microsoft Dot-Net, or perhaps they have been working in another investment bank completely opposite to my the one I was involved during any time in a decade.
During my time in banks and IT, whilst I can take away five years of contracting, 2003-2008, I never witnessed a promotion of a single black individual of note inside Information Technology inside an investment bank. In many of the institutions, the company sends emails, memos and announcement of senior management personnel who received promotions, I cannot recall one with a black person. Maybe I was blind to it or did not pay attention. Tell a lie, I can remember one senior manager, three staff levels above me, however only just one. He was Black and definitely African.
The source of my chagrin was the question that I could not affectively answer without deep resentment about my profession:
Technical versus managerial career path – the fact that software creation people, technical engineers do not have path to follow
Poor excuses about our communication skills – the fact that black people are continually being put or marked down for poor communications
- Lack of influence of external vectors – the fact that being involved in the external community outside of work, e.g. running a user group, building a network has had little effect
- Lack of evidence of improvement – the fact many of those Tech Support, Help desk people are not in upper echelons of management. Surely one would expect a black Head of Operations IT or Head of Networking Administration by now if most of us Black person are in non-creational roles?
- Lack of training – the fact we are black people, non-blacks are offer more opportunities on external training courses by their white managers. In other words trying to getting training is like getting blood from a stone.
- Talking a good game – the investment banks talk a good in diversity, they over promise and seldom deliver
- Lack of coaching and mentoring – the fact with hardly any black technical leaders in town, inside investment banks and their IT
operations systems infrastructure, we do not see chances of being coached or to do the coaching with the approval of the (white) senior management of such organisations.
For this very reason, I found solace outside the banks, contracting paid for JavaOne, Devoxx and other conference tickets, hotels and flight. It is also obvious to me that creating the JAVAWUG (a Java user group) allowed me explore roads and discuss technology outside the organisation. Consequently, I do not believe that black people with ever be promoted or rewarded satisfactorily, especially in this new decade. Sad, but true.
ADDED 01/Feb/2011: Some one pointed out that many IT developers tend to be (post) graduates, they have at least one university degree or an equivalent HND BTEC qualification, and therefore they were surmising that, in any case, only small ratio of graduates can be black against the whole populace of available qualified folk. I would contend there are enough black graduates out there and for precisely all of the reasons that I alluded to in the above blog, they might be deflected from pursuing a software development (technical) career. I am also at large, on the bench, in between contracts and gigs at the time of writing.