African American grads are filling essential roles in IT
�As the minority, you represent your group. You work harder to create a positive image of yourself and the group you are representing.� � Tawrence Swan, NASIC
�People of diverse cultures and races are in a position to help fill the need for
knowledge and innovation. This is key to technical progress.� � Jamar Williams, Sprint
By Angela M. Hutchinson
When looking to enhance diversity by hiring more African Americans, human resource professionals rely on diversity groups, student organizations, and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to zero in on this key demographic.
Corporate, government and academic leaders agree that a diverse work environment encourages diversity of thought, which helps companies create innovative solutions to problems. Some of those companies are featured here, along with the African American techies who make a difference through their unique skills and perspectives.
IT specialist Tawrence Swan: problem solver at the NASIC
For the past three years, Tawrence Swan has worked as an IT specialist at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, OH. Swan manages software requirements and designs and writes software. Once the software has been released and is operating on web servers, Swan provides IT support.
�I help co-workers with troubleshooting their code, interact with customers, and help support the web servers in my office,� he says. �Also, if an application, system or web server has an issue outside of work hours, I am called in to fix it.�
Although Swan is a junior employee, NASIC management relies on his input and expertise. Many of his solutions are approved and implemented. �I�ve been able to create a track record for success early in my career, so I get a lot of high-visibility and quick-turnaround project assignments,� he says.
Swan finds that he must learn new skills or improve existing ones to keep up with technology�s swift advances. �The professional development opportunities provided by the air force are a big help,� he says. �We can attend in-residence training or enroll in distance-learning programs to build our technical, managerial and interpersonal skills.�
Drawn to service
Swan was born in South Korea to an African American father and Asian American mother. His father is a retired Desert Shield/Desert Storm U.S. Army veteran with twenty-two years of service. His mother was born in South Korea and was a small business owner. Swan�s older brother is also an army veteran.
Swan hoped to serve in the military, but he has asthma and was unable to join a uniformed service. �Luckily, I can serve in another capacity. Working for the federal government also provides job security, excellent health and retirement benefits, and a favorable work-life balance,� he says.
Swan attended Columbus State University (GA) and earned his bachelors degree in 2009 in management information systems. In lieu of an internship, he worked as an undergraduate student assistant, then as a graduate research assistant. �I developed data-driven web applications using PHP and MySQL. I also provided automated solutions that cut down the time required to manually enter data and correspond with prospective students,� he says.
In 2011, Swan got his masters in computer science.
Diversity equals representation
Swan says his ethnicity has not presented any challenges in the workplace. �If anything, it motivates me. When you are in an environment where you are the minority, you become a representative of that group. You work harder to create a positive image of yourself and the group you represent,� he believes.
Swan reports that the diversity groups within the NASIC host activities that bring people together. �My division has routine bicycle rides, winter sporting trips and fishing trips. Since I�m from southwest Georgia, I had never participated in winter sports,� Swan says. �I have co-workers from the Midwest and Pacific Northwest who go snowboarding and skiing and are willing to teach me. I also never knew how bicycle-friendly Dayton is. Some of my co-workers talked me into buying a bicycle, and now I ride on the bike trails with them a couple of times a week.�
Swan enjoys being around people from different ethnic backgrounds and all walks of life. The base has a number of special emphasis programs (SEPs) that support a range of ethnic groups. Each SEP organizes cultural events for its members with speakers, presentations, cultural activities and food tastings.
�The National Air and Space Intelligence Center does a great job of recruiting a wide range of professionals from across the United States,� he says. �We have fresh college graduates, mid-level professionals, senior professionals with thirty or forty years of civil service, and veterans from every branch of service. There is a lot of friendly rivalry during sports season, which helps you learn where people are from.�
Canwell Chimbwanda leverages technology for innovation at Humana
In March 2013, Canwell Chimbwanda was hired at Humana Inc (Louisville, KY) as an applications engineer in the IT department.
Chimbwanda translates Humana�s business ideas into realities through the use of innovative technology. He uses C#/.Net framework and SQL 2012 database technology to design, develop and enhance web and Windows applications and web services. Like most software professionals, he creates and maintains code documentation, test plans and implementation instructions, conducts system tests, and provides software support, application troubleshooting and issue resolution.
