UCLA Anderson MBA students report on the AfroTech World experience of 2021

UCLA Anderson MBA Students Network in the Metaverse

AfroTech World connects career-minded students with Black professionals in tech
Sahara Cloud Democratizes Hardware Development

The Technology Business Association at Anderson (AnderTech) and the Black Business Students Association partnered with UCLA Anderson Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and the Easton Technology Management Center to send 10 students to AfroTech, the world’s premiere conference for underrepresented groups in the technology field. Usually held in Oakland, the 2021 conference took place in AfroTech World, a virtual experience that debuted in 2020.

Despite the remote nature of the event, students took advantage of networking opportunities to learn about full-time employment and internship recruitment in the tech space, speaking with representatives from companies such as Disney, Google, VMWare, Twitch, Peloton, Square, TikTok and many more.

AfroTech 2021 did include one in-person element, a happy hour for Los Angeles-based conference attendees. There, students took their online connections offline and met professionals in the L.A. tech scene from companies like Paypal and Amazon. For Kelsey Paul Emory (’22), “This was a great opportunity to not only connect further with my Black classmates, but also to build on networks with USC Black MBA students.” Kelsey also met a prospective student with whom she shared her UCLA Anderson experience, and explained why getting an MBA was the right choice for her.

Though amid pandemic it’s not the complete in-person experience students wish it could be, AfroTech continues to help build communities among Black professionals and students, no matter the medium. We are excited for AfroTech 2022 (we hope back in Oakland), but the Anderson students who attended this year’s event found it just as fruitful in achieving Black tech connections.

Read on to learn what they experienced.

Liz Bohinc (FEMBA ’22), VP of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, AnderTech
Amara Barakat (’23), Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, AnderTech

Darren Douglas (’22), VP of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Entrepreneurs Association

Talent and drive are equally distributed, but access to resources and capital are not. I recognize the struggles of entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds and I work at the intersection of technology, entrepreneurship and venture capital to help bridge the gap. As a Venture for America fellow at the AfroTech conference in 2017, I began to realize that this was not only an issue in Philadelphia, where I lived, but across the country.

I view AfroTech as a combination of music festival, business retreat and family reunion. In 2021, AfroTech World met and exceeded all of my expectations. It was a sneak peek from the metaverse into the vision the Black community has for the future of tech and business. I was ignited by all the talented people committed to solving similar problems around diversity and inclusion in tech. We all do it for the culture. I learned that we need to continue connecting the same pool of talented, diverse folks in order to build momentum from events like AfroTech.

Tweet from Darren Douglas
Ugonna Osuala (’23), Director, Black Business Students Association

From Jack Dorsey to Rick Ross, AfroTech’s speaker list was nothing short of loaded. But, for me, the expo halls were where the main action of the conference resided. I was able to connect with professionals from Robinhood and Twitter who demystified their recruiting processes and explained what they look for in candidates. One of my favorite moments was when each employee representing Square’s Cash App described what they specifically liked about their work and culture, and how Square/Cash App/Tidal works hard to make employees feel included in opportunities throughout the company.

The metaverse of AfroTech World was a unique experience that I was pleasantly surprised by. By creating my avatar, walking past conversations and initiating my own conversations, I could appreciate the incredible work done to make this experience as immersive as possible. While awkward at first, it soon became natural to virtually shake hands or randomly see someone running across the room. Oddly enough, conversations almost felt a bit realer. Maybe the metaverse enabled people to be more themselves.

One panel was devoted to the importance of Black VCs. There still is space available for us in this industry, despite what some may say. A message like this is powerful because it speaks to the future and the importance of investing now in markets and in ourselves. Limited access to the means to build wealth has held much of our community back. With the emergence of NFTs, cryptocurrencies and blockchain, resources are shifting into the hands of the people.

Kelsey Paul Emory (’22), Co-President, Black Business Students Association
Class of 2022 MBA students at the L.A. happy hour (left to right): Nicole Rabiu, Kelsey Paul Emory, Ashley Johnson, Leanna Parchment

Class of 2022 MBA students at the L.A. happy hour (left to right): Nicole Rabiu, Kelsey Paul Emory, Ashley Johnson, Leanna Parchment

It was incredible to attend a virtual conference that was as engaging as AfroTech World 2021. The format allowed me to really feel like I was in person and have conversations with peers and companies that felt organic, as if it wasn’t virtual.

