Meet Jamika D. Burge, PhD, dean of Eno University and a “human computer scientist” who works at the intersection of tech and design. She focuses on inclusitvity in AI and machine learning, and truly proves that tech and design aren’t just one-dimensional subjects. We spoke on her work at Capital One as she walked me through how Capital One uses technology in their digital team, and she talked about blackComputeHER, an organization and conference she created that is dedicated to supporting computer science and STEM education and workforce development for Black girls and women. Listen on for Jamika’s thoughts on computer science at HBCUs, Black tech conferences, and more!
February on Revision Path is sponsored by Capital One, and we're bringing you the stories of four Black women that are part of the Capital One Digital team.
Meet Jamika D. Burge, PhD, dean of Eno University and a "human computer scientist" who works at the intersection of tech and design. She focuses on inclusitvity in AI and machine learning, and truly proves that tech and design aren't just one-dimensional subjects.
We spoke on her work at Capital One as she walked me through how Capital One uses technology in their digital team, and she talked about blackComputeHER, an organization and conference she created that is dedicated to supporting computer science and STEM education and workforce development for Black girls and women. Listen on for Jamika's thoughts on computer science at HBCUs, Black tech conferences, and more!
Big thanks to Capital One for sponsoring this month of Revision Path.
The Capital One Digital team is a diverse group of people who work together to build great products for the enterprise and to disrupt how people interact with their money, their bank, and their financial lives.
Curious about what they're working on and how they're growing?
Check them out at capitalonecareers.com or at their Medium community at medium.com/capitalonedesign.
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Maurice Cherry: Alright. So, tell us who you are and what you do.
Jamika Burge: Hi, I am Jamika Burge. I am a computer scientist and sometimes I call myself a human computer scientist because I'm really interested in solving problems at the intersection of design and technology. And during the day I am actually walking into a new role at Capital One's One Design organization where I am dean of our Eno University and Eno is our conversational AI that customer can interact with to learn things like their balance and get information about their money. And in that role I am responsible for, or will be responsible for ensuring that the teams who work on the Eno platform are all speaking the same language in terms of co development, and inclusivity, and all of the things that make AI both really wonderful and really hard. But I'm also a researcher by training and [inaudible 00:01:02] in a couple of efforts that are funded through the national science foundation that support the development of black girls in computer science and compositional thinking and I'm equally proud of that work as much as I am my day job.
MC: Nice very nice. Let's talk about the work with Capital One. I'm really interested in this conversational AI because this is something which has come up I'd say maybe within the past four to five years as we looked at smart speakers, Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, etc. Talk to me about I guess the work that you're doing with that through the ... I'm sorry what did you call it Eno University?
JB: Eno U. Yeah. So, this is a new role for me and I'm brand spanking new but what I will share with you is that more and more our organizations are thinking about what it means to interact with our customers in a way that not only makes sense but it pushes the envelope in terms of what makes sense to connect. We have mobile devices, we have email that we can send information, and certainly there's the person at the end of the line. But I think Eno represents an opportunity to eventually be able to stop fraud in our accounts, and can alert us of nefarious activities, and really given insights into how we're spending our money, and can make recommendations.
JB: Now, those kinds of activities are certainly in my mind, you have to opt into those kinds of things. You have to know that you want to connect with this intelligence assistant in this way. But I think the power of having a personalized experience especially as it relates to our money has a lot of benefit and we're seeing similar systems across to your point, other technologies, Siri of course with Apple, and Cortana with Microsoft, and of course Alexa with Amazon. In fact, when Eno was released at [inaudible 00:02:57] a couple of years ago it was released on the Alexa platform as an opportunity to really interact and engage in meaningful ways or at least in comparison to Alexa platforms. So, I think it's a really interesting way that we provide all of our customers an engagement platform.
MC: And now you mentioned that in your role you're working to ensure that there's inclusivity within this. In what way does that work?
JB: Well, I think there are a couple of ways of thinking about this. First of all, if we think about what artificial intelligence is and even to the context of machine learning and how a lot of those algorithms work we want to make sure that the algorithms that we're creating are inclusive. And what that means is once we are creating this experience from a technical perspective we're ensuring that it supports the needs of all users. And as an example you can think about eye tracking systems which initially when they were developed were not really designed for people who had dark eyes so when they would use the systems they wouldn't work.
JB: Similarly, most recently folks might recall that there was this video of a black man who was trying to dry his hands in the dryer in a bathroom but his hands were too dark to work and when someone next to him with white hands was able to use the system it turned on. And so, those kinds of interactions really do matter and it means that those of us who are developing them have to ensure that how we're developing those technologies, the algorithms that we're using to do the deep learning and the deep thinking are actually inclusive. That as we expect that as large a range of people as possible will be affected positively by the experience. So, that's the first thing I think that comes to mind when it comes to inclusivity, sort of this fairness in AI, this responsible design space in development.
