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Breaking into Tech: Chris Johnson | QA Engineer, Custom Ink

Feb 11, 2022 | By: Erica Arvanitis
Categories: Blog, For Students, For Bootcamps
Breaking into Tech: Chris Johnson | Ascent Funding

After graduating high school, Chris Johnson wasn’t exactly sure of his future. He knew he wanted to go to college, but the path beyond that was unclear.

So, he enrolled in community college and took some tech classes that interested him. It was then that something just *clicked*. After transferring to the Info-Tech program at George Mason University, Chris made the first step in paving a new road in tech. 

Now, he works as a QA Engineer at Custom Ink. We chatted with Chris about his journey into tech, what challenging (and rewarding) experiences he’s faced, and what advice he has for newbies in STEM.

 

When did you first know you loved tech? 

I can’t really pinpoint when I first knew, but I’ve just always gravitated towards things that involve computing or gaining an understanding of how devices work. For example, knowing I can turn on the TV with the remote, wasn’t enough. I wanted to understand why that worked, how that worked. 

 

Was there someone in your life – parent, family member, professor, mentor – who helped you stay motivated in school and as you started your career?

Gotta give a shout-out to my mom for this one. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I was graduating high school. I actually didn’t even apply to colleges. That summer, I was just working, hanging with friends, and skating. My mom kinda forced me to get my act together and got me enrolled in community college. Not sure what I’d be doing now if she hadn’t done that. I’m eternally grateful.

 

Diversity and an inclusive workplace are important topics in the tech and STEM industries. Being Black in tech, how has your experience been – rewarding, frustrating, all of the above? 

This is a tough one. I’d say overall, I’ve found my experience rewarding. I’ve been in tech for about thirteen years and I worked my way up from an intern in a data center. It feels great being where I am now and being able to look back on all the knowledge I’ve gained over the years.

That being said, there’s always been the overarching, mental struggle of being Black. When I apply for a new job, I have to worry about being skipped over, even if I’m the most qualified candidate. I have to worry about whether my race played a role in their decision during and after the interview.

Also, there’s the issue of equal pay. When negotiating salary, I have to think about whether the compensation is fair in general, but also if they’re offering me a lower salary because of my race.

 

In your opinion, what do you think companies can do to ensure they hire more BIPOC and create a more authentically diverse environment? 

Companies need to put serious effort into identifying bias in the workplace. It can start with something as simple as having a diverse interview panel. Or, embracing other cultures in the workplace. I’ve worked at companies that didn’t even acknowledge Black History Month. A lot of companies still don’t recognize MLK day. It’s hard, as a Black engineer, to know that an employer may not do those things. It gives me the sense that they don’t care.

 

What’s been your career highlight so far?

Making it to a place where I can lead projects confidently and work on a variety of different tech ranging from hardware to websites and native mobile apps.

 

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the tech industry? 

  • Apply for the job, even if you don’t meet all the requirements. Companies are often willing to adjust roles to fit the candidate’s existing skillset.
  • Ask a lot of questions. Always make sure you’ve got a clear understanding before taking on projects. Seek out mentors who actually want to help you succeed. That might sound weird, but I encountered people who were disingenuous about mentoring me when I was an intern.
  • Never stop learning. Stay up to date on the latest technologies, even if your job doesn’t require it. Most importantly, don’t chase job titles. Become an expert at your craft and know your worth!