LGBTQ+ in tech: from building apps to spreading magic—part I
What a month this one was!
June 2020 has been revolutionary for many, as activists and supporters came together in response to many disruptive events. This year, Pride looks a little different. A lot different.
The parades are all virtual, the festivities are limited based on capacity, and while we’ve seen wins for the LGBTQIA+ community, the recent deaths and protests have only highlighted that many are still fighting for justice and equality. Now more than ever is a time for us to celebrate who we are and actively serve as allies—for some, that means education, or activism, or voting, unlearning, or engaging in tough discussions. At Snyk, we are celebrating Pride Month in a way that supports all snykers and our communities. Learn more about our initiatives here and here.
As part of our Pride Month celebrations, we reached out to individuals and organizations in the tech industry and we talked about everything Pride—from their experience being LGBTQ+ in the tech industry, to heartfelt advice to newcomers in the industry, this Q&A blog series is sure to make you smile and inspire you!
And with no further ado, let’s unleash the magic! 🌈✨
Meet our participants
Avery (she/her) – Avery is an Information Systems Engineer at Snyk. She’s come from a work background that’s a mix of IT and Security and she has worked for a bunch of different kinds of companies that have given her a lot of perspective.
Brendan (he/him) – Brendan is part of the sales team at Snyk within the Boston office. If you asked his friends about Brendan, they would highlight his humor and relaxed energy. He tends to make light of any situation possible and tries to portray himself as easy-going so that people feel comfortable discussing anything on their minds. During his free time, he enjoys cooking, surrounding himself with friends/family, hiking, discovering new music, and generally, anything to better himself (reading, staying active, online courses).
Josh (he/him) – Josh is a Principal Engineer here at Snyk. His life experiences have made Josh a very open-minded individual! He has experienced being different, being the odd one out. He came out as gay at an all-boys school at the age of 13. As you can imagine this wasn’t easy and so, this experience had an impact on him and shaped who he is.
Chris – Chris Howard is a consultant for EPAM Systems working with large private sector organizations to deliver digital transformation projects and provide fresh ideas and approaches to solving problems within their organizations. He is openly gay and often works with organizations to share his experiences in the UK Tech sector as a member of the LGBT+ community. Chris holds various positions including being a Lead of Intertech LGBT+ Diversity Forum and a Media Officer for the British Army LGBT+ Forum Media Office. He is also the Chair of Governors for the New Wave Federation, a group of Apple Distinguished Schools that put tech at the front and center of their curriculum and learning experiences.
Has your sexual and/or gender identity impacted your career, in a negative or positive manner?
Avery: Yes, in both ways. When I first came out as trans in 2012, there were some challenges, both for me as a newly-out trans woman, and for my company, which had only ever had one trans individual come out at work before in 20+ years of operation. However, as I got older and more confident in myself, I became more willing to be out and proud, and happy to educate others about my experiences.
Brendan: I personally have not seen much of an impact by my sexuality on my career—just because of my minimal time in the professional workforce. Prior to Snyk, I worked for quite a few companies in different business realms (HR, Finance, & Sales). I decided to keep my sexuality of being a gay male to myself in fear that it would negatively impact my personal brand. I did not see many others within my prior roles expressing their sexual preferences and had previously read that, back in the day, it could deter potential advancements. I officially “came out” in 2019 shortly after starting my first job right out of college. During this period I saw nothing but support but did feel like the “token gay” as I was the only one that truly had that distinctive trait. I am thrilled to see that Snyk has such a strong sense of unity and values the importance of letting people display the true person we are without fear of ramifications. I began my career here when work from home became the status quo and have been entirely remote. The energy from everyone I have interacted with solidified my decision to be open about my sexuality with my coworkers. I have never been more comfortable being 100% my organic self within a work environment till joining Snyk.
Josh: I think about this often, and I imagine that it’s helped and hindered in equal measure. To be honest I haven’t really felt an impact one way or another. When it comes to my education, I doubt that the fact I’m gay played a major role, although it was partly what attracted me to study at Brighton University! I can honestly say that I’ve never felt like I was rejected from an interview because of my sexual orientation, or the fact that I’m relatively camp. I like to think of interviews as a litmus test. If an interview doesn’t work out, it’s probably for the best, as they need to accept me the way I am. Trying to pretend to be someone you’re not is tiring and damaging to mental health, so it’s important that we find places to work where we can be comfortable in our own skin. My advice to others is to be yourself at your interviews, and you’ll hopefully end up working for the most open-minded & diverse workplaces.
How did you end up in tech and what do you love most about this industry?
Avery: Entirely by chance—my first job out of college was as a receptionist, but I also fixed computers in my office and eventually moved into my first IT job there. I love that technology can foster so much passion in people who work in the industry. There’s nothing I love more than people telling me about the thing they’re really passionate about.
Brendan: When graduating from college, I knew that I wanted to embark on a sales career due to the sole reason of having monetary control over your success. I love the notion of knowing that the work you put in will pay off. Having no sales experience at the time, I began my journey with a company with a recognized management and sales training program to ensure that I had a sturdy foundation. I ultimately was drawn into Snyk solely on the product itself. Like I previously said, I am constantly researching for self-development and open-source/containers were something that I felt very drawn towards. I found Snyk prior to knowing they had opened an office in my home city. Upon further research, I applied and was given the opportunity of a lifetime to sell a product I truly believe in, work with amazing people, and be a part of something that I feel confident bragging about when people ask, “Where do you work?”.
Josh: I’m a programmer at heart, and so I saw coding as more of a hobby than a career at first. It was something I did from my bedroom as a kid, mainly making games and websites which had no real purpose. At university, however, I studied Architecture. So I wasn’t initially seeking the tech industry. I think a lot of people studied something different at university back when I was studying, as there were not as many excellent courses in programming, and people were still seeking more traditional subjects. So, it took me a while to recognise that engineering/programming/coding/hacking/digital products are my calling. I still love architecture (and tinker at home!), but I enjoy the immediacy of programming.
