Stephon Harris wasn’t sure what to expect when he moved from Dallas to Alexandria, Va. last December. He sure didn’t expect a thriving tech scene or an opportunity to help organize a community of Black software engineers.
“I was just this Texas kid who wanted to get out Texas because I had been there my whole life,” he said. (Psst, curious about Texas’ tech scene? Check out this story on our national site.)
The 25-year-old Harris works in Vienna, Va. as a tech consultant for Plano, Texas-based company Avalon Consulting and is the co-founder of the new meetup Black Code Collective. He organizes the group with co-founders Taylor Poindexter, Emmanuel Apau, Malick Diarra and Lougenia Bailey.
Black Code Collective’s next meetup is a hack night on Wednesday, Oct. 26.
Lately, we’ve noticed more of an effort to organize the Black tech community in D.C., whether it’s through meetups or hackathons focused on tackling Black issues.
We talked to Harris about why he started Black Code Collective, his mentors and his love for a dying sport.
This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Why the move from Texas to Old Town? Especially in December?
So I got a job in a roundabout way. A buddy from college lived next door to a CEO from my company. During a graduation party, we started talking about some of the technology I was working on, and the CEO told me I should definitely apply.
Then a couple months later they gave me an offer to move to their D.C. office and work there.
So what made you want to create Black Code Collective?
I was attending another meetup, Alexandria Code and Coffee, and I ran into a person there. She was African American and we started talking about the tech scene.
We had both been coming to Alexandria Code and Coffee for a couple of weeks and we noticed that there wasn’t much of a space for Black software developers. There was a mixture of Black tech networking groups but they were very broad, very high-level.
What do you mean by very broad? Were they not as useful because they didn’t focus on software development specifically?
They had startup spaces, they had people who were doing tech sales, and I really thought that was awesome. But I thought about someone who was very new into the scene of software development and who didn’t necessarily want to be a startup founder, but just enjoyed coding and doing development. How would they find the community and space for them?
And there’s where I came up with the idea of starting Black Code Collective.
I also heard through the grapevine that you were thinking of partnering with D.C. nonprofit STEMLY for outreach with younger folks. Is that true?
Yeah, that’s true. One of my goals is to bring exposure to students to the visibility of Black software developers. Especially among younger people, because they don’t see anybody who looks like them doing software development.
And in doing that, we would love to partner with STEMLY to help provide that awareness, that exposure and hopefully some mentorship.
Who were (or are) your mentors in this process?
The leader of the Alexandria Code and Coffee, Robbie Holmes, was a big mentor for me. Robbie connected me with other people inside of #DCTech and gave me advice on how to listen to our community and create events that are relevant for people.
So where is Black Code Collective right now?
We’ve already had our first meetup. We’ve been able to have four other co-organizers join along with me. And we have our next meetup planned for this month, October 26. We plan to do a Hacknight called Hacktober.
Cool! What’s the idea behind “Hacktober”?
Our goal is that members come out and present some side project they’re working on. Or they present some STEM idea and find other people who’d be interested in the project, or just to share knowledge.
We’ll also be encouraging members to participate in a Hacktoberfest [with New York City-based cloud infrastructure provider Digital Oceans] by contributing to several opensource projects.
What is your vision for the meetup? Where do you want to take this?
I would like to see a support pipeline that enables underrepresented minorities to gain interest in STEM and to continue to cultivate experiences inside the professional environment.
Is the opportunity to do this work part of what motivated you to accept your D.C. job?
No, it wasn’t! I think I was kind of blind. I was just this Texas kid who wanted to get out Texas because I had been there my whole life. It wasn’t until I got here and started checking out some of the meetups that I realized how vibrant the tech scene is.
Last question then. Any strange hobbies?
Well, I play racquetball in Virginia. And I feel like that’s a dying sport.