For our Season 23 Finale, Saron talks to Pariss Chandler, Software Engineer turned Founder & CEO of Black Tech Pipeline. You may have heard of her before, as she was the mobilizer behind the hashtag, movement, and community #BlackTechTwitter. Pariss talks about getting into tech, being in tech at ad agencies and a beauty company, and how life changed after just one tweet. Pariss also talks about Black Tech Pipeline, the company Pariss started after seeing a lack of Black programmers in tech and wanting to change that.
[00:00:05] SY: Welcome to the CodeNewbie Podcast where we talk to people on their coding journey in hopes of helping you on yours. I’m your host, Saron, and today we’re talking to Pariss Chandler, Creator of Black Tech Twitter, and Founder and CEO of Black Tech Pipeline.
[00:00:19] PC: My career pretty much took off, so my professional network just grew. I gained clients that way. I was able to build a Black Tech Pipeline. I then had these community members. I had different organizations wanting to speak to me or have me speak at their events. It was just like a strange dream-come-true type of thing, but in a way of like this is not where I expected my life to be, but I’m just going to go with it.
[00:00:42] SY: Pariss talks about getting into tech and being a software engineer at an ad agency and a beauty company after this.
[00:00:56] SY: Thank you so much for being here.
[00:00:57] PC: Thank you for having me.
[00:00:59] SY: So let’s start from the beginning. Tell us about your very first job. Was it in tech?
[00:01:04] PC: No. I guess my first real job that I would consider was when I was a wax specialist at European Wax Center.
[00:01:12] SY: Is that like eyebrow?
[00:01:13] PC: It’s full body, so head to toe.
[00:01:14] SY: Oh, wow!
[00:01:16] PC: Yeah.
[00:01:16] SY: Hardcore. Nice. So what inspired you to go from that to tech? It feels very disconnected. Very different.
[00:01:24] PC: I mean, it was. So really, it was the whole “you’re going to be replaced by machines” thing that got me.
[00:01:30] SY: Really?
[00:01:32] PC: Yeah.
[00:01:33] SY: Because I feel like we say that about every career, but you really felt it in yours.
[00:01:36] PC: Yeah. First of all, let me say I was not familiar with like the tech industry at all when I was a wax specialist. I didn’t really know what coding was or anything like that, but I was losing clientele to laser hair removal, which is a permanent form of getting rid of body hair. And so as I continued losing clients, I was like, “You know, it’d be interesting if literally all of my clients got laser hair removal because then they wouldn’t need to ever come back to me and then I would be out of a job and I don’t even know where the wax industry would be after that.” And although I think that’s pretty dramatic and it’s not going to go anywhere for a while, it really is a possibility. It’s something that’s on the table. And so that’s when I realized like, “Oh! So I’m one of those people in those groups that is being impacted by technology and getting replaced by machines.” And so it was sort of like, “If you can’t beat them, then join them.” [00:02:31] SY: What’s so interesting about that is when I think about being replaced by a machine I imagined a robo waxer, like I was imagining like a robot that wax for you.
[00:02:42] PC: Like Terminator.
[00:02:43] SY: Yeah, basically, which I mean, I don’t know if I really want that. But what you’re talking about is technology creating an entirely new way to solve the problem of unwanted hair and replacing not just the person but the process too.
[00:02:58] PC: Exactly. Yeah. And it’s permanent. In the long run, it’s cheaper.
[00:03:03] SY: Very interesting. So how did you learn about code specifically and the code industry from a career perspective?
[00:03:10] PC: So I had a client come in. I guess she was a software engineer. And when she would come get waxed by me, she would tell me like, “Hey, you should really get into coding. It’s just so easy and you’ll make such good money.” And for me, in my head, I’m like, “Yeah, sure, I’ll check it out.” I knew I never was going to because I wasn’t actually interested in it and I didn’t feel like I’m one of those people who does good with sitting at a desk from nine to five behind a computer. I’m very much one of those people who wants to move around and do what I was doing at that point in time. But then what really pushed me into coding specifically was I learned that my little brother was learning to code in school. It was part of his curriculum, and he was really young. And so I asked his principal about it. I was like, “Why are kids learning to code? I feel like this is something like, I don’t know, maybe college students would be doing.” And he was like, “Well, no, things are changing. We live in this technological era. And if you don’t have a technological skillset, you’re going to be left behind.” And that made me think about the whole waxing thing, like I’m being replaced by a machine literally with laser hair removal. And I was like, “Okay, maybe I should learn to code.” And the reason why I chose coding specifically was because that was all I knew. That was all I kept hearing about. Had I known that there were so many other fields that I could have entered, I probably would’ve chose something different.