The coding aspect of Chimbwanda�s job is one of his favorite parts. �A long time ago I developed a love of electrical gadgets, and that led to my passion for coding and programming,� he says.
He attacks design challenges by making sure he understands the system requirements and what the customer really needs. �It�s exciting and motivating to come up with an innovative design that brings a solution to the problem and complete satisfaction to the customers.�
Swift achievements in a new country
Originally from Harare, Zimbabwe, Africa, Chimbwanda has lived in the U.S. since 2003. All his family members remain in Zimbabwe, except his brother, who works in Norfolk, VA.
In 2007, Chimbwanda received an associate of science degree from Jefferson Community College (Louisville). In May 2012, Chimbwanda earned his bachelors degree in computer engineering and computer science from the Speed School of Engineering at the University of Louisville. And just months later, in December 2012, he finished his masters in computer engineering and computer science.
As an undergrad, he did two co-ops at facility information services company FacilityOne Inc, where he was responsible for researching, designing, developing and testing data processing systems. His last co-op brought him to Humana, where he did software certification in the application technology services department. He worked with security and the vendor management team to research and acquire software. He also designed and developed scripts that automated software configuration and installation, created documentation and manuals, and provided support and troubleshooting.
The co-op at Humana gave Chimbwanda a taste of the company�s working culture and environment. �Humana�s commitment to the care and support of its associates, and the diversity of the workforce, convinced me that my hard work will ensure my professional and personal growth.�
Diversity: opportunity outweighs challenge
�Being from a different ethnicity,� Chimbwanda notes, �may present a few challenges in the workplace, but it brings value to the company. Different ethnicities provide a variety of viewpoints, essential for a productive workplace in a changing world. More diverse people will join in the workplace, and more diverse customers will join the marketplace, so every organization needs to be prepared to embrace this diversity to be successful in the market.�
Daniel Bocage balances technical and people needs at Panasonic
Daniel Bocage has worked with Panasonic System Communications Company of North America (PSCNA, Newark, NJ) since 1996. As a global solutions and engineering manager, Bocage oversees PSCNA�s wireless certification, the mobile computing software development for customers, and the development of accessories for the company�s Toughbook tablet line.
�Since all my team�s activities are time sensitive, my role is to ensure all projects are on track. I also work with our factory and partners to resolve technical issues,� says Bocage. �Since we are a sales company, I have more than 400 bosses out in the field who need answers yesterday rather than today.�
Multicultural skills a plus
Bocage was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He is fluent in French and Creole. �Bilingual skills are an asset in any workplace where you are dealing with clients and customers from all over the world,� he explains. �Here we work side-by-side with our Japanese colleagues. Our different cultures permit us to learn things like communication skills from each other,� he adds.
After high school, Bocage came to the United States to further his education. He attended Rockland Community College (Suffern, NY) and transferred to New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT, Newark). He graduated in 1995 with a bachelors in electrical engineering. During his senior year at NJIT, he interned at Panasonic. �I was placed with the consumer group where I worked with the senior engineers on the big-screen TVs, fax machines, business telephone systems and cellular phones.�
After graduation, a few entry-level positions became available. Impressed with his skills and abilities, the engineers that Bocage had worked with during his internship gave him good references.
Bocage is an eighteen-year veteran of the technical workforce, and he�s impressed with the technical ability of new employees. �The graduates I see now are more multi-talented than we were twenty years ago.� Bocage sees diversity, whether of age, gender, lifestyle or ethnicity, as an important part of globalization.
Stephen J. Cafiero, Panasonic�s group manager of EEO/AA/inclusion and diversity, notes that �diversity is critical in all areas of our business. In the technical field, our employees are challenged to develop solutions to complex issues. At Panasonic, diversity is considered essential to our ability to understand our customers� needs in all the regions in which we produce and sell our products.�
Panasonic makes community connections
Panasonic recruits African American grads from colleges and universities, and finds others at events like the National Society of Black Engineers career fair and NAACP professional and technology career fairs. Its own co-op and internship programs are another path to fulltime employment.
