[The following is a transcript of the above video]
If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know that I wear my hat everywhere. Whether I’m going to work or visiting a school and talking to students, whether I’m doing a video, giving a speech, whatever it is, I have my hat everywhere. And you may have wondered, “Why does this dude have this hat on all the time?” Well if you’ve ever asked that question, don’t worry I got you. I’m happy to explain why. Just stay tuned and we’ll get into it.
Nowadays, companies talk about bringing your best self to work, and what they mean by that is that you—as an individual, as an employer, as a worker— should be able to bring those aspects of you that sort of go outside the bounds of just the skills that you bring to the table. These are sort of the “soft skills” or the hard to define attributes that are informed by your life experiences or the things that you’ve been through and endured, or preferences—things like that.
Whatever it is, companies want their employees to feel like they belong as part of the culture. You want to bring your best self—you don’t necessarily want to bring everything, you know. There’s some stuff that you want to leave at home, you know I’m saying? But the idea is that you want to bring your best self to work—those things that are going to help you do your job well and help you work on a team.
For me, I really struggled to understand what it meant for me to bring my best self to work. Now, I hate to admit it, but early in my career, I was kind of ashamed that I came straight out of Compton. And it’s not that I hated growing up there or anything. There were some rough time, sure, but there were also some great times that I had with teachers, friends, mentors—people who were important to my growth and development that taught me lots of things about life and about how to persevere despite the struggles and things that I had been through.
And so even though I didn’t hate Compton, I knew what everyone else outside of Compton thought about my city, and I didn’t want the negative stigma around Compton and around growing up in the hood to impact my career as I was seeking to establish myself as a software engineer, and as a developer, as a programmer working in corporate America.
I believed that people would unfairly judge me because of where I came from , because of where I grew up. Compton isn’t exactly known for producing doctors, and lawyers, and mathematicians, and, yes, computer scientists, even though Compton absolutely produces those kinds of people who contribute positively to society. Instead, Compton is mostly known for gangster rap, drugs, gun violence, police brutality, welfare, poverty—all of those things Compton is known for. I didn’t want to draw any unnecessary attention to my background and to where I came from. I wanted to fit in as much as possible into the corporate culture and just blend in. And, eventually, I began to understand my differentness as a liability, as something that needed to be kept quiet between the hours of 9:00 to 5:00.
I remember seeing the movie “Pirates of Silicon Valley” and being amazed by the stories of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as they built their respective empires at Microsoft and Apple. One of the takeaways that I had from that movie was that people like me didn’t exist in Silicon Valley. It didn’t occur to me that there might be people who look like me or that came from where I came from who worked in places like Microsoft or Apple. And as a result of that movie, my perception about computer scientists was unfortunately one that didn’t include someone who looked like me.
Now you would think that getting to Google, one of the top companies in the world, would finally prove to me that Silicon Valley was a place where I genuinely belonged. And eventually I would believe that—just not at first. See, when I got to Google, I wanted to quit like four times the first year. Google was completely different than the childhood that I had grown up with. I had entered this world of privilege and free food and perks like you wouldn’t believe. But I had grown up in an environment where I was surrounded by struggle and fear and lack of opportunity. And I really struggled to reconcile these two different worlds. I just felt like I couldn’t be comfortable in my own skin. I saw myself as so different from everyone else that I couldn’t see that I had more in common with everyone else than I did differences.
It wasn’t until Google published their diversity numbers in 2014 that I saw that I was looking at this completely the wrong way. See, I had looked at my differentness as a liability. But Google, in publishing these diversity numbers and talking about the importance of the problem that needed to be solved—it was only after that that I realized that my differentness brought something to the table. Growing up in Compton wasn’t something that I needed to be ashamed of. It was something that I needed to embrace, because Compton is the place where I learned scrappiness and hard work and perseverance and teamwork and all of these things that make me Googley.
I wear my hat is a way of embracing my history and my legacy, and it reminds me of where I come from. I think a lot about legacy because I think about people like Garrett A. Morgan and Lewis Latimer, two of my favorite black inventors. I think about the legacy that they left for me and the responsibility that I have to leave a good legacy for the generation that follows me. And so I wear my hat as proof to them that it’s possible to get as far as I’ve come and even farther to places that previously were uninhabited by people like me. If you take away anything from this video, I hope that you will be inspired to share your story and your journey with someone who’s different from you. I hope that you’ll help someone else to understand that they’re not alone, that our differences aren’t liabilities, but that they are things that we bring to the table to build better teams and to make better decisions and to build a more rich tech culture.
Hey, if you’ve enjoyed this video, please like, subscribe, leave a comment. Let me know about your journey. I love hearing about how people have come from wherever they’ve come from to be where they are today. If you need help preparing for technical interviews at places like Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, or my favorite—Google, please do reach out. I’ve got resources at anthonydmays.com, articles that you can read about specifically how to prepare for technical interviews, and you can even learn everything that I did to prepare. You can also book time with me at morganlatimer.com where I’ve got services for one-on-one technical interview coaching or even a technical interview webinar.
So that’s it for me, thank you for watching. This is Anthony D Mays. Peace!