Being BROWN in tech

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Photo by DISRUPTIVO on Unsplash

Often times working in tech has seemed like I stumbled into a boarding school for white boys with the odd tyrannical headmaster. But it wasn’t always so.

Expectations

I left Nigeria in my early twenties to pursue a dream of becoming a holistic designer in the UK. All I wanted to do was apply my skills for the benefit of mankind. I did not think there would be other things to consider other than doing my work well. I also never planned to work in the UK, much less work in technology.

So when I finished with design school and began working, believing the system was at least 80% meritocratic, I threw myself into it.

Reality

I discovered systematic racism and sexism at the same time I discovered the realities of work in the UK and my struggle with anxiety disorders.

It started with simple statements, the admission of my boss that a man had applied for my role demanding double my salary, the audacity, I had thought. (In my next role I asked for double my previous salary and got it). To another boss telling me in very clear terms that he couldn’t give me more responsibility when I asked for it because it was not expected. They also seemed to think my work was great but thought I needed to be more social, which meant I had to show up at the pub at least 3 times every week. I got to learn that cultural fit generally meant you had to fit in the pub.

The reality was, I was a minority of minorities, a woman, black, Nigerian, expat “Your accent might make people think you are backward” someone told me recently. Still, I’ve managed to find work but I never understood I had to work 4-6 times as hard as a white man with the same qualifications and experience ( I never did this extra work though lol).

Now, I find that it’s easy for me to recognise sexism, because I’ve always been a woman, but I haven’t always been black.

In my last permanent role where I was chastised for wearing headphones and my white male colleagues weren’t amongst other nonsense, I experienced my first clear cut racist experience and sought legal advice advice afterwards. Once, I was sat in a room with a team of 8, working, and one of them makes a statement “Africans do this terrible XYZ thing”, being one who is unable to shut up when I see things that are wrong and the only African, I told him to be careful of his statements. He had asked the silly question of whether I spoke African some days before this, which I shrugged off. It certainly didn’t make me popular and I resigned shortly after.

Solutions

Having learned all this, I began to see how much of a distraction racism, sexism and most -isms are. I talked to some other black women and their stories made me feel like I wasn’t alone in this but also made me want to help others much more. These points below helped me navigate the workplace and I hope it helps too.

Faith – You need to believe in something greater than yourself. You cannot place your core identity in something that changes like a job or career, it will kill you. Your core identity which is where you will draw strength from especially in times of hardship must be in something that is unchangeable and unshakable and that’s only God. That I am loved no matter beyond measure is enough for me.

Do the Work – Keep your head down, hone your skills and do your work, please see Serena Williams as reference. I cannot stress the importance of this, please don’t get distracted, the technology industry changes very fast, keep your skills up to date and just keep moving.

Other things:

  • Find a mentor
  • Find a support system
  • Learn to speak up

It is important that we don’t set limits for ourselves, because only then can we rise and start to affect change from positions of influence. We need to love our enemies like Jesus said, seek allies and support from anyone genuinely willing to help.

2020

I wrote this piece in 2015 ( can’t remember why I didn’t post it) although I’m no longer ‘active’ in the tech space, I’m sad that we are still facing these issues but glad that some change has happened along the way. It’s good to see more brown folk in tech, diversity schemes all over the place, lots of conversations and people really pushing forward (Well done to all who do the work!)

I’ve taken my skills elsewhere and I am discovering more things I love to do along the way, like nannying!. I still do not tolerate hate/injustice and will continue to speak up about and delight in what is true.

How to become Responsible.

User Experience is about responsibility, I once wrote an article that UX is Responsible design.

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Here is one of my current favorite person’s take on responsibility. Jacques Ellul writes-

In a society such as ours, it is almost impossible for a person to be responsible. A simple example: a dam has been built somewhere, and it bursts. Who is responsible for that? Geologists worked out. They examined the terrain. Engineers drew up the construction plans. Workmen constructed it. And the politicians decided that the dam had to be in that spot. Who is responsible? No one. There is never anyone responsible. Anywhere. In the whole of our technological society the work is so fragmented and broken up into small pieces that no one is responsible. But no one is free either. Everyone has his own, specific task. And that’s all he has to do.

Just consider, for example, that atrocious excuse… It was one of the most horrible things I have ever heard. The director of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was asked at the Nuremburg trials, “But didn’t you find it horrible? All those corpses?” He replied, “What could I do? I couldn’t process all those corpses. The capacity of the ovens was too small. It caused me many problems. I had no time to think about these people. I was too busy with the technical problem of my ovens.” That is the classic example of an irresponsible person. He carries out his technical task and isn’t interested in anything else.

