One of the most exciting trends I am seeing in tech today is individuals' combination of membership in varied, niche communities representing different aspects of their personality, experience, and values, and the growing diversity this is lending to the tech world.
I see this from myself, with my own syndicates: Gaingels for LGBT, Blue Jay, for my alma mater Johns Hopkins, Founder Institute, for mentoring. I see it particularly well represented in my friend Andy Saldaña, Director of Operations for NY Tech Meetup and organizer of Gay Tech Meetup NYC.
I spoke with Andy to discuss his experience leading these groups and how he feels they reflect on diversity in New York tech as a whole and where we are going as a diverse community:
Grossinger: How did you get start participating in affinity communities?
Saldaña: I spent the first six months of working with NY Tech Meetup really learning the tech community in 2013 and learning what communities, groups, meetups and organizations were in existence and being formed. Through my every day work at NY Tech Meetup I was exposed to both the startups and the diverse community groups and people in the New York tech ecosystem.
I was really looking for places I felt like I belonged and where I felt more comfortable at events. This led me to a few initial groups like the NY Latino Tech Meetup and NYC Tech Latinas meetup groups and to non-profit orgs like StartOut. I quickly realized the tremendous number of affinity groups in New York and started attending as many events as I could.
Was there someone who inspired you to really focus on affinity networks within diversity?
Working with Jessica Lawrence [his colleague running New York Tech Meetup] and seeing her passion for women in tech, which was very real and personal to her, helped me to understood and identify with the importance and purpose of affinity group, and the safe networks they provide to those outside the mainstream to get access to resources and larger networks.
Her work and passion really helped to motivate me as I identified and created my own diversity work. It also helped to expand the work we do at NY Tech Meetup.
What was the first affinity community you engaged with and why? What came next?
The first place I found was the New York Latino Tech Meetup, which was a small but close knit group, and getting involved with that group along with my work at NYTM provided a start for building my personal network of support and resources. I learned that I felt comfortable in these groups in a different way than I was at other meetups and events.
When I received the opportunity to help re-ignite the Gay Tech Meetup, which had been dormant for almost two years, I just felt it was the right fit for me to engage with that side of my identity and I was able to step up and help as one of the main organizers and create new programming. Over the last two years we have grown to over 1,400 people and do a regular event every couple months.
At the first event, we got 100 people to attend a networking mixer and I used it very much to do some discovery. I quickly realized that there was clearly a need for stronger affinity within the LGBT community.
What do you feel are key similarities and differences between the diverse networks you are a part of?
In my work at NY Tech Meetup, I have the privilege of working with so many different affinity community organizations, Meetup groups and events. This allows me to have a high level view of the ecosystem and I get to see that the challenges each group faces are all very similar to each other: education, access to resources, passing knowledge, and opening doors.
When you dive down into each group specifically, you see more particular focus around that specific communities needs whether it be creating pathways for at-risk youth, increasing education for young and new entrepreneurs or connecting individuals to a larger network of resources.
My work at NYTM really combines all of these things and helps me understand the wider range of needs of all these diverse groups and what needs to happen to push the NYC tech ecosystem to be as diverse as its citizens.
What do you think comes next?
Affinity groups are critical to leveling the playing field in entrepreneurship and are key to increasing the diversity of the tech ecosystem.
I only see these groups getting stronger and gaining more representation within the larger networks.
Personally, my focus will be on increasing entrepreneurial access for at-risk and minority LGBT youth. I think this is the next great step for my own affinity communities here in the city.