How A Unique SXSW Experience Inspired Me To Take My Tech Career To New Heights

I, like most of my peers, have been noticing the lack of diversity in the work place, but especially in tech, for years. According to recent data, blacks and Latinos make up less than 5 percent of the tech workforce, and it's white men who mainly comprise the sector. In light of this data, programs like Opportunity Hub’s (OHUB) HBCU@SXSW aim to disrupt these statistics by offering students like me early exposure and recruitment opportunities in tech, entrepreneurship and investment. Here’s a look at my first experience at SXSW during the interactive week. 

The Golden Ticket

As a rising senior at Hampton University (the real H-U!), I’ve been on a mission to take advantage of all the opportunities I can that will help build my network and potentially lead to a “dream job” placement. I first learned about HBCU@SXSW during Spotify’s 20/20 Shift conference last year.  After a rigorous application process that required the submission of several essays, a “shark tank” pitch, recommendation letters, a resume and a video, I was one of 125 students selected from more than 2,000 applicants. This meant so much to me, particularly because I am a non-technical student majoring in strategic communications. I knew my application needed to stand out in order to compete. Plus, I’ve always wanted to attend SXSW and was excited to be going with all expenses paid through the program!  

The Line-Up

The HBCU@SXSW line-up was jam packed with seminars and representatives from tech companies like Mailchimp, Google, Twitter and Spotify.  There was so much to see and do, therefore, our mornings were early and nights were late (especially if you enjoy a good party like me).  

On day one of the conference, students were greeted at the OHUBHOUSE (Maggie Mae’s in the heart of Austin’s 6th Street) with lunch and corporate presentations by Comcast, Mailchimp, Microsoft and Twitter. Next, Janice Bryant Howroyd, the first black woman to own a billion-dollar company poured out all of her wisdom during a chat. We also attended a professional workshop from Pat Kirkland, and interactive panels from startups like Axes & Eggs, Project 99 and Capway, followed by a lively night breakfast hosted by Twitter.

During day two, students were up bright and early and headed back downtown to enjoy a presentation by LinkedIn on the importance of using the site to best increase their visibility to recruiters. Following the presentation, students and corporate representatives discussed the importance of mentorship and how to foster meaningful professional relationships. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to speak to recruiters from companies like Microsoft, Capital One, Mailchimp and LinkedIn, because it allowed me the ability to gain a better insight on how to converse with recruiters, what they’re looking for on applications and how to ensure that my resume stands out.

Day three kicked off with Kimetic Yoga, instructed by Yirsir Ra Hotep. Students later visited Capital One house where we were surprised by an inspirational Q&A with film director Spike Lee. After we headed back to OHUBHouse, Facebook and Oculus presented a live demonstration of their latest virtual reality game. Then Google, presented us with an inside look at their Google Cloud Platform, followed by a panel discussing being black in tech. Lastly, the night ended with the launch of the Ecosystem Wealth App Launch, hosted by Jay Z’s legendary DJ and producer, Young Guru.

By day four, students started returning home, however, many still had the opportunity to roam the SXSW conference in its entirety. We visited the Google House, YouTube House, Twitter house and Africa House. There was also a convention center filled with the latest technology from across the globe.

SX NO LIE

No lies here, SXSW was one of the best experiences of my college career! I’ve made so many connections, and I feel even more inspired to take my non-profit start up, as well as my social media digital marketing career, to the next level. We received invaluable information and access to industry leaders and top recruiters. I am most grateful for the opportunity to network with a cohort of students with similar ambitions — all destined to do great things!  

I think it’s important that we recognize that we each have an opportunity to improve the wealth disparities in the black community — whether it’s by starting our own businesses or getting involved in tech (because it’s clearly not going anywhere) — and then paying it forward by creating access and opportunities for others. I’m grateful for the work OHUB is doing to change the landscape, or as OHUB CEO Rodney Sampson says, the “ecosystem,” to provide this type of access to students like me through programs like HBCU@SXSW.  We are qualified and coming to rewrite the statistics!