Unbeknownst to me at the time, I lived through a moment of Black History that would prove to be instrumental in shaping my future.
Picture this. It’s my senior year at A&M, and while making black history myself as only the second black female petroleum engineering graduate, I got hooked on computers and the internet. I wasn’t interested in changing my major but I was curious and determined to explore the potential of this new computer network. I began to evaluate how “oil and data mix”. I watched the Aggie bonfire fall (this was before the fatal fall in 1999) in slow motion with the use of the first .com. I learned how to transfer files across campus to help myself and my classmates prepare for our senior presentations. These were small steps during a momentous period of change that set me on a path that would eventually crystalize my purpose.
All of this, and my career as an oily IT geek, began because of the invention of one Emmit J. McHenry. A network technology visionary, McHenry’s company introduced the first interoperability software package which allowed computers to communicate over the internet before we had email, file sharing and websites. Basically, in the early 1990s if you wanted a .com, you had to buy it from McHenry.
My being part of the first oilfield technology transformation in the ‘90s was because of Emmit J. McHenry!
The experience also transformed me; I learnt so much about change leadership and people skills in a role that required me to be: a software developer, database administrator, business analyst, project engineer, training and change management manager! I was a young, black female disrupting an industry and I wasn’t even really aware of the magnitude of change — because when you’re in it, you don’t always see it.
Culture over cash
McHenry was a pioneer, a Black tech founder in the early 1990s with no role models or playbook to fall back on. He called the vision he had for networked computers a ‘tickle in his brain’. He didn’t set out