Michael Berhane has found success building tech platforms intended to diversify an industry that’s historically been overwhelmingly white and male.
But breaking in wasn’t easy, especially for someone who at 24 years old left a business career to pursue his passion. As he sought to embark on this new journey, Berhane felt his “advanced age”—by industry standards—would potentially hold him back.
In a 2019 blog for the non-profit think-tank New America, Berhane discussed these feelings, and how he eventually overcame them by co-founding three digital media platforms: People of Color in Tech (POCIT), POCITJobs.com, and Techish.
“I considered myself too old,” Berhane wrote. “I thought all engineers started out hacking as 13 year olds.”
Berhane also was hesitant due to certain stereotypes and expectations surrounding this industry—he could never imagine someone actually succeeding in technology who “looked like him.” As he tells it, if he was feeling this way, then other people of color with similar backgrounds, stories, histories, and education, undoubtedly shared his sentiments.
Born and raised in London, Berhane, who is of Eritrean roots, wanted to dispel the myths that anyone within the engineering or technology fields had a certain background or “look,” especially people of underrepresented groups.
It was during this time he and Ruth Mesfun co-founded POCIT and Techish as an online recruiting platform and podcast, respectively, to further engage, promote and celebrate people of color in technology.
Changing How Underrepresented Groups Are Viewed
The idea behind POCIT is to provide stories that change the narrative when it comes to what a developer, entrepreneur, or engineer “should look like.” Following its launch, the platform took off almost overnight—its content was relatable to those looking for another perspective regarding implicit and explicit biases.
“The demand was overwhelming,” Berhane said in the New America blog. “People resonated with it as soon as we launched. Within eight weeks we were in TechCrunch.”
After launching POCIT in 2015, Berhane and Mesfun added the Techish podcast to their digital media properties. Described as “Part C++, Part Cardi B,” Berhane and his co-host Abadesi discuss the “intersection of tech, pop culture, and life.” For example, a recent broadcast discusses Amazon’s purchase of the media giant MGM, and also questions the relationship between the U.S. government and big tech.
Job Recruitment With Encouragement & Inspiration
As an online recruitment platform connecting people of color with tech industry employment, POCITJobs.com boasts opportunities from some of the world’s largest corporations, such as HubSpot, Cummins, Asana, and Cisco. Applicants can create an online profile to “match” with potential employers, or participating companies can proactively reach out on their own.
In a November 2020 “Stories” interview with online money transfer provider WorldRemit, Berhane explained there is still much work to be done with technology employment opportunities for people of color and other underrepresented groups.
With several thousand subscribers to POCIT’s blog and weekly newsletter, Berhane feels the website and podcast are helping to shift the narrative.
“In some way, we provide solace, encouragement and inspiration,” he said in the Word Remit interview. “We are here to let people know that they are not alone in their journey.”
Enhancing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Business
As previously mentioned, POCITjobs.com encourages technology companies to submit open positions built in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Berhane says the platform also strives to change expectations that all candidates need a higher education level from a specific university. He feels this is a false indicator of an otherwise qualified candidate’s experience.
“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,” Berhane said in the World Remit interview. “In my personal experience and statistically, I have seen it countless times.”
While POCIT can help by advancing and engaging with people of color in the workplace, it’s also up to employers to do their part with hiring practices and networking events built with DEI in mind.
“We have also helped thousands of people find jobs, and we have an opportunity to help many more in the future,” Berhane told World Remit. “We are doing our part, but there is still a long way to go.”