[00:04:33] SY: Yeah. Very interesting. So when you first exposed yourself to it, what was your initial reaction coming from the world of wax? What was the world of code like for you?
[00:05:12] SY: So you went out, did your own research on code and tech, and how did you know where to start? I feel like there’s just so much information out there today than there ever was about learning how to code. How did you know where to begin?
[00:05:24] PC: So I actually asked someone. I asked my previous college counselor. I have my associate’s degree in communications. And so I asked. I was like, “Hey, do we have like some sort of coding program?” And she said, “No, but I do know of a coding bootcamp called Resilient Coders.” And I didn’t know what a bootcamp was. I just knew she said that there’s a program that offers coding and I went and looked it up myself just to see what it was about. And I learned that Resilient Coders was having a hackathon like that upcoming weekend. The timing was just perfect, honestly. And I didn’t know what a hackathon was, but I was like, “Oh!” Like I knew that was the chance to like learn about the program. So I went. And that’s where I learned like exactly what front-end web development is, why coding is so important, the sort of problems that you can solve with coding. So yeah.
[00:06:15] SY: Very, very nice. Okay. So how did you ultimately decide what path you wanted to take? How did you decide front-end web development, this is the path for me?
[00:06:25] PC: So I didn’t really. That’s all I knew that existed. I kind of didn’t bother looking more into the industry. I was like coding, like that’s all I keep hearing is coding. So I’m just going to do that, I guess. And when I went to that hackathon for Resilient Coders, that’s what they talked about too. It was like talking about being a software engineer and learning web development and getting your certificate and learning about the problems you can solve with this skillset. And that’s why I got into it. But later on, that’s when I learned about all these other careers that I could have gotten into within tech.
[00:07:02] SY: What was the coding bootcamp like for you? What was Resilient Coders like?
[00:07:06] PC: I loved it. So first of all, at that point, it was an in-person program. So I was in it with a cohort of maybe 10 other students, and it was a program specifically catered to black and brown people from underserved communities. So I was with people who looked like me from my community learning to code. We were like gaining this new skillset together. Our teachers were people of color as well, and I loved it. I loved that we went through the program in a way that allowed us to gain like individualism, just learning to try things on our own, and learning to sort of, I don’t want to say fend for ourselves, but just learning like what you can do with this skillset when you’re down bad, pretty much. You can go into contracting, being a freelancer, things like that, if you really need to make a quick buck. And then it’s like these are the possibilities when you have this sort of skillset. These are the problems that you can solve. These are the companies that you can go to. This is the money that you can make. This is the change that you can create. I thought it was really cool.
[00:08:13] SY: What would you say was the most challenging part of doing a bootcamp?
[00:08:19] SY: Fair enough. So like really the learning itself?
[00:09:03] PC: No. I think the bootcamp was the right strategy.
[00:09:06] SY: And would you have learned the same things?
[00:09:44] SY: So after the bootcamp, you did an apprenticeship program, then landed an internship at an ad agency. What was that like?
[00:09:50] PC: It was really cool, honestly. So first of all, just being in that sort of environment was really different because I was working with so many different creatives and different departments, not just alongside other software engineers, but also designers and people in marketing, things like that. That was really cool and it wasn’t something I ever experienced before because I was a lack specialist. So I learned a lot. I got to meet a lot of people. I got to see what it’s like to win over clients and then build their projects and go through the ups and downs of working at an agency. And there were pros and cons, obviously, there always are when you’re joining any company, but I did learn a lot. What was most shocking to me, and I guess this is in a way something I learned, was once I left my coding bootcamp and went into my internship and then getting jobs was the lack of diversity because I hadn’t really been in any environments where I was the only one who looked like me before that. And that was my first time really experiencing that. And so that was like a whole different thing for me to navigate on my own.
[00:11:00] SY: How’d that feel?
