Feeling Othered

I recently had the distinct pleasure of speaking with three aspiring software developers. They recently enrolled in a code school that helps facilitate their learning and prepare them for careers in the software field. They are sharp and strong critical thinkers. They are ambitious and eager to make a difference.

And, oh, by the way…they are Black.

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion around our office as it pertains to gender disparity in our industry. In fact, Doug, Kevin, and Meagan recently wrote some thought provoking blog posts on the subject. Through it all, though, I realized something. I realized that no one from 8th Light approached me about the broader topic of diversity nor did anyone ask what my experiences have been like as a Black male in our company or in the industry as a whole.

And, guess what? I'm REALLY glad about that.

Here's Why

While thinking about the topic of diversity in the software field, I took some time to reflect on my personal experiences since I began learning to code in 2011. As I looked back, I realized that, at every step of the way, I was mentored, encouraged, and embraced by talented developers—none of whom shared my same ethnic heritage. At no point was I made to feel like I didn't belong. I've had no negative experiences because of my race. In fact, the more I thought about it, I realized that my main concern was always over whether I was becoming proficient enough to work full-time as a developer. Quite frankly, I never gave any thought to whether or not I would fit in or be accepted on the basis of my skin color.

So, while preparing to write this blog post, I began to wonder if my thoughts and experiences were unique to me. I also found myself wondering if there were aspiring developers that were primarily concerned about their ability to succeed in this industry because of the color of their skin. Upon speaking with these new developers, it was refreshing to learn that they, too, were not concerned their race would be a limiting factor as they pursued careers as software developers. Furthermore, as they spoke, something important came to light. They remarked at how seldom they have felt othered—a feeling that occurs when someone makes it obvious that they recognize that you are physically different—and acts on that recognition in some form or fashion.

As I thought back over the time that I've spent in the software industry, I can honestly say that I can't think of a time that I have felt othered. That makes me happy. Ultimately, I don't want people to care about my contributions because I have a nice, shiny bald head—or any other physical trait for that matter. Instead, I want people to care about my contributions because I am a member of the team and, more importantly, because of excellent qualities and proficiencies that I demonstrate. Therefore, I am pleased to say that, in my experience, being treated this way has been the rule and not the exception.

And, all of that brings me to this conclusion:

If—or, perhaps when—the topic of diversity arises, it's important to keep in mind that those who are in the minority within your company or organization may potentially be bothered by attempts at inclusion. This can be the case because such attempts can often serve as a reminder that someone is constantly viewing them as though they are different. The most effective way to make people feel valued is by genuinely embracing them as a part of the team. Regardless of their physical make-up, every team member has their own needs and desires. Those needs and desires are discovered as bonds are formed and relationships are established. Then, when that truly happens, people won't feel othered. It's that simple. No diversity training needed.

Malcolm Newsome, Software Craftsman

Malcolm Newsome enjoys life and can frequently be found wearing NIU Huskies attire.

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