Become interested in people today.

Out of Touch

In view of Wanna Cry, which is a wake up call on the dangers of poor security systems and an over-reliance on Digital systems. I’m posting this dream I had last year and originally posted on Medium, Dec 11 2016. Humanity. We still have a real chance of designing around and for a future where such doesn’t cripple us. Let’s look at ourselves through human not digital lens and lead with love for the next person and nature.

———wannacry

It was one of those nights where I was finally home from the boringest party and no longer had functioning brain cells. Inane web browsing, what a gift. Suddenly, I tried to swipe the screen on my phone and nothing happened. I tried again, my thumb going frantic now, fingers tapping, nothing. Ok, this phone! I restarted it but I still could not get any action. The glowing light pissed me off the more, so I switched it off and went to bed, tomorrow is another day.

On my way to work the next day I decided to stop at the phone repair store, but to my surprise there was a large crowd. This is the weirdest thing, I thought, did I really have so much Pinot Noir. What’s happening?, I asked the nearest person. Phone repair, she said, screens not working, she continued. OK, wait a minute, this is crazy, I better get to work before I’m late. Went to grab myself a cappuccino, another surprise, the contactless isn’t working. Since when Starbucks, since when, as I tried to remember my pincode.

What a morning, I’m no longer going to Sallys parties, such weirdness. I got to work, and again, I see a huge crowd stood outside and in the lobby. It’s too cold to just be standing about, fire drill or what. I went for the friendliest looking face. Please what’s happening?We can’t get into the building right now, as all the touch screens are not working. My phone isn’t working either.

Bloody hell, I found a piece of concrete and sat nursing my coffee, silently praying the day would just come to an end.

Many hours later I am at home, my TV switched on for the first time in the year. News reports said a virus had been released which shut down all touch screens around the world, there were video clips of the chaos and destruction from Singapore to Sokoto.

I sighed and returned to my book, this is it, this is finally it

Going Offscreen

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Last year I was lucky enough to be contacted by Kai Brach the editor of Offscreen Magazine. He featured me in issue 16 but more importantly I got to know about the magazine, and the amazing work he had been doing with them.

From the website:

“Offscreen celebrates the human elements of technology and the web. Through intimate conversations and introspective essays we bring to light the creative struggles behind innovative ideas”

I just got my first copy in the post and highly recommend you go out and buy yourself copies. I don’t know how he does it all but he blogs about the process

As someone who doesn’t buy magazines, this doesn’t feel like one. It feels like an intimate collection of thoughts and ideas, carefully curated just for you.

In the mean time, join the newsletter to get a taster of what Offscreen has to offer

The Christian and Technology

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Picture from #WocinTechChat

I grew up in a world where co-existence made sense to me. My dad’s family are Muslims and my mum, Christian. I learned arabic as a kid and still like my given muslim name. My dad didn’t practice Islam, he thought truth was beyond both faiths and went into AMORC eventually finding his way to Christianity, in his late 40s.

Continue reading

Becoming the face of Tech Nation Visa UK

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I cut my hair on Christmas day 2015. Partly due to a dye job gone bad and mostly to trichotillomania an anxiety disorder, this means I had pulled out almost 1/4 of my hair. It had flared up due to much stress after the summer. I needed to get the entire hair off. Continue reading

Events Roundup (May)

Digital Shoreditch Festival

Got the opportunity to attend Digital Shoreditch Festival an annual festival that brings together the Creative, Tech and Entrepreneur community to celebrate outstanding work, share ideas and look forward to the future.

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Support a Woman in Tech platform today.

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Platforms for Women

I know too well the challenges that arise in being a minority in a minority in a minority, and I only started to experience this a couple of years ago. It is one of the reasons I try to support organizations that cater to marginalized groups.

Continue reading

Autotune, Sharks, Breaking Feminism and More – Weekly (3)

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SharkWeek

It’s Shark Week on Discovery TV this week. As someone fascinated by the creatures, this video I watched last week was pretty amazing. The real thing is far more terrifying than Jaws.

Ebola

Ebola is still a major issue in Western Africa, and one thing that had been neglected was actually informing people in the rural areas about what it really was. This lack of information or misinformation leads to panic which is more likely to kill people than Ebola. In fact misinformation was so rife that it led to a number of people dying from false preventive methods.

