Professional Development

The BENgineers are taking down Comcast’s virtual walls

The Philly corporation's employee resource group for Black technologists opened its internal conference to the public this year. Here's why.

The "How We Got Here" panel for engineers.

(Screenshot from event)

Founded by members of Comcast’s engineering team five years ago, BENgineers has a goal of bringing the Philadelphia-headquartered corporation’s Black tech employees together. With an eye on access, it’s now focusing publicly, too.

The group — aka the Black employee network of engineers — formed after one of Comcast’s Lab Weeks, which offers a chance for employees to work on projects of their own choosing. It’s since hosted professional development panels and workshops, brought mentorship and other service to local orgs such as Coded by Kids, and held a series of internal tech conferences.

A few years and one pandemic later, the group is going strong. Last week, it hosted its annual conference for fellow Black technologists at Comcast, but for the first time, it also opened the event to the public. Across a full day of sessions, technologists talked about their career journeys and mentorship, networked with each other and with Comcast tech executives, and listened to keynote talks.

BENgineers cofounder Mumin Ransom, now a Manager 2 of software development and engineering, led the conference along with fellow cofounder and Distinguished Engineer Michael Winslow. After years of feedback from the groups members, they realized it was on par with programing at similar tech conferences. It was time to make it an external effort.

“As we developed this over the last few years along with the intersection of pandemic, we knew we could serve this experience not just for our members, but also for people out there in the public,” Ransom told Technical.ly.

Members of Comcast’s BENgineers at the 2019 Technical.ly Awards; Ransom and Winslow are at left. (Courtesy photo)

It was important that the programming wasn’t centered around “management speak,” Winslow said. They had varying levels of engineers on panels sharing their experience, with one focused on technologist Leslie Chapman’s path to the distinguished engineer role; Jacqueline Joson, an Engineer 2, moderated the session. She said the energy, conversation and connections shared was “a rewarding sight to see.”

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“BENgineers have always had a goal to make an impact and uphold the pillars foundational to the community, and this conference displayed that,” she said.

Similarly, women have always made up an important part of the ERG’s mission, Ransom said. Since its inception, at least 50% of the group’s leadership has been Black women, and this year, 60% of the programming was led by women.

As the conference is in its third year, Ransom and Winslow said they’ve also had the time to learn and implement changes.

“Programming is broad to make sure we understand that the tech community at Comcast is a broad community,” Ransom said. “We’re the BENgineers, but they’re engineers, they’re product owners, scrum masters. They represent the spectrum of the tech industry. So when we do develop content, we’re making sure that it reaches them deep into those spaces, and provides enough content to get a good bite of it.”

It’s also ensuring that someone in one part of Comcast’s tech teams can learn more about another job; an engineer who might be interested in product can hear from someone working in that role. The group focuses on providing mobility within the industry. And a key feature of this conference was pre-recorded sessions, organizers said: Instead of going live and answering questions at the end of a session, the panel participants were in the chat, reacting in real-time and engaging with conference attendees.

BENgineers continue to work internally on staffing diverse interview panels for Comcast’s hiring process, working with HBCUs to connect tech talent and bringing new employees into the group. They got to see some newer folks coming into the fold during the conference’s speed mentoring, connecting Comcast employees with each other and external attendees with each other, organizers said. It was a time to “bump into” someone you may not have seen since before the pandemic, ask a higher-up for some advice, or mix and mingle with a senior Comcast exec like Rick Rioboli.

That’s another perk of virtual: “Even if we were in person,” Winslow said, “I don’t think people were just bumping into the CTO.”

The BENgineers intend to continue the conference as an external event.

“Five years into this, it’s amazing to see where we came from to the community we have right now,” Ransom said.

Companies: Comcast
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