Makinde Adeagbo is Tackling Tech's Diversity Problem
Non-profit organization /dev/color provides mentorship and support for Black software engineers.
Despite many tech giants often being quick to tout their inclusive hiring practices, the tech industry has a well-documented diversity problem. Black engineers such as Makinde Adeagbo make up the most under-represented group in the Silicon Valley workforce, holding only three percent of tech jobs. After graduating from MIT and working as an engineer at Facebook, Adeagbo felt isolated in the industry and was determined to initiate change.
In 2015, Adeagbo, by then an engineering manager at Pinterest, founded /dev/color, a non-profit organization in San Francisco and New York dedicated to connecting Black engineers and providing them with access to mentorship, networking and other career-building resources. Among its ranks are engineers from Uber, Google, Airbnb and many other big-name tech companies.
Adeagbo has now taken on the full-time role of /dev/color CEO, and below he shares how the organization has grown since its inception—and how he hopes its work will help to shape a more inclusive future in the tech industry.
MSF Hub: How has the organization evolved since you first got started?
Adeagbo: We joke internally that /dev/color runs like a software company, so we treat our program like an app and constantly deliver updates. When we started the organization, it was about one-on-one mentoring. After six months, we realized that wasn’t as successful as we had hoped because it was hard to make effective mentor-mentee matches within a small set of people.
That’s when we made the switch to the squad structure we use now. A squad is a group of about eight Black software engineers that new members are placed into. That squad is their support group for the year. The group meets every month to help ensure that new members make progress toward their annual goals.
MSF Hub: How are the meetings run, and what topics do squads tackle?
Adeagbo: At our January kick-off event, we hosted more than 200 new members between our New York and San Francisco chapters who gathered to meet their squads, set goals for the year and get to know each other.
From there, the squads meet on their own each month. The discussions are confidential, so participants can have open conversations. People face a range of professional challenges, and many of them are not related to writing code. “I want a promotion but am struggling to get into alignment with my manager,” or "I’m a first-time tech lead on my team and am struggling to create consensus on the team."
MSF Hub: How does /dev/color empower members?
Adeagbo: We’re trying to drive cultural shift. Once you get to a certain point in your career, your network is what propels you forward, and it’s something that has historically held Black software engineers back.
/dev/color is changing that. We want a strong network to be the reason that Black software engineers get promoted faster, and the reason that Black software engineers start companies at a higher rate than everyone else. It’ll take time to change, but we believe that if we build this network, we will change people’s perspectives.
MSF Hub: Have perspectives changed? Are you noticing any improvements?
Adeagbo: Less so on the company side, and more so with regard to how Black software engineers approach the [tech] community. Black engineers used to say “I don’t need any diversity efforts. I don’t want to be associated with those.” Now, they’re increasingly saying, “There is something here for me. I can be part of this movement. I can get help, and I can help other people.”
With time, we’ll see more under-represented engineers in Silicon Valley, and across the country, come together to create change.
MSF Hub: What’s next for /dev/color? Where do you see the organization heading?
Adeagbo: We want to be an organization that transforms someone’s career over a period of one to three years. We want to transform how people set goals, the way they seek help and the way they get support. A lot of organizations want to grow, grow, grow and aren’t worried about impact. We’re focused on making sure that we work with an awesome set of engineers and are fundamentally changing the courses of their careers.