My First Experience at AfroTech Went a Little Like This
Photo Credit: Getty Images for AfroTech

My First Experience at AfroTech Went a Little Like This

My first
time attending AfroTech was an amazing experience. I got to connect with so many people from all walks of life
(I even made some friends from Canada!). My goal for attending was really to expand my network and experience
an environment where I wasn’t the only Latino/Black in tech.

Day 1  JFK -> SFO 6 hours.

Real Intimate Setting; Jackie Bavaro on the right.

The first
event I attended was the Product Manager Chat with Jackie Bavaro, co-author of “Cracking the PM Interview” (FYI:
she has another book on the way called “Cracking the PM Career”) hosted by my now good friend, Olumide Longe. As someone interested in becoming a product manager, I thought it
should be a priority this weekend that I push my narrative and promote myself as someone in that space.

We traversed many topics from the road to PM to how to handle interviews, what makes a good PM, KPIs, etc. After
the session, I got to ask an extra question to Bavaro which was: “How do you
balance the relationship between engineers and leadership when leadership wants new features and engineers
want to do it right?”

She spoke
about getting all these stakeholders in the same room and coming to some common ground letting everyone
express themselves. You want to have everyone on the same page, especially on what the product development
culture is. I’ve yet to be in this situation, but have thought through the different scenarios that I might
come across as a PM.

Tariq Meyers, Cleve Mesidor, and CyberCode Twins (from left to right)

Later that
Thursday night, I attended Coinbase’s Afrotech After Hours event where their Global Head
of Belonging, Inclusion and Employee Experience, Tariq Meyers moderated a panel with the CyberCode Twins ? ? and Cleve Mesidor. It was a discussion of the past, present, and
future of finance, and its impact on the Black community. To quote Meyers, “Finance 1.0 has failed us.” He
spoke about the Black community embracing crypto as it has already made millionaires.

The CyberCode Twins
spoke about how they got into coding and competing across the globe at hackathons. Mesidor briefly spoke about
her startup, Logos, a social network on blockchain. The conversation was mainly on us getting involved in this
crypto revolution before we once again get left out.

I also got
to talk briefly with Jesse Pollak the Head of Engineering at Coinbase.
Our conversation with another techie in town for AfroTech revolved around Coinbase’s tech stack and
discussions over programming language preference/experience. Excuse my fuzzy memory, as there was an  “open
bar,” but their backend is Rails, and the mobile apps vary for Android and iOS. However, Pollak was an overall
great person to talk to.

My friend Miguel using Microsoft’s HoloLens

Day 2

I had to jump in the
line to get my badge, which took a bit to get into the conference at the Oakland Convention Center. Once I was
in, I got to check out Microsoft’s HoloLens Mixed Reality (MR) headset which is a
combination of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. The Engineers demoing the product mentioned that there
are many real-world use cases for the product. I ran through a series of instructions that walked me through
calibrating an air compressor. In the future, I can see someone in medical school teaching how to perform
surgery as another tool to get hands-on experience.

Later, I got
to see Charlamagne Tha God at the main event stage in a fireside chat titled
Building a Multifaceted Media Empire moderated by Devi Brown. He spoke about
his journey in media, how important AfroTech is, and why he made it a priority to come through.

“I don’t
ever have a problem with talking about my past behavior, especially since I’ve evolved. I’m no longer that
person,” Charlamagne Tha God said.

My takeaway
from his talk was to be yourself. Don’t try to be the person you admire, there’s already a him/her. This
advice was directed especially to those trying to produce content or get into media.

Charlamagne Tha God

The Microsoft Cruise

All invitees
were showed onto the Yacht on the coast of Oakland with food and an open bar (this conference had a lot of
open bars). The night began, a number of executives and senior employees addressed the cloud (crowd* lol). In
sum, they had an in sync message: they were there because they value diverse talent.

Executives
in the house included Jason Zander, Gayle Sheppard, Albert Greenberg, and Bharat
Shah
— spanning multiple departments, Azure, Cybersecurity, and human resources. Check out
Microsoft’s recap blog and video here. It was probably one of the best events that I
went to this weekend. My takeaway from this event was that Microsoft not only wants diverse talent, but they
want to empower us before even joining the company.

Day 3

I headed back to the
conference a bit later since I needed some extra rest. Back on the conference floor, I ran into my good friend
from Bank of America (Mardochee Macxis, VP Tech Lead). He and his team spoke to
me about why the Bank created “Erica,” which is their AI assistant for applications across the stack and their
recent app redesign. The main reasons were accessibility for users, whether it be on mobile or web. It’s
complicated to service the voice assistant to another vendor or company that has developed similar technology
(e.g. Alexa, Google Assistant) as it would have access to the user’s sensitive financial information.

Zaytoven showed up on the main stage to close out the conference. He showed us how he
creates a hit song in under ten minutes. He also brought out two new artists he’s developing, and they
performed. As we might say nowadays, it was “lit.” Then, we did one more swag surf to close off a great
weekend!

Solomon (left), Denise, Jewel, Eric (right)

Amazon BEN Event

To close out
my conference, I was invited to Amazon’s Black Employee Network (BEN) Lifting as we Climb event at the Oakland
Museum. They held a fireside chat with an array of their employees and a J.P. Morgan Executive. This is up
there as one of the top events I attended. The energy from all the BEN employees was top-notch as we came into
the museum, they were all lined up cheering, sharing good energy and greeting us.

The panel
included Denise Quashie, Jewel Burks Solomon, Eric Irving (J.P. Morgan), and
was moderated by Solomon Wilkins, an Oakland native and Amazon employee. They
all spoke about their stories, journeys as entrepreneurs and being Blacks in Tech. Quashie and Jewel actually
both had startups that were acquired (Jewel’s by Amazon).

Here are some notable quotes from the event:

“There’s
plenty of things folks can do to be a helping hand to a founder that doesn’t require capital.” — Jewel Burks
Solomon

She
recommended allowing founders to tap into your network or just sharing their content is a big help. The
intention is to see others win.

“Don’t let
your friends pick you, pick your friends.” — Denise Quashie

This went in
conjunction with making sure that you were not the smartest person in the room. There were a bunch of gems
being dropped by inspirational individuals. The event ended with yet another open bar and the option of
walking through the interesting art displayed at the Oakland Museum.

Day 4 SFO -> JFK 6 AM PST

Since we
left so early, we missed all of the Sunday events that happened (Twitter Brunch, Goldman Sachs, etc).

Afrotech 2020

To close, I
would like to leave you (potential AfroTech attendee) some words of advice. RSVP for everything, literally
everything you can. There was a GitHub that had all the links that you can find here for next year. Also, submit your resume in the resume book, even if you aren’t looking. Keep your network
game strong. This is how I got invited to many events like Microsoft’s “invite only” Cruise and Coinbase’s
panel discussion. Remember that events start as early as Tuesday during the week of the conference.

If you can
get your conference badge the day before the conference to avoid long lines, you should. There will be a lot
of swag, so just have some extra room in your luggage to take some things back. This year, Reddit (water
bottle) and Amazon (deck of cards) had the best swag, in my opinion.

Also, one
last quote from AfroTech from the wonderful Mandela SH Dixon:

“Success
is in the follow-through.”

Don’t let
all these new connections just sit, make sure to hit them up and actually connect! I hope you get to
experience this beautiful conference whether you’re a founder, engineer, or nontechnical, we all belong in
tech!

Feel free to follow me here on Medium and Twitter for more posts on Products, Tips, and
Sports.

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