Melissa James is President and CEO of The Tech Connection, the premier marketplace for purpose-driven, diverse technical talent. Her mission is to help people reach their highest potential by accelerating their individual pathway to success.
On top of running her business, Melissa is the founder of the Black Tech Boston Meetup, a platform created to celebrate the impact of technology within African-American communities.
She recently received the U.S. Presidential Service Award and the 2015 Pursuer award from the African Youth Excellence organization for her relentless commitment to the community.
What made you decide to work in tech?
Funny story. My boyfriend at the time convinced me to take a job opportunity in tech. He helped me understand the learning opportunity and how cool the work would be. He showed me the value of creating projects from scratch and how much of an impact my work would have. I am really grateful to him for showing me the value. If it weren’t for him, I never would have taken my first job and I dont think I would have ever worked at Google.
What was the biggest obstacle you faced?
The biggest obstacle I faced when getting started was the fact that I was always younger than all of my peers. I love my job and work really hard at it. Often my peers were people that were 10 years my senior. It was difficult to navigate because many of them would see me as their younger sibling or just a kid. I felt like I always had to prove myself to gain their confidence. Eventually, I realized it takes time to earn their respect. I had to present myself as a resource and team player to help them understand my value. I focused on work and tried to help out any way I could on their projects to build trustworthy relationships.
What is your experience being a POC in Tech?
I always know when I am the only POC in the room. I actively seek out other POCs and try to befriend them so they don’t feel alone. We usually become networking partners at events and end up staying in contact with one another. I later created the Black Tech Boston meetup to help create a community for POC in tech. Our meetup is now 303 people in just seven months. This group has been a great source of inspiration and support. However, on the day-to-day, I often feel alone but also realize that I can use differences as a strength. For example, if there is a table of all men sometimes I might just sit with them to change it up. Usually, they respond well to it and are warm and welcoming.
What was your perception about the tech industry before entering it? What is your perception now?
My perception was that tech was only for engineers and for people that are geniuses. I assumed that you had to come from an Ivy League school to be a part of it. Now that I work in tech I realize that engineering principles are just a way of thinking. The people are really smart, detail-oriented and committed to action. They are people who love to get things done and make change happen. Most importantly, most of them have high emotional intelligence as they are creating solutions that are used by hundreds of people. So they are very socially aware of how people interact with their tools and use them.
What advice would you give to a young person who wanted to enter tech?
1. Participate in student groups!
2. Create something from scratch and get people to try it out!
3. Don’t be afraid of failure; every opportunity is a chance to learn.