The tech industry is notoriously competitive, and some are quick to label a lack of diversity as a “diversity problem.”
A recent survey by the consulting firm Korn Ferry found that only about 15% of respondents reported being hired by a tech startup because of their race or gender.
And, of course, tech companies are known for hiring the best and brightest of their industry.
But the survey also found that more than half of respondents (54%) say they felt like their workplace was too conservative and/or white-shoe-centric.
And many of those who say their workplace is too conservative say they left due to the gender bias they encountered, or to concerns about the lack of representation of minorities in tech leadership.
But what’s it really like to work in the tech industry, and how do you find the right fit?
I recently spoke with Michael DeSantis, an urban designer who previously worked at the digital agency L.A.
He’s also the founder and CEO of an app called A+L, which has been featured on the cover of Time and Time Magazine.
Michael De Santis speaks to TIME.
Michael and I talked about how his experiences in the industry shaped his thinking about how to approach a career in the technology industry.
I’ve also created an online video series called A-League: Designers, Architects, and Developers.
Michael has been working in the digital space for nearly three years now, and we spoke about his experience, how his career is changing, and what he hopes people take away from the experience.
Hi Michael, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to TIME about your experience in the field of design and architecture.
I want to start with a few words about your current work and how you see it evolving.
Your recent article, “Why I left an engineering startup and now work in a startup,” was an insightful piece in a number of ways.
How did you first get into architecture?
What was your background and why did you choose that?
I had been in the U.S. Air Force for five years when I was 17, and I had an engineering background, so I went to graduate school in electrical engineering.
I also had a bachelor’s degree in architecture from USC.
The other day, I was in the elevator and I saw a young lady with her feet up and she said, “Can I borrow your seat?”
So I went and grabbed it.
It was so nice and I sat in her seat, and then I said, I’ll be your engineer.
And she went, “Oh, thanks!” and I was just really struck by how she seemed genuinely excited about it.
So I said yes.
How has your experience evolved?
What would you change?
I would say one thing that has been a huge change is I don’t think there’s any bias in the architecture field.
The architecture community is much more open and welcoming and inclusive.
The diversity of the field is higher than in the engineering field.
And so for me, it’s really easy to go from engineering to design to a startup and find that there’s a lot of diversity there, and a lot more people of color in the design and engineering communities.
I think one of the big challenges is there’s still so much stigma in the space, even if it’s not explicitly a bias, because it’s hard to be a female in the workplace.
And there are so many people in the world who don’t want to be the subject of that kind of stigma.
I have an engineering degree, but I don, and there’s not a lot to say.
I would hope that if you wanted to be in the building, that you would feel comfortable with it.
But you can go work in an office, or an office in a different part of town, or in a smaller company.
I mean, I have a company that is a couple blocks away from my home, and they have an office with a full floor and they’re not just going to put in a cubicle.
I feel comfortable working there, but also I’m in the office every day and I’m very comfortable working in a small office with the same people.
So the biggest thing is that you can be a diverse group of people.
And I think that’s one of my biggest strengths.
Is there any way to make the tech space more welcoming to people who are not in tech?
The biggest challenge is there are a lot companies that are not hiring because of the gender issue.
They’re hiring people who aren’t in tech because they think that it’s more socially acceptable, they think, “Yeah, it’ll be easier to hire people who look like me,” or because they believe that it will be easier for them to recruit.
So you have to be very careful in the hiring process.
If you’re not going to hire because you don’t like your skin color, that’s probably not going in the right direction. And you