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Ex- Googler, Anthony Mays shares how the legacy of Black brilliance inspires the next chapter of his journey
Why would a successful engineer quit his day time job at Google in the midst of a global pandemic? Simple: to focus on his purpose to serve underrepresented communities in tech. Anthony Mays is no stranger to Karat. He has been an integral part of Brilliant Black Minds since the launch of the program, joining the Karat team for inspirational workshops with program participants from HBCUs like Howard University, and sharing his inspiring journey. Today, Anthony joined us for an eye-opening Q&A where he talks about the power of community and Black brilliance that motivates him every single day.
Dagmawit: We’ve gotten to work a lot more closely with you since the launch of Brilliant Black Minds, and I really want to share your energy and passion with our readers. So to kick things off, what does Black brilliance mean to you?
Anthony: Black brilliance is about reflecting on our God given attributes in the best light. There are a number of things that really shine in the Black experience: perseverance, the ability to press forward despite difficulty, and the ability to be innovative. Innovation has always defined the Black experience in America. But really, Black brilliance always points back to our creator. When I think of all the innovators of the past and those who have inspired me, I always think, hey, look, God did this.
D: I love that you said innovation has been at the center of Black history. Is there a Black innovator that has inspired you in your journey?
A: So when I say innovation, I don’t mean just in the STEM fields. I mean in fashion, music, in many, many industries. However, I grew up familiar with Black innovators within science, engineering and technology. The two that are most notable for me are Garrett Morgan and Lewis Howard Latimer. My consulting firm, Morgan Latimer, is actually named after those two men. What fascinates me about Garret Morgan is that he had to pass as native American while a white man sold his inventions, despite the fact that his gas mask apparatus saved countless lives. Lewis drafted all diagrams for Thomas Edison’s innovations, including the light bulb. The logo for Morgan Latimer LLC is really a homage to that moment as it’s a light bulb and the filament takes the shape of an “M”.
D: That’s powerful. You touched on your firm a little and I’d like to hear more about the next leg of your journey. What motivated you to quit your job at Google and why now?
A: This started all back in 2014 when I was grappling with the fact that I had achieved something that very few from my community have: becoming a Software Engineer at Google. So when Google revealed their diversity numbers, I saw myself in that 1%. I knew that I wanted to do something to ensure that there were more seats in tech by the time I left Google.
Last year, I kept hearing about the great resignation and how people were leaving their industries to make their way into tech. It felt like it was the right time to take the leap and begin working with this community of people to provide value and really scale my impact. Brilliant Black Minds is one of the programs I’m most excited to support even more in this next chapter of my career.
D: You worked as a Software Engineer while also building your firm. That takes grit and a lot of hard work. How do you keep stepping out of the box and what are daily practices that help you continue leveling up?
A: Faith and community play a huge part for me. I’ve seen what happens when you truly serve people and seek to have their best interests. They return that favor with support, encouragement, mentorship and championing. I’ve been very blessed to be supported by so many people who have seen what I was trying to do and wanted to support me by joining in that work. They have believed in me in times that I didn’t even believe in myself.
We’re talking about everybody from my wife Shannon to Forest T Harper, the CEO of INROADS, to Portia Kibble Smith who invited me to serve with the Brilliant Black Minds program. I’ve been very blessed to have an enriched network of people willing to pour into me as I’m pouring into others. And I think having that has helped me so much.
I’m always mindful that where I am today isn’t where my ancestors were. And if they could see me now, I think they’d smile. I think that the future is brilliantly bright for the next generation of Black leaders in tech. And I wanna make sure that I’m supporting them because they’re gonna go so much farther than I’ve been able to go.
D: I agree that community and having a support system is key. What would you say to someone who is feeling imposter syndrome trying to pursue a career in tech, and doesn’t have that support system to lean on?
A: I’d say don’t just look at Black history, but look at your history. Many of the mistakes that people make (myself included) is not keeping receipts. I tell people all the time, you need to keep receipts of your accomplishments. Are you in college? That’s an accomplishment. Did you graduate high school? That’s an accomplishment. Do you have a job? Are you gaining income? That’s an accomplishment. Did you get a good review? That’s an accomplishment. Did you build something, and did it work? That’s an accomplishment.
Often we accomplish things in our lives that we take for granted, and we don’t properly assess the value of what we do. Imposter syndrome creeps in when you forget what you’ve accomplished thus far.
The second thing is to understand that you absolutely do belong where you are. I think one of the biggest lies in tech is that Black people didn’t have substantial major contributions in this industry. There are women like Katherine Johnson whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights. So we’ve always belonged. And I think history reminds me of that when I forget.
But I also think it’s important to delegitimize the notion that the color of your skin has anything to do with your ability to be a great engineer.
D: Why do you think it’s important to have more black engineers and entrepreneurs in society?
A: Simple answer, missed opportunity. There’s too much money to leave on the table by ignoring Black and Brown engineers and entrepreneurs. Your company, your organization, your venture misses out on a substantial economic benefit, not to mention the opportunity to build stronger, better, more innovative teams. Diversity and inclusion matters in business not just because it’s the right and ethical thing to do it. Not just because it’s morally good, but because it positively impacts the bottom line.
D: What advice would you give companies or TA leaders who are trying to hire more diverse talent? A: First, meaningfully acknowledge of the work of people like myself and other change agents. Secondly, I love borrowing Brian Stevenson’s idea of gaining proximity. And that means that companies have to be willing to go into communities where underrepresented people are and really walk alongside them. This isn’t the kind of work that you do from a distance. Leaders have to be standing alongside, walking with, and building trust with our communities.
A book you recommend everyone should read: The Bible, of course.
Favorite piece of art in your home: A canvas painting my daughter made when she was 8 year old. She hates it, but it’s dear to me.
Favorite musician? Cory Henry
Favorite sports team? LA Lakers
Song you play to feel your best: “Running Through Me” by Tom Misch
The app on your phone you cannot live without: Google Keep
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