In tech, there are no strong opinions around sexual orientation, at least from where I’m sitting. I imagine that other industries may have strong hetero biases, partly born out of fear (homophobia) and partly out of tradition (resistance to change). Perhaps it’s simply the age of our industry, being a relatively young industry, or perhaps there’s another, deeper explanation for this. I think this acceptance is largely due to the fact that the tech industry attracts a wide range of people, many of whom consider themselves to be outsiders because they don’t fit the mold in one way or another. Many of these people wouldn’t normally consider themselves a member of the LGBTQ+ community, but rather are an outsider due to some other facet of their identity. I love this about my industry, as it’s a far broader set of differences than what we usually consider under the banner of LGBTQ+. The more the merrier, and I learn so much from the people around me.
Are you actively engaged in LGBTQ+ communities in tech? If yes, give us some examples of the magic these communities create!
Avery: Yes, a few chat groups. I’ve found that people who share a piece of their identity can relate well on a lot of things, while their otherwise varied backgrounds give a lot of great perspective on other issues.
Josh: I’d love to be more active actually. I’m a member of Intertech which puts on some great events about LGBTQ+ in tech. As an example, I got to hear the former editor of Attitude Magazine, playwright, and multi-award-winning journalist, Matthew Todd talk about the origins of Pride, including the Stonewall riots. Also thanks to Intertech I got to join the London Pride parade, which was such an amazing experience!
Making magic happen at IntertechLGBT+ Diversity Forum
Intertech LGBT+ Diversity Forum is a non-profit organization for LGBT+ individuals and their allies across the globe. They are super passionate and committed to encouraging LGBT+ diversity and inclusion in the UK technology sector for the benefit of the individual, the organizations they represent, and the industry overall—and they’ve been doing this since 2012!
Their three main focuses as an organization are to support LGBT+ professional development through the provision of events and networking opportunities to enable diverse talent to engage, network, and socialize with one another. Support organizations in the acceleration and growth of their own LGBT+ employee networks and groups through sharing best practices and facilitating workshops and conferences. With their final focus point, they’re ensuring that they remain engaged with their industry and the ever-changing world of tech to understand how we as individuals and organizations should change and adapt to shape a positive future for all working in the technology industry.
The organization is best known by its 3000+ members as working with some of the best organizations and innovators in the technology industry and their events are always tech first, diversity second. Whether they’ve got 250 people joining for an evening at Deliveroo HQ in London to hear about the latest developments in their architecture and engineering teams or full auditoriums at Facebook, Sainsbury’s, Goldman Sachs plus many more, listening to some of the industry’s most talented and diverse analysts, developers and leaders share their stories, they’ve always got so much going on.
Yet when they’re not engaged in events you can see members of the Intertech team, who are all fantastic volunteers, joining companies to take part in their own internal diversity initiatives. They’ve sat on guest panels to share a taste of what’s going on in the diversity world, supported in the running of Network Leader courses to help improve employee resource groups, and even spoken at conferences such as London Tech Week to thousands of attendees.
LGBTQ+ people are often faced with significant difficulties—compared to other parts of the population—when choosing their careers, mostly due to unfavorable circumstances within the family. What tips do you have for young (or not!) LGBTQ+ people out there who aspire to build a career in tech?
Avery: Honestly? Just take the plunge. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, or ask questions—that’s what learning is all about. If you’re passionate about tech, you should definitely follow that passion. Reach out to those in similar situations and build yourself the best support network that you can, and once you’re in a position to help others, help them to the best of your ability.
Brendan: Personally, I feel that you need to feel comfortable with yourself. Surround yourself with people who love you for the person you are and nothing else will matter at the end of the day. I did not come out to my friends till college and after I weaved all of the negative people out of my life and was immersed in a community where I felt like there was no ramification of “coming out”. Everyone has their own paths in this journey, so there is no cookie-cutter example. However, I do believe the people that the ones you surround yourself with have a huge say on your self-confidence. With that being said, I am excited to be a part of Snyk and the fantastic culture they have curated—a culture with countless different backgrounds and personality types.
Josh: Although I did not find it easy coming out when I was younger, I was very fortunate to have supportive parents when it came to the fact that I am gay. However, like a lot of parents, their thinking when it came to the tech industry was a little outdated. I can remember them telling me about the dot-com bubble bursting, and how I might struggle to make a living in this industry. Whilst most of our parents want the best for us in life, their wisdom only goes so far, and they cannot predict the future for us. There are things in life that they haven’t gone through, and can’t relate to. And that’s perfectly ok. But you need to figure out what’s right for you in your life. That doesn’t mean you need to be all by yourself when you decide to embark on your journey. Surround yourself by supportive friends, and don’t be afraid to lean on them for support and empathy as you find your way in life.
Chris (Intertech): The tech industry has a real benefit when it comes to considering career options in that so much of the information you need to make the right decision is available at the click of a button. Research is key to finding the right role and organisation and with so many incredible initiatives such as Student Pride, the Stonewall Work Equality Index and mygWork who only advertise from diverse organisations you can get a real head start on finding a place that you’ll be able to flourish and fit into. Starting a career in tech does come with its challenges of course and with such a fast-moving industry it’s often overwhelming to think about fitting into established teams or organisations. Look for role models that you might see in their recruiting materials or marketing and if you see someone ‘just like you’ then you can be confident that getting settled shouldn’t be a problem at all. And of course, get in touch with us; we’re always happy to connect anyone looking to start a new career or further an ongoing one with one of the incredible organisations we work with.
Stay tuned for part II coming your way next week!