I’m grateful to have had the experience to connect with so many recruiters at tech organizations like Peloton, TikTok, Slack, Square Inc., Google and more. It can be extremely challenging to get in front of a recruiter or employee from a company for even a few minutes. So I was especially excited to get to talk to recruiters from two of my top companies: Audible and Salesforce. Through these conversations I was able to get more insight into the culture of the companies and further confirm why I believe these would be great fits for me. My favorite component of the conference, by far, was the Salesforce-hosted event, where professionals talked about building Black wealth in the tech space.

Misha Shorter (’23), Senior Marketing Executive

While I would have loved to experience AfroTech in person, AfroTech World 2021 was the best virtual event I have participated in since March 2020. Some challenges associated with getting accustomed to the avatar interface on day one allowed me to meet (and commiserate with) Arielle Wiltshire-Scott from PayPal, who faced similar challenges navigating the platform. We ended up connecting on LinkedIn and agreed that the presentation titled “The Path into Senior Leadership” by Nichole Francis Reynolds, vice president of global government relations at ServiceNow, was incredibly relatable.

Reynolds described the challenges she as a Black female has faced while being held to a different standard in corporate America. She spoke about paying it forward and giving back her time and energy to Black people trying to get into tech. She underscored the importance of how you present yourself as a Black person in corporate America. I am currently trying to navigate a similar situation in my workplace, so I greatly appreciated her advice. During her talk, I was fortunate to make several new connections.

I also enjoyed the breakout session titled “Power in Partnerships” with Charlamagne tha God and Dollie S. Bishop, president of production and creative development at the Black Effect Podcast Network. I found it interesting that Charlamagne was scared to shift industries from radio to podcasting. I often assume that successful people on one platform easily pivot in a new direction. It was refreshing to hear that even they find it hard to make career transitions. Charlamagne had a vision to build his own podcast network instead of waiting for the industry to change.

Malcom X said, “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” Charlamagne referenced this historic observation and talked about African Americans’ responsibility to create a media space that is intentionally speaking truth to power.

Kevin White (’23), Founder, Chief Fitness Officer

As a company founder, I was particularly engaged in the AfroTech talk tracks around URM founder support, and the building of the Black VC community. In a fireside chat on emerging founders titled “Finding Resources to Get You on Your Way,” nonprofit BLCK VC founder Sydney Sykes spoke to the mission of transforming the venture capital industry to mirror the diverse demographics of the U.S. Venture capital is a crucial component in achieving economic equality; it is a vehicle to build wealth, develop future leaders and strengthen communities. I found this session insightful and crucial to my knowledge of who the players are in this entrepreneurship ecosystem and the actual capitalization of their teams, so that when it comes to raising capital, the playing field is level for founders of color.

Leanna Parchment (’22), VP of Professional Development, Black Business Students Association

AfroTech was an enriching, invaluable experience for both my career and my self-preservation. It was a nurturing environment for an industry that is usually not as inclusive for Black people.

Leanna Parchment’s (’22) avatar explores AfroTech World

Leanna Parchment’s (’22) avatar explores AfroTech World

I attended the in-person happy hour and I immediately knew upon entering the venue that I was in a room full of Black excellence. I met people from so many backgrounds, including engineers in the aerospace industry and even NBA hosts. But more important, I met a woman in cultural marketing for a tech company who will be a great connection as I pivot into the same function.

The rest of the week was filled with virtual events, from starting the day with trap yoga to learning about trends within crypto. I have always been intimidated by the topic and felt so much more comfortable after listening to the session sponsored by Coinbase. I learned how decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) are on the horizon and even how to get involved with them step by step. I spent the latter part of the week in the expo hall speaking to different companies, including Soundcloud, Twitch and TikTok. I haven’t made such good connections at a career fair during a virtual conference and feel much more equipped going into recruiting season.