Relics of Color: How New Relic is Offering Visibility To People Of Color In Tech
Photo Credit: AfroTech

Relics of Color: How New Relic is Offering Visibility To People Of Color In Tech

New Relic Employees discuss their paths to the tech industry and why diversity in tech is so powerful

New Relic is a company that is deeply committed to constant innovation and attributes much of their success to the power of their employees. As a global, growing company, they’re helping some of the world’s leading companies (including more than 50% of the Fortune 100) get the real-time insights that they need to innovate faster. And building out teams of diverse, driven employees that find passion and foster innovation in their work is central to the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) program at New Relic .

New Relic has been committed to building a company culture that reinforces their core values since its founding days. Authenticity, passion and boldness are three of these values, and they stand as the pillar of many of the DE&I initiatives to date.

We spoke with Mikey Butler, New Relic’s senior vice president of engineering, and Jené Scott, a software engineer, about what brought them to the company, their own individual paths through the industry, and the ways they’ve been a part of the diversity and inclusion journey at New Relic.

An Industry Vet Finds A Home At New Relic

Mikey Butler joined the tech industry “before it was cool” — computers were novel, software was foreign, and a career in this field certainly wasn’t a guaranteed success. He began his career in 1977 as an individual contributor, and for 20 years he worked for companies including Bank of America (where he was involved with the first ATM network) and Sun Microsystems. But it was his role at Sybase that began his journey into management, a role that eventually led him to New Relic and his involvement in Diversity and Inclusion programs in the industry.

If it weren’t for a series of discovery (mis)steps though, the tech industry may never have welcomed him. Butler originally planned to become a doctor. In high school, he received an AMA scholarship to any school he wanted to study medicine (he chose Harvard). However, the on-ramp program for minority pre-med students he was enrolled in taught him that medicine just wasn’t for him. Sick people weren’t his forte, and that was going to be a problem if he wanted to be a doctor. He then thought he could pursue the research part of medicine, but it turns out that wasn’t satisfying for him either. It was then that he turned to a passion he’d had since he was younger — computers.

“What I realized was we were going into the age of information,” Butler says. He saw that computers were a tool to create programming, and they were not limited by anything but your imagination. The nature of computers being a meta-machine was fascinating to him, so he told his mom during his sophomore year that he wasn’t going to continue down the medical path (and she cried).

“There was nothing that looked more promising than an Ivy League educated doctor,” he says, “She thought I was throwing my life away.”

From the moment Butler sat down in front of a computer, he knew he’d discovered his destiny. There were no offsite courses when he began, so he was in charge of his own success. He cracked open a book, went to a data processing center, ran programs and debugged them — figuring it all out as he went along, a trend he’d discover again as his career in technology evolved. At the time, a future in computers couldn’t financially compare to medicine, but he loved it so much that he would have done it for free if he had to.

“My motivation was my mother,” he says. She always sacrificed and fought for Mikey to have opportunities, and that served as his motivation throughout his career, even if it meant paving his own way in an unknown field to pursue something he was passionate about.

In 1992, before his mother passed, Butler was able to take his mom up to the home that overlooked the Bay area that he and his wife had bought. When she arrived and realized it was their house, she cried again, this time because she realized that her fears about him throwing his life away were unfounded.

For Mikey, growing a career in tech as a person of color presented similar challenges to those that people of color face in every aspect of their lives. Because of this, he saw a huge opportunity to make a difference in the representation of minorities within the industry.

“In every position I was in, there was no one else that looked like me,” he says. “What broke through as a revelation was that maybe God and the universe had chosen me to be the trailblazer.”

If Mikey wanted to work alongside other people of color in the tech industry, he knew that he’d have to take an active role in changing the status quo of hiring. He accepted his role as trailblazer, and got to work.

As SVP of Engineering at New Relic, Mikey has been integral the planning of diversity, equity and inclusion programs, sitting as one of the members on the company’s Diversity Council. He’s mentored young people beginning their journey in tech, acted as a spokesperson for people of color (both at New Relic and in the industry more broadly), connected the company with organizations like Code2040, and welcomes any opportunity to tell his story. He does all of this with the intention of helping people in underrepresented minority groups gain the resources they need to be successful in an industry full of people that don’t always look the same as them.

