Gavin Kimpson | Black Valley

Gavin Kimpson | Black Valley

There is so much talk around creating a diverse workforce and the importance of equality and inclusion which is great! However, as the saying goes “actions speak louder than words” more needs to be done to level the playing field – especially in the tech industry. It is one of the many reasons Alicia Teagle created the platform Women Rock – to champion underrepresented folk and give them a platform to help raise their voices. So when we come across A-MA-ZING initiatives like Black Valley we will shout about it from the roof tops! If you haven’t heard of Black valley within the tech community then you are now in for a treat. Women Rock ambassador Doug spoke with Software engineer/ mentor Gavin Kimpson about what Black Valley is doing for the black community in tech and the incredible success stories that come out of it!

This is such a great read and we are so grateful for the opportunity to share Gavin and Black Valley’s incredible work…

HI GAVIN! WHEN I READ ABOUT BLACK VALLEY I THOUGHT IT SOUNDED LIKE A FANTASTIC INITIATIVE! FOR PEOPLE THAT MAY NOT HAVE HEARD ABOUT IT BEFORE, CAN YOU GIVE THEM AN OVERVIEW OF THE WORK BLACK VALLEY DO?

The initiative started in 2020 by Leke Sholuade, the events of George Floyd was the catalyst for him and he wanted to help make a long-lasting positive change for the black community. Leke spoke to a number of people working in tech about ways to help bring more black people into the tech sphere, it wasn’t long before more mentors signed up and Black Valley was born!

Black Valley provides free mentoring to anyone of black origin within a number of tech roles – these include UX Design, Software-engineering, Product Management, Customer Success and much more! We provide mentees with a dedicated mentor in their field and over the 8-week cohort, we look to accelerate their career by providing them the tools and know-how to level themselves up in their chosen career. We also have a network of recruiters that provide mentees with the information they need to nail those interviews and dreaded technical-tests!

Along with the ever-growing community via tools like Slack, Black Valley is enhancing the careers for mentees all over the world. We now have over 200+ mentors from all sorts of companies like your traditional ‘one-man-band’ to multinational corporations such as Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon & Google.

SO WHAT WOULD THIS SUPPORT LOOK LIKE TO INDIVIDUAL MENTEES?

Each cohort lasts for 8 weeks – over this period we carefully select each mentee so that they are paired up with the best mentor possible to help them get the most from the 2-month programme. Due to the relative short-time frame, we don’t see ourselves in the same light as bootcamps (these tend to be much much longer & more technical by their nature) however we do provide mentees with the expertise from people in the industry that know what it takes to succeed. Each mentor provides a few hours each week to their mentee – this would generally be over video calls (I’ve mentored people as far as Canada and Nigeria!). The mentor would look to understand what their mentee goals are and help develop the 8-week programme around the mentee’s long and short-term objectives.

We encourage mentees to work on new or existing projects, this allows them to build up their portfolio, which alongside ‘industry visibility’ weeks, allows them to market themselves better on LinkedIn. Additionally, CV & interview preparation, helps put them in good stead for when they are ready to jump into their next role.

BLACK VALLEY SOUNDS LIKE AN AMAZING ORGANISATION TO BE A PART OF; HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INVOLVED?

I came across Black Valley via Facebook quite by chance – it was during the covid lockdown that I saw a post by Leke asking for mentors willing to help inspire the next generation of black people within technology. As someone who has been in the software engineering industry for some time and already mentored a few friends myself, I jumped at the chance to be part of something bigger. We had an initial phone call and Leke explained to me what his vision was and I never looked back. Having mentored a number of people I’ve also since got involved with some of the decisions with interviewing people for the following cohorts. Due to the numbers of people applying for each cohort we unfortunately have to be quite selective however we do ask anyone who is unsuccessful to keep applying! Many of our best mentees have had to apply two or even three times to get on the programme! But as we grow and add more and more mentors to our community, we’ll be able to provide more and more mentees with the opportunities.

I CAN IMAGINE A LOT OF PEOPLE WOULD BE INSPIRED TO BECOME A MENTOR FOR BLACK VALLEY. CAN YOU TELL US HOW PEOPLE CAN GET INVOLVED AND WHAT KIND OF COMMITMENT IS REQUIRED?