JB: The other part of it is is to also make sure that those folks who are actually developing the technologies understand what it means to work with people whose skill sets are not their own. And so, in working with designers, and developers, and product managers, and product owners, there are these three different sets of experiences that don't always overlap. And so, helping even our developers, and our designers, and those who are creating the technology to wrap their heads around what it means to really collaborate deeply. It is non trivial and it requires us thinking about and redesigning to some extent what co development means and what it means to work together, truly work together in this space that is very difficult, very fast paced, and also very impactful. And so, really thinking through what it means to train, and to learn, and to share information across these lines of work is really important and that's largely my role. How do we help to define, redefine sometimes what it means to co develop and to create in today's tech space.
MC: So, what does a typical day look like for you? It sounds like that's a lot of stuff to juggle.
JB: Well yeah, the team is very busy and as I mentioned I stepped in to this role maybe about a week ago and so it's still fresh and can tell you that the day to day is one of really sticking to a schedule and the team really runs like a start up. So, if you're aware of that fast pace, you're doing stand ups frequently, you're iterating on feedback to make sure that you're ready for releases pretty quickly, so it's pretty fast paced. For my own work, even leading up to joining this team my typical day really was getting into the office, first getting the meetings off of my schedule because there's lots of those and sometimes we have to wrangle those meetings. But effectively thinking about what it means to solve problems and to equip other designers to use the full suite of opportunities to do that is a big part of my role.
JB: I came into Capital One having done quite a bit of research in the space of human centered design whether it was in government or in non profit space and coming into the organization my role switched to one of empowering other people to engage in more research of their own whether it's user centered design or hard core research and understanding exactly what their main goals are and what our problems are. And doing that work required quite a bit of travel, working across the board across our organizations across the country. But also, effectively it lead to my support of different communities of practice. How do we support the development of the practice of design in the various areas that folks have skills in and how do we support and provide the resources for that kind of development? So, for my day job it's a whole lot of sharing my own knowledge, creating opportunities and curriculum, as well as connecting people to the right opportunities that help them to be optimally successful.
MC: Yeah, that does sound like a lot. And I can tell that you really enjoy it though, I can tell that.
JB: But I'll tell you this, I got my PHD because I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up and to some extent I don't know what I want to do when I grow up but I've learned in the process what I don't enjoy. And when I was in grad school it became clearer to me that getting an advanced degree was a way to at least chart my own direction. And to say that I may not know exactly what I'll be doing before I retire but I do know how to suss out what I enjoy. And I do know how to learn really quickly and apply that knowledge really quickly so that I can iterate and improve myself and a problem that I'm solving. And I think those skills have really served me well because it's helped me to have an open mind but also to be willing to dig in and do some heavy duty work when the time comes. And so, I appreciate that flexibility and am happy to have had those opportunities. So, it is a lot but I think, I don't know if I'd have it any other way.
MC: Yeah. When I think about Capital One and maybe the listeners might be thinking of this too, I don't know if I realized just how much design really goes into everything. I mean of course you have the design of the website, and the different products, and cards, and things like that, but even the stuff that you're talking about. I never would have thought about how AI and machine learning are such an integral part of things that Capital One does especially in a design capacity.
JB: I mean it's a bank right? Who would have thought that a bank could be a tech company but that's exactly what it is. In fact I like to say that Capital One is an IT company that sort of looks like a bank but certainly with a lot of affordances of a tech company and within our design organization with some 430, 500 designers we are absolutely working with our software engineers, with our developers, with our product owners and managers, and branding, and marketing, and all of the pieces that people certainly see on the website and on the commercials right. "What's in your wallet?" But how does that really work?
JB: And I think in any organization including Capital One in order for us to create solutions that matter to people we have to think about the role of design and the role of the human experience in the midst of offering any kind of service or product to real people. And I think having that lens of the world situates us to really provide the best solutions to all kinds of people and I'd like to think that if you think about it some of the best companies or the best recognized companies, best is certainly relative, but those are the companies that really do connect the technology with understanding human needs very well. And I know listeners and you can probably think about some of those companies even now. But yeah I think tech independent of design or human centered approach for problem solving isn't the whole story.
MC: Yeah. Now speaking of creating solutions for people I want to talk to you about black computer. Can you tell me about how that began?
JB: I would love to. So, I am a computer scientist and I am a black woman so in a lot of ways that is a combination of experiences that is unique to computer science as a whole. I mean it's not what I grew up learning and knowing what a computer scientist is and in fact I didn't enter computer science until college and that was after my first year. Because I was into english, and music, and loved math, did really well in math, and calculus, and really enjoyed that kind of problem solving. But it didn't occur to me and I wasn't aware of computer science, or engineering really as areas that I might be interested in exploring for a career. And all of that to say my experience of coming into the field certainly lately, certainly wasn't as a young person in high school or even middle school. But after finding that this is a really big space and there aren't that many people of color in this space then it presented an opportunity to really investigate and provide resources for those of us who are the least represented in this space and that's black women.
