[MEN]TORS: C. Blair, Managing Partner – Feature Team, LLC

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“Half-hearted diversity outreach is completely visible to most underrepresented people.”

What do you do?

Feature Team is a small Golang and Swift consultancy. We’ve got a couple of clients that we’re doing a fair amount of work for. As Managing Partner of Feature Team, I work to not only build and direct our company, but also work with clients and partners to understand what their goals are and determine if we’re the right fit for them. My role is not only Managing Partner, but I’m also the Lead Golang Developer on the team. As the Lead Golang Developer, I set architecture (technical direction)for projects and I sling code with the rest of the team.

What keeps you passionate in the tech industry?

The idea of creating something that can help someone’s business or help make someone’s life better is what keeps me passionate about tech.

What do you like about the company you currently run/work for?

We’re private and selective! We aren’t trying to change the world. We aren’t trying to grow to be Google or Facebook. We’re trying to make a bunch of small differences that add up to a lot of value for communities.

What are some initiatives that your company is taking to create a more inclusive workplace?

Well, we just always bring in the right people for the work, regardless of their gender, race, etc. If you can do the work, show us you can do the work, you work hard, are professional, then you’ve got a great chance to work with us. It’s just that simple for us. I personally believe that excluding people for gender, race or other types of reasons limits your probability of success, so I just focus on doing things that help us all succeed.

What does being an ally to underrepresented folks in tech mean to you?

This is a loaded question. As an underrepresented person in tech I’ve run into just about everything in my career. In my opinion, being an ally is just about being respectful of the differences that people have, understand that all people are human, they go through ups and downs, and though you may not understand all of the ups and downs an underrepresented person goes through, don’t be blind that a person is experiencing something either in the work environment or the social environment. Not that it has to be talked about at work, but just understand that LIFE isn’t the same for every single person. That goes for ALL people, whether your underrepresented or not. EVERYONE is experiencing something and being “in tune” with your teammates is something that I believe leaders should just do.

What is the importance of making sure the tech community is inclusive?

I’ve said this time and time again — inclusiveness of all people is a way to communicate to potential customers, etc.

A prime example of this is posted job requisitions/ads. Most times these postings are written in such a way that they push women or other minorities away from a job or a company altogether. Having someone on staff to help communicate a job ad/requisition to specific groups gives you a greater probability to fill open positions at your company.

Also, from an economic perspective, having MORE people working, providing value for companies does nothing but help the economy of local, state and federal communities.

A lot of people are afraid to publicly learn, but it’s important to be transparent about moments of unlearning. This shows others it’s okay to admit your wrongs in order to grow. Can you share one or more “a-ha!” moments you’ve had where you realized “this is wrong” or “this way of thinking is biased”?

Well, I have this problem with people who have short fingers — I feel like they may not be good developers because they cannot reach the keys fast enough… I’m just joking… Seriously, I have a love for people, life and love how their life experience comes across in their work. With that said, I have a GREAT respect for people so I truly come to the table with no preconceived notions about anyone or anything.

What results have you seen from your tech equity and advocacy actions?

Though I’m a technologist, at my core, I’m an entrepreneur and a connector of people.

Through that ethos, I’ve been able to help countless organizations over my career to hire employees, companies, contractors, etc. that they would’ve normally NOT hired due to what they (organizations) thought about certain groups of people — and the hiring of these people or organizations have turned into long-term partnerships or success-filled relationships between the hiring organizations or the people/companies they hired for work.

In short, I’ve helped people in companies move past prejudices about groups of people and focus on the one thing that matters to a business — their bottom line. The only thing they should be thinking about is “can this person or group of people” help me reach my corporate goals…

Some research shows that it’s hard to have empathy and, in this case, practice tech advocacy without being exposed to some form of human suffering from someone different from yourself. Have you ever had an experience like this that has helped you to prioritize tech equity in your life and career today?

I’ve been leading teams for most of the last 12-15 years and I can say that I’ve seen so much that has made me empathize with several groups of people. I’ve seen African-Americans, Women, Asians, Latinos, LGBTQ and Caucasian Men get treated as if their lives and skills don’t matter in a professional environment.

As a leader of teams, my goal is ALWAYS to “stand in the gap” for my teams and be the force to get the craziness of others away from them. I want my teams to focus on being great, to focus on being the best renditions of their professional selves so that my teams ALWAYS become the standard or measuring stick of other teams.
So empathy is something that I have for everyone I work with and specifically for my teammates. I want to ensure my teams always maintain a spiritual, mental and emotional balance as it creates a safe environment for them to not only do their work, but also to do their best work.

This is something that is SUPER IMPORTANT to me because we now live in a world where we basically have a disposable workforce and fighting for equality of good team members, regardless of what they look like, who they share a bed with, what country they’re from, what college they went to, etc. is important to me and the organizations we work for. 
In short, I focus on winning and will always pick a winning team (regardless of gender, race, sexual-orientation) and work to build an environment where all of them can be successful and then most importantly, I protect that environment. I just want my environment to look like the world I see around me…

What is some advice you’d give to other men in tech, older or younger, who are seeking ways to be more inclusive with their actions?

I’d say to be more humble. There is a lot of ego in tech and sometimes a person’s ego prevents them from taking other people seriously when interviewing or when they’re working.

Years ago when I was working in Scottsdale, AZ I hired a gentleman who I saw was a superstar who just hadn’t been given an opportunity yet.

My manager told me in a 1-on-1 meeting that he wouldn’t have hired the guy because he didn’t trust the guy. I asked why he couldn’t trust the guy and my manager said, “He wasn’t looking me in the eyes during the interview and I can’t trust a person who doesn’t do that.”

I was STUNNED as I was in the same interview and responded with, “The guy was thinking about the problem we presented him with…”

12 months later, the new employee became the rockstar that I knew he was and after finishing up the employee’s performance evaluation, my manager came up to me and apologized and said that was the first time he REALIZED that he was excluding candidates based upon his own prejudices vs a person’s ability to do the job well.

What is some advice you’d share with diversity-starved organizations?

There is talent everywhere. For every Thomas Edison, there’s a George Washington Carver.

If you truly want to be a diverse company, put in the work to figure out how to communicate with different groups of people.

If diversity truly is important to your organization, then you’ll do the work it takes to get people in there and make them feel comfortable working with you.

Also, I want to say that half-hearted diversity outreach is completely visible to most underrepresented people…


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