A friend and I got to make some posters in Pidgin to be distributed. You can find Ebola posters in english or pidgin, black and white or colored here Also got to engage with local radio personalities to send the message across. And it is always heart-warming when you see many people have actually survived

Check out this model of the Ebola Virus from Visual Science

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Human-Human Interfaces

I finally got to post my thoughts on Wearable Technology for Introverted Intuitives. One of the conversations that came out of it was the importance of having more human-human interfaces. We should be thinking of enhancing the natural human to human interaction instead of having to always face a machine interface. I can’t wait to post part 2 of it, there will also be a connection to the internet of things.

Technology Life Cycle – Autotune

On my entrepreneurship course, I was introduced to this amazing video of the autotune effect. How autotune went from being an oil finding tool to the music industry’s darling.

The Effects of Poverty 

A discussion on the effects of poverty came up sometime ago, we talked about how being poor affected people, their DNA and even in the long term. The piece below shows that it’s not just a poverty of physical needs but a poverty of mental needs.

Some Useful Tools

Accessibility is  UX and this tool could help make your site better 

You might want to check if your job ad is woman-friendly 

On Feminism

Being open-minded should be one where you can entertain a thought and try to see it objectively. I thought this article on feminism was worth reading. By James Kalb, an American writer and Lawyer, Breaking the shackles of feminism

Interesting Links

Obligation and Doubt are poor motivators

The Nigerian ‘Development’ scene is growing up and I’m very happy about it

Why we should believe the dreamers—not the experts – Vivek Wadhwa

The best Coconut Oil in the UK

Working Monogamy

Event to go to

September 6th and 7th – Attend the world’s first Afrobeats musical, Oliver Tweest. If you are in London, it will be lots of fun, I promise you 

My Language – Uneme

I’m from a very small ethnic group, Uneme, our numbers are not up to 100,000 peoples existing. I spent some time years ago doing research and opened a blog to document our origins, culture etc.

This is the only recording I could find of my language on Youtube

Quotes of The Week

“Intelligence with wisdom is reason. Intelligence without wisdom is rationalization”. – Mark Yuray
“We find rest in those we love, and we provide a resting place for those who love us”. –Bernard of Clairvaux
“Most want success at a discount, look for shortcuts. Greatness costs what it costs. Get excited about paying full price, worth it” – 
“The smell of fried eggs is called Good Morning” – Antonia Anni
“You want me to help you improve my account experience? But I’ve never experienced an account!” – Uzo Agu
“You don’t fall into love. You commit to it. Love is saying I will be there no matter what.” – Tim Keller
“When you keep oil away from your cloth, you should also endeavour to take your cloth away from the oil” – Edoid Proverb

Till next week – Stay Curious.

Wearable Technology For Introverted Intuitives

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“Sitting in a pool as all the words float by, perfectly, but it’s time to get up and I do. The words, they immediately disperse. I hastily grasp some, hoping they make sense while the others, they float away, never to be seen again. On my feet, I close my eyes and mourn the loss of words”

The statement above will be familiar to people termed as ‘intuitives’ everyone has a degree of intuition but for introverted intuitives (see MBTI), this is their preferred way of perceiving, gathering information from/about the world, and for many, the only way. MBTI identifies it as Ni, ‘Introverted Intuition’ which shows up in the following types INFJ, INTJ, ENTJ and ENFJ but is the dominant function of the INTJ and INFJ. Even if you haven’t been professionally typed, the following description would be familiar to anyone high on the introverted intuitive spectrum.

What does Introverted Intuition feel like?

Introverted iNtuiting  focuses on the contents of the unconscious, it involves a psychic awareness of the intangible. Ni searches for grand patterns, themes, systems in order to understand the meaning and significance of everything. It operates unpredictably, often through flashes of insight. It seeks to understand an abstract sense of the essential nature of all things and their complex interrelationships. It attaches meaning and symbolism to the concrete world of the senses. This process is independent of the conscious mind, and doesn’t need external stimuli however, INTJ and INFJ can intentionally access the process by creating certain conditions and letting it happen.

“It views everything on the broadest level and asks, what else is going on here?”

Ni quickly grasps the meaning behind words. Unconscious images are as real as anything tangible. It seeks to understand complexity through the simple underlying essence of everything. Visions and insights are trusted and valued. This process can involve working out complex concepts or systems of thinking or conceiving of symbolic or novel ways to understand things that are universal. It can lead to creating transcendent experiences or solutions. Ultimately Ni tries to understand life [Reference: Building Blocks of Personality by Leona Haas and Mark Hunziker]

The Challenge

One big challenge for the Ni is having to communicate outwardly, How can I communicate my well formed thoughts without distortion. It’s almost as if you put pen to paper or open your mouth to talk and the carefully arranged words, systems and patterns you see in your mind just start to tumble haphazardly out. There is a high tendency to ramble because as you talk you find new connections that beg to be communicated.

