When you think of Birmingham, Alabama there are a few things that initially come to mind like, the civil rights movement, football, music or maybe even crime. Nevertheless, the last thing people think of is technology. Niesha White is shifting the culture with Birmingham Black Techies.
Niesha White is currently a front-end web developer at Altech LLC in Birmingham, Alabama. In late 2019, Niesha began Birmingham Black Techies as a way to connect with more local African Americans involved with technology. This is a Facebook group Niesha started to find more African Americans involve with technology located in Birmingham and surrounding cities. “I’m like I know there are black people in tech here. There are a lot of black people in Birmingham, so I know there are black people in tech here, but I don’t know any of them except for the people from my job,” Niesha said. Being a native of Dothan, Alabama, Niesha believes it was more difficult for her to find more African Americans in the field of technology because she didn’t know where to look in Birmingham.
“I think if I had been from Birmingham, it wouldn’t have been so tough, I would’ve known where to look,” Niesha said.
The twenty-eight-year-old got her start in technology a bit unexpectedly. After attending 2 universities and experiencing 3 majors, Niesha discovered her love for technology. “First of all, I started at UAB [University of Alabama at Birmingham] and I was a broadcast journalism major. Then I moved to Troy, because it was closer to home and it was just a lot cheaper,” Niesha said. At Troy University, Niesha changed her major to music, then graphic design and ultimately computer science. “At that point I switched to a music major, because I’ve always love music and I wanted to get into management and songwriting and publishing… Also, technology because I was interested in the production too,” Niesha said.
Once Niesha switched her major to graphic design, her passion in technology began to “click”. Niesha realized music, graphic design, and art in general have a common denominator, technology and by this time, she discovered her love for computers, web design and web development. Also, around this time in her life Niesha had more responsibilities which led to her working as a bank teller while earning her computer science degree online.
Niesha traces her background with HyperText Markup Language, better known as HTML, and web design to her middle school and high school days. Like most teens during this time period, Niesha played around with Myspace and Tumblr. “At that time, I didn’t really consider it coding, it was just fun making a website look different and look cool,” Niesha said.
Niesha has many plans for Birmingham Black Techies. She intends for Birmingham Black Techies to provide mentorship to young African Americans in Birmingham that share the same interest she had at a young age. She wants this to become the platform in which local African Americans in technology use to lift one another up, while climbing the ladder of professional success. Niesha believes Birmingham is “on the come up” in regard to technology and she doesn’t want African Americans to be caught off guard or left behind. “I feel like people don’t realize how up and coming our tech scene is. Which is why I think Birmingham Black Techies is really important right now, because we want to be a part of what’s happening,” Niesha said.
This past February Apple CEO Tim Cook paid Birmingham a visit. Cook announced that Apple will be partnering with Education Farm, an initiative to improve learning and teaching through technology. This partnership will be an extension of Apple’s Everyone Can Code program.
“I think Apple coming down here is just the beginning, because people follow suit. They see that kind of stuff happening, then they’ll pay attention to what we are doing and that there is a lot going on here,” Niesha said.
Technology is not limited to coding. There are multiple aspects of the tech scene and Niesha wants to emphasize that, “I want people to know that being in tech doesn’t mean you have to code. That’s a one small part of technology. You can be a product manager, you can be a scroll master, you can go into management,” Niesha said.
Although the numbers are relatively small now, Niesha believes Birmingham Black Techies have the potential to grow into something more. Not naïve to the difficult conditions of 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, Neisha is aware of the difficulty in maintaining the little momentum an organization in its early stages faces; Birmingham Black Techies gained some momentum earlier this year, but will they be able to keep that up moving into the next year?
“I don’t have a solid community yet, so it’s like if I don’t get it together people’s momentum will go away,” Niesha said.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the future for Birmingham Black Techies seems bright. Due to the limited in person contact and the emmergence of Zoom calls, people in the United States are at home with not much to do. This allows the opportunity for people in technology to be more engaging and social since everyone is ultimately online during the pandemic. “Socializing, of course, it’s been easier I think now since were doing everything online,” Niesha said.
Although socialization is an important aspect of Birmingham Black Techies, Niesha doesn’t want to limit Birmingham Black Techies to social meet ups and curated Spotify playlists. Niesha intends for the meet up group to host different webinars, workshops and provide a space for networking and presentations, “We are very much in the stages of giving out surveys and finding out what people want. So far, they do want networking opportunities, they do want peer presentations, but they also want workshops,” Niesha said.