March 21, 2023

BTF21 Highlights: What You Missed!

Rashid Abdalla

Practical career advice from C: Code speakers

Kicking things off was Kelsey Robb from TikTok who shared how important mentorship, networking and sponsorship was for her career. Echoing this was staff from Amazon who also stressed how instrumental apprenticeships were in getting a foot in the door. They discussed the varied career paths and educational backgrounds that led to roles at Amazon. Turns out you don’t necessarily need a tech background or computer science degree to work at Amazon. 

some staff have a business or legal background, whilst Lettie said her English Lit and Linguistics degree was vital for her apprenticeship at Amazon Alexa. Cyran finished by busting a common myth about Amazon. “I thought there weren’t many black people here but I’ve been surprised at just how many black faces I’ve seen in the short time I have been at the company”.

Unmissable keynotes from champions of racial equality

Alongside the career advice were some illuminating keynotes from influential leaders like Operation Black Vote’s Simon Wooley. As a 30-year veteran in black activism, he shared his insights on how his early experiences of racism continue to motivate his critical work and he wishes to inspire others to overcome barriers he faced. He spoke about changing the face of politics, business and education as well as the importance of allies. Finally, he shared his thoughts on leadership saying “Unshackle yourself from imposter syndrome to embrace leadership roles, have the confidence to be a leader, sit on boards and remember real leadership starts with all of us.”

How technology can transform lives and engage marginalised communities

Tech for good was a popular theme across the entire festival. Companies like Salesforce, Beam and TechTee demonstrated how they were using technology to help social causes like poverty and homelessness. We also heard from important voices from LGBTQIA+ organisations who also noted how critical tech was for connecting marginalised communities, citing Facebook’s recent outage as detrimental to the community who use social media to stay safely connected. 

This was in keeping with the theme of diversity and inclusion; having voices from underrepresented groups at the table would ensure that everyone’s differences could be catered for. Going beyond performative allyship and tokenistic gestures during Black History Month was one way companies were trying to increase the number of black faces in the workplace. We heard how ITV and Sky had devised practical strategies to address the racial disparity in the workplace with ITV’s Sonny Hanley saying he wanted the “dream he had as a boy to work in ITV to be open to all who shared the same ambition.”


Controversial topics that sparked debate

In a bid to be truly inclusive, Black Tech Fest went beyond the topic of tech and covered much more divisive issues. We heard from the No More White Saviours organisation as they spoke about how charities had to do more to change the dated image of starving African children. Professor Kehinde Andrews spoke candidly about how issues around fallen statues and blackface will have us hanging our heads in shame in the future. Finally, keeping it topical were discussions around what it means to be ‘woke’ and the plight of cancel culture. Both debates had attendees feverishly commenting in the chat function as they agreed with the speakers on both sides of the fence. We heard podcaster Kelechi Okafor share her frustrations around the term woke being ‘appropriated and bastardised’ whilst influencer Lin Mei strongly opposed the overuse of cancel culture and butted heads with screenwriter Tianna Johnson.

All in all, BTF21 was another storming success and if you missed out, you can still watch all the virtual sessions on-demand when you register for your free pass now. Don’t forget you can also access the event platform and check out our 'Jobs & Internships’ for the latest career opportunities from our partners.