Literally anyone could be a mentor, there aren’t any requirements from the mentor all we ask is a commitment of around 2 hours per week. This will involve your lesson prep & the actual video call with your mentee – personally as I’ve enjoyed it so much, 2 hours a week soon became 3-4 hours a week as I saw the great progress my mentees were making. A lot of our mentors have come through word of mouth. I myself have reached out to and managed to get another colleague of mine to also take part in mentoring. This organic method has worked well and we get new mentors joining each month.

IT SOUNDS LIKE BLACK VALLEY HAVE HELPED A LOT OF PEOPLE DISCOVER A NEW CAREER PATH AND I’M SURE PEOPLE WOULD LOVE TO HEAR SOME OF THE POSITIVE STORIES TO HAVE COME OUT OF THEIR WORK – IS THERE ONE PARTICULAR EXAMPLE THAT STANDS OUT TO YOU FROM THE WORK YOU’VE DONE?

On our ‘Good News’ slack channel we hear so many positive stories from both mentors and mentees that it would be impossible to mention them all, there are just so many 🙂 However personally I had the pleasure to mentor Dennis Musange. Dennis and I first met in 2021, he is a Canadian student just finishing his studies and applied to Black Valley to give him the know-how to get his first software engineering job out of University. Even with the massive time-difference, we soon clicked and really enjoyed talking every weekend. Being big football fans (or soccer as he calls it) we both have a love for our beloved Arsenal football team (even though Arsenal hasn’t been blessed with much success over the years!)

We sat down and spoke about what he wanted to achieve, he told me from the off that he wanted ‘to get his hands dirty’ so we went straight into creating a project that we could both work on and contribute to and this would become his ‘signature’ portfolio piece for potential future employers. I really wanted to challenge and push him, so we even picked a programming language and framework he wasn’t familiar with to build a small MVP – each week I’d set him goals and every week he’d go above and beyond the expectations I set. At the end of the 8-week cohort all of the mentees come together for a final ‘graduation’ video call. I was so happy with the progress of Dennis I asked him if he would like to showcase his work (he jumped at the chance!). Even after the cohort was finished, we kept in contact and I coached him through with his job applications and interviews. It wasn’t long before he told me the good news and that he had been hired to join a large software engineering team! It is those moments that make it all worthwhile for me, he is doing well and enjoying the role, hopefully in time he will even mentor others too.

MAYBE A STUPID QUESTION, BUT DO YOU NEED TO COME FROM A PARTICULAR BACKGROUND TO GET INVOLVED IN BLACK VALLEY AS A MENTOR?

Noooo of course not :). A few people have asked me this question before & we don’t care if mentors are black, white, blue or green (well… you might need to see a Doctor if you were green!?). We have mentors from all walks of life, as long as you are willing to give the time and pass on your wealth of knowledge to the next generation, we are more than happy to bring you on board!

FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO PURSUE A CAREER IN SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT, BUT DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO GET STARTED?

Lots of people think that you need to go to university to work in software engineering – this simply isn’t true. The explosion of the web in the last decade has brought so many options for people that don’t (or can’t) take the ‘traditional university approach’. Many developers are self-taught and come through learning their skills through bootcamps, online tutorials and even the tried and trusted ‘reading books’ (although books aren’t so popular in 2022!). The main thing to remember is to keep at it – software engineering keeps evolving all the time and it can be hard to keep up, so I tell anyone that it is impossible to know everything but keep learning – if you improve your skills by 1% every day by the end of the year, you’d have made a massive improvement!

FINALLY IS THERE A QUOTE, MANTRA OR ATTITUDE THAT YOU LIVE BY EVERYDAY? (THIS IS COMPLETELY OPTIONAL, SO DON’T WORRY IF YOU DON’T HAVE ONE THAT COMES TO MIND INSTANTLY)

While this has nothing to do with software engineering – it is my motto that I live by, a not-so famous comedian by the name of Stephen K Amos mentioned it once on a show and it has stuck with me & it is certainly how I approach the world. In life you have to ‘Find the funnies’ no matter what troubles life brings you always try to see the funny side & try to see the good in people. Living this way keeps me smiling & hopefully will lead to a very long & happy life!

Thanks again for sharing Black Valley’s incredible work Gavin – you all rock! 🤘

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