JB: And so, three, four years ago two colleagues and I, Jacquita Thomas who is a professor at Auburn University, and Quincy Brown who is a director of STEM programs at AAAS, and I got together and thought you know what it makes sense to think about doing this on a more mainstream platform. And so, Black ComputeHER which is spelled Black ComputeHER and it's pronounced black computer just as [inaudible 00:12:59] is an opportunity for us to create programming and experiences that really do support the development of black women and girls in computing. And we have a yearly conference that actually this year will be in Washington D.C., April 5th through 7th, and will give us an opportunity to convene and talk about the issues that really matter to black women in this space and our allies. But also it's a technical conference, which you don't see a lot of.
JB: And so, for us it's been an opportunity to talk about those things that when we go to these tech conferences don't get discussed but we often huddle together in a hotel room after the conference where we call it the conference after the conference where we're talking about all of those things and all of those experiences that really relate to us but have not at all been represented in the context of the conference like isolationism, or being talked over when talking about your technical solutions. Because people just aren't used to hearing you talk to them, or they believe that their ideas are better, or whatever that looked light right. So, having a level of emotional intelligence in our careers is something that actually matters and helps us to maintain our sanity and our opportunities for growth. And so, how do we have these kinds of conversations in a forum where women don't believe that they're alone. And they see that there are other people who have similar experiences and then effectively are creating cohort experiences that help us all and certainly help the broader computing organization. Because I've always believed that when you support those who are the least resourced then you really do help everybody in the space.
JB: So, that's kind of how we started in terms of the kinds of things we thought were important. And we've had some amazing speakers, LaTanya Sweeney who was an expert in privacy and data has been one of our speakers. Michaela Angela Davis who was a cultural critic and icon has been one of our speakers. And we're really excited to be gearing up for this year's conference because we also want to focus on entrepreneurship and again this space of AI and data science, machine learning because it's huge. And then, really just provide a level of opportunity that equips our constituency with skills and resources to, when they go back to work on Monday feel empowered and that they can keep doing this thing.
MC: And it's also important to mention this is the third year for the event so this isn't something new.
JB: That's right, it's not new and what's really nice about our organization I think anyway is that it complements what's already out there right. There are some other really great conferences and communities, I mean AfroTech is one, and Black Women Talk Tech is another, and there are some really amazing groups that are already out there. And so, one of the things that we like to do is share how we distinguish ourselves from those groups because there can be a saturation of opportunities for folks in the market that people have to wonder, "Okay well if I'm going to this meeting does it make sense for me to go to this one, or maybe I can't afford to go to the other one?" I would love to get to the point where we're really connecting each other and I can say, "Well if you can't make it to Black Computer then hopefully there are some opportunities to connect with Black Computer resources at some of these other companies and vice versa.
JB: And so, I think we can create, what I would love to see is a bigger eco system of resources for all of us in this space because we're seeing a lot more growth and opportunity in this space. But as black women in particular and for Black computer we are actually researchers. We're all, we're staring from a background of having PHD's and really wanting to get empirical results around what it means to thrive in this space. But not to stop there, to take what we learned and apply it to the programs that we develop. And so, there are lots of programs that create these shifts in opportunity and engagement for black woman and people of color more broadly and we'd like to think that our contribution is one that really takes a hard look at the numbers, at the data, and allow us to make important decisions about programming around what we're learning from the very people who have said that they want to do this kind of work and who look like us.
JB: And so, hopefully that work complements what's out there but it also helps us to create some new programming. We have the fellows program that we created last year that we're moving into this year that allows us to work with women anywhere from grad school all the way up to those who have been working for many years but want to switch careers where we have a year long intensive experience where they get to connect with senior women, senior level executives who look like them, but also to get training in tech. So, that kind of program emanates because, or starts because we've been able to really understand and learn from the data and the feedback that we get to give the right kinds of programming in the right kind of ways.
MC: That's amazing. I mean really just hearing ... I [inaudible 00:17:54] the fact that it's a technical conference as well as of course being a chance to fellowship is really good 'cause ... And maybe you could speak about this too but what I find ...
MC: ... and maybe you can speak about this too but what I find sometimes is with these sort of black in tech events or even people of color in tech events, it tends to skew very heavily on inspiration and that's it. And that's not to say that inspiration is bad, we all, we need that boost from time to time, but I don't know it can kind of be a hard sell like if you're trying to get your employer to pay for you to go if it's just kind of this fielded conference and not necessarily something you can walk away from with knowledge or with actionable items or things like that. So I'm glad it is also a technical conference where you all are able to learn some things, teach some things, stuff like that.