�Our new headquarters is convenient to Rutgers University, New Jersey Institute of Technology and Essex County Community College,� notes Cafiero. �Panasonic has established programs with these schools to provide opportunities for African American undergrads and recent grads.�
Teamwork enhances the job for Sprint application developer Jamar Williams
Since 2013, Jamar Williams has been working as an application developer with Sprint Corp (Overland Park, KS). He develops and enhances software using Microsoft�s .NET framework.
�Usually, seventy percent of my day is spent programming, debugging and testing software,� Williams says. �My remaining time is spent gathering any requirements we might have missed, designing future applications and performing maintenance or responding to ad hoc requests.�
Teamwork is one of Williams�s strengths, and he likes working with his diverse colleagues on various projects. �Software developers can often get isolated while creating applications. To keep my sanity I try to keep my head up and take advantage of team resources when available,� he says.
Williams�s mother is from Jamaica and his father is from Kansas City, MO. His parents met in the air force, so though he was born in Kansas City, Williams has also lived in New York and Virginia. He is now back in Kansas City.
In 2012, Williams received his bachelors in computer science from the University of Missouri (Columbia). He is pursuing a masters in
management of information science at the Missouri University of Science and Technology (Rolla).
Before Sprint, Williams interned as an applications developer at Midway USA in Columbia. In 2013 he started with Sprint as an intern on the identity management team. After the internship ended, he was hired full time.
Career growth and networking options
�Sprint is a very reputable company in the Kansas City area and nationwide. There are several options for career growth here,� he says, �and I enjoy the diversity of activities.�
Williams feels that racial equality is within sight, at least in the technical world. �One of the key struggles in equalizing cultures is education. Fortunately, the technology field is in a constant cycle of restoration and modernization and has a consistent need for new employees,� he says. �People of diverse cultures and races are in a position to help fill the need for knowledge and innovation. This is key to technical progress.�
�Attracting and retaining talent to fuel our company�s innovation and its growth is a priority, and we recognize that diversity allows for better decision making, problem solving and insight into customer needs,� says Angela Chammas, vice president of talent management and HR relationship management. �Sprint�s seven employee resource groups have over 4,700 members and build cultural relationships, educate and develop employees, build the brand, provide employee referrals and contribute to the business and our customers.�
At Sprint, Williams feels welcomed. �There are several employee resource groups I enjoy participating in. They give me the opportunity to meet colleagues and have new experiences. As a minority, I have always felt welcome everywhere around our campus and treated the same as anyone else.�
Sprint partners for diversity
Sprint works to bring in diverse talent, especially at the college level. Chammas reports that Sprint advertises positions on more than 100 diversity-focused online sites and at colleges and universities across the country. �At college recruiting events, Sprint partners with diverse student organizations such as the Black Graduate Business Association at Cornell and the African American MBA Association at the University of Chicago.�
Software developer Matt Curry finds a fit for his skills and values at USAA
Matt Curry has been working with financial services company USAA (San Antonio, TX) as a software developer and integrator since graduation.
�Most of the projects I work on are related to the portal application used by member service representatives (MSRs) to access member information for incoming and outgoing calls,� he explains.
Priorities: getting it done, having some fun
Curry describes the USAA management as more focused on deliverables than tracking its employees� schedules. The company hosts extracurricular activities to keep employees engaged. �We have events that allow employees to relax and have fun. Sometimes, we hold our staff meetings offsite at interesting places, like a restaurant by the River Walk downtown,� Curry says. �And I like the fact that we�re helping members of the military and their families, because I have so much respect and appreciation for them.�
Curry is originally from Alabama. In 2012, he got his bachelors in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Alabama (Birmingham). Before joining as a fulltime employee, Curry interned with USAA during summer 2012. �During my internship, I had the chance to participate in several activities. I delivered code that was eventually pushed to production. That was a rewarding experience,� he says.