[00:11:02] PC: Honestly, it’s just so uncomfortable because I was like, “Should I act this way to appease people? Should I talk this way?” It was very confusing. I didn’t know how to fit in, and I also didn’t like the fact that I had to think so much about fitting in.
[00:11:17] SY: And what was it like being a programmer at an advertising agency? I feel like it’s probably very different from being a programmer at a more product-focused tech company. How would you describe these two?
[00:11:29] PC: An ad agency is stressful. The thing that I do like is, like I said, it’s really collaborative and you just learn so much. But the thing, and I’m not going to say that this is true for all agencies, but in my experience, it’s like we’re taking on client after client. So I’m not just focusing on one project, I’m focusing on like three to five projects and I’m working with different clients and there are different deadlines, there are different expectations, and you can get burnt out really quickly. And I think the issue is that on the agency side for them, they’re concerned about getting an X number of clients to bring in more revenue, but that ends up taking a toll on all of the people working on all of those projects simultaneously. So it is. It’s definitely stressful, but it’s a learning experience and I think it gives you a good idea of how to be better with maybe time management and communication and things like that.
[00:12:30] SY: Then you worked as a software engineer at Follain, which is a clean beauty company. I’m curious how your experience as a wax specialist, someone who comes from the beauty industry, how that influenced your role at the company.
[00:12:44] PC: I think it’s not so much that, because I wasn’t on like the product side where I’m giving sort of like advice on how to do X, Y, Z. It’s just that I was very familiar with things that they were working with and brands that they were working on, if that makes sense. And they did like the fact that I did come from this background where I was an esthetician. So I understand skin, I understand ingredients. It makes me feel like you’re bringing someone onto the team who already really values what you’re working on instead of bringing someone in who’s there specifically just to do the job. For me, it’s like I come from this background and I genuinely enjoy it, and I want to contribute my thoughts and opinions or participate in activities that you’re doing surrounding different brands that you’re working with. There are certain ingredients you’re trying to incorporate in these new products. I got to do so much more than just be a software engineer there and I really appreciated that.
[00:13:56] SY: After Follain, you worked at a digital agency, and it was during that time when you started the #BlackTechTwitter. Where did the idea for the hashtag come from?
[00:14:04] PC: Honestly, so Black Tech Twitter, it’s not something I intentionally tried to bring together. For me, it was just a tweet. I was just tweeting to see how many other people in tech look like me, but I didn’t expect that tweet to go anywhere. Right?
[00:14:23] SY: What did the tweets say?
[00:14:24] PC: It just said, “What does Black Twitter in tech look like? Here, I’ll go first.” I put that tweet out and I posted a picture of myself and I captioned the picture like, “Front-End Developer”, so that people knew what I did in tech. And then everyone else did it too. And then it just basically mobilized this global community of black technologists overnight. And my life pretty much changed overnight too.
[00:14:47] SY: Yeah, I remember that tweet had, was it like thousands of retweets? It went viral. That was huge.
[00:14:50] PC: Yeah. It did. Yeah. And it got like all this media attention. It was just so crazy, honestly.
[00:14:56] SY: Yeah. And what was so exciting about it was that it continued. It wasn’t just… because you see viral tweets all the time and they come and they go. But for that tweet, the #BlackTechTwitter, is something that’s still used to this day. When did that viral moment happen for you?
[00:15:11] PC: This was on December 1st, 2018.
[00:15:15] SY: Wow! So it’s a while ago and it’s still going pretty strong.
[00:15:18] PC: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:15:20] SY: What came out of that tweet for you? You said global attention and your life changed overnight. What came from it?
[00:15:26] PC: Oh my gosh. My career pretty much took off. So from that tweet, my professional network just grew. I gained clients that way. I was able to build a Black Tech Pipeline just because of that tweet. I then had these community members. I had different organizations wanting to speak to me or have me speak at their events. People wanted to fly me across the world to do speaking engagements. Everything just pretty much changed. And then just getting media attention from different publications or being on the radio or podcast. It was like a strange-dream-come-true type of thing, but in a way of like this is not where I expected my life to be, but I’m just going to go with it.
[00:16:11] SY: Were you surprised by how much it resonated with people?
