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Expert Interview (Part 3): Tobi Bosede on Being a Double Minority in a High Tech Field

At the Strata Data Conference in New York City in the fall, Paige Roberts of Syncsort had a chance to sit down with Tobi Bosede (@AniTobiB), Sr Machine Learning Engineer.

In part 1 of this blog series, Bosede spoke on what goes into being a Machine Learning Engineer as well as some of the projects she is currently involved with. For part 2, Bosede described predicting trade volumes and the correlation between volume and volatility.

In this part Roberts and Bosede discusses Bosede’s perspective of being a “double minority” in the tech world.

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Roberts: As a woman of color in a male dominated field, how has your experience been? Has it affected you in any way?

Bosede: Do you mean like as a black woman or…?

Yeah, I’ve got a friend, who works over at Hortonworks, Yolanda Davis, and she was very involved in Black Girls Code. I also interviewed Neha Narkhede who is the CTO of Confluent and a woman of color. You don’t see a lot of women of color as the CTO of companies, and she talked about what it was like to be different from others in her field, especially at her level. My own CTO is from Turkey. At Syncsort, I live in a world where there’s a lot of women in our area, but it’s almost like it’s an isolated world. It doesn’t seem like it’s that way in a lot of other places.

Yeah, I have worked on teams where I the only woman or only black person on my team. The lack of diversity worsens as you become more senior in tech.

Yeah, I’ve been the only woman on my team many times and it’s very odd. I always feel this pressure to be, sort of, one of the guys.

I don’t actually try to be like one of the guys, I intentionally stay true to myself. Because, first of all, I’d be unhappy doing that. And then secondly, the team will never accept me as one of the guys, because I mean, they go out, they play basketball, they never invite me [laughs]. And sometimes I’m like, “Aww, I wish,” but I don’t even like basketball, you know? I don’t even want to play basketball. I just want to be…

You just want to be included.

I just want to be invited.

Yes, I get that.

So, in terms of just going back to the main question, that’s what I tell other people who are trying to break into the field. You don’t have to change yourself, just do what you are there to do. Do what they hired you for. I have had experiences where people doubt or people underestimate you, and you have to just prove them wrong, and keep it moving.

I know it’s tough emotionally, especially if you are just joining a team or you are new, but I also like to seek out sources of emotional support or positive influences. If you are only getting a lot of negativity, that’s going to affect you, so you have to balance it with encouragement.

It hasn’t been easy for me to navigate dynamics that favor certain demographics over another in my career, but I know the value I bring to the table and have been able to thrive because I look for opportunities to showcase my strengths.

Well said. Is there anything that you have going on at the moment that you want to let us know about?

I have actually written a blog post with Pearson about being what I call the double minority in technology, as well as an O’Reilly blog which is basically tips and tricks for someone working with Spark.

I’ll be sure to include links to those! Well thank you, Tobi. It has been great speaking with you.

Thank you.

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