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What does it take to succeed as a Black man in tech? Four Delaware technologists offer tips

At the second annual Tech Ecosystem Conference, the discussion covered the importance of soft skills, attention on supply chains and HBCUs.

The Black Men Talk Tech panel at the Tech Ecosystem Conference 2024 in Wilmington, Delaware (Holly Quinn/Technical.ly)

As part of this year’s Tech Ecosystem Conference in Wilmington, four Black male leaders in the Delaware tech and startup world offered tips and insights for others following their path.

“In Delaware, Black men are substantially more represented in management roles that are not high tech,” said Tech Council of Delaware Executive Director Zakiyyah Ali, introducing a panel called Black Men Tech Talk. “But we know that tech is the future.”

The panel was part of Day 1 of the conference, which was designed around inclusion-focused programming. “Data suggests that while Black and Hispanic women and men are represented at all levels of Delaware’s workforce,” Ali said, “they are entering roles in high tech industries at much smaller rates.”

The focus was inspired by Ayanna Khan, president of the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce, who originally pitched the idea of a Black Tech Week to the Tech Council of Delaware.

A full week was more ambitious than what the Council was prepared to commit to, but it spurred the direction for the entire first day of its second annual conference, which also included a Black-owned start-up symposium.

Black Men Talk Tech featured moderator Kerwin Gaines, host of DETV’s “The Agenda,” with three panelists: Jordan Chambers, security operations center manager with the Delaware Department of Technology and Information; Jalal Hayes, founder of Elyte Energy; and Von Homer, founder of HX Innovations.

Chambers, Hayes and Homer shared their perspectives, each representing different fields — government cybersecurity, green tech and sports tech. Read on for our biggest takeaways.

Role models matter

Elyte Energy founder Hayes grew up surrounded by blue collar entrepreneurs like plumbers and electricians. After learning about hydrogen as a clean energy source at Delaware State University, he not only embarked on his own entrepreneurship journey, but is now using the technology to impact those blue collar business owners.

Similarly, DTI’s Chambers, the child of police officers, imagined he’d grow up to be a game designer or software developer, but found himself drawn to the criminal investigation aspect of cybersecurity.

Tech allows you to make an impact

Before founding HX Innovations, Homer was a consultant for footwear development and the medical device industry. His footwear patents — you might be wearing one right now if you’re wearing an athletic shoe — have helped prevent injuries, whether wearers realize it or not.

“Being able to see that every day, how I affected products on a large scale is pretty cool,” Homer said. “And then, taking that knowledge and my experiences and bringing it back to HBCUs.”

For Chambers, it’s his work on Delaware elections security, including dealing with potential disinformation campaigns.

“Knowing that I’m playing a key part in that overall objective to me is an extremely big deal and a large accomplishment,” he said.

Soft skills go a long way in tech

Understanding code and other tech skills are, naturally, an important part of being a technologist. But don’t underestimate soft skills.

“Soft skills are massively important,” said Gaines. “I understand that you may be tech geniuses, you can make a nuclear bomb out of a paperclip, but if no one can stand you your product will not be sold.”

Be concise

Even with his advanced education, Hayes had to retrain himself as a startup founder.

“I had hustle, but I didn’t have business acumen,” said the climate tech CEO. “I was in PhD mode, thinking people needed a 50 page paper when they wanted two sentences.”

Brevity can also help you when dealing with banks, Gaines noted.

“I was applying for a loan for capital, they wanted a description of what I was doing — I gave them the phonebook,” said Gaine, of DETV. “My loan coordinator was like, all you need is three paragraphs.”

Understand supply chain

Especially for entrepreneurs, understanding the supply chain is vital, said Homer, whose company is in the sports health tech sector.

“I had to understand how my product would fit into the supply chain — it’s not just about having an idea.”

The supply chain is important to understand in cybersecurity as well, Chambers said.

“The SolarWinds breach brought a lot of light when it comes to supply chain, because you need to be able to trust the third party vendors that you associate with,” said the state security operations center manager. “Do not just take their word for whatever they’re saying. Have your own plan to assess them as well.”

Degrees and certifications are just part of what you need

In a competitive field like tech, qualifications will only get you so far, Gaines and Chambers agreed.

“Certification gets you to the game,” Gaines said. “Your ability sets you apart.”

“I have a masters degree and multiple certifications,” Chambers said. “It can set you apart, but it really just gets you through the human resources door.”

Chambers added that a lot of times it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, reinforcing the importance of networking-focused organizations like The Tech Council for underrepresented technologists.

 

Companies: Tech Council of Delaware / Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce / Hx Innovations / Elyte Energy / DETV / State of Delaware

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