[00:16:16] PC: Yeah. And it kind of took people telling me like, “Hey, I think you just did something. Like as a tweet was going viral, like people were like, “I think something just happened.” Like I think you just exposed something. I was like, “Oh my God!” Things just happened so fast that it took me time to realize like, “I just mobilized a community.” I mean, TechCrunch recognized Black Tech Pipeline and Black Tech Twitter as being what brought exposure to the black tech community. Like there’s always been a black tech community, but now mobilizing it and having it centered in one place where people know where to find it or know where to go to continue expanding it. I just didn’t realize how big of a deal it was. And I think just because I was in it and I didn’t have the intention of that happening.
[00:17:06] SY: Why do you think it resonated so deeply with people?
[00:17:12] PC: Because just like me, like being the only one in the room, like although we have this big community, like a lot of us are the only ones who look like us in a room or within this industry. I mean, there’s so many different reasons for that, but one of them is definitely like the whole pipeline problem, like there’s a pipeline problem, there aren’t black people in tech, we can’t hire more black people in tech, all these excuses. It’s not so much that it’s a pipeline problem, it’s a network problem.
[00:17:41] SY: Ah! Tell me a little bit more about the difference between those two.
[00:17:45] PC: There’s your network, like people within reach that you can access easily. People that you commonly speak to where you can see them. And when you think about the pipeline, it’s like waiting for people to come through that, right? But you’re not actually leaving like your comfort zone or your bubble to go and see what else is out there. It’s more like you’re expecting people to come in, but then when you have like this sort of network, it’s like multiple connections being made in different ways. You’re meeting people. People are meeting you. It’s very much like a two-way street. A pipeline doesn’t work that way. Pipeline’s like whoever’s dropping in, you’re just waiting for that. You’re not reaching out to grab anything.
[00:18:29] SY: Got you. So tell me about the audience of Black Tech Twitter. Obviously, they’re black people in tech, but tell me a little bit more. Who are these folks? Where do they work? What’s their motivation? What’s their passion? Tell me about this community that you built.
[00:18:43] PC: It’s a global community, so black technologies from all around the world, and they’re either new to tech or they’re veterans in tech, as in like they’ve been in tech for years and they do different things in the industry. It’s not just software engineers. There are people who maybe it’s like a tech adjacent job. Maybe there are sales engineers or designers or dev advocates or technical writers, like people are coming from all over. And I think everyone’s really just passionate about having a community, people to speak to, people who look like them, people who resonate with the experiences that they have within this industry, and understand what they do for work instead of needing to explain it to an outsider. You just have people who understand you. Not just by the way you look, but it’s just by the things you do and the things that you’re experiencing or even trying to reach as a goal within tech itself.
[00:19:35] SY: So I know that one of the things that happened to you, to your career was that you ended up working in technical recruitment, which is related, but different from coding. Tell me about why technical recruitment. Why was that kind of the avenue you went down as a response to Black Tech Twitter?
[00:19:53] PC: Yeah. So that is something, again, that fell into my lap because when the Black Tech Twitter tweet was going viral, companies were just DMing me really casually on Twitter and they were asking if I could recruit candidates from Black Tech Twitter into their companies because they were saying things like, “We want to diversify, we want to do better and have a more representative company of the world that we live in,” or whatever it is. And I saw that as a great opportunity, obviously, to get more black people in tech so that people like me wouldn’t have to work alone, like be the only ones who look like ourselves at a company. So I did. That’s what I did. I recruited people from Black Tech Twitter into different companies for free for years, and I ended up stopping that in maybe like 2020. I stopped doing it as a part-time thing and ended up launching Black Tech Pipeline so that I could do it full-time.
[00:20:50] SY: And what is Black Tech Pipeline? Tell me more about that company.
[00:20:53] PC: Yeah. So Black Tech Pipeline, we’re a job board, newsletter, and recruiting platform centering black technologists. So we provide job opportunities, educational resources, events, scholarship opportunities, even funding opportunities to black technologists and professionals.
[00:21:11] SY: And what made you go from technical recruitment as a job to launching a full-blown company?
