The design industry has broadened over the last two decades to include more tech-forward professionals. Developers, UXers, content strategists and project managers are adjacent and vital members of the AIGA community. We spoke with Ouzy, a developer at Friendly Design Co. about his experience of being an emerging professional in the creative tech community in DC. Here’s what he had to say about how he got his foot in the door, as well as his thoughts on diversity and inclusion inside of the industry.
Can you tell us more about how you got started in tech?
“I’ve always been a big like–a big techie. I’ve always been into computers. Made GeoCities websites back when I was a kid. And I kind of got away from that for a little bit after high school… Straight from high school, I decided to do some other things. I got into writing, and that landed me an internship at Contactually where I was a marketing intern. And then over the next few years where I was there, I picked coding up again because the marketing team needed someone to like do some things on the WordPress site, and I was the one that could do it because the developers were busy otherwise.
And so, the more and more I picked that up, the more I realized “Oh, I want to code again.” So I started picking up more projects, I asked Zvi, the CEO, about what I could do to get more practice coding… I took a little bit of Code Academy, I picked up some projects on the side and taught myself to code. I also took a few CS classes when I went back to school and I got my associates degree in computer science at Montgomery College and transferred to University of Maryland. Then I got lucky and I got hired by nclud. That was my first full time front end development job and a year after that I made it here to Friendly.”
How does your background cross over into your professional experiences and/or future aspirations?
What I am is an African-born African American living in DC. And my secondary, or even tertiary identity is that of a developer. It is a small part of who I am, cause it’s what I do–what I love to do.
I would like for my work to be a bigger part of what I can bring to the greater good. If I can marry me being a developer with me being an African American (especially in this climate) there could be interesting things that I could be doing. i.e. criminal justice data or what have you.
But first and foremost, I am a black male in DC.
What does that mean beyond the obvious?
It means being comfortable in what you bring to the table. I didn’t graduate from college right away. I have dealt with a lot of experiences that a lot of other black men have experienced in their time like in metropolitan areas or just anywhere in the United States. And like, me being in tech–with tech being so white–you know this identity brings a lot of my shared past and history to the table that a lot of people in this field probably do not, have not or will not understand. It’s a different mindset.
Can you share your thoughts on diverse representation in the industry?
I can count on one hand the number of black people that I have worked with. Probably three in my time here in DC.
There can always be more [diversity in the field]. Just you know, for just small things like,
“You get what I’m feeling right now.” And like the “black guy head nod.” Once in a while I’ll see a black guy and be like “What’s up,” and like you just like do the look [the nod]. And that’s one thing that I haven’t encountered a lot in DC tech besides my former coworker Manny at nclud.
It’s hard to articulate, but the things you gain from that shared experience are so wide, you know?
You could have a company where everyone has lived in a relatively similar neighborhood and gone to the same school but if a few of them are people of color, even they have similar backgrounds as everyone else, they’ll have their own unique experiences that they bring to the table… And in having more than just one person of color or diverse background, it means you won’t have to be “the one” to answer for not like just your race but for a different experience.
So diversity is moving, and it’s trending upwards… but all these companies release diversity reports with sentences like we’re “One more percent [in diversity],” and I’m like “Right, so you’ve hired one more person.”
Smaller companies seem to be moving more quickly to adapt, which is great. Larger companies less so… I am one black person in a sea of white people at Friendly, and there are a lot of others like me, but you know it is… It is what’s the word I’m looking for? It is great to see that, that shift is moving… that there are more brown people… Meetup groups for people of color in tech like Color Coded would not have existed a few years ago… and that’s always great. AfroTech is bigger now that it ever has been…and you know I can’t wait to see where it goes next year, or five years from now… or ten years from now.
This interview has been adapted from our Emerging Voices interview series. See the entire video interview playlist here.