Ibrahim Diallo

Ibrahim Diallo, his experience of being a black programmer:’I feel like I was accidentally hired’

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Ibrahim Diallo got his first computer when he was five, which triggered a lifelong passion for programming.

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He has worked as a software engineer in the US for 12 years and in 2018 wrote a much-read blog about how he was fired by a machine, which the BBC covered.

Now, as race issues once again take centre stage in America and beyond, he has shared with the BBC his experience of being a black programmer.

Ibrahim Diallo, his experience of being a black programmer

From college to the workplace, I couldn’t help but notice that something was missing. Well, some people to be more specific. Where are my fellow black software engineers?

Black people make up 13% of the US population, we are naturally in the minority. But in the tech workforce, we are missing. Among the top eight largest tech companies in the land, black people account for only 3.1% of the workforce. If you only count software engineers and those who work in IT, the number plummets even lower.” –Ibrahim Diallo

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Companies report a percentage when asked about the number of black employees. But these numbers can be deceiving. How many presidents of the United States were black? The answer is 2.2%. It feels more tolerable than the reality of just one. So a better question should be, what does it feel like to be a black programmer? The short answer: it is lonely.

I am a Guinean citizen, who went to French school in Saudi Arabia, and now lives in California. I grew up hearing multiple languages spoken around me every day. This experience is what shaped my less-than-common accent.” –Ibrahim Diallo

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My French is not French, my Fulani is not Guinean, my Arabic is not Arab, and my English is certainly not American. As a result, interviewers have a hard time guessing where I am from in phone interviews. They can never tell I am black.

Ibrahim Diallo
Ibrahim Diallo/bbc.com

In 2011, I worked for a company that employed 600 to 700 people. This meant in my team of 30 people or so, I was the only black person. On the entire floor there were four black people, each in their own separate team. The first time I met one of my black colleagues, it was like recess in grade school.” –Ibrahim Diallo

I had so many questions. Who are you? Where are you from? Which school did you go to? How did you become a programmer? But the only thing I said was: “Do you wanna be best friends?” We are still friends to this day.

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I spent years working as a consultant hopping from company to company doing projects that lasted from a couple of days to a few months. In all the teams I worked with, I’ve only met one other black software developer.

I worked for AT&T in a department that had around 150 employees. We were mostly engineers and technical managers. Yet, we were two black software engineers. Where are the other black developers? (The BBC asked AT&T for a response to this but has not yet received one.)

I don’t think that it is accidental. My experience of getting a job as a software developer is filled with unfair treatment. For example, the first day I show up for a job interview, the interviewer always looks surprised. Like he didn’t expect me to be black.“- Ibrahim Diallo

More on bbc.com

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Ibrahim Diallo, his experience of being a black programmer:'I feel like I was accidentally hired' 1

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