Celebrating Black Excellence: 5 Innovators to Watch

In honor of Black History Month, we’re excited to share five trailblazers making history daily with their contributions to the tech world. On our list are CEOs, thought leaders, engineers, and more, all from different backgrounds, but they have one thing in common – they had a vision and pursued it relentlessly by becoming the change they wanted to see. We hope their stories inspire you!

Marketing – Bozoma Saint John

We start this list with marketing executive Bozoma Saint John. Saint John has an impressive portfolio and career trajectory, including time at Netflix, Apple, and PepsiCo. Born in Connecticut, this Wesleyan graduate started as an account executive at Spike Lee’s ad agency before moving to PepsiCo. After departing for a VP role at Ashley Steward, she returned to PepsiCo as Head of Music & Entertainment Marketing. It was only up from there. Saint John worked at Uber, Apple, and Endeavor before becoming Chief Marketing Officer at Netflix. Bozoma Saint John’s future is bright, and we are excited to follow her fantastic career!

Her ambition and journey from being an account executive to a c-suite exec inspires black women aspiring to leadership positions within the tech industry. You can contact her on Linkedin, IG, or her website.

 

Product Design – Wes O’Haire

Wes O’Haire’s is a big name in the design world. He held lead roles at Dropbox, Hudl, and Sequoia and is the founder of Blacks Who Design, a diverse directory of creatives that’s focused on helping black designers prosper in the tech world. A Bay Area native, Wes O’Haire got his start in graphic design and took it upon himself to ensure that black designers were not overlooked. 

Not only is he making major strides in Product Design by leading teams at established companies, he’s also giving black designers a platform at Blacks Who Design – no more “where are the black designers?”. Platforms like BWD help increase diversity and visibility for this group of strategy-driven creatives. You can contact Wes on Twitter, his website, and LinkedIn.

Sales + PSO – Tope Awotona

Where would the tech world be without Calendly? Still hung up on the question: “When are you free to meet?” Possibly. We owe the creation of this groundbreaking scheduling platform to Tope Awotona, a Nigerian immigrant who relocated from Lagos to Atlanta at the age of 15. As a former tech salesman, Awotona was frustrated by the time-consuming back-and-forth of scheduling and wanted a better solution. So he created one. After multiple failed startups, Awotona poured his life savings into Calendly and created the perfect solution to this problem. Calendly, a now $3 billion-dollar tech company, was born. 

Calendly changed the game for scheduling. Valued at $3 billion, Calendly has been profitable since 2016 and is a masterclass in how innovation is born from simple moments. Tope, confronted with frustration in his daily life, decided to fix it. Even after multiple failures, Tope’s perseverance awarded all of us with Calendly, a product used by us all. You can contact Tope Awotona on LinkedIn.

Software Engineering – Erika Hairston

 

There is no easy way around a computer science degree. Erika Hairston, CEO of startups Edlyft and Zimela and one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 in Education, stepped up to that challenge, graduating with a computer science degree from Yale. After graduating, she developed her first app to promote diversity in tech, Zimela, which connected underrepresented groups with opportunities and career resources. With stints at Facebook and LinkedIn under her belt, she and her co-founder Arnelle Ansong later launched a YC-backed startup Edlyft to provide mentoring and internship support for computer science students. 

 Erika Hairston and Arnelle Ansong are two of the youngest Black founders to raise over one million in venture funding. She founded Edlyft to help students succeed in their computer science programs, and she is not done yet! Her future is bright. You can contact Erika on LinkedIn and through her website.

Data (AI) – Dr. Joy Buolamwini

AI, the final frontier, is full of exciting new solutions and a slew of moral quandaries. As we learn how to use AI ethically, Dr. Joy Buolamwini, an engineer, researcher, and advisor, enters the scene. She works with big tech founders and politicians and is the founder of AI Justice League, an organization that sheds light on the social implications of artificial intelligence. Dr. Builamwini graduated from the Georgia Institute of Tech with a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree from Oxford, and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from MIT. Her work in AI is dedicated to redressing algorithmic harms and her research proved pivotal in getting big tech companies to reconsider the ramifications of AI bias in areas ranging from facial recognition to hiring. Check out the Netflix documentary centered on her work, Coded Bias

Dr. Joy Buolamwini is an advisor to top executives and politicians on matters of AI justice and has supplied game-changing research on the ramifications of bias in AI and the extent to which AI is usable ethically. You can contact her on LinkedIn and her website.

Black History Month Success Stories

In honor of Black History Month, we’re excited to share five trailblazers making history every day with their contributions to the tech world. On our list are CEOs, thought leaders, engineers, and more, all from different backgrounds, but they have one thing in common – they had a vision and pursued it relentlessly by becoming the change they wanted to see. We hope their stories inspire you!

We hope these fantastic stories have inspired you just as they inspired us. There are countless stories worldwide of people from all different backgrounds pursuing their vision relentlessly until they change the world. We endeavor to empower our fellows no matter their background or skin color. If you want to learn more about our service, check out our website

Erica Holloway

Erica Holloway is a recruiter with close to a decade of talent acquisition experience in the ed-tech and startup space. She currently leads Pathrise's recruiting efforts, touching on roles in career coaching, operations, engineering, sales, marketing and more. She resides in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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