“The honor now is that 40 years later there are folks showing up in the entry level roles in my company and other companies and now I’m not the only person of color here,” he says. “My hope is that, by the time my career comes to an end, there will be enough resources for people of color that they can show up with the right skills and succeed, without having to overcome the same hurdles I did. I’m going to figure out the landscape to see what kind of contribution I can make to open as many doors as possible to African-Americans who want to get into tech.”

Because of companies like New Relic that are dedicated to supporting the careers of people of color in tech, there are programs that help people of color succeed. There are also friendly, familiar faces that can support other people of color as they join the team and the industry as a whole.

“I’m grateful that our CEO chose to create company values that I can easily get behind,” Butler says. “Be bold, accountable, passionate, authentic and connected. We should all be doing these things in our lives anyway”

A Non Traditional Path To Engineering

Although Jené Scott says that being an engineer feels like her dream job, she began her journey to engineering while studying political science and philosophy in undergrad. She started learning html and CSS in her spare time while developing her own music and art blog. Although she was able to monetize this new skill, she never really considered it could evolve into a fruitful career.

Her uncle was an engineer at IBM and this allowed her to gain access and exposure to computers and software, but she lacked the direction needed to build on her interests.

As her skills grew, friends and coworkers began to ask her to build websites for them. This eventually led to her doing contract UX and QA work in addition to working as a support engineer and web designer without any official training.

Even at this point in her career,  she still didn’t realize that this could be a full-time opportunity.

“Looking back, when I was in college and had interest in computer science and web development, the discipline wasn’t being marketed to my demographic,” Scott says, “Although I love philosophy and political science, I can’t help but think about how my life might be different if this was available to me earlier.”

Scott eventually attended Hackbright Academy, an engineering school for women, where she completed a software engineering fellowship.

She notes that even working in the industry as a bootcamp graduate instead of a computer science graduate sets her back to some degree.

“I see it changing in the world now, but that’s still something I’m working to overcome,” she says.

Scott learned about New Relic through Hackbright and has been building on her experience ever since. Now, as a software engineer, her days are spent working on challenges and knocking out tasks with her team. She enjoys her coworkers  and feels supported in her work.

“In contrast to other professional experiences, New Relic is very committed to making the industry inclusive even beyond the organization itself,” Scott says, “New Relics executive leadership team is really committed to making positive changes. ”

The Best Way To Break Into Tech As A Person Of Color

Although everyone’s path is different in the industry and in life itself, there are some key pieces of advice that Butler and Scott recommend for coming up in the tech industry and remaining true to who you are.

“The most important thing is to take your time,” Scott says. “I struggled with that. It takes time to be successful and, more so, to feel successful. I’m still learning a lot and I still have a long way to go. It takes time and practice.”

Having a support system in your industry can be a lifeline for when things get tough.

“The other thing that’s very important is that you can’t underestimate the importance of having a mentor and having people around you who know your background and support you,” Scott says, “And that goes for any career.

Butler notes that to be successful in the industry you need three key drivers— curiosity, creativity and passion.

“There are no formulas here,” he says. “This is about the act of creating. Curiosity is the precursor to creativity. Tech is evolving faster than any other industry, so the people who do well are the ones who bring more curiosity, passion and creative answers to challenges.”

As an executive, Butler spends a good amount of time interviewing people who want to work for him. He always asks whether this is a job or a passion. Right now, tech is a hot industry and people are joining because they can make money. But when he joined the industry it wasn’t about the money, he’s looking for people to be in it for the same reasons, because they love this work and can’t imagine doing anything else.

The advice he gives is to close your eyes and think about what you’re passionate about — if money wasn’t a factor, what would you want to do? The technology space is broad, so there’s almost always an intersection between what you’re passionate about and technology.

“Every business is a digital business at this point,” he says. “So take a deep look at the things you care about. Is it medicine? Philanthropy? Figure that part out first. Think about what lights you up. The answer to that question might not make you rich immediately, but you’ll know what you want to do.”

He advises people to take advantage of the powerful tools at their fingertips when it comes to pursuing your passions.

“On the other side of that keyboard is the life you dream of, you only have to choose to walk through the door,” says Butler.

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Interested in working with Jene and Mikey? New Relic is hiring. For more information go to https://newrelic.com/about/careers