Michael Berhane is a software engineer and entrepreneur who has spearheaded People Of Colour In Tech (POCIT), an initiative for celebrating people of colour working in technology. Born and raised in London, but with Eritrean roots, Michael also works with communities in the diaspora. As the co-host of the podcast Tech-ish, he shares his take on tech news.
In this interview, he tells us all about his work, his experience and his hopes for Africans back home and in the diaspora.
What inspired you to set up People Of Color In Tech? What were some of the challenges you faced?
The inspiration for the website came from a conversation I had with a friend of mine based in New York. We thought it would be great to highlight people that don't get the credit they deserve in the tech industry and to give a sense of community to people of colour in the tech industry.
I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur and share my vision for the world. But, it is scary to leave your job and build your own company. It was a challenge itself to just get started, and then, I had to get people to buy into my vision and acquire customers.
Describe what you do at POCIT. How are you working to fight stereotypes and discrimination in technology?
At POCIT, we interview and collaborate with people from the African diaspora, the Americas and the UK. We highlight their work and their achievements. We share the narrative of what is possible for those of us who are of African descent in the West.
We have also helped thousands of people find jobs, and we have an opportunity to help many more in the future. We are doing our part, but there is still a long way to go. The industry still has diversity issues that many of us are still fighting to rectify. We have, however, made an impact and shifted the narrative. Now, we have tens of thousands of readers every month. In some way, we provide solace, encouragement and inspiration. We are here to let people know that they are not alone in their journey.
What recommendations would you give to enhance inclusivity and equal opportunities in tech and business?
I would say not to look at false indicators of competence. Just because someone attended a certain university does not mean they can do a job better than someone who has had a less traditional path. In my personal experience and statistically, I have seen it countless times.
I would also encourage companies to make a conscious effort. They can do that by advancing their hiring practices and factor in inclusivity - such as networking with tech professionals that have a different background from those they’d typically hire.
How are African communities keeping up with the rapid changes in the world of technology??
I feel like many people in African communities are doing fantastic work, but I think we could be doing more as a whole.
The advance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) machines in the next 5-10 years is going to bring about a new industrial revolution. I don't know how prepared we are in the diaspora and the continent. Are governments training our workforces? Or, is it us on the ground in the West that are training our local communities?
There will be a lot of automation and job displacements happening in the future, and I think we have to be ready to capitalise on the changes that are coming.
What role can young 2nd generation Africans as yourself play in the development of Africa?
I think the primary role has to be played by the people who are on the continent. I do not want to take anything away from people who are doing the best they can, but we should do our best to assist them, with what they are doing, explore local opportunities and at the very least, we should try to visit more.
We can help in so many different ways, like starting businesses, but I think the best way to start is to support what's already there on the ground.
What projects are in the pipeline for you and the various initiatives you are involved in?
I am juggling POCIT.com and POCITjobs.com, our recruitment platform that helps connect people of colour with jobs in the tech industry. We hope to continue helping people find roles in various exciting companies.
Currently, we do not do any work in Africa. However, we have interviewed many people from the continent and would love to do more in the future. I saw the work they are doing in terms of training developers on the continent. I was inspired. It is something I want to do in the future.
The newest project we launched about a year ago was the podcast Tech-ish, co-hosted by Alpha Desi and me. It offers a light-hearted look at tech and pop culture news, making it accessible for those who are considering joining the tech industry. It's also useful for those working in large organisations that might not have a diverse workforce and feel like there are conversations that cannot be held.