[00:21:16] PC: So I really launched Black Tech Pipeline because me recruiting candidates from Black Tech Twitter into different companies, it ended up not being the great thing that I thought it was because a lot of those recruits came back to me and let me know that they left those companies or those companies let them go. The point is like they were no longer at the companies that I recruited them into. And when I was asking why, they were telling me things like, “Oh, these companies were being performative. They weren’t setting me up for success.” There was really no way for me to grow and thrive within that company. And I felt really bad. I also felt like it reflected poorly on me because I didn’t vet any of these companies that were coming to me. I saw it as an opportunity to get, again, like more black people into tech. And so I recruited them without really doing any sort of background check on the company and what their intentions were. And so when I learned that that was happening, I was like, “Okay, if I’m going to do this work, I should do it right.” And the only way I can really do that is by creating some sort of system where I can see how are these recruits doing at these companies. Are they having a good experience? And if they’re not, how can I help them have a better experience at these companies? And that’s why I decided to launch Black Tech Pipeline, because that’s something that we offer through our recruitment service.
[00:22:44] SY: So how do you ensure that quality today? What kind of mechanisms do you have in place to make sure that you’re vetting and screening the companies you work with? How does that work?
[00:22:55] PC: Yeah. So every company that works with us through recruitment, I will vet them over a call before I agree to work with them. So the way that works is just we got a Google Meets call. I’ll learn about their company and what they do and what they’re looking for in terms of hiring, but then I ask them some more questions around like their internal policies and practices and safety practices and what sort of feedback have they gotten from their employees and their engagement surveys. And when you get this feedback, what are you doing with it? Are you just holding onto it? Are you being actionable? I ask about their diversity numbers, especially like racial diversity and what sort of feedback they get based on like their diversity, equity, and inclusion practices, like where can you improve there, what sort of feedback have you gotten. Something else that I’ve learned to do now is ask questions around. If that company has had any bad media attention, I guess, if that makes sense. And if they have, what was it and was something done about that afterwards. I’m just asking all of these deeply personal questions regarding that company. I do want to make sure that they’re coming to me with the right intentions and that when they do hire someone from Black Tech Pipeline, that that person is going to have a good experience and that they can grow and thrive within that company.
[00:24:20] SY: Absolutely. I’m curious if your experience in the beauty industry has influenced the way you think about or approach recruiting in tech.
[00:24:29] PC: I don’t think so. That’s actually a good question. It’s not something I ever thought of.
[00:24:35] SY: It’s always interesting to me because a lot of times we have these past lives, right? These past careers of ours, and it’s always interesting to think about how they’ve impacted our current roles in technology and our current roles as developers. So it’s always a fun question to dig into.
[00:24:50] PC: Yeah. I think actually like thinking about it, it’s not so much like my experience in beauty itself, but maybe working at a beauty company, like working at Follain, it was a predominantly white and female company. And a lot of their products were marketed towards white women. I am not a white woman. And because of that, there were certain things internally that they practiced, which sort of did not include me. And those are things that I think about now, like when I am talking to companies, making sure that they are keeping certain things in mind based on experiences that I’ve had, especially companies that are minority led. White women are minorities, but they still don’t understand the experiences of like a black woman or a black person and how they can still practice oppression and exclusion. So those are things. I like to keep those in mind because those were experiences that I’ve had.
[00:25:56] SY: Coming up next, Pariss talks about the #BlackTechTwitter, how life changed after that hashtag went viral, and the creation of Black Tech Pipeline after this.
[00:26:16] SY: So what are your goals for Black Tech Pipeline?
[00:26:19] PC: For Black Tech Pipeline, right now I want to find a way to incorporate ChatGPT or AI within it, and that’s probably going to lean towards more our recruitment service. We’re probably going to turn that into a product. And I kind of want Black Tech Pipeline to be able to run itself, but still keep the human parts that need to be human, which is like the vetting of the companies and doing our check-in models with people who do get hired out of Black Tech Pipeline. So keeping those in and making that more of a focus, but letting the parts of the company that don’t necessarily need a human in it to sort of run itself. So right now it’s more like really automating things that can be automated. And I don’t know if I ever want to grow Black Tech Pipeline to be some like 500-person company. Yeah. I want to see what I can do on my own.
[00:27:15] SY: Good for you. You get a lot more control, a lot more flexibility that way too.
[00:27:19] PC: Yeah, for sure.
