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raceAhead: Succeeding as a Black Intern In Silicon Valley

Turns out, sometimes interns at fast-paced tech firms need some specialized coaching in order to thrive at their fancy temp gigs. “I wasn’t getting any of the Star Wars jokes,” laughs Josuel Musambaghani, a 21 year-old math and computer science student at Morehouse College. “Everyone talks in Star Wars jokes.” At other times, a crippling anxiety known as “imposter syndrome” threatened to derail his confidence. “But I was prepared and I had someone to help me adapt.”

Musambaghani is a two time Code2040 Fellow, a Google-funded non-profit. It seems to be doing an unusually good job of anticipating the needs of talented, young technologists who come from non-traditional talent pools – black and Latino, specifically – and helping them succeed at tech giants.

He is also exactly the kind of person who is poised to thrive in Silicon Valley, but would never have gotten his foot in the door any other way. More on that in a moment.

Code2040 was started by two Stanford B-School pals, Laura Weidman Powers and tech entrepreneur Tristan Walker, in the summer of 2011. Both were struck by the level of opportunity in technology, but also the glaring lack of diversity among its coding stars. “The narrative at the time was that it was all a meritocracy,” says Powers. “You deserve to be here. And if you’re not here by now, then you don’t.”

The Fellows Program helps identify, train and support qualified tech talent of color, and gets them in front of some 30 tech companies – Apple, Intel, LinkedIn and Lyft, among them – who are looking to diversify their summer intern ranks. The Code2040 staff spend a lot of time smoothing the path on both sides of the equation, and the organization has learned a lot about what can predict intern success at tech companies.“It’s more than just making sure students are showing up prepared,” says Powers. “It’s helping companies do a better job vetting and onboarding them, too.”

The fellowship program started five years ago with five fellows. This year, 87 students accepted offers of paid internships from a pool of 880 applicants and over 200 finalists. Code2040 helps the students find housing and creates an instant network of support and advice.

Musambaghani is a stand-out in any crowd. He grew up in Democratic Republic of Congo, the son of a university professor and now, a stay-at-home mother. “She has a theology degree she isn’t using,” he explains.

He also grew up a witness to conflict or its aftermath, first on the heels of the genocide in nearby Rwanda in 1994, and the subsequent crisis that flooded Goma, his home city, with refugees. Then, there were two Congo Wars. He specifically cites the overrun in 2012 by an armed rebel force called M23, which brought renewed chaos and violence to Goma. “It was all so uncertain,” he says simply. “You never knew what tomorrow would be.”

 

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How are your summer interns doing? Share your inclusion tips: raceAhead@newsletters.fortune.com

On Point

Reports on new data about police shootings are misleadingAt first glance, the results of new Harvard study on racial bias in policing seem surprising: The numbers did not show racial bias in police involved fatal shootings. Fortune’s Chauncey Alcorn contacted the researcher and did a better job framing the issue. The study, though limited, does show racial bias in the use of force, and reports must take into account the number of civilian deaths that happen in police custody in other ways. There’s much more work to do, says the researcher. A must read.
Fortune


Airbnb forced to redefine itself
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Bloomberg



How hip hop will solve architecture’s diversity problem
Architect Michael Ford has some big ideas about how Modernism has inspired hip hop. He also points to the dismal number of black architects, just 4% at last count, and believes that getting kids of color interested in design at a young age, and giving them compelling architecture to appreciate, would make a difference.  His current project, the Universal Hip Hop Museum in Harlem, the “first representation of hip-hop architecture around the world,” is a lyrical fusion of design, culture and inclusion.
Fast Company



In the aftermath of police shootings, the children suffer
Three techy friends, Amélie Lamont, Catt Small and Jacky Alciné, were bothered by two things: The number of tech companies who talked about diversity, and the number of their friends of color who had horror stories from their jobs. Good for POC In Tech is an attempt to collect feedback on companies that are, well, good for people of color in tech. The list currently includes 60 companies, and gives feedback on what’s working now and how their inclusion plans are progressing. Is your company mentioned? Check the list.
Good For POC in Tech

A Pokemon player trolls a bunch of bigots
The Westboro Baptist Church, famous for its exceptionally intolerant beliefs, has been trolled by a Pokemon Go player who associated the digital “Clefairy” Pokemon with the church’s real-life location. The church retaliated by incorporating the gameplay images into a Twitter battle. The mechanics of the game are tough to synopsize, but Kotaku’s Patricia Hernandez does a great job.  Says one commenter, “it’s hilarious to imagine this intern who runs their Twitter trying to explain how he knows so much about the Pokemons to these virulent racists.”
Kotaku

 

The Woke Leader



Music for troubled times
The team at The Undefeated did us all a solid by putting together this list of songs of meaning, beauty and resilience, designed to get us through tough times while celebrating the voices that have chronicled the struggle from the early days. From Paul Robeson to Kendrick Lamar, it’s a playlist and a history lesson all in one. And by all means, add to it.
The Undefeated



How Albert Einstein tackled “the Negro question” in 1946
Albert Einstein, a famous immigrant, worried a bit that he had no right to speak on race relations in his adopted country. But the more he considered it, the more he thought his silence made him complicit. “There is, however, a somber point in the social outlook of Americans,” he wrote in a 1946 essay, reprinted by On Being’s Krista Tippett. “Their sense of equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skin.” His observations are no less meaningful today. Perhaps, more so.
On Being


Europeans unsure whether diversity is good or not
A new study from the Pew Research Center confirms what everybody already suspected: Europeans are not sold on the benefits of ethnic or cultural diversity. Europeans were polled on the question of whether increasing diversity would be make their country a better place to live, worse, or no change. In no nation does a majority say increasing diversity is a positive for their country. Most commonly, people reported that diversity neither increased or decreased their quality of life.
Pew Research Center

 

Quote

Your ancestors dragged these black people from their homes by force; and in the white man’s quest for wealth and an easy life they have been ruthlessly suppressed and exploited, degraded into slavery. The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the desire to maintain this unworthy condition.
—Albert Einstein