Diversity & Inclusion
Education / Events / Nonprofits / POC in Tech / Youth

Need advice to kickstart your tech career? Check out Black Tech Philly’s next meetup

The org founded by three software engineers has a focus on helping Black and brown professionals get a foothold in the industry.

Ryan Small and Ian Kimble, two of the three cofounders of Black Tech Philly. (Courtesy photo)
When Ian Kimble was starting his tech career about four years ago, he faced challenges landing his first big role, despite his portfolio of freelance projects.

“I had plenty of freelance experience working for local businesses, being fortunate enough to have opportunities where there were people who were already in tech giving me side projects,” he said. “But because I didn’t have a formal, a big company attached to my name, it doesn’t really matter. I’d get looked over.”

This experience indirectly set Kimble, who now works as a software engineer for fintech company Change Machine, on the path to becoming the cofounder and executive director of Black Tech Philly. The nonprofit provides a space for Black and brown technologists while also educating anyone who wants to get into the tech field.

The tagline: “No code-switching, just code.”

It joins the ranks of local groups such as a newly launched Blacks in Tech chapter, IRL hubs such as Germantown’s P4 Hub for Advancing Racial Equity and Excellence, and professional development-focused employee resource groups such as Comcast’s BENgineers, all of which serve to center and boost Black tech professionals in Philadelphia, where the tech field is less diverse than its overall population (though less so than other cities).

Kimble and the Black Tech Philly’s second cofounder and treasurer, software engineer Khalil Saboor, first met at a coffee shop early in their tech careers. From there, they had many conversations about both their good and bad experiences working in the tech industry.

“It’s so valuable to be able to have conversations — like, candid conversations — about your experience in tech in terms of things such as inclusiveness, and certain opportunities maybe not coming your way for maybe certain types of biases,” Kimble said.

We wanted to be able to provide educational resources and tools so that people can have a place to start.

Kimble and Saboor, along with the group’s third cofounder and secretary, software engineer Ryan Small, created Black Tech Philly so they could gather a community of tech professionals to have those types of conversations and address implicit biases. The idea was to create a professional network where technologists would join as members and get access to resources such as internships and mentors.

Black Tech Philly started in March 2020 (yes, right before the pandemic hit). Unexpectedly, the cofounders found that a lot of the people joining their network were new to the technology field and looking for opportunities to learn. They shifted their focus to education.

“We wanted to be able to provide educational resources and tools so that people can have a place to start,” Kimble said, “but also, raising awareness and making people in Black and brown communities know that these types of roles exist and the benefits of working in tech.”

Their work now includes in-person study halls where all three founders will set up in coffee shops around the city, or meet virtually, and invite people looking for help or to get involved to join them. The group’s not big yet; when the cofounders previously required official memberships, they were at about 30, and just a handful of people show up to each meetup. But now it’s purposefully open so anyone can drop in when they want. And while there’s a focus on getting Black and brown people into tech, the group is open to anyone who wants to enter the field.

The group also started a youth coding cohort this year where they led a five-week course about web development at West Philadelphia’s Boys Latin Charter High School. They taught about 20 high school juniors and seniors and said the program went over so well, they were invited to come back and teach another course.

Overall, Kimble said, Black Tech Philly wants to get more people into the tech space so they have a voice in an ever-changing field that affects everyone’s lives, while improving communities in the process.

“We do want to raise awareness,” he said, and “make people aware that these jobs exist, make people aware of how this technology impacts them and make people aware of why it’s so important for Black and brown people to be a part of the tech industry.”

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

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