Last month at X, we hosted a series of talks and events to celebrate Black History Month and the many overlooked African-Americans whose breakthrough discoveries and inventions have improved society and changed the way we live. From Katherine Johnson, who helped NASA adopt computers, to Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel into space, to George Alcorn, a pioneer in plasma semiconductor devices, these trailblazers have shown what’s possible in the face of incredible odds.
As part of our Black History Month celebrations, we hosted a recruiting event with HBCU Connect
As we’ve been looking back and learning our history, I’ve been reflecting on my own career journey and how, in the face of systemic inequality, I’ve cultivated skills and attitudes that have given me real advantages. I grew up in Marion, North Carolina and earned my undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Growing up, I never imagined that my career would lead me to Google and then X — but I found a field that I loved, and at every step of the way I focused on working hard, growing, and learning.
Everyone in their career faces challenges, but all too often these challenges are greater for people of color. In the face of these I’ve consistently chosen to work hard — and I don’t mean excessive hours, just genuinely aligning my principles and constantly learning more — and to say yes to opportunities that many others weren’t willing to say yes to.
For instance, early on in my career I was asked to move to Austria for a year or two to be trained in a new robotics field and then bring that expertise back to our US office. It baffled me when the recruiter said how hard it was to find somebody willing to relocate for more than a couple of months to work in an unfamiliar environment with colleagues who spoke another language. Being different from everybody else there didn’t bother me — frankly, it wasn’t a new experience. Instead, I saw it as a strength.
Rather than focusing on the difficulties, I dove into the adventure. I showed up and stood out. I focused on becoming an expert in the new field, learning conversational German, and traveling throughout Europe. Not only did the skills and insights I developed during this time propel me within that company, they would open up doors in the future too.
I share this example to highlight how being different and having a unique perspective can be a real advantage to thrive. It’s a sentiment captured by civil rights luminary Maya Angelou; “my mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
This mission to thrive is one we’re working to build upon at X, and it was in this spirit we hosted a range of events to celebrate Black History Month. These included a recruitment reception with HBCU Connect who we’re working with to increase representation of people of color at X, a fireside chat on diversity and courage with Oona King, and a lecture on the legacy of black contributions to electronic music with Russell Butler.
Oona King, Director of Diversity Strategy at Alphabet, on the importance of diversity in tech
But as a new month begins, are we supposed to return to our regularly scheduled programs? Wait until the next Black History Month eleven months away to celebrate, champion, and support the contributions of people of color? No, a one-month celebration isn’t enough. We need to continually ensure that the pathways to success aren’t narrower for people of color.
At X we’re trying to solve problems that impact millions of people. To do that successfully we need people from diverse backgrounds with diverse perspectives and experiences. I hope people of color at any stage in their careers see a home for themselves here at X, because moonshots need to come from everyone, everywhere. Only in this way can we build a future where everyone can thrive.