Action plan to increase representation of Black professionals in tech | article | video

BPTN announces paid training and guaranteed jobs for 2,000 Black professionals in the technology sector

Members of the Black Professionals in Tech Network (BPTN) gathered in June to hear the news about a program that increases skills for Black professionals in the tech sector.

Introducing the event on the top floor of a 30-storey office tower, Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson told the group of Black business professionals in technology, their colleagues, and investors that it was great to see organizations doing their part to restart the economy.

A second announcement about this year’s BFUTR Summit followed just hours later at the launch party, which saw the number of people in attendance triple. The audience flowed out onto a terrace with an unusually impressive panoramic view of the lake, waterfront and surrounding business districts.

Tim Clark, TD Bank, Lekan Olawoye, BPTN, stand in front of a wall with BPTN logos
L-R: Tim Clark, TD Bank, Lekan Olawoye, BPTN, Toronto, June 2022

Social and technological disruptor Lekan Olawoye, who also happens to be BPTN’s founder and CEO, and his partner-in-comedy Tim Clark, CIO of Business Segment Technology at TD Bank, playfully bantered back-and-forth to the amusement of the crowd. 

They were so entertaining, I wondered if their presentation was rehearsed or if the screams from the audience were spontaneous reactions to the comedic duo’s skit. It turns out, a room full of business and technology experts can be very interesting afterall. I was expecting the opposite. It was like being at a tech pep rally. The hosts riled up the crowd, stirring up anticipation.

Don’t let the jokes fool you, Olawoye is the lead executive of talent development at MaRS Discovery District, an important innovation hub in the city that connects entrepreneurs, academics and government. The facility spreads over blocks to connect hospitals, research centres, a major university and the Bay Street business corridor. He’s likely to use techniques, like humour, to engage students in the classroom as an adjunct lecturer at York University’s School of Social Work.

Clark, a Nigel Barker doppelganger, said phrases like, “It’s gonna be lit” in a British-sounding accent, even though he’s from Scotland. He also had no idea who the English photographer and ANTM judge was.

The hosts announced a “disruptive platform” that helps Black-identified individuals learn and grow professionally through a training program that guarantees tech jobs for the participants when they finish. 

Olawoye said many of the companies he approached turned him down because they didn’t believe his goals were achievable. Their representatives simply wished him good luck. 

“I got a lot of no’s,” Olawoye said to the group. “They told me, ‘We’ll see you when you do it.’” He brushed the air aside with his had as if to say, the people he approached sent him on his way in similar fashion.

He said, when BPTN approached TD, they immediately accepted. The two companies started working together over four years ago. The conversation was about BPTN’s goal to bring together 1,000 Black people to focus on technology. That was four summits ago, Olawoye said. This year, they’re launching the fifth summit with 20,000 Black professionals coming to Toronto in October.

I sat down with Olawoye and Clark after their presentation, for an interview to learn more about the paid training program, below. 

The original conversation about the training program began with BPTN’s head of engineer who suggested that Olawoye build up the curriculum for their members. He then approached Clark. Olawoye said, “And I don’t swear a lot. … I apologize. (imitating Clark) ‘I fuc*in’ love it.’” The crowd erupts into laughter. “That sounded like him, right? … I just don’t have the accent,” continued Olawoye.

The training program was one of the projects that came out of that conversation they had four years ago. 

“Four years from now we’re going to look back and say something special happened. We changed the game in terms of how we attract diverse talent. How we scale talent, how we promote talent and how we invest in talent. This is the thing I’m super proud of,” Olawoye said, adding that the people in the room are the ones who the programs will impact.

To increase opportunities for Black professionals in the technology sector, BPTN will introduce an intensive full-stack developer bootcamp through their Obsidi Academy. Students of any age will be paid $2,000 each month, for three months, to take part in the training program. The participants are guaranteed a full-time job with the company when they complete the program.

Update: Aug. 3, 2023: Added link to BPTN’s Obsidi Academy Website

Watch the interview with Olawoye and Clark:

by Cherryl Bird – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Twitter @ladycbird | Instagram @cherrylbird

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