JB: Yeah, I appreciate that. I think it's important too that we maintain our technical roots, right 'cause that's where our credibility lies and if we're just convening a conference where you get to come and see each other and have a good time, you get some free food or you get to connect with someone you haven't seen since the last conference, that's not very impactful, or at least the impact is not sustainable, right? I think more broadly we don't want to just provide those communal opportunities with are important, right? There's a lot that says that cohorts and connecting with people who look like you and seeing people who are in roles that you might not have anticipated or expected as part of your own future, is very impactful, right? But that is just a part of it. There has to be some component that continues to build capacity, that builds skill and ensures that if we want to compete in tech, both as an organization, but also as individuals, we have to show that we have the skills to succeed there and we know what it means to be part of that conversation.
JB: You know we talk a lot about giving women even a seat at tech table and of course we talk the same thing for giving black women a seat at that table, but what are you gonna say once you get there, right? Or how are you going to influence others to your own ideas or to your own opportunity of solutioning if you weren't equipped with the skills to have that conversation. So, getting to the table is important and recognizing that there are those biases and nuances that can make that a challenge, but once you get there or once you grow in the ranks of whatever career that you want, that you choose and you want to grow in, be skilled and have what you need to succeed professionally and technically because we often see that in our space, and I don't know if this is your experience, Maurice, but we have amazing leaders, black leaders in HR roles or in management roles but necessarily in technical leadership roles.
JB: While I think it's amazing that we are creating opportunities and taking advantage of opportunities to be in management roles, how much more amazing is it to also say that we've got technical expertise in leadership across our companies as well and that's what I'm really interested in supporting within our community.
MC: Yeah, I agree, absolutely. Let's talk about the early moments of your career. I know that you went to Fisk for undergrad, got your master's from North Carolina A&T, got your PHD from Virginia Tech. What was your early career like when you were just starting out?
JB: That's a really good question 'cause I'm thinking about it even now and I don't think, you know other than having really great opportunities and connections with people, I never really applied to any real jobs. I got job offers which is a blessing, right but it also speaks to A the fact that I really didn't have a plan. But, I also really valued, and I still do, I value relationships and I think that's really important so for me my early career ... well a lot of my friends actually were getting jobs and out in the market, I spent a lot of time in school. So for me that was a career, learning how to learn, problem solving and dealing with the fact that you may not have quite had enough money but that was part of that experience, right?
JB: But my first job, and I'm not counting internships of which I had many, many, many, but my first job I think was right after getting my master's degree when I stayed at A&T in Greensboro to tech for a semester. But it was my first time actually teaching at an HBCU, would not be my last but it was my first time teaching, and it was also an opportunity for me to learn that you know what, I kind of have a gift for this thing. I certainly have an opportunity to improve and I think even now I can improve as an instructor, or as a trainer, but it was a natural fit for me and that for me was my first job as an instructor at North Carolina A&T and then I moved to IBM Research that summer after I finished my master's and was given the opportunity of staying.
JB: This was actually at the New York Hawthorne side of research and I thought well do I stay here or do I go get my PHD which is always something that was in the back of my mind, and the more that I worked there in the lab with others and saw that others, and most others had their PHDs it kind of cinched it for me. You know, I think I need to go back to school, so instead of staying at IBM where I believed that my tenure would have probably been short lived, I decided to go teach at Spelman College in Atlanta. A women's college, black women's college, actually, in Atlanta, Georgia and spent my two years there not just teaching and interacting with students who were really great, but also it kept me close to the university space so that I could decide when I wanted to go back to grad school and that's exactly what I did.
JB: So I taught at Spelman for a couple years before going back to school to be into tech in Blacksburg.
MC: Nice. What years were those at Spelman?
JB: It was 2000 to 2002.
MC: Oh wow.
MC: So I went to Morehouse.
MC: I was at Morehouse right around the same time. I was there from '99 to '03.
JB: Wow, that's pretty awesome. And we probably were around the same age. I think I was like a 23 year old professor there so that was certainly-
MC: Oh wow.
JB: For me. I mean, right?
JB: I had just gotten my master's I was like 21, 22 and then I think by the time I left I was certainly around 23, 24 years old and so it was a new experience for me but certainly one that I think got me on this path and it helped me to stay close to computer science to maintain that space of learning and continual learning and preparation that absolutely helped me to hit the ground running when I started at Virginia Tech.
MC: Well now you've taught at HBCU as you just said, and I think right now certainly as the conversation about diversity in tech and diversity in design are starting to become a lot more prevalent in these respective industries, they're looking toward HBCUs as the solution. They're like, "Aha!" I guess they just discovered one day like, "Aha! If we need to find black designers and black technologists we should go to a black college." But what do you think the industry gets wrong about HBCUs?
