Y Combinator accepts first tech diversity non-profit

Y Combinator accepts first tech diversity non-profit

Makinde Adeagbo has left his engineering job at Pinterest to work full-time on /dev/color, the nonprofit support network for black software engineers that he founded.

Adeagbo’s /dev/color was accepted into the winter session of Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s most famous — and most influential — incubator, graduating companies such as Airbnb, Dropbox and Reddit, all now household names.

Y Combinator partner Michael Seibel says /dev/color is the first non-profit in Y Combinator to focus on tech diversity, an issue that is being met with a growing sense of urgency in Silicon Valley.

Adeagbo, 30, launched /dev/color last year to bring together black software engineers from top companies such as Facebook, Uber and Airbnb, a distinct minority in Silicon Valley.

A fraction of the tech work force in Silicon Valley is African American and little progress has been made. Only 1% of venture-capital-backed start-ups are led by African-Americans and less than 1% of general partners at major venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, the ones that back tomorrow’s Facebooks and Googles, are African American.

The predominantly white male industry runs the risk of losing touch with the diverse nation — and world — that forms its customer base. At the same time African Americans are being excluded from the fastest-growing, highest-paying jobs in the nation.

Adeagbo says he has ambitions of reaching black engineers around the globe and, in turn, inspiring the next generation to follow in their footsteps.

“We provide that structure and that opportunity to get help and give help,” he said in an interview.

Y Combinator began accepting nonprofits in 2013 with the aim of injecting the creativity, drive and rigor of for-profit start-ups into the non-profit world.

“Going through the process of getting /dev/color off the ground, I was struck by how similar it is to getting any start-up off the ground,” Adeagbo said. “There is a lot to be learned from the non-profit world. Just as often, people on the for-profit side have relevant experiences to help me grow.”

Seibel says /dev/color has an important mission.

“The core of great tech companies is great engineering and helping minority engineers learn, grow, and get access to mentorship will significantly increase the number of underrepresented founders and senior employees in Silicon Valley,” he said.

Adeagbo has hired a program director, Ariel Belgrave from JPMorgan Chase, and has expanded to 65 members from 20.

“We provide a central place to come to talk about what you want to do and everyone is here to support you doing that,” Adeagbo says.

To that end, /dev/color is rolling out peer coaching circles that it calls “squads,” similar to “Lean In” circles, the movement of peer-support groups that grew out of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller. It’s also building an online portal for members. An advisory board is stacked with representatives from Facebook, Pinterest and elsewhere in Silicon Valley.

Two new initiatives will reach out to the broader community, Adeagbo says.

Any black software engineer can tweet to /dev/color with the hashtag #askdevcolor and members will respond to the most interesting questions on Twitter or share their insights in blog posts. And /dev/color will start fielding speaker requests from organizations, conferences and events (including educational and youth events) for their members who are experts in everything from mobile development to machine learning.

Adeagbo came up with the idea for /dev/color while volunteering as a mentor to a couple of computer science students.

The name /dev/color is a reference to a common directory on computer systems “as well as our efforts to strengthen the community of Black software engineers, engineers of color,” he said.

Born in Nigeria and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Adeagbo says his parents nurtured his interest in science and math, sending him to every summer program they could find. Academic programs helped him prepare for college. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he honed in on software engineering.

During the summer he landed internships at Microsoft and Apple. His first job out of college was at Facebook.

Adeagbo says he was drawn to solving big problems in the tech industry and beyond, in search of ways to make people’s lives “tangibly better,” working on software for schools in Kenya and coaching track in East Palo Alto, Calif.

Overwhelmed by the response to /dev/color, he says he had to seize the moment again.

“I wanted to give it a fair shot and grow (/dev/color) into something awesome and that’s something I couldn’t do part-time,” he said. “The demand I have gotten for /dev/color exceeded what I would have guessed. There is clearly a need and there is clearly a spot to help a lot of people here.”


  • BWiTLA
    Posted at 10:48h, 03 March

    RT @michaelhallTM: Y Combinator accepts first tech diversity non-profit: Makinde Adeagbo has left his engineering job at Pinterest… https…

  • Monique D. Hayes
    Posted at 13:46h, 03 March

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