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What advice does the CEO of CodeSee have for other Black women in Tech?

Miles Kelley
Shanea Leven

Shanea Leven is just one of the Black women taking Silicon Valley head on. More and more Black women are taking to the tech industry despite it being seen as a male dominated industry. Shanea founded CodeSee in an effort to make programming easier to visualize. CodeSee is a developer tool designed to help developers visually understand their code's functionality. It also allows them to continuously document and share their large-scale codebases.

CodeSee allows you to visually see how your code works. The use cases include onboarding new team members, or debugging new parts of the codebase. You can even come back to a component you’ve not touched for a while. Whether that’s whilst debugging or during code review, building a new feature, or any time you need to understand how the code works, it can help you.

Shanea had the idea a couple of years ago while working at Docker. She was apart of a team that was building a new feature that everyone was excited about. It was really helpful for the company to show security vulnerabilities in Docker images. When you download a Docker image, you want to know how many potential vulnerabilities you have. But just days before they were set to launch the feature, they discovered a bug. And any programmer will tell you there is only one thing worse than discovering a bug… having no idea how to fix it.

The reason they had no idea how to fix it was because the bug was in a part of the codebase that an engineer who had left the company had been working on. No one else knew how it worked. That is when Shanea asked herself and her team, “Why do we not know how our systems work? Why do we not understand all of the complexities of OUR system?” The huge issue when something like this occurs, is that you have to read the entire code line for line. And if you don't know offhand how the code works, you have to visualize it in your head. And this is where the opportunity for CodeSee was born.

But even though Shanea has moved on from Docker and founded her own company, she still recognizes the void of faces like hers doing the same. In mid-August of this year, the U.S. Census Bureau released data showing the nation is more multi-racial than ever. People of color represented 43 percent of the U.S. population in 2020. This is up from 34 percent in 2010. In two or three decades, experts project, white Americans will fall below half the population and lose majority status. There are nearly 22 million Black women in the U.S. It's a young and growing population, and so many are hungry for opportunity. Even rarer is a Black woman company founder. Fewer than a half a percent of Silicon Valley tech leadership positions are held by Black women, according to one study).

So what advice does Shanea have for women that look like her, that are hoping to be like her? She broke it down herself in an article that she wrote for Inc.com. And here is what she's learned:

1. You do what you need to do in order to achieve the things you want.

Often, Black women are not afforded the same opportunities as our lighter counterparts. So, if you're a Black woman, you're going to need to seek them out; you're going to need to be bold and tireless. You may need to leave that job where you're treated poorly; to take that riskier role at that startup. You may need to move into unfamiliar places.

This may be difficult, as we are also often carrying the collective weight of our families, communities, and even our entire gender or race. It's a lot. Sometimes these risks will not work out, and that's okay. But you must take hold of your potential and see it come to life.

2. Black women cannot allow others to define them– but you can learn the rules of the game (in order to break them later).

There's no denying that thinly veiled instances of racism, or microaggressions, are an all-too-common reality for Black women in the workplace. I know from personal experience. What's seen as ambition and boldness in a white man can be construed as manipulative and uppity in a Black woman. I've been called “calculating” and “overly assertive,” though I know that's not who I am.

In regard to this reality, the most meaningful advice I can offer is this: Stay true to yourself. Be real, and really yourself. Don't let others' biases frame your identity or slow your determination to succeed. Despite the mass of news articles and opinion pieces like this one that reminds you of the continued disparities across the tech industry and beyond, remember, you are enough.

You belong in every room you walk into. Act “as if”, but check the boxes, learning the techniques to engage effectively and win the hearts and minds of others. In other words, master the rules of the game in order to break them later. It's what white guys do, after all.

3. Think of personal relationships as color-blind.

The landscape is slowly starting to change, with more Black people beginning to break through the glass ceiling of Silicon Valley. Our awareness of the presence of Black people stepping into leadership roles is growing, too. But the truth is, there has always been extremely talented Black people in every industry. We're just starting to receive more recognition now. The thing is, we cannot accomplish this alone.

Black leaders must build personal relationships with communities of people that have too often excluded them in the past. I suggest seizing on this as an exciting opportunity to learn about another world. Seek to understand the burdens others are (and are not) carrying. Learn the possibilities that others encounter with ease, and identify how you could adopt them.

Simply, you deserve to learn what it feels like to operate without constraints. You have the ambition and the right to consider Colt's question for yourself. Take hold of the opportunity to adopt a boundless mindset in a world that remains imperfect, but in which you know–I know–you can thrive.

Black women continue to be change makers. Shenea is just one of many examples of Black women that have decided to shift within their industries. She is also yet another that wants to bring more than look like her along with her. And there is tons of room for growth in Black entrepreneurs who want to make change within the tech industries.

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