Anthony Braddy, PMP - Principal Cybersecurity Program Manager, Veracode, Inc. #BlackSTEMLikeMe
Why did you choose STEM as a career?
Growing up in rural North Carolina, I spent a majority of my youth watching my family work in farming and even worked in the fields myself at as young as six years old. While my mom eventually became a registered nurse, forever taking us away from that background, I never forgot the cost of not valuing education – the fields were always there waiting for you with backbreaking labor. Introduced to technology by my uncle, I begged my mom for a personal computer and got my first TSR-80 Christmas for my 8th birthday. Rural public schools did little to foster my technology learning, but luckily I was blessed with principals and parents who took an active interest in making sure I was able to fulfill my potential. This eventually led to me attending two summer programs, Summer Ventures in Science & Math and Governor’s School (Math concentration), which exposed me to computers not merely as a boredom cure, but also as a future profession. In 1994 I entered college at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but still did not realize what the path to a career in STEM would look like, however I always took the lead role in any service projects requiring computer-related resources (such as fliers, etc.) within my fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. At the end of my senior year, because there was a lack of potential employees with computer skills in the Raleigh-Durham area, I was able to interview for an entry-level position with a company creating software for the Environmental Protection Agency in 1998. As an early parent, and because of my upbringing I treated this opportunity with the seriousness of being my last chance to avoid the fields, excelling in my role. After only a few months into the role, I was discovered by one of the Technology Directors of the company during a site visit and was recruited to relocate to the DC Metro area, being an active professional in the industry ever since.
What has your experience been as a Black in STEM?
It has been an interesting experience as a Black in STEM. Initially, I was extremely motivated to prove my worth since I did not come from a formal computer science background and did not want to be seen as less than competent. There is a saying in the Black community that you have to work twice as hard for half the recognition as others in the professional world, and I definitely carried that with me for quite a while. There is even a term for it these days – imposter syndrome. It can be a positive, as it makes one incredibly motivated to do whatever it takes to prove people wrong. It can also work against you, as your work/life balance tends to get out of order fairly quickly and easily. As I have gotten older, I have gotten a little better with it, but have definitely been party to some environments where I have had to deal with lingering stereotypes – for example - one of my managers felt it was appropriate to tell me that I “work really hard for a Black guy.” I have never felt more angry, hurt, and humiliated in my life, both for myself and on behalf of the other Blacks I have met doing their best to carry the burden of an entire race with every assignment and everyday interaction. I feel this type of interaction is not uncommon for many of the Black professionals in STEM.
What has been your biggest challenge working in STEM?
My biggest challenge working in STEM has been advocating for myself, by far. As a former manager and company owner, I have taken great care to help my employees put their best foot forward. I also recognize this is not always the case for other manager/employee relationships. In the absence of a clear advocate, I have found that credit for work is sometimes not given to the individual contributors, nor are many of the strategic improvements at the project, program, and corporate level acknowledged or understood. A secondary challenge has been educating hiring personnel on what a good candidate looks like. Not just black, but most American job candidates have a different hiring profile than what is sought after. Helping employers see a candidate’s potential beyond the wall of words on a resume is essential in making good hiring decisions and something I am proud to be able to contribute to the field of technology.
How important is it to have a mentor?
Having a mentor is extremely important. I have had quite a few great mentors in my career, many of them with differing opinions than me about what is important to project or career success. Allowing myself to be vulnerable and processing the advice they were giving me has not only made me a better professional, it has also helped steer my career in directions I could never have even imagined, much less charted and navigated on my own. In my position in Washington DC as a hiring manager, I am proud to have hired and mentored over a dozen young Black professionals and applaud all of their successes, but all credit goes to them. You have to be teachable, and that is a soft skill that is commonly overlooked. It also helped that they were all great people, not just great employees.
What advice do you have for you black students thinking about majoring in STEM?
Having talked to quite a few young black students thinking of or already majoring in STEM, my advice would be to take advantage of the opportunities around you. If you attend a University, there is likely a career center which can help bridge the gap between theoretical and practical knowledge. Knowing how to program is cool, but if you have no evidence, you are missing half the equation. I would also advocate for looking outside of your institution for knowledge such as in offline and online communities. While is great to leverage things like career centers, most job opportunities are discovered via warm introductions coming from networking and/or using side projects to show what you are capable of. Never quit, and never wait for someone else to show what you are able to do. If a job opportunity is not opening up, build your own product or put together a team and get to work on your passion project. And last but not least, be patient. Even if you are not being noticed for your talents, keep at it – nothing tells the truth like time.