Husani Oakley is the Chief Technology Officer at GoldBean, an online investing platform that helps people start their investment journey with companies and brands they love, know, and buy.
This week, he will soon be joining technologists and community leaders at the White House to discuss the Obama Administration’s TechHire initiative, and how we can continue to work towards a more inclusive workforce after “he-who-shall-not-be-named” takes office.
I caught up with him to discuss his work at Goldbean and the issue of diversity in the tech industry. This is what he had to say:
SB: You’ve been dubbed a Technologist. What does that mean to you and how did you develop an interest in technology?
HSO: As nerdy as it sounds, my technology interest came from being seriously into Star Trek as a child. My friends, who were also into Trek, wanted to be Captain Kirk, but I wanted to be Scotty. I liked being the person with his hands on the keys, on the buttons making things work.
SB: Goldbean is a tool that helps people learn about investing. Why do think there’s this idea in the Black community that investing in stocks is hard?
HSO: I think the resistance of people in the Black community to being a stock investor comes mainly from being unfamiliar with the terminology. When you make a Goldbean account, you plug in your bank account details and we pull your transactions and we analyze where you spend your money.
Then, we are able to put together a recommended profile for you that includes companies that you know. You might not know what a P/E ratio is, but you certainly know Nike versus Adidas, you know Whole Foods versus Trader Joe’s. We’re trying to show people that this stuff is easy to learn.
Imagine if, right when the iPhone was launched, you saw that suddenly, all of your friends were buying iPhones. That might’ve given you an indication that maybe Apple is an interesting investment target for you as an investor. We want to help people grasp that you can participate in this economy as more than just a consumer.
SB: What is the target demographic for your product?
Husani: Our average age is 29, we have a 50/50 split, male-female, which is great, and the average deposit in an investment account is about $4000. We’re actively talking to young people, particularly women and particularly people of color. The underserved groups who the large financial institutions, frankly, don’t give a shit about.
SB: In terms of diversity in tech, do you see things getting better?
Husani: I think it is getting better, if getting better is defined as the number of people who are not straight, white dudes who are in the field. If you look at the big brand names and look at their diversity reports, it’s fucking awful.
Facebook has two Black designers globally. It’s insulting and ridiculous, but I don’t look at diversity in tech on that level because tech is so much more than Google, Facebook and Apple.
There’s hundreds of thousands of startups alone on the East Coast of the US. We’ve got to count for something in terms of diversity in tech. Everyone at the large companies seems to use the excuse of the pipeline. “It’s a pipeline problem, there aren’t enough applicants.” Of course there aren’t, you’re only looking at Stanford. Have you been to Howard?
Have you been to Morehouse? Did you send your senior engineers to sit there and talk? Do you give money to these computer science programs? No, of course you don’t. So don’t blame the pipeline when you’re not doing shit about it.
SB: Well, damn. Tell us how you really feel.
Husani: I’m just the kind of guy who says this stuff. I’ve been in this field for 20 years and I’m senior enough to not give a shit what anybody actually thinks. You can’t blame the pipeline and then not do anything for real to solve what you blamed. You can find women, and you can find Black people, and you can find gay people. We’re out here, we’re all everywhere.
I really do think it’s getting better, if only because there are so many interesting startups doing really interesting things, and I see more and more people of color realizing there’s an opportunity here, whatever here means. AirBnB is a great example of, “All of your people are racist bastards? Ok, we’ll just start our own.”
That’s what I love about this country, the ability to say, “Screw you guys. I’m going to to make my own thing and I’m going to put social progressivism in the DNA of my startup.”
It strikes me as so obvious. It’s a blind spot. If we can walk on the moon and make self-driving cars, we can hire some Black people.