Anthony Mays didn’t know he’d be here. Growing up a Black kid in Compton in the 1980s and 90s, there weren’t Black technologists, futurists, and engineers to look to for inspiration. He and his family were just trying to remain resilient and encouraged in an environment where poverty and pain were far too common.
Years later, after graduating from the University of California Irvine, he’s a thriving engineer at Google, and founder of Morgan Latimer Consulting – a firm dedicated to helping engineering candidates from every background make their way to the top of tech.
Anthony was an integral part of this week’s Brilliant Black Minds program launch, joining the Karat team for in-class workshops with program participants from Howard University, and sharing his journey.
So how’d he get here? We asked.
The following conversation was held between Anthony Mays and Portia Kibble Smith, Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Karat.
Portia: Hey Anthony! It’s great to be with you today and I’m excited about this conversation. To start, please share more about who you are and what you do. What’s the focus of your day-to-day, and what are some of the aspirations that are driving you today?
Sure, so I’m a software engineer with 20 years experience. I currently work for Google. And I also own Morgan Latimer Consulting, a firm that helps to prepare candidates for technical interviews at top tech companies.
I primarily work in the area of data visualization, building software tools and products that help customers understand their data. But apart from that, one of the things that I’m very passionate about both within the tech industry and in my core role as an entrepreneur is helping to level the playing field for people from underrepresented backgrounds by providing them with the tools and information they need in order to succeed. I’m very passionate about drawing from my own experience, as someone who’s been in technology for a while – imparting wisdom and guidance to other folks who are looking to come up in the game.
My goal is to provide as much of that information as I can, in an authentic way so that people are able to see someone who perhaps comes from where they come from or maybe even looks the way they look. I’m talking to them about how to be successful in tech.
That’s amazing! To go deeper, you have the opportunity to work at the highest levels of the world of tech being at Google and having your own consultancy. What are the primary barriers that Black engineers are facing when trying to ascend to the higher levels of these leading tech firms?
The way I’ll talk about it is that tech wasn’t exactly built for people who look like me or who come from where I come from. And that’s not to say that Black people and other underrepresented folks haven’t had the opportunity to make excellent contributions. It’s that the prevalent culture was not built with folks like us in mind. So, it’s important to bridge the gap when I’m talking to folks from underrepresented backgrounds. The issue isn’t about skill or ability or intelligence, but rather about information. And in a world in which information is more accessible than it’s ever been, it’s still hard to connect people to the information that they need to be successful, specifically within the tech world.
I think the importance of programs like [Brilliant Black Minds] is twofold. Number one, to provide that information, that data, that helps students in the younger generation understand the disciplines and behaviors they need to develop to be successful. But then also to be able to see and have concrete examples of people who are exceeding or succeeding in this space, so that they can know that it’s possible.
Just knowing that it’s possible, just knowing that it can be done, can be a game changer for people who come from communities like mine. Communities where there aren’t many technologists in a place like Compton, or Long Beach, or Inglewood, or South LA, or Chicago, or maybe even Harlem and other places around the country.
It’s important to see that, to bridge the language gap that sometimes is present when you’re coming from one place that emphasizes one set of things or behaviors, and a different place which is very much full of privilege and has its own sort of language and dialects.
Everything you’re saying is spot on. Can you tell me a little bit about what it’s like to be Anthony Mays at Google? What have been your personal experiences in tech and what are some of the shared experiences observed from other black colleagues?
Yeah, so I’ll try to answer it this way. Like, I come from the hood. So I’ve seen people who work exceedingly hard just to get by. People who deal with problems of scale and poverty in these very interesting and creative ways. It’s that sense of doing what’s needed to survive and to thrive in a harsh environment that has been a very important foundation for me. And then coming into a large technical environment where you’re also dealing with problems of scale and problems of economy of a different type, it’s about finding the inner strength and perseverance to stare problems dead in the face and say, “you ain’t nobody”.
I’ve been through hard situations before. You know, if this app isn’t working the way it needs to, then okay, we can figure that out. If I’m in a constrained environment where I don’t have all the resources that are available to me, or that might be available in other situations, it’s like “no problem”. I’ve been poor before. So, let’s make this work and cobble something together and get to a solution. And so being able to translate that earlier life experience into the kind of behavior that helps me to be successful as a technologist has been very important and helpful.
Growing up as a Black man in tech has often meant feeling the isolation of seeing myself perhaps be the only representative example in the room of some who shares my experience. The only one who has endured some of the things that I’ve been through. But no matter who we are, what background we come from, I’ve learned to embrace the fact that, while there are some things that are different about what brought Anthony Mays at the table, there are things that I have in common with people from different backgrounds. So I’ve tried to learn how to embrace that.
Yeah, we do have some differences in how we got to where we are, but at the end of the day we’re both technologists solving problems and finding the inner strength and fortitude to come up with the best solutions.
We’ve talked a little bit about the resiliency of coming from the places that we come from and just having to make it happen. What is it about the Black perspective that is important for the world of tech, and what is it about that Black perspective that needs to be better accounted for at these large tech companies?
Yeah, I think one answer that just comes to mind for me is faith. I mean, growing up the way I grew up, I was surrounded by this culture of faith. It largely manifested itself as a religious faith, but even more broadly a faith that we can have a better tomorrow than yesterday. And for me, that faith is rooted in God himself. And so that’s one of the unique things that I bring to the work that I do, and to the efforts that I engage in. I continue to have this enduring, unabated hope. And I think that is one of the things that I uniquely bring to almost any environment that I find myself placed in.
I think that hope is so important as we look at these really difficult, really thorny challenges we have in tech of bringing different people together to work, and move in the same direction.
You’ve had such a tremendous impact in both your personal and professional lives, what piece of advice do you have for other Black developers as they consider career options and start their journeys?
Two things. First of all, know that you are not the first and you will not be the last. Black history has given us many examples of innovators like Garrett A. Morgan and Lewis Latimer (two of my favorite inventors after whom I’ve named my company), and many others. There are many in tech today besides myself who are carving pathways for you and are here to support you.
Secondly, know that you don’t need to change everything about yourself to be successful in this space. It is who you are and what you’ve endured that makes you specially qualified to thrive in tech. Focus on bringing the unique value that you bring, and do it with hard work and a spirit of inquisitiveness. Question things for the better. Tech is a place where you can have the privilege of taking risks. Jump in, and don’t be afraid to change the game.
To hear more about Anthony’s story, check out his BuzzFeed profile video below, or to connect with him directly, go to http://anthonydmays.com.
And for more information on Brilliant Black Minds, visit: https://brilliantblackminds.karat.com/about