JB: To your point, yeah I went to Fisk undergrad, I went to A&T for my master's, I've taught at A&T, I've taught at Spelman and I've also taught at Howard University and am also affiliated with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund which is the public organization that works with public facing HBCUs and so HBCUs are kind of in my blood and I think that's a good question because a lot of organizations, whether they're corporations or not see HBCUs to some extent as a way of finding quick talent without really supporting the longevity of that talent. What I mean by that is you know, lots of companies are struggling with not just bringing in good talent and what they consider diverse talent, but keeping that talent and I think that as an experience between HBCUs and those who see them as a way to find really great talent really quickly, they don't get the whole picture and as a student of HBCUs I've learned to problem solve in the space of not having a lot of resources.
JB: I've learned that being a student at an HBCU is no different than being a student at another institution. In fact, I'm walking around campus with mathematicians who are amazing but also can spit rap lyrics, right, for any kind of underground rapper you can think of. Well, I'm also in a class with amazing orators who have grown their entire lives around learning how to communicate, but these are also people who are fantastic singers and actors and so I learned personally that at HBCUs they're just a really amazing space that supports our development. The development of the most of us who have not been the majority for the entire inception of this American society, but it also does not preclude us from being some of the most intelligent as well.
JB: We like to, at least at Fisk, really hinge and highlight and celebrate W. E. B. Du Bois who is a Fiskite but also the first black man to get a PHD from Harvard so I don't like to think of a Fisk as the black Harvard but as Harvard as the white Fisk, right? And so there's this certain experience that goes along with being a student and part of that HBCU experience. But then I think what a lot of corporations get wrong is that we're just like anybody else, right? Just as anyone who'd be at a Stanford or an MIT or any other place. It's just a little different in terms of resourcing and so what I would like to see more of is a lot of these organizations owning that they don't get it right and I think we're seeing more that are saying that.
JB: What I mean by that is you know, diversity and inclusion are two different things. Considering what a diverse candidate is and being inclusive in both your hiring practices and the way you do work are two different things and often we forget that inclusion part. We're not considering the intersectionality of the people who work in our offices and I think they get wrong the fact that they stop short of trying to get a diversity quota without really thinking more critically about how do you keep the people who you bring through your doors.
MC: I used to tell people that, and I still tell people this but I would tell folks that companies kind of look at HBCUs as this sort of fertile field that they can just pick from, but they're not necessarily putting back into the soil, you know what I mean?
JB: Yeah, yeah.
MC: Like they'll say, "Oh there's all these talented people that we can choose from," but they're not ... and actually this is kind of related to what you said about teaching at Howard. That they're not say for example, seeding employees at the college so they can make sure that the curriculum is gonna be up to the standards where they can build that sort of pipeline from college to corporation and I would say for anyone that is listening that doesn't think that those pipelines don't exist, they do, they do. Schools like Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, et cetera they have these courses, they may not be Facebook courses or Google courses, but they are certainly courses where if you make a certain grade you can be guaranteed an interview or an internship at that particular company because they've been able to sort of forge that relationship so what I see with companies is that thyre not forging the relationship. They're just looking at it as like a renewable resource or something. That they can continually take from and not put back into.
JB: That's right and a really good point. For a while, and even now, Howard was one of those places where Google set up shop and had a person on site to help with creating curriculum and helping to engage with students. I don't know what kind of a dent that makes in creating real opportunities at Google, but I think to try it is certainly a first step. But again, how do we continue to pour into these HBCUs and I think for a while too, there were these opportunities for faculty at HBCUs to go and spend residencies at Google at likely at other places too. So, I know that there are efforts to at least connect with HBCUs, I just don't know at least in the long term how truly effective they are. And maybe it's for me to just sort of watch as a researcher and as someone who likes to see empirical data support the benefits or even the opportunities to improve.
JB: But yeah, I think the jury's still out on that. HBCUs have been around for a long time. Tech opportunities have been around for a long time and just because we're creating those opportunities now doesn't mean that it won't create something new, but let's see what happens.
MC: I remember there was this article, I think it was in Bloomberg Businessweek. That's when I first heard about the Howard, Google kind of collaboration where there apparently was a, like a satellite campus at Google called Howard West where there were some students from Howard that were out there and they were learning about what it is to work at Google and things like that but I haven't really heard if the program had continued since then. I do know this part, 'cause this happened around like 2015 or so and I was doing consulting at the time. Actually for a company in DC that shall remain nameless but I'll tell you after this. But, this particular company was like, "Well if Google is investing in Howard then maybe we need to invest in Howard," and there were other companies that I had heard of in Silicon Valley, et cetera, that were all looking at Howard because Google happened to be, I guess the first company to speak to them and to forge a relationship and so many of them reaching out to Howard and then saying, "Oh well maybe we can work with them with this and maybe we can work with them with that," and were kind of getting shut down in a way.
