VentureFizz's Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Kahlil Adamson, Cedar Senior TechOps Engineer shares his story.
Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work?
I was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Mount Vernon, a suburb of New York City. Both my parents are physicians, and they practiced in communities throughout Brooklyn and Harlem. Growing up, my parents were always teaching my sister and me about our heritage, and finding ways to show us the importance of understanding our history. For example, we enjoyed many memorable road trips to National Parks and Black historical sites throughout the country throughout our childhood. Visiting Detroit was one of my favorite trips—we went to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the Motown Museum, which was Motown’s first headquarters and recording studio.
As a child, I was always curious and eager to learn new things. I learned how to play the trumpet in elementary school and stuck with it through high school (and even a little bit in college). I also was a Boy Scout, and eventually attained the rank of Eagle Scout. I still think about how much fun we had on our fifty-mile canoe trips in upstate NY and the cavalcade in New Mexico. I also played a lot of sports, especially baseball when I was a young kid and tennis when I was a teenager. I’m still a big sports fan, rooting for the Mets, Knicks, and Giants.
Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating?
I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences from the CUNY City College of New York (CCNY). I then decided to pursue my interest in computer programming and went back to school to earn my Associate of Science degree in Computer Science at Westchester Community College (WCC) in Valhalla, NY. My first tech position was as an intern with Success Academy Charter Schools in NYC. It involved configuring hundreds of MacBooks and iPads for incoming teachers and running onboarding sessions. I’m very thankful for the experience because it allowed me to build a real skill-set with Apple devices.
What inspired you to get into the tech industry?
I have always been fascinated by innovations in technology. I remember how excited I was as a kid when we first got AOL in my house. That interest never waned, and when I graduated from CCNY I made the decision to refocus my efforts on technology by taking an introductory programming course at WCC. That decision has led me down the path to where I am today.
What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining Cedar?
After I completed my IT internship at Success Academy, I took a position at Aon Hewitt in NYC, providing on-site technical support. I then became an IT Support Analyst at Michael Page in Stamford, CT, where I provided remote IT support for all the offices in North America. I later returned to Aon for an IT Support Technician role at their newly-created Tech Bar in NYC, which was similar to the Apple Genius Bar, except it was for Aon employees. Based on my success, I was promoted to the position of IT Support Specialist where I had the opportunity to mentor junior members of our department.
I eventually moved into the healthcare IT space by joining Clover Health in Jersey City, NJ in 2016. I started as an IT Support Specialist and was later promoted to IT Systems Engineer. In Summer 2020, I accepted a role as Senior TechOps Engineer at Cedar, and that’s where I am today.
Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Senior TechOps Engineer at Cedar?
As a Senior TechOps Engineer I am responsible for designing, managing and automating tooling for Cedar's internal data integration processes. For example, I collaborate with leaders on other teams to ensure that I create and deploy the best solution for them. I recently partnered with our People Operations team to automate the flow of employee data from Cedar's HRIS (Human Resource Information System) to Cedar's identity management provider, and then finally to Cedar's internal directory and performance management solutions.
I also create baselines for role-based access to Cedar systems and automate the management of groups that assign access to those systems. Additionally, I work on configuring applications that are added to Cedar's Identity Management provider.
What has contributed to your success thus far, and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional?
Hard work, determination, thirst for knowledge, the support from family and friends and a little luck have been the biggest contributors to my success. While there have been times I felt discouraged being the only, or one of very few, Black people in a department or a company, I have been fortunate to work at organizations that created opportunities for me to learn new technologies and advance my career.
What types of programs and initiatives does Cedar have that support diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Cedar has created an environment that allows its employees to bring their whole selves to work. This year, I co-founded an employee resource group (ERG) called be@cedar (BIPOC Empowerment at Cedar.) Our mission is to support and uplift BIPOC-identifying employees. In our inaugural year, my co-chairs and I hosted several professional development workshops and cultural celebrations, and we are planning some exciting events for next year. Additionally, there is an ERG called Pridecones, which fosters a sense of inclusion and awareness and provides a safe space for LGBTQ+ employees and allies. There is also an ERG called Cedar Women, which strives to connect all women employees and those who identify as female by creating an environment of empowerment and removing gender barriers. Cedar also has a Cedarversity initiative, which aims to create an inclusive and safe organization that is representative of the communities we live in and serve; I had the privilege of serving as a Cedarversity Champion this year. Finally, Cedar announced an Anti-Racism Pledge earlier this year, which will help us make measurable, sustainable progress in improving the healthcare outcomes of those our products serve. This was another initiative that I had the pleasure to work on and help shape.
What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry?
Definitely build and utilize your networks. Reach out to both your professional and personal contacts who are in the industry, and let them know that you’re interested in exploring the tech space. Many of the opportunities I have received have been the result of cultivating relationships with people in the tech industry. I also encourage people to find local meetups (IRL or virtually) and seek out opportunities for professional development. Conferences—especially those that are geared toward professionals from underrepresented groups—are incredibly empowering. They are also effective ways to learn about new innovations, discover opportunities, and make professional connections. It is also helpful to earn certifications in areas that are relevant to your work or the work you want to pursue. Some require quite a bit of studying, but it’s worth it to make yourself more competitive when your goal is to advance in the tech space.
While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken. Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?
Companies can develop and foster relationships with organizations for professionals from historically underrepresented and/or excluded groups, as well as schools (colleges, universities and bootcamps). It’s also a good idea for companies to engage with current employees and work with them to identify strong candidates in their networks. This will help them add more diverse candidates to their searches and possibly even create new sourcing pipelines. Once those candidates are hired, the company needs to ensure they are creating an inclusive environment and sense of belonging so that they retain those employees. I also think it is important for tech professionals from underrepresented groups to speak with children and spark their interest in the tech industry. We need them to see that people who look like them are succeeding in this exciting field.