Nkem Nwankwo, Product Manager

What made you decide to work in tech?

I’ve been interested in technology for almost as long as I can remember. I used to go to my dad’s office and play snake on his computer. At this time, I kept wondering how you go from circuits to what I saw on the screen. Fast forward to middle school when I found out what an engineer was and that there was a type that specialized in computers. I knew then what I wanted to do.

What was an obstacle you faced and how did you overcome that obstacle?

Georgia Tech. To this day, finishing at Tech while working multiple jobs was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. There were a few individual challenges hidden in this large one. The first was that computer engineering wasn’t an easy path. I had about 5 – 6 friends who were in my major, but I was the only one that stayed. Secondly, there’s a serious gut check going from breezing past high school to having to put in hours of work for every class. Finally, it’s honestly tough being the only black guy in class. Everyone forms their own study groups and cliques. That’s how they survived. Students hung out with people similar to them, so you had to put in extra work to break those circles.

At the end of the day, the way to overcome this was just to get it done. Time management was key. It was here that I realized that 24 hours a day was actually a long time. I needed to take advantage of it. In addition, I had to step outside of my comfort zone to force my way into the other kids’ study groups. I had to let them know that I belonged there too.

What is your experience being a POC in Tech?

So far in my career, I think my experience in tech as a person of color is similar to any of a professional person of color. The higher I go, the less of me I see. I’ve been living this since my freshman year in college so none of it really phases me to be honest. I have the privilege of being male, so there are many things I can relate to with my coworkers. Right now, I’m just trying to do my job while planning for future moves.

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

Well, tech is all I know. I’d have to go back to before my first internship, when I was 18. At the end of the day, here’s what I’ll say from a tech non-venture capital standpoint: all your management cares about is your ability to get the job done in whatever way it takes. Do work. Now, actually getting funding as a POC founder–that’s a whole different story in itself.

What are three tips you can give to high school/college students who want to enter tech? 

·         Be patient. Software development takes time and dedication to become proficient. Try not to get too frustrated at the challenges you’ll face along the way. It’s all a learning experience.

·         Go visit a company. Businesses love talking about themselves. Go take a tour, see what they do on a day to day basis, and find out what it takes to make it.

·         Be intensely curious. You’re not going to know it all out of the gate. Actually you’ll probably never know it all. Always be ready to take a lesson. Ask a lot of dumb questions. Everything you see started from a thought from someone not too different from yourself. They had to learn it from somewhere too.

 


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Michael Berhane, Founder of POCIT
Ruth Mesfun

Co-Founder and Blogger for POCiT. She is also piloting the first Computer Science curriculum as a teacher at Excellence Girls Middle Academy in Crown Heights. She was selected for the CS Educator Fellowship at the Flatiron School and is also a member of Teach For America-New York's Ambassadors Program.

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