At our second annual BENgineers conference last week, Black technologists from across Comcast gathered — virtually this year — to share experiences, make connections and explore how the work we do to create a more diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace helps us create better, smarter technology.
In 2017, a handful of us in the Black Employee Network Employee Resource Group at Comcast formed BENgineers because we believed there was a specific opportunity to form a group at Comcast where Black technologists could work together to make not only our team, but also our technology, better. We focused on building the talent pipeline for Black technologists, forging stronger communication channels with technology leaders throughout the company, and showcasing the essential contributions that Black technologists make to Comcast’s products, systems and network.
That work culminated last year in our first annual BENgineers conference, in which more than 150 people from across the company gathered in our Philadelphia headquarters during Black History Month to share perspectives, make connections and celebrate the work of Black technologists throughout the company.
This year we more than tripled that turnout, as nearly 600 people joined from eight countries.
The theme of this year’s event was “Own the Room/Share Your Value” with a focus on providing practical advice for attendees to demonstrate the value they provide and make real progress within Comcast and in the technology industry more broadly.
Our keynote speaker, Dr. Ainissa Ramirez, world-renowned science evangelist and author of “The Alchemy of Us,” spoke about the importance of diverse representation in technology, with a specific focus on how Black technologists’ role in the field is not just about creation or development, but also about critiquing current technology to ensure that all technology is serving all of humanity. Tony Werner, president of technology and product Xperience at Comcast, spoke as well, emphasizing the positive cultural and engineering impact that the BENgineers have had on our larger technology organization within Comcast. The packed day also featured a talk by senior technologists Leslie Chapman and Masamba Sinclair on “the path to distinguished engineer,” as well as a range of other presentations and talks led by BENgineers members and supporters.
An important factor in the success of the BENgineers organization has been the tremendous support we’ve received from leadership throughout the technology organization, and indeed throughout all of Comcast. This commitment of resources and support has helped make it possible for us to exercise the entrepreneurial spirit that makes Comcast special.
The content of this year’s program was powerful, but for me, the impact of the BENgineers Conference goes far beyond any individual session or panel discussion.
The 2020 BENgineers conference was the first technology event I ever attended in which Black technologists were the majority of organizers, presenters and attendees. I know from speaking to many of my fellow BENgineers that the simple but profound experience of participating in an event created by and for Black technologists created a profound sense of connection and belonging.
I see that too when I meet with young technologists from the talent pipeline we’ve helped to develop. When interviewees hear about the BENgineers and meet a community of Black technologists thriving across the organization, it makes them want to come and work with us, which is a big reason why the BENgineers were founded in the first place.
One of our most recent hires — who met with BENgineers team members as part of her interview process — told me that the experience this year’s BENgineers event affected her in much the same way as our first event affected me. She said: “I’ve never felt the confidence as a junior software engineer to reach out privately to a speaker after a conference; however, BENgineers has helped provide a sense of acceptance for technologists of all backgrounds.”
The BENgineers conference represents only a tiny fraction of the work we do throughout the year. Still, it serves as an important milestone: a celebration of what we’ve accomplished so far, and a source of motivation for what’s still to come.
Knowledge is power!
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