3 Ways The Future is Changing for Digital; A Recap of the 2021 AfroTech Conference

By : Bethany Bilewu


Instead of only talking the talk, we should walk the talk. This year, VidMob attended the 2021 AfroTech Conference. Held virtually in ‘AfroTech World’, the event is a week-long premiere conference hosted by Blativity, Inc. The digital experience allowed for thousands of tech professionals to network, listen to executives in the tech space and speak to recruiters. VidMob was a sponsor, exhibitor, and attendee this year. In case you missed the event, we’ve outlined three key takeaways that have us excited about where the future is heading:

1. The Future is…for Everyone

If you think you need a STEM degree to work in tech, think again! Jae Taylor, Senior Director of Product on Peloton’s Platform Engineering team, shared his story about how he worked up the tech ladder without a degree. The secret sauce to his success: A mindset shift. According to Taylor, one’s mindset is more important than their expertise. A growth mindset is crucial in the technology industry and as things are shifting and changing by second, continuous learning is key. Taylor also mentioned that successful people have an entrepreneurial mindset. See a problem? Go after it and workshop a solution to it, and gather a team of people for buy-in and execution.

As the technology industry is moving forward, many times we think that the people around us know everything, but that is not always the case, noted Sefunmi Osinaikefrom Co.lab. “No one truly starts from 0”, he said. In his “Breaking Into Tech for Non-Traditional Folks” session, he gave tips on combating imposter syndrome. Part of managing impostor syndrome is understanding the value and knowledge you bring to the table. Everyone knows something and everyone can offer something. He also shared the value of finding a community to help offer mentorship and enhance personal development..

The importance of representation in organizations was discussed throughout various sessions. Members of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a philanthropic organization founded by Mark Zuckerburg and Priscilla Chan, discussed what representation means to them. When asked about representation in philanthropy, Curtis Yancy from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative noted the relevance of philanthropic work being representative of the people they serve and part of the decision-making process. The panel discussion also spoke to the importance of representation at all levels of an organization’s structure. Unfortunately, the lack of representation makes spaces uninviting to people hoping to make a difference in an industry. When we are intentional about creating spaces of representation, everyone around feels more comfortable and can be their authentic selves.

2. The Future is…Data

Data informs the “how” and the why behind creative decision-making. As marketers, we can use data for change and advance our causes, including creating equity and eliminating bias. Kudzai Chinyadza, Product Designer from Zillow explained the difference between equality and equity. While equality is treating everyone the same and giving everyone the same opportunities, equity is about offering everyone the same things that they need to be successful and empowering users to have the required tools to achieve their goals. Product designers can follow a three-step process to ensure they design their products with equity in mind.

  1. Audit the current process – auditing is crucial to providing data that one can work with/improve upon.
  2. Create a plan and execute – define the problem in a project brief and garner the right people to support the plan and execution of the solution.
  3. Share – share the project as a case study to inspire and create change.

While data is useful in creating change, the machines that help collect the data are not always built with everyone in mind. Coded bias, also known as algorithmic bias is when commercial AI services machines that were not built with everyone in mind perpetuate racism, sexism, ageism, and ableism which endorses discrimination.

Algorithmic bias researcher Joy Buolamwini explained what she called the “Coded Gaze” which is “a reflection of the preferences & sometimes prejudices of those that have the power to shape technology”. Buolamwini showed examples of how commercial AI machines misclassified her face, age, and gender in her TedTalk profile picture along with various pictures of African-American females. Unfortunately, when AI systems are not created to represent all types of people, real-world algorithmic harms may have harsh implications such as false arrests. As technology is progressing and moving forward, system engineers have the power to push back on algorithmic bias and create machines that are inclusive to everyone.

3. The Future is…Bright

The trait of an excellent marketer boils down to two characteristics, their ability to anticipate and commit. Marketers who can anticipate cultural movements and use data to commit to their actions are the ones that make the most impact. Kenny Mitchell, Chief Marketing Officer at Snap, INC. spoke about how we are currently experiencing the third age of connection (a term coined by Rishad Tibacowala). Humans are no longer searching for information because as technology is getting smarter and more automated, information is coming to us. Mitchell emphasized that AR (Augmented Reality) is currently on the precipice of solving business problems. He highlighted Snapchat’s Lens Studio Software, which houses more than 200,000 lens creators. With the use of the camera and AR, lens’ creators create interactive lenses that help users make purchase decisions without having to step foot into a brick & mortar store.

The COVID-19 pandemic showed society that technology is becoming an extension of ourselves and as we continue to navigate through the pandemic and move forward, writer, activist, and comedian, Baratunde Thurston reminded attendees that we need to take the time to be human & heal from the experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we move forward into the future, we need to think about how much ownership we have on automation tools.

Here at VidMob we get excited by the opportunity to measure what matters. In our latest report Focus On: Eye Gaze, we took our analysis of over two trillion global impressions and turned them into insights that you can keep in your back pocket for your own marketing. Check it out here.

To learn more about AfroTech visit https://www.experience.afrotech.com/. To check out career opportunities at VidMob, visit our Careers Page.