Originally published on Medium.com

I’ve felt out of place my entire life. Even with family, close friends, coworkers, etc., I’ve never been part of a group where I felt like I truly belonged.

So naturally I would choose a career where I would almost NEVER encounter anyone that looked like me.

It’s a story you hear over and over again from Black software engineers. Being the only Black person on your team…or in your department…or in your building…or employed at your company. Rarely (if ever) seeing a person of color in a technical leadership role. It can be one of the most discouraging and lonely feelings in your career. Who can you talk to that can relate to what you’re experiencing? If your goal is technical leadership, who do you look to for guidance on navigating that journey in this industry? Is it even possible to get there? And let’s not even get started on imposter syndrome…

I’ve dealt with all of these things so long that I just accepted that as the life of a Black software engineer (my current role at Mailchimp being an exception to that, but that deserves its own post). Then one day, in the midst of a hardcore procrastination session at work, I stumbled across the A* program facilitated by an organization named /dev/color.

dev color logo

An organization focused on connecting Black software engineers in an effort to support and help each other achieve their professional goals? Like, in real life??? I’m absolutely here for that.

Fast-forward through the information sessions, applications, etc. and I’m walking into a room to begin my journey as a member of the inaugural cohort of the Atlanta chapter of the A* program. I had no idea what to expect. I was just excited it was happening and that they thought enough of me to let me in on it.

The program kicks off with a Friday night networking social and dinner with your squad, which is a small group you’re assigned to and meet with monthly throughout the year. Now this was a magical moment for me. It was like flying into Wakanda for the first time and realizing something you didn’t think could exist was real. I met more Black software engineers in 30 minutes than I’d met my entire life. Data engineers and architects, front-end and back-end developers, dev leads, engineering managers, executives…you name it, they were there. That day, in that room, was one of the only times I’ve ever felt like I even kind of fit in.

The A* kick-off continued Saturday morning. You spend most of the day going over what’s expected of you as an A* member, outlining your career and personal goals, mapping out a plan to achieve said goals, and bonding with your squad.

This was another day of firsts for me.

It was my first time completing a journey map. I’m not that guy that opens up and shares my life story with people I’ve known for less than 24 hours (or 24 months for that matter), but this exercise was good for a number of reasons. For one, it got me thinking about things in my life that have not only shaped who I am as a person, but have also played a significant role in my career. It also forces you and your squad members to learn a great deal about each other. To me, this was like an accelerant to a point in a relationship that would normally take months to get to.

This Saturday was also the first time I had really given much thought to what I wanted to accomplish in my career. Not once in 12 years had I ever thought about what my “dream job” would be like. I’d set goals for myself in the past, but not once in 12 years had I ever set milestones for one day, two weeks, one month, six months, and a year out to help track my progress towards those goals. Not once in 12 years had I shared my goals with anyone else so that they could help keep me accountable for reaching those goals. This was such a powerful exercise that I was ready to run through a wall and start working toward these goals right then and there.

The night ends with dinner and drinks, more networking and just having a good time. There are a handful of events where the entire chapter will come together throughout the year, but for the most part, you’ll be meeting solely with your squad from here on out. I have the privilege of being a charter member for the Atlanta chapter, so I’ll also have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with just about everyone, which I’m really looking forward to.

Well, to be honest, I’m really looking forward to everything about my first year in the program. I can’t wait to look back on this year and see everything the Atlanta chapter has accomplished.