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Developer advocate and technical project manager Sasha Pass, gives a first-hand view on race, diversity, and the black community at IBM.


Sasha Pass, IBM

Reflections on diversity, race and BLM within the technical community

Sasha Pass, a developer advocate and project manager with 8 years experience at IBM has been an integral part of many developer initiatives at IBM, including the global Call for Code initiative. Given her inter-racial background, the impact of Black Lives Matter has hit especially close to home. Learn a bit more about Sasha’s take on diversity and racial inequality as a black woman in the workplace and her current work with Emb(race), a project to improve racial diversity at IBM.

Tell me a bit about yourself and what you do outside of work as a technical project manager?

Outside of IBM, I am a Boone County (Missouri) fire district volunteer firefighter and EMT. While I had never thought of being a fire-fighter, one day I just happened to be working an IBM career event and ran into the Boone County fire department. We got into a discussion around the medical component for emergency calls (70% of calls are medical calls) and how they needed help. I joined their training program which was a commitment of two nights a week for three months in 2017. We covered both fire-fighting and EMT training during those three months. And now as a licensed EMT, I carry a pager and I’m on call as needed. I’ve always had a volunteer mindset and believe in taking care of and helping people in my community.

Sasha Pass, Firefighter

How did you join IBM and what exactly do you do there?

I am computer savvy and quick to learn things without a computer science background. You might consider me an IBM new collar hire! I’m also part of an IBM family with both my mother, mother in-law, and husband working for Big Blue. Years ago, my mother encouraged me to attend a social networking event for IBM in 2011 which led to a job opportunity with the Global Technology Services (GTS) services team. I eventually made my way to the Cloud and Cognitive team as a technical project manager and part of the Watson Services Developer Advocacy team. Which then led me to my current PM role for IBM Developer. As a technical project manager I found Scrum/Agile practices so easy to embrace because at its core its about working together as a team toward a common goal/outcome.

What sort of challenges do you see in the workplace around diversity and for black people?

I have never experienced any overt racism in my workplace at IBM and I’ve never witnessed it but I think there’s often black representation lacking at many levels. And often within a corporate setting, I don’t find many people that look like me. It can be difficult when you step into a meeting and no one looks like you. I usually scan a room at work to see if there were any people that look like me. It’s the same way around gender and oftentimes, I do tailor my words to fit the setting and who’s in the room. It’s no different in my volunteer workplace, I’m often the only black person around, there is also a lack of black representation there.

Sasha Pass, Family

And how were you personally impacted by the George Floyd tragedy in Minneapolis and the nationwide support for Black Lives Matter (BLM) after that?

It never hit me close to home until I saw George Floyd lying helplessly on the street in that video and the thought of how I would’ve helped as an EMT. Typically during an incident of violence, an EMT has to wait for police to clear the scene, what could I have done in this situation? What would an EMT do if the police where part of the incident but also needed to clear the incident? And recently, I also had family members involved in a shooting scenario (my family was not hurt but one woman and an 11 year old child died) and I wondered if things had been different if they had not been in a pre-dominantly black neighborhood. Would the police response have been quicker?

I knew I finally had to do something. That something came in an opportunity to be part of the team working on the Emb(race) Call for Code Initiative, a project to support racial equality. My leadership team at IBM (at all levels) has been very understanding of the recent events and how they have affected me, as well as the inequities in the workplace that they bring to light. They have listened and are pushing for progress and action as well. There have been round-tables held to air out our concerns and help shape the work around Emb(race) to shape the future of black IBMers in the workplace. They have been very open to listening to us as the black community and we continue those conversations on Slack at work on a regular basis.

Tell us more about the Emb(race) initiative? And your role within Emb(race)?

As the project manager for both Call for Code Global Challenge and Call for Code Emb(race) Challenge (announced on July 6), I am part of the broader cause of using Tech for Good. It’s an opportunity where I can use my professional skills and technology to move the black community forward. And Emb(race) is magical in the way that technology can improve things in the real world focusing on solutions around Police & Judicial Reform and Accountability, Diverse Representation, and Policy & Legislation Reform. My agile project management skills within the Emb(race) initiative is all about aligning the team on execution to truly make a difference and deliver results

What are you hoping to see as an end-result from Emb(race) and how can people get involved? Who can get involved?

The Emb(race) effort has brought together many talented people from IBM and Red Hat, members of the Black community as well as allies – all fighting for social justice. We have many teams within the three core themes that are are working toward solutions which will be announced during the 2020 Call for Code celebration this fall. Look out for that announcement and how you can help out as part of the broader tech community!


Note: On October 13 at the Call for Code global celebration, it was announced that the fourth IBM Open Source Community Grant would be awarded to Black Girls CODE which offers technology opportunities to more than 20,000 low-income, Black girls.