 So how do we minimize distortion as our thoughts pass the barrier between the mind and the ‘seen’ world.

A Solution

The Device: BrainText

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Given that this process of thought occurs at any time, from waking up to falling asleep, we need this device to be highly flexible. We want to wear it to sleep, while showering, running etc. it would be Lightweight, Sensitive, Waterproof, Durable (last 3 years min), Flexible, Powered by motion, solar.

The device will be sensitive enough to notify you via device beep and phone notifications when it is a certain distance from your head, you will be able to control via the mobile phone etc

How will it work?

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BrainText will come with a software/app that can be installed on a suitable device. When Braintext is set up, simply place it near your head (you can even wear it as a hair clip) and press the start button on your app or BrainText, and transmission will begin. BrainText picks up the signals from your brain and transmits it to your mobile phone for example, where the software is installed. The software does the hard work of converting brain signals into text, which you can later edit yourself.

I really think something like this will be useful for a lot of people and perhaps not just introverted intuitives. This is the kind of device I will gladly buy, not a wristwatch, until then, I will have to make do with my paper and pen.

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User Experience in Space

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I got the opportunity last month to speak with two talented designers/engineer/design-thinkers who are heading up the design team at SAC in Harwell, Oxfordshire. I was very curious as to what User Experience looks like in this ‘industry’, so I took a trip to Harwell.

First of all, I was impressed by the Diamond Light Source on the campus.

Diamond is UK’s synchrotron. It works like a giant microscope, harnessing the power of electrons to produce beams of light 10,000 times brighter than the sun that scientists can use to study anything from fossils to jet engines to viruses and vaccines.

You can visit the Diamond on an open day

Now, when it comes to space technology there are three main areas of application; Navigation, Communication and Earth Observation. The designers at SAC were very keen on showing how space technology can be applied commercially. The facility will be handling a variety of projects from different industries. They would be pro-active in problem solving and they will be providing specific solutions for particular companies.

I have no doubt that this is one of the most important areas of development. We have years upon years of data that can be pulled into useful products. It is no wonder that it is one of Innovate UK‘s priority areas, find out more here

As a User Experience designer, it would certainly be an amazing opportunity to work in this industry, there’s so much to learn here and it opens one’s mind to the different possibilities and areas of application in everyday living. Innovation is certainly not far off, given that it usually occurs at the point where various fields meet, in this case, <Space science, User Experience/Design, Business, Engineering, Art >

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I’m also very happy that the Space Apps challenge by NASA made Lagos and Calabar, Nigeria, a part of this. I love that people from my side of the world are involved in global challenges for products that would benefit all of Earth’s citizens.

Forming Voltron

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Some time ago I described the process on a project as trying to ‘form Voltron’. My colleagues shook their heads, not understanding what I meant. They googled it, and still didn’t have a clue. Voltron is an anime that ran before I was even born, but I spent a lot of my growing years watching it with delight, I thought the whole world watched it. Voltron (Defender of the Universe ) is the name of a giant robot which is formed by robot lions piloted by space explorers.

What Are Voltron projects ?

There are two main types of projects I have worked on. One is the ‘Big Bang’ project (built from scratch) and the second is, the ‘Voltron’ project which uses existing applications, components or systems to build something new. The Voltron projects can be built entirely on existing ‘Live’ components and they can also have a new component brought into the process. All of these have their challenges, however the Voltron project which looks like the easier route can be the trickiest.

How do you make Voltron work?

Working in a large organisation these projects are fairly common, as with any project these should not be missing.

1.  A clear goal/vision – Voltron was never formed without a ‘Robeast’ it had to defeat. The goal and vision of your project must be visible to all involved parties. Everyone should be able to own that vision and understand it. Even if you inherit a project, it is your responsibility as a UX-er to get into it. Ask questions, talk to people, research, own the goal.

2. Strong leadership – The robot lions had a clear leader who gave direction for any of their undertakings. The leader should inspire people to work on the project despite the difficulties it seems to introduce, it is about blending the right skills with the right attitude. As a UX-er it is valuable to own the product. When in doubt, take responsibility.

3. Communication – This kind of project requires a high level of collaboration. It is easy to assume that stakeholders already know what’s going on, but usually these people have many other projects they are looking after (esp in the case of inheritance). Go after them, ask questions. Bear in mind that a change in one of the components you need might affect other products which use them. As a UX-er you have to have your eyes wide open. Sometimes there will be compromises, but everyone has to be on the same page.

These are just a few things I have learned and experienced but the UX-er’s work is never done.

Stay Bright.