MC: Which I can understand, it's like oh now that we're hot, now that one company is working with us now all these other companies want to work with us when for example, none of them were at maybe previous job fairs. And none of them were trying to actively source from departments before but now that Google's come around, all of a sudden it's a hot commodity. It's a really sort of interesting kind of a set up because I know that they're trying to do ... and when I say "they" I mean these companies, they're looking at other schools in that same way. They're looking at Spelman in that way. They're looking at Jackson State University in that way. Looking at Florida A&M in that way. I think what they have to realize is that the HBCUs know what's up. Like, we know that you want what we have and we're not gonna make it simple for you, I guess.
MC: Maybe I might be speaking out of turn by saying that but that's what it feels like, is that-
JB: Oh no, you're totally right.
MC: Yeah like the schools know what's up and the fact that the companies want to come around now is great but if you're not helping out in some other way, then I don't see why you're sniffing around our campus trying to find people. It doesn't make any sense.
JB: That's right, that's right and I will ... you know I was having this conversation with a chair of a computer science department of an HBCU that I will protect and not mention but having this conversation about companies that come in and want to set up shop, she was like, "You know what, I welcome it. I know what I want as a chair of the department and I know the goals that I'm setting and best believe that if these organizations come into my school, I'm gonna pimp them as much they're pimping me, right?" So, there's certainly an awareness, this cycle of increased interest that seems to happen every now and then with our HBCUs by companies that are like, "Hey, this could be an opportunity," but I think they should also recognize that these HBCs are hip and I would argue that we choose and that HBCUs choose the relationships that matter and that really are sustainable and it's because they've chosen and are in a position where they can choose, which is probably why they're not at the endowment status as some of these majority institutions, right?
JB: I mean it's easy to say, "Yeah we're gonna create this huge partnership with this company X, right? And it will lead to a regular infusion of funds and resources which can completely shift the way we do work," but I've never seen that. I've never seen any huge infusion, at least from the tech side, organizations that really do shift the way HBCUs can even operate because there's been such an influx of resources in that space that can change the dynamics of HBCUs more broadly. And I think that's huge, right? There is a huge opportunity and we can talk about the wealth that's out there in tech and that if we as people of color are not part of that revolution, we're losing out on the legacy of wealth and building and supporting our families and building for our children that tech inevitably provides, right?
JB: Kids are graduating with their BS getting six figure salaries, right? And to be locked out of that as people of color, especially those who are matriculating at HBCUs, they're not part of that and so there's a lot of money in tech and that shift the way we train, we educate, we expose all to computer science but we haven't seen that shift yet and I'm an optimist who has realistic tendencies so like I said, I hope that we'll see something new but these institutions and these ...
JB: See something new, but these institutions and these opportunities have been around for a long time and I think what we should be doing and what does exist is for these organizations to connect with, and this sounds like a shameless plug, but to connect with organizations like Black Computeher or those consulting entities that not only have experience teaching and living at these institutions and even in the market more broadly but can also provide insights in how to grow and how to manage these conversations around DNI or how to recruit people from what seems to be an invisible pipeline of talent. Because you're right, they're all there, we're here, we just aren't being noticed and picked up for a number of reasons. But yes, and to all you've said, there certainly is a really interesting dynamic around companies that decide, yeah let's focus on these HBCU's, and I think that they should, we should do more of that. But, let's be honest about what HBCU's are really trying to do in terms of their larger goals in education and align to those instead of seeing them as opportunities to poach.
MC: Absolutely, absolutely. When you look back at your career, what do you wish you would have known when you started?
JB: I wish I'd known about tech much sooner or even engineering. I'd like to think that if I'd known earlier about the power of math in preparation for a tech degree, that would have made me think very differently about my future because I was really great at math. In my mind, I just enjoyed math, calculus and the different kinds of ways of solving equations, I loved all that stuff. But I didn't see a direct connection between math and tech, or even computing like I said the computer we had at my home I was using to write research papers or papers on Shakespeare, things of that nature. It wasn't to write code or design mini-games, and so I wish I'd known earlier about this space, but what I do appreciate in my learnings as a young person is that it's okay to be smart. It's okay to like math and English and science and all these areas because what it did afford me an opportunity to do is to prepare myself in a way that I didn't think or know were opportunities for future work in this space now.
JB: But I also think that you know, it would have given me an opportunity to connect earlier in this space, in a way that I haven't but that I'm also trying to create for others, especially young people. So I think that would be it, I just wish I'd know sooner about this stuff.
MC: Now one thing that I saw as I was doing my research is that you, of course, have presented at a number of places, you've spoken at a number of places. One of the places being the Obama White House, I want to make that distinction, now-
JB: Thank you.
MC: ... now with the current administration, I'm curious, what impact do you think this administration and its policies are going to have on that next generation of tech professionals? And the reason I'm asking this is because certainly, one thing that we saw during Obama's tenure in the White House is this increased focus on STEM, increased focus on kids particularly learning STEM, and we saw it whether it was presenting at the White House, whether it's different initiatives and things of that matter. Since the current occupant of the White House has been there, we have not seen anything to that effect at least, and so I'm curious, what do you think that's going to mean for this next generation of tech professionals? Especially as we start seeing how America's status is being perceived and it's changing now around the world.
