Diversity is essential to Birmingham’s fledgling tech scene, especially as recruiting begins to The Switch district—and that’s one of the reasons why Niesha White founded Birmingham Black Techies.
“There have been so many studies that show diversity helps companies financially, she said. “Diversity also means diversity in thought and more innovation. For example, I’m going to come with a view and process that others may never think about. That’s super valuable. It makes whatever you’re doing that much better.”
White started Birmingham Black Techies in January 2020 as a Meetup group to network with other Black people in the tech field.
But, like everything else in 2020, all meetings pivoted to online get-togethers. Which, White says, has done wonders for their numbers.
“Right, now people don’t have anything else to do and they’re searching for things that they can connect with,” she said. “Virtual events have helped because we can reach more people than just people in Birmingham. It’s cool because we’ll have people come to our virtual meetups who are nowhere near Alabama. They get to hear what people here are doing and get to see that there’s this growing tech scene with Black people here that they didn’t know about.”
The group’s website asks one question—Are you a techie? The answer according to White, is yes. Anyone is welcome to join the group coders to vloggers to gamers to data scientists.
She says a 2021 goal of the group is to increase the number of people in the group who are either brand new to technology or want to transition to the tech space.
“Each of those professions plays a huge part in having a healthy tech ecosystem,” White said. “To me, I feel like you can’t just think about those corporate jobs or startup jobs. You also have to have people who are just creating things on their own. One of my pillars for Birmingham Black Techies is to have fun with technology.”
The Switch—formerly known as the Innovation District— is one of REV’s focus districts. It’s Birmingham’s destination to continue fueling a vibrant innovation-based ecosystem. A place designed for start-ups and small businesses to thrive in the Magic City. A place to showcase success and become a source of pride. And, a place that supports and inspires entrepreneurs of all types from all backgrounds.
White, who started her career as a front-end developer and now works as a project lead, is originally from Dothan but moved to Birmingham to pursue her tech career. Her first impressions of the city didn’t quite match her experience in the workplace.
“The whole reason I wanted to live in Birmingham is because I’d visit as a kid and it was like this Black utopia,” she said. “When I got my first job, I was expecting to see all of these Black people and it was not like that. I just expected it to be more diverse.”
She says that tech companies and startups should do more to be mindful of the culture surrounding them in a city that is 70-percent Black.
“If you’re a transplant, you’re mostly just going to work, and that’s how you find out what’s going on,” she said. “I think it could be helpful if they stay tapped into what’s going on. Embrace the Black things that going on here more and promote and share them.”
She also suggests that companies recruit talent from local HBCUs.
To that end, Birmingham Black Techies is marrying both Black culture and technology with Black Tech Takeover, a free 3-day virtual conference sponsored by Shipt offering something for everyone. It runs from Feb. 3 through Feb. 5.
White and co-organizers Kellie Clark and Jaclynn Maxwell Hudson put together workshops on lesser-known tech careers, branding, inclusive product design, app designing and more. There will also be a pitch competition hosted by Black Girl Ventures.
“There’s going to be amazing, free content,” White said. “You can expect an overview of the various paths to tech. We really wanted to go beyond the code. My mission is to push the end to gatekeeping in technology. We have something for everyone whether you’re new to tech or an OG.”
Overall, White sees a bright future for Birmingham’s tech scene.
“I feel like Birmingham is at a really cool spot,” she said. “It’s just about to pop off and get really huge. It’s like every week, there’s some new tech startup, generator, accelerator or bootcamp. It’s exciting.”
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