[00:27:20] SY: So what advice do you have for other people looking to make a career change into the tech industry, particularly if they’re covering from a non-traditional background like you did?
[00:27:28] PC: Ooh. Well, good on you for coming in through a non-traditional background. College is great. But yeah, I do like thinking about more equitable routes to an education. Tech is so big. There are so many different careers. You don’t just have to be a software engineer. And I feel like a lot of people, when they think of tech, it’s like specifically coding when there are so many other things that you can do. So maybe looking into the different careers, but also when you’re looking into those careers, look at the salary. What is it that you want to make from a career in tech? That’s really important. What are the requirements? What sort of skillset do you need to break into those sorts of careers? Doing like a lot of research before, like kind of going full-fledged on one path. Do that research first. Think about what it is that you want at the end of the day, and then choose whichever career is going to lead you there quickest, if that makes sense. And when you’re finally looking for your first job in tech, you do not have to work at a tech company. You can pretty much work at any company, honestly. I don’t know any companies that don’t have a tech team. Every company really has an online presence in some way, shape, or form. So don’t just look at the things of the world or the most popular companies ever. You could go to any company honestly. Go to their careers’ page and I guarantee you they’re hiring for some sort of tech role.
[00:28:55] SY: Very good. Now at the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blanks of some very important questions. Pariss, are you ready to fill in the blanks?
[00:29:09] PC: Yes.
[00:29:11] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:29:14] PC: I don’t know.
[00:29:15] SY: No?
[00:29:15] PC: For some reason the first thing that came to mind was the worst app idea I’ve ever heard.
[00:29:21] SY: The worst app idea. I’m curious about that one though. Do you have a worst app idea you’ve ever heard?
[00:29:27] PC: Yeah. Someone wanted me to build them a mirror app.
[00:29:30] SY: Oh! What?
[00:29:32] PC: Yeah.
[00:29:33] SY: No, I don’t like that.
[00:29:34] PC: Yeah. Me neither.
[00:29:38] SY: Okay. Number two, best advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:29:41] PC: Just do it.
[00:29:43] SY: Did you hear that from Nike or did someone say that to you?
[00:29:46] PC: I heard it from so many people, not just Nike. I’ve heard it from so many people.
[00:29:49] SY: Nice. And why was that the best advice?
[00:29:51] PC: Because it’s true. You waste a lot of time thinking about doing something or making sure it’s perfect before you let the world see it. And the truth is, you need to just like launch it. Just do it. Whatever it is, just go for it and you’ll learn along the way. It’s totally fine. Nothing’s going to be perfect, but you can make it perfect along the way.
[00:30:12] SY: Number three, my first coding project was about?
[00:30:16] PC: Ooh! So exciting. My first coding project was an app that allowed you to follow people with the click of a button. So this app was called Rez, R-E-Z.
[00:30:29] SY: Okay.
[00:30:29] PC: We were going to use QR codes so that if I just met someone off the street.
[00:30:33] SY: Oh, that’s what you mean. Okay, got it.
[00:30:35] PC: Yeah, just something like that, like. I could scan their QR code and it would bring up all of their social media.
[00:30:40] SY: Nice. Yeah.
[00:30:41] PC: And instead of needing to go to each app to follow them with their different handles or whatever, I could click one button and it would automatically follow them everywhere.
[00:30:49] SY: Nice. Very cool. Oh, I love that. Number four, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?
[00:31:06] SY: How much time is a lot of time?
[00:31:11] PC: It depends really, but like if you can just build like, I don’t know, just a few projects using Vanilla JS and you feel like super comfortable with it, then go into a framework, but don’t feel like you’re okay in this area and then jump into a framework. I think you should really understand the fundamentals and then do it. At least for me, yeah.
[00:31:29] SY: Yeah. No, I think that’s generally good advice. I think we learn the framework before we learn the language too often, and I think things can get a little confusing and be harder that way. It may be a little bit slower to start with a language, but I think learning the language first is the way to go.
[00:31:44] PC: Yeah.
[00:31:45] SY: Well, thank you again so much for joining us, Pariss.
[00:31:47] PC: Thank you for having me.
[00:31:51] SY: You can reach out to us on Twitter at CodeNewbies or send me an email, email@example.com. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast. Thanks for listening. See you next week.
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