JB: Let me also share that the Obama White House was also the one that launched the CS For All Initiative. Which is this idea that computer science in terms of access and as an education really should be made available to every student, to everybody. And it forced us to have a real conversation about who gets access to computer science, who learns and so, there was a huge push you know, through the Obama administration to really connect the dots between students, all students that is, and computational thinking and computer science. So as part of that work, yeah I have been able to visit the White House and sit in on conversations about computer science and marginalized girls, or topics around science and STEM for all of us. And have also been able to plan meetings around this conversation in different capacities, and so I think for me personally it was an opportunity to be part of that conversation. Because we've been doing this for a long time, and so it was amazing that now there was a national platform for what it meant to talk about computer science.
JB: But I think contrasting that with our current administration you know, not to be political here, but I think what it's doing is giving us the opportunity, us the organizations, those who are in the space, to argue and grab what's ours. Because if we expect to grow in a space, if we expect to be the professionals that we know that we can be, we've got to get it ourselves. We can't expect anybody else to swoop in and "save us", which is often what a lot of these companies do at HBCU, so speaking at that right? The savior complex is real, but that's certainly gone now and for anything that we ask for or that we get in the space of tech especially as a black woman, we're going to start taking it ourselves. And owning your own narrative about what it means to be a techie in this space, and not even just a black woman techie, but a techie, right?
JB: Because that's how we succeed, and I think for of us who are part of this conversation that Black Computeher fosters is, what's the point of all of this anyway, why is it important for us to create these organizations, to create these initiatives that speak to our own needs? Because nobody else has done it, right? And one of the research themes that we created and that we've learned from talking to our constituents of black woman in tech across all sectors is how important it is to own our own narrative. How important it is to be talking about what we need, what we wish to create in terms of opportunity and even tech opportunity and solutions have to be led by us.
JB: Now others can be part of that conversation, in fact, we welcome all to that conversation, but we can't expect anybody else to have conversations about us without us being the ones who are leading that conversation. And so for us, whether it's this new administrations, whether it's being in an organization where we aren't valued, and we can't tell if it's because we're women or because we're people of color, again that intersectionality right? We don't know how we're being marginalized against. Then we have to be the ones to own our own voice, to know who our own supports are because it's cold out here in these streets, right? Especially when we're by ourselves, really small core groups, but how do we reach back to those organizations like Black Computeher, like Black Women Talk Tech, et cetera. That allow you to be able to connect with people who get it, and get it because they know what you're going through, because we're not going to ever see the eradication of racism, we're not going to ever see the eradication of people who are nationalistic, or who don't want to share resources because they think it's taking from their own pockets.
JB: So while I think there's a lot to be said about the importance of us really owning our space, and owning our voices, we have to be also unapologetic about it and use an authenticity that only comes by us, through us. And I wish it weren't the case that isms didn't exist, but as long as they do you know, our organization Black Computeher is going to be around to help provide the resourcing and the context and the support for those of us to keep making it and to keep waking up in the morning and going into the office or whatever it is that we're doing that brings us fulfillment in a space that may not really be designed for our success.
MC: What advice has really stuck with you over the years as you've gone through your educational and even your professional career journey, what's stuck with you over the years?
JB: I'll tell you this, I was about the graduate from college and always struggled with thinking, “You know what?”, I did well in my computer science classes, but I was like, “You know what? It isn't coming as easily as I think it should.”, or, “I'm really having a hard time and I'm wondering if I'm just not cut out for this?”, right? Because I'm thinking about my experiences with English literature and with Oratory and all the things that in my mind made it a little easier for me to grok. But this computer science, this programming thing and these data ... ugh, I wasn't getting as well as I thought that I should. And so I kept talking to speakers who would come and speak, I kept talking to my instructors and my professors are saying, “You know what? Maybe this just isn't going to work for me, I'm just not getting it I think as quickly as I should.”
JB: And every time, everybody would say to me, "You know what? You've just got to stick with it, it's okay, just keep doing it, keep doing more of it, keep doing more of it, persist, keep doing it.", and at some point, I was like, "This isn't going to work. Because you know, I know what it's like to be persistent, that's not what I'm saying, I just don't feel like I'm getting this stuff, and I think that's a big deal.", and one day we had an external speaker, there's something about you know, somebody who's not part of your family who can come in and tell you something, the same thing that your parents or those who are in your inner circle are telling you, it just seems like something new. I remember asking him, "You know what? I'm not getting this stuff, something just seems to me just isn't clicking, I mean I'm doing well but I feel like I should be getting it quicker or more easily, and he said, "Well that's normal, that's part of what it means to be in this tech space, that's part of problem-solving right? Every initial solution isn't going to work and you just have to keep going at it to find the one that does."