Curry chose to work for USAA because of its congenial atmosphere, but even more for its commitment to service the military. �This company stands for all the values I stand for, and I feel like it�s a great fit for my personality,� he says. �The core values of USAA are honesty, integrity, loyalty and service. USAA is also in a wonderful city, San Antonio. This is a great family town, perfect for my two sons, and the economy is great here.�
USAA offers an even playing field
�USAA is a great company for all ethnicities and they have an even playing field regardless of your background. USAA employees do a great job of treating everyone fairly,� Curry says.
�I really like how USAA doesn�t have pre-conceived ideas of their employees. Everyone starts off the same, and people have opportunities to prove themselves. There are also opportunities to connect with people through USAA resource groups, but most of the resource groups have nothing to do with ethnicity. They have more to do with other factors people have in common.�
Recruitment and diversity at USAA
�USAA leverages a comprehensive recruitment strategy to source the diverse talent needed to provide exceptional member service and drive innovation and growth,� says Tiffanie McDonald, assistant vice president of diversity and inclusion. �USAA partners with a variety of colleges and universities, professional organizations, industry and business associations, community groups and state and federal employment agencies to find qualified, diverse talent.
�Diversity and inclusion is a component of the USAA culture,� she adds. �In today�s fast-paced, diverse and dispersed business environment, maintaining a diverse and inclusive workplace is imperative for any organization that wants to be agile and tap into new markets quickly and efficiently. Diversity generates different perspectives and ideas that result in innovative products and improved business performance.�
Curtis Harrell Grantham III predicts future USAF maintenance demands
As the chief of civil engineering resource optimization for the U.S. Air Force in San Antonio, TX, Capt Curtis Harrell Grantham III creates plans to provide the funding that ninety-two installations need to maintain their campuses.
Grantham has been in the air force since 2006. He uses the latest engineering software to anticipate future maintenance requirements at the bases. Based on this information, he creates plans to direct the flow of money to meet future maintenance demands.
�I direct the air force civil engineering career field infrastructure�s future. I am an integral part of the air force operational-level innovation think tank, responsible for optimization of engineering resources,� says Grantham. �I set the direction of the team, and I have to validate my theories both quantitatively and qualitatively.�
A proud military history
Grantham�s family comes from North Carolina, where his ancestors were slaves at the Grantham Plantation. Grantham�s grandfather retired from the Army Air Corps, the predecessor of today�s U.S. Air Force, and his father served eleven years in the U.S. Army as a munitions specialist. �They motivated me to join and made it clear that the air force should be my choice of service,� he says.
Grantham graduated in 2006 from the United States Air Force Academy (CO) with a bachelors in civil engineering. In 2011, he got his masters in business administration from the University of Phoenix. �Military institutions ensure you are well-indoctrinated into a military officer�s way of life prior to graduation,� says Grantham.
Working for the U.S. Air Force is an honor that Grantham takes pride in, partly due to the premium that the service places on diversity. �It is one of our greatest strengths. I have attended many seminars and participated in several surveys that focus on ensuring the air force continues to foster diverse work environments,� he says. �Diversity brings a different set of skills and unique perspectives to the team, and I am encouraged that air force leadership will continue to support it.�
In many meetings, conferences and workshops, however, Grantham is often one of few minorities, or the only African American, in the room. He notes, �I understand that though I have a different skin tone, I am no different from anyone else. The challenge is tempering my internal pressure to excel at everything in order to break barriers for others.�
He adds, �Diversity is critical because it brings different experiences, unique perspectives and skills that help organizations develop innovative ideas and solutions to a broad variety of problems and remain on the forefront of the industry,� he says. �Technology cannot grow through innovation without diverse opinions.�
U.S. Air Force maximizes recruitment efforts
The air force begins its recruiting efforts at the high school level. �We have national marketing campaigns that are designed to inspire individuals of all backgrounds to explore what we have to offer,� says Chief Master Sergeant Dianne E. Jones, superintendent of Air Force Recruiting Service plans and resources.
�We advertise nationally via TV and AirForce.com, as well as through event marketing and social media. We try to maximize reach and frequency across target demographics by showing airmen from a variety of groups, including African Americans.�
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