October 30, 2015

Episode 15 – Antonia Anni

Designer & Engineer

tonianni.com platformsforwomen.com

What made you decide to work in tech?

I grew up with knowledge about the digital world through gaming. We got our first console, an Atari, when I was 4 years old. I’ve written more details about my journey here. While I always had the heart for storytelling and design, it was my father who prompted me to study what would end up being an engineering degree. I had no idea there was a specific tech industry, I just followed my passions.

What was the biggest obstacle you faced?

In recent times, the main obstacle I’ve faced is ignorance. Ignorance about how the world works in countries where POC are minority, ignorance of how the workplace works. I overcome this (a daily struggle) by seeking knowledge, connecting with mentors, learning from people who have been there and done that.

What is your experience being a POC in Tech?

 I was born, grew up and lived in Nigeria for 23 years of my life. I lived in ignorance of what it means to be a POC until 2012, after 3 years of living in the UK. Things happened which I could not ignore anymore; I’ve written a bit about my experience here. Though I still do not see being black as a primary identity, I understand that it’s the way the world works here. The three-fold combination of being black, a woman and Nigerian/African means that most people in tech do not know what to do with me. There’s been a huge pressure to socialize in ways that are alien to my three-foldness; it’s never been enough to just do great work. The main takeaway for me has been that there is a dire need to educate POC about their options and opportunities in the digital/tech world. It is very important to build platforms that we own. In London alone, the (BAME) Black, Asian and minority ethnic community is at least 40% but in tech our representation is below 10%–appalling. There’s so much work to be done and I encourage POC in the UK: let’s do this together, let’s connect. 

What was your perception about the tech industry before entering it? What is your perception now?

In following my passions, I just wanted to design wherever I find myself. Given I wasn’t aware of a ‘tech Bcovrindustry’, I didn’t have any perception about it in particular. My perception about the workplace was that people would be mature enough to just do their work, that it was at least 80%  meritocratic, but that has changed. The tech workplace is highly political; it is certainly easiest for a white male to learn the game and play it well but I think POC women need  to be proactive and willing to fight internally so that others coming after can  have it  better. Again, huge need for POC to own platforms, to be the creators, the  investors and  decision makers. 

One thing I’m doing is building a digital publishing platform to give POC a platform  for  their voices to heard. The first book published is about Nigerian hair. I designed  and illustrated it. Check it out! 

What advice would you give to a young person who wanted to enter tech?

1. Seriously, be open to options before you. Try new things.

2.  Proactively seek knowledge and skill but follow what gives you joy.

3. Surround yourself with people who are where you want to go or are going there. Peers and mentors.

4. Don’t think you have to wake up with an epiphany on your true calling; whatever you find yourself doing, do it well.

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Ruth Mesfun

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