For photographer Helena Price, documenting the minorities working within the San Francisco tech community is a deeply personal endeavour. “It’s important to me because I used to be one,” she told Business Insider.
During her four years in the tech industry, before becoming a full time photographer, Price felt isolated.
“The majority of my time in tech I [was] surrounded by mostly white, Ivy League men with vast networks and financial safety nets. I always wondered if there were people out there with backgrounds similar to mine, and there are many folks in tech who feel far more isolated than me,” she said.
This year, she made a call for photo subjects on Medium, asking for women, people of colour, those over the age of 50, LGBT, working parents, and the disabled to come forward and tell their story.
Her project “Techies” is made up of 100 portraits and interviews of those wanting to share their past, and their entry way into the world of tech. Ahead, a selection of 14 subjects who work for Facebook, Google, AirBnB, and more.
'I'm a 22 year old product designer from Atlanta, Ga. I taught myself product design after high school. I shopped products to millions of users at Mailchimp at 21. I joined Yik Yak as the only African American employee and am now designing a product for my generation.'
'I'm an experience designer at Airbnb. I had always been interested in graphic design. When I was a kid, I loved this virtual pet website, Neopets, and designing 'Neopet banners,' which were banners for your pet's webpage. I started to learn HTML and CSS that way, adding snippets of code to my pet page. And then it grew to designing blogs like Xangas, Myspace, and Livejournals'
'I went to school at the University of Miami and I was a CS major for a year and it was the worst thing I ever did...Because it's like, 'But the beach is there. Class? The beach is there.''
'Then, when your classes are horrible because you're the only woman, or one of a few women in your CS class, and also you're the only black person or one of two black people, and definitely the only black woman in your CS class, it's like, 'I don't want to go there. It doesn't feel good. The professor sucks and also he looks at me like I shouldn't even be there...So I didn't finish my CS major there. I left after my first year and went back to the University of Alaska, switched to a degree program, an AS degree, micro-computer support.'
What do you think about the state of tech in 2016? What excites you and what frustrates you?
Oh goodness. I don't like that the beauty of communication is being lost. I've recently gone through this life change where I've come to appreciate people for who they actually are, instead of who they are perceived to be. Being present, and listening, and actually being there for someone. That's being lost, and I think that might be a casualty of tech, sadly...I don't know if there's going to be an app to fix it or not. (laughter)
How was your experience as a female entrepreneur?
The good people and the smart people are going to treat you equally and like a human being and not like a woman in technology. The people that I was very intentionally surrounding myself with, like my peers at MIT and then my co-founders, are awesome and we work well together and we trust each other. I would take a bullet for those guys.
'I'm a gay guy from a small town in Texas, I visited a childhood friend in San Francisco about seven years ago and fell in love with the city. When I got home, I packed up my Jeep and moved to SF without having a place to live. I started as a design contractor and worked my way up to being full-time employee status in Silicon Valley with only a GED.'
Tell me a bit about your early years and where you come from.
I come from a pretty low socioeconomic background, a pretty poor community, and one that is pretty wrought with a lot of gang violence, a lot of drug abuse and in my home, specifically my sister, was a drug dealer for most of my life. I grew up in this really chaotic home and for me -- I had a lot of examples of what I didn't want to be, what I didn't want out of life.
'I grew up relatively low-income in a suburban town in Georgia. I was raised Mormon and so one of my first big life transitions was leaving and trying to find out what my values were in a world without all of the answers.'
'I made my way to San Franscico a little over 3 years ago by way of Texas and Arizona so California is the first blue state I've ever lived in. My first job out of college was on the phones in a call center and I've had to work my way up from there. I'm in the process of a male to female transgender transition.'
So why don't we start from the beginning, tell me about about your early years and where you come from?
The school I went to for middle and high school was a school called Stuart Country Day School. It was very interesting, it was an all-girls private Catholic school.
I think that was definitely formative, in terms of only being around other girls for most of my significant schooling. So I'm definitely a proponent of single-sex education, at least in the classroom...in terms of academics, it was definitely cool to be in advanced physics classes with all girls.
'I'm a woman born and raised in Miami, Florida. In 2014 I began my first full time job. In the span of a week I moved across the country, came out of the closet as trans, and started a new job working on problems I care about while being a person I had never been publicly. The flight out nearly emptied my bank account. I had less than a hundred dollars and no mattress. The struggles have been hard but they are so worth it. Plus I now have a pretty awesome mattress.'
'I come from the Dominican Republic and designed from my bedroom for clubs and pharmacies within the country in high school before going to college in New York for Graphic Design and eventually hustling on the web teaching myself to code and design for a medium that my school didn't focus on at the time.'
'I left my law career and journeyed from Florida to California by bus and train. I stayed in hostels, with my friends helping out when unemployment was insufficient, and did my first couch surf.'
'Finally, I went to a job meetup at the San Francisco LGBT center the week before my unemployment ran out. They helped me with my resume and I went back to the hostel and papered the Bay Area with it. The next morning I woke up with an interview offer for a vendor at Google. I was offered the position on the day I received my last unemployment check.'
So, tell me about your early years and where you come from.
I grew up in the Bay Area. Both my parents were computer science PhDs and software engineers. As a kid I practically grew up in my parents' office, surrounded by computers. It might seem like I was always destined to be in Silicon Valley and to be a software engineer.
But actually, back then, tech wasn't glamourous. And I didn't actually know what my parents were up to. I didn't think of tech as a dream career; I just knew it was one thing that I could do because both of my parents did it.
Do you feel pressure as one of the few celebrated founders of colour in Silicon Valley?
Well, I mean I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel any semblance of it. I have a responsibility. I've been given this amazing opportunity to give back. Period. I want to make sure that I'm doing right by the folks who have actually given me the opportunity and offering other folks that might be on the come up the same opportunity.
Code 2040, Walker & Company, et cetera, I'm dedicating my life to this. I'm doing everything that I can to mitigate any need for that pressure. It's less pressure and more responsibility. I have a responsibility to not only succeed but also to help others who look like me succeed. That just makes it easier for the next group of folks.