JB: And there was something about hearing him say that, that stuck with me and has always been part of my internal set of toolkits. Perseverance really matters I may not be the best at it, I may not be the smartest at it, but I'm absolutely going to keep moving at it and I'm going to be persistent on it. So that's been the best advice for all of my experiences, just to keep pushing, keep moving, and I think for those who know me they know that I don't take no for an answer. So I think it's been advice that I've absolutely taken to heart in a lot of different ways. But yeah to keep moving and keep pushing, and I know that may sound weird or different especially since I talk a lot about inclusivity and black women in tech. But I've always found that there really isn't a person who looks like me who's doing what I think I could be doing eventually, and that's not to say that there aren't black women in really amazing, highly technical leadership roles. But I'm still trying to figure out, I'm a mogul in the making, at least I think I am, right?
JB: And so, I think I'm on a path that is both technically inspired and design inspired and inspired by my own experiences in supporting women and girls of color in this space in a way that I don't think we've seen before. And so I think the best advice in forging paths, at least for me that are new, is to keep at it, stay persistent.
MC: Now how can the listeners get involved with helping the next generation of computing and tech professionals?
JB: Yeah well part of it is being open to talking with people whose experiences are different from your own. The other person doesn't have to be a woman, if you're a man, doesn't have to be black if you're white, part of these conversations first happen by meeting people, by meeting each other where we are. And I think that helps to open our own personal lens and erase and tear down our own biases about what it means to connect with each other and then to work with each other and then to collaborate and do things that grow from that. But if you want to get involved with our organization, and we welcome it, certainly blackcomputeher.org, that's blackcomputeher.org one word. Invite you to visit our website and consider attending our conference in April, sponsoring our conference, our sponsorship is wide open and we've got some amazing sponsors already so far.
JB: Including HP and Anitab.org Institute, which is the organization that puts on Grace Hopper, so we've got some really great sponsors and great connections already. But I think even locally, just have a conversation and be open to challenging your own perspective, just in a simple conversation, I think that's one way. We're also as I mentioned earlier, I'm working with school systems in New York City and in Northern Virginia where we're working with students, black girls and brown girls and engaging them in computational thinking where we're building for them a computer science ecosystem. And we have lots of partners and sponsors for that program as well including Virginia Tech, the Thurgood Marshall college fund, UNC Greensboro, and Black Girls Rock. Which is an amazing organization that has a really strong, existing platform of cultural awareness and identity, and that piece of who we are as people is important, hugely important. Especially for our young girls and so any of those opportunities, mentorship and connection remain open, I am easily accessible and invite people to join the work and be part of our conversation.
MC: Now where do you see yourself in the next five years, what kind of work would you like to be doing?
JB: And one that I think about, and still don't have an answer to. You know, as I've mentioned I know what I don't want to do, I'm still trying to figure out what I do want to do. But I hope I'm in a position where I'm continuing to connect people to the right opportunities, and the opportunities that matter. Especially in tech and design, and so I would love to be able to hire people, to connect people to opportunities, to provide training to people who need the opportunities to advance, to grow. And to see how they really do inspire the tapestry of the tech and design industry, as a collective. And I think I'm getting closer to that in my new role at Capital One. I see the world as much bigger even than organizations, and so I would love to be able to connect people and opportunities because that can't be understated. And I think even for our community, for people of color, we often either don't have those connections or aren't plugged into the spaces and to the networks that can give us or connect us to those opportunities.
JB: And so I would love to be part of that landscape of really making sure that not only are opportunities available to people, but we're putting the right people into these opportunities as well.
MC: Well just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and your work and everything that you're doing, online?
JB: Thank you, Maurice, well certainly blackcomputeher.org, and you can find me at jamikaburge.com, that's J-A-M-I-K-A-B-U-R-G-E.com, and I'm also on twitter at @jdburge, and on Instagram @j.jurious, that's J-U-R-I-U-O-S, and I've got to tell you now, I'm not as active on Instagram and Twitter but I'm happy to connect with a lot of people. I really value relationships and so it's harder for me to maintain those in social media, especially when I don't see a lot of people that I meet, but for sure I know and meet a lot more people than I'm connected with online. But I invite all to have these conversations with me in these spaces because that's how we can change the world.
MC: Sound good, well Jamika Burge, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show, I mean just as you shared everything about the work you're doing at Capital One, the work that you're doing out there in the community, I mean I hope that it's clear to the people that are listening, it's certainly clear to me that you are a force in this industry. You are doing amazing things and I really just cannot wait to see what else you accomplish, so thank you so much for coming on the show I appreciate it.
JB: Thanks so much for the invitation and for the kind words, I'm going to put that in my back pocket for sure, thank you so much.