As a Black technologist (software developer, educator, solutions architect, and business consultant) I find that often times the current landscape of the technology industry leaves out nuanced conversations about Blackness and the historical contribution of Black people in the formation of major technological milestones. There has been an ongoing conversation for the past several years around the growing diversity-gap in technology and Dev Jam Labs was birthed out of the desire to challenge these issues presently preventing Black people from seeing themselves as possessors of power within this industry. Whether it is through our creative usages (think Black Twitter) or else our own construction of technology platforms (think WorldStar), we are undeniably capable of creating multi-million dollar tech businesses out of a couple clicks and swipes. One of the main missions of the Lab is to actively redefine what it means to be a technologist by showcasing products and engineers that actively center the Black community in their work. Redefining technology means changing the focus of the narrative to not only include Black people but to actively empower and uplift them as well.
Part of what was driving the Lab in its inception was the idea of building technology that simultaneously serves a purpose and perspective. Purpose meaning that the technology is equipped with the right tools to achieve its function, and Perspective meaning that it is built from our (or our client’s) point of view with respect to our audience and culture. I think that, of the two, perspective is the most important because Without the right perspective can something ever truly achieve its purpose? Think about it in reference to culture, can we really ever build an app for Black community and culture without first understanding the perspective? Instagram and Twitter are applications that were made into tech company juggernauts partially due to the impact of Black culture but these tech platforms were not built by developers or companies that have a mission or perspective centering our culture. How can we build better platforms for our community? We need to find ways to allow our community to build the platforms themselves.
A lot in the past few days has made me very reflective about the importance of hustle in everything that we do. The way we look at Hustle in the Lab as well as here with The Dozens is as follows: Hustle is the “By Any Means Necessary” attitude that Malcolm was talking about.
Hustle as defined by Merriam Webster looks like this:
Many people have probably heard the word hustle used in the contexts that Merriam Webster publishes here. The ones that have been on my mind the most are 2B and 3B which each speak about hustle pejoratively (underhanded, fraud, deception) these words undoubtedly describe hustle in a way that is adverse to good business practice. This semantic fact started a dope conversation in the Lab about whether or not “Hustle" is the most positive way of representing a business seeking to appeal to serious individuals and businesses. Thinking on it more is what inspired this post. The reason I believe that Dev Jam Labs should still center itself around Hustle is specifically because of the importance of redefinition. The Lab like The Dozens, was started from hustle, rather from Kheperah and my ceaseless drive to persevere and continue moving and building even when the odds seemed against us. We have a collective mindset internal to the Lab that is to never give up, rather to work out a creative way to beat the odds. In that sense our version of hustle is linked to the Merriam Webster definitions but where we differ is that from our position hustling isn’t about conning someone weaker than us rather it is more about being judicious and cunning enough to outsmart an opponent that doesn’t want to see us win. As Black Americans, we are constantly fighting for our right to self-definition and empowerment, and to win that battle we must continue working hard, but more importantly, we must continue working smart. This is why we say hustle for us in the Lab is the “By Any Means Necessary” mindset X referred to. Hustle is the energy that allows us to create the technology and do the work of turning our ideas into successful businesses. Hustle is the center of the three pillars because it is the glue that connects the technology and the culture. Without the people working to create for our community, we cannot redefine technology.
When we first started talking about Dev Jam Labs we were impressing the need of culturally relevant organizations in technology as well as the importance of our voice as a Black youth in the tech industry. As two dope brothers from inner-city Chicago, Kheperah and I have a different way of communicating our love for technology than many of our peers in the industry. We seek to articulate our cultural perspective in everything we do include our work with The Dozens and Dev Jam Labs. Part of what is hard about our work as technologists is that there are many systems in place that have limited people’s perspective of what a techie/coder/hacker is and looks like. Often times the images/references that people think about when they hear technology diverge from images of Blackness and Black Culture. We want to change that.In order to be a tech company relevant to Black culture, Dev Jam Labs is in the business of redefining our culture’s perspective about their contribution to the technology industry. We making it cool to be young, gifted, and black in the tech world by challenging the dominant narrative about the Musk's and Zuckerberg's and featuring our own unique experiences. We want to redefine how our community looks at themselves in technology by turning them from users/consumers and into the engineers, producers, tastemakers, and curators. In actively working to redefine these ideas, I believe that Dev Jam Labs is undertaking a goal that is as necessary as it is challenging. In centering our perspective and voice around Technology, Hustle, and Culture we are keeping ourselves accountable to a mission-oriented around transformation, and positive communication and growth for ourselves and our community. We need new voices in technology, business and culture and I believe that Dev Jam Labs as well as the Dozens can be a platform to champion the voices of our people.