Black Men in Infosec

The title is a bit vague, I know. I grew up in Brooklyn, NY and I’m about to turn 28 years old, and I can say for sure that 10 years ago, I did not see myself achieving as much as I have so far. Recently, Google granted a non-profit organization $1M to expose young black men to technical careers. This, of course, drew the “All Kids Matter” crowd to many conversations on social media. In one thread on the organization, I made a series of points that I’m rehashing for this thread.

1) People typically tend to find things more appealing when someone you can relate to is also involved. It’s the whole concept behind role models. The stereotypical programmer in media is viewed as a white male in their 20s-30s, wearing a button-up shirt and slacks. From that image alone, many black teens in major cities (NYC, Chicago, etc) aren’t immediately prone to show interest in a technical career, because their environment may not support showing intelligence as a socially acceptable thing (being labeled as a black nerd has a lot more negative societal pressure within a lot of communities than most others). If we had more black male leaders in the technical industry, this perspective would change drastically. If Elon Musk, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates were black, I would 100% guarantee there would be less of a stigma of black men having strong technical careers.

2) Outreach programs are designed to focus on demographics, and generally speaking, if you have a goal to improve something that’s lacking, you shouldn’t be trying to accomplish it on a broad scale. For example, if you worked in a DevOps environment and realized you needed your employees to be more proficient in Python, you wouldn’t send them to a course that teaches being efficient with all scripting languages. That does not contribute to the goal you’re trying to accomplish. Google is not saying that girls and everyone else shouldn’t be afforded the opportunity, but they recognize that there’s a huge gap in demographics and the leadership issues stated in point #1 have a huge effect on influencing younger kids.

3) I’m going to provide a personal perspective. As I mentioned, I’m from Brooklyn, where a lot of black males typically don’t get out of because of family, not being able to afford higher education, or because they’re heavily influenced by their environments to the point that they can’t see the benefits of trying to accomplish more than what they have. I have friends that still live with their parents because they literally cannot afford to go anywhere or they are incapable of doing so, for one personal reason or another. (And no, this is a not a “millennial” issue). I was fortunate enough to attend a very technical high school, but I squandered a lot of the immediate opportunities that were provided to me because I didn’t see the purpose of the majority of the classes I was in. At the time, I was focused on becoming a video game composer. I wasn’t exposed to any programs like what Google is offering here. Had I been, my life would be extremely different right now, for better or worse, and I could have skyrocketed to a place where I could have influenced younger black males in high school in the same position I was in.

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And now, here I am at 28, only just a few years into the infosec community, but I know I’ve had a huge positive effect within my workspaces. I’ve literally been the only black male at my job for the last 3 years in a section of a little over 20 people. While that statistic might not immediately click for a lot of people, it shows the important of what Google is trying to do here. When I go to infosec meetups and conferences, I usually wear a t-shirt, shorts, sneakers and my durag because my goal is to further enforce the idea that black men ARE present in the community. I speak like I’m from NY and I don’t hide it. (My phraseology between speaking and writing are night and day). I hope that the image I portray has a positive influence on younger black men who see someone like them doing things they might be interested in, and decide to pursue technical careers of their own. But I don’t have $1M, so I appreciate companies like Google actively reaching out.