Tech While Black

Chicago Black Tech Ecosystem Impact Report

snapshot: Discussing code at community Open Hack

I really don’t think life is about the I-could-have-beens. Life is only about the I-tried-to-do. I don’t mind the failure but I can’t imagine that I’d forgive myself if I didn’t try.

Nikki Giovanni

A message from Dominic M. Liddell, founder and Program Director

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When I started out on this journey in 2014, I didn't have a real plan of action, just a hypothesis that cultivating community for blacks in technology would be more impactful than questioning why Google, Apple, Facebook, etc. weren't hiring blacks in technology. I felt that this focus was ignoring the real and tangible issues that we could all work on to not just improve diversity at the top tier of tech, but throughout the industry.

I focused on blacks in technology because I felt and still feel that its important to spend time dispelling the message tech was unwelcoming to our community. My own personal experience had taught me that it was possible to leverage tech to not just get a job and build someone else's dream, but to also bring wealth and ownership back into the black community.



My work with Tech While Black has changed me as a person. Its helped me to grow and challenge myself in ways that I never could have imagined. I've been fortunate to meet so many talented, skilled black people who are dedicated to reaching back to help others have the same opportunities to succeed. Everyone that I have met or interacted with has left their mark on me and the Tech While Black community.

There has been a wealth of successes and failures throughout this journey. There have been times that I've felt like giving up and it seems that every time, I get an email out of the blue from someone who wants to let me know that they are being inspired by Tech While Black and asking me to keep it up. I don't know if I change the tone of my messaging during these times or if its just the universe knowing I need the pick me up, but its the people in our community that have kept me going.

As we finished out 2016 and headed into 2017, I found myself in a state that was unreachable to the usual encouragement. After three years, I was mentally and emotionally worn down from the constant in-drama, gatekeeping, imitation, funding struggles, searching for program space, etc. I was jaded and could no longer talk about the Chicago black tech ecosytem in a positive manner during private conversations. In short, I was burnt out in a major way.

I took a break and walked away from it slightly, leaving unanswered emails and incomplete tasks behind. Publicly, I tried to put on a brave face by saying I was taking a hiatus, but privately I stated that I might have finally reached my endpoint. After a month of working on other projects that have been on the backburner and making progress on personal matters, I started having daily thoughts that it was time to end Tech While Black for good. I decided to put together this page as a sort of end-of-life impact review.

I saved this letter for last because I knew that the process of completing this page would make the final decision for me on whether I would get back to work, extend my hiatus, or end the project completely. I invite you now to review this comprehensive report on the Tech While Black journey, our impact on the Chicago black tech ecosystem and learn about the decisions I made regarding the future of Tech While Black.

Story + Mission

snapshot: Hanging out at M Lounge

Have a vision. Be demanding.

Colin Powell

Why We Tech While Black

Type "diversity in tech" or "blacks in technology" into Google and you'll be presented with a wealth of articles, essays, studies, and other materials that focus on the lack of diversity in technology.

Dominic M. Liddell believed that the existing conversations focused too much on the lack of diversity and set out to change the conversation. Dominic thought that the real problem was a lack of visibility by those actively working and doing business in technology. Dominic felt that this lack of visibility and the current conversation about diversity served as deterrants. Dominic founded Tech While Black (as Coding While Black) with the goals of highlighting black tech achievement in technology.

Very early in the quest to highlight local achievement, Dominic identified other factors that he thought could also be deterrants. At this point, he developed a hypothesis that, while there were some very real barriers to entry, it was a lack of participation, representation, and collaboration by those who had overcome those barriers that led to the false perception that there is a lack of blacks succeeding and leading in technology. It was this hypothesis that sparked our journey and that has influenced our programming every step of the way.



In our launch year, 2014, Dominic tested the waters with a few events and meetups. It wasn't until 2015 that the full experiment went into effect. We hosted three main types of events: open codes, networking events, and trainings. During this time we bounced around the city without a dedicated space and enjoyed the generosity of those who hosted our activities. Our funding came primarily from Dominic's personal investment and revenue from our events.

In early 2016, We ended the first experiement and began to implement the next phase. We moved into 1871 and hosted the bulk of our events there. Our funding became a mix of individual contributions, corporate donations, and revenue from our events. This year, a few important decisions were made. After a false start with our training program due to Dominic being unhappy with the quality of the program, Dominic decided to drop the experimental nature of program delivery and focus on outlining and implementing strategic goals.

At this point we implemented a name change and focused on more fundraising events to support our curriculum and development activities. In addition, revenue from events held during this time were used to build up a scholarship and startup grant fund. Behind the scenes, we connected members with career referrals, spread awareness through speaking engagments, and worked on building up partnerships when we weren't developing programming.

Our mission:

Increase black tech representation through workforce development, professional development and entrepreneur support while encouraging participation and collaboration.

Audience + Community

snapshot: Demo night at Jellyvision

My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”

Desmond Tutu

Diversity Means Practicing What We Preach

Tech While Black has always been committed to diversity. Not just in the tech ecosytem at-large, but also in our own ecosystem. We have cultivated a safe, welcoming, inclusive community that is as diverse as the people in it. Its not easy developing and marketing programs to such a diverse audience, but we believe its worth the challenges and pitfalls.




Common Skills & Interests (in no particular order)

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • Javascript
  • Ruby on Rails
  • Python
  • React
  • Angular
  • Data Science
  • Marketing
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Sales
  • Business Development
  • Graphic Design
  • Android
  • iOS
  • Product Development
  • UI/UX
  • Wealth
  • Finance
  • Black Culture
  • Women in Tech
  • Blacks in Technology

Common Job Titles & Roles (in no particular order)

Graphic Designer
Frontend Developer
Software Engineer
Business Development
Digital Marketing
Social Media Manager
Web Designer
Sales
Content writing
Entrepreneur/Founder/CEO

Program Focus

snapshot: Demo Night at Dev Bootcamp Chicago

Community Building

snapshot: Networking at 1871

I think education is power. I think that being able to communicate with people is power. One of my main goals on the planet is to encourage people to empower themselves.

Oprah Winfrey

Community-building events and activities were our platform for local impact. We built community through educational, social, and other engaging activities. Our activities brought together individuals from all over Chicago and its suburbs.


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Learning New Skills

snapshot: Learning about Github and GitHub integrations

If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.

Barack Obama

Did We Make an Impact?

As the first Chicago organization to focus specifically on black tech community, Tech While Black kicked off a movement that would set the stage for a local revolution of empowerment. Even if that was all we did it would be enough, but our impact shows in our metrics. We didn't achieve every goal, every time, but we've delivered on free and affordable classes, scholarships, career referrals, and spotlights that have helped personal and business brands take off. Oh yeah, we also hooked our community up with lots of freebies, swag, and conference tickets.


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Bridging Communities

snapshot: Networking at WeWork

It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.

Audre Lorde

Tech While Black programming has always aimed to address the intersectionality that exists within our community by building bridges that empower our members to celebrate their whole-being. Numerous partnerships with local organizations resulted in safe-welcoming spaces that drew diverse audiences for inclusive experiences. Other partnerships involved partnering for activities such as panels, speaking, and other awareness building.


A few representative communities:

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Women in Tech

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LGBT

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Youth

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Bootcamp

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College Students

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Veterans

Partnering for Impact

snapshot: Networking at 1871

Do not bring people in your life who weigh you down. And trust your instincts … good relationships feel good. They feel right. It’s with the people you surround yourselves with.

Michelle Obama

Thanks to all of the following for partnering with us to organize, host, and promote our programming activities. We appreciate your commitment to collaboration and supporting our shared mission and goals of diversity in technology.


  • Ms. Tech
  • Women Who Code
  • TransTech
  • Black Star Project
  • 1871
  • Github CoderConf
  • Techweek
  • Queer Tech Club
  • Polymathic
  • Clique Studios
  • Classkick
  • ABI.Chicago
  • Five to Nine
  • WeWork Chicago
  • DevOps Chicago
  • Sage Conference
  • StartOut
  • i.c. Stars
  • Queen's Brunch
  • City of Chicago Mayor's Office
  • Braintree
  • Jellyvision
  • Chicago Coder Conference
  • Enova
  • Startup Institute Chicago

Community Support

snapshot: Community Open Hack

As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent.

Martin Luther King, Jr

First & Biggest Supporter


A special thank you to Github for being our first and most frequent major supporter.

First Local Supporter


Thanks to Crain's Chicago Business for being a Founding Media Sponsor.

Longest Supporter


Thanks to 1871 for supporting us with office space, event venue, and much, much more!

Corporate

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individual

  • Jason V. Holmes
  • Fredric Mitchell
  • Sandee Kastrul
  • Ronnie Frost
  • De'Von Favors
  • Langston Hill
  • Jeffery Beckham
  • Connie P. Herring
  • Jeff Davis III
  • Eliot Rosendield
  • Adam L. Stanley
  • Hollie Wegman
  • Torrence Gardner
  • Briana Smith
  • Ciara McGuire
  • David Stanford
  • Steve Tuckner
  • Marcus Turnbo
  • Seth Pitts

In-Kind

  • 1871
  • WeWork
  • TransTech
  • Polymathic
  • Dev Boot Camp
  • Breaking Voices

Notable Mentions

  • Kimchi Socks
  • De'Von Favors
  • Jeffrey Beckham
  • Jessica Williams
  • Ablorde Ashigbi
  • Samara Mejia-Hernade
  • Shayna Atkins
  • Amanda Spann
  • Nigel Dumont
  • Danta Williams

Thanks to all who volunteered and participated in this journey. We couldn't have done it without you!

What's Next?

We are working on launching our first neighborhood tech hub, 10fwd. Tech While Black will be one of several tenants at 10fwd where we will produce our online content and continue to develop our platform. 10fwd will continue our tradition of workforce development, professional development, and entrepreneur support.

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

Barack Obama

How You Can Help

Thank You for your support!!!