For Black-identified individuals, wanting to get a job in the tech field, and actually landing an interview that could lead to a role in tech, are two totally different things, according to Bernice Owusu Agyeman.
"Getting a job is quite difficult," added Agyeman, who now works as an IT Developer at TD in Toronto.
According to a 2019 report by The Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E) – an independent and nonpartisan policy institute, housed within Metropolitan Toronto University – just 2.6% of the Canadian tech workforce is made up of Black-identified individuals.
In an effort to increase representation among Black individuals in the technology industry, and to help make it easier for Black-identified individuals to gain employment in their chosen field, last year, the Black Professionals in Tech Network (BPTN) alongside TD as launch sponsor and founding employer, designed and launched the Obsidi Academy.
Obsidi Academy is a full-stack engineer program for Black-identified individuals to help with training, mentorship, and a secure pathway to break into the tech industry. The Bank plans to hire many graduates from a series of cohorts over the next three years.
"The BPTN program provides an opportunity to go through a three-month bootcamp [where] you’re being trained by TD and BPTN," said Agyeman.
"It’s almost like an apprenticeship. If you’re able to successfully complete the bootcamp … you have the opportunity to better your life and better your career in tech."
Fostering innovation through diversity
BPTN is an industry group made up of more than 70,000 Black professionals, dedicated to providing students and those interested in pursuing a career in tech with access to mentorship, skill-building opportunities, and a strong peer network to support professional growth and advancement.
"We’ve been proud to work with BTPN since 2018, because of our belief in their mission to enable and connect Black tech talent," said Tim Clark, Senior Vice President and CIO, Commercial Platforms, Architecture & Engineering and Chair of the Platforms & Technology Inclusion and Diversity committee at TD.
"We know that bringing diversity into our workplace helps foster innovation, ideas, and results, and that's why we were so excited to help bring the Obsidi Academy to life. Our goal with the Academy is to enable under-represented talent, no matter their background or experience, to become full-stack engineers and launch their career at TD. Ultimately, at the end of each cohort program, we'll finish with better people, better talent and better outcomes."
The inaugural cohort of the Obsidi Academy started their training to become full-stack engineers in September 2022, with 40 participants coming from a range of backgrounds and careers. After successfully completing the three-month program, many of the graduates have been placed in full-time jobs with TD.
Diversity & Inclusion in hiring at TD
TD worked alongside BPTN to help design and launch the program. The course curriculum was designed and reviewed by a team at TD, headed up by Avantika Avantika, Practice Lead, Software Engineering Practice at TD.
"We're providing a platform for people with little to no coding experience to help enable them to transition their careers and get into technology," said Avantika.
"The curriculum is actually tailored toward the needs of the Bank's business and was developed to help the cohort hit the ground running – because they know the necessary technologies."
Feeling disconnected from your chosen industry
With more than 10 years of experience as a software engineer in the banking and card payments space, Osazee Igbinosun, Head of Engineering at BPTN, says he "speaks tech."
But in an industry where Black professionals are underrepresented, Igbinosun says it's easy to feel disenfranchised. He said he's felt disconnected from his industry, he's had his credentials questioned, and he's heard from other Black professionals about downplaying their education and experience to land an interview.
"There's a stereotype of what tech professionals look like – and it's not Black," said Igbinosun.
"The current (Obsidi Academy) curriculum is something we have tested and trusted within our ranks at BPTN. The participants come from various industries, from healthcare to construction, and from retail to aviation."
The program includes the basics of computer programming, algorithms, architecture design patterns, databases and file handling, front-end development, and finally linking them all together to create an end-to-end application. Through this program, the students learn to build and deploy code, use GitHub and Java scripts and also train in Agile practices – including JIRA board, scrum meetings, and daily standups.
The program's participants also receive additional forms of support, including peer coaching, office hours, and biweekly seminars with TD colleagues to get a peek into what it's like to work at TD.
TD and its commitment to sourcing the best tech talent
To help further the advancement of Black tech professionals, TD is also the founding sponsor of the BFUTR Global Tech Summit, the largest gathering of Black tech talent across North America. The event, which took place on October 19-21, 2022 in Toronto, included tech talks from more than 100 industry leaders, networking opportunities, and learning and hiring sessions.
Igbinosun said the effect of having hundreds of professionals at different stages in their careers connecting with others helped create a cascading effect of building community and sharing ideas and experiences.
"Hearing from juggernauts in the industry that look like you, sound like you, have the same tastes as you, are the same racial demographics as you - makes you feel as though you're not alone in the world," said Igbinosun.
"It puts you in a certain mindset that 'I can do this - I can actually succeed.' You know that there's no social ceiling hovering above your head. That's what BFUTR is: bridging the gap between talent and opportunity with respect to Black people."
In early 2022, TD committed to hiring more than 2,000 individuals into technology roles to help drive investments the Bank has made in new technologies to support innovations for customers. Obsidi Academy is part of the Bank's ongoing commitment to building relationships with organizations like BPTN to help establish a pipeline of diverse talent.
"Hiring Black has to be a deliberate action," said Igbinosun.
"The Academy is giving that opportunity to bridge that gap, so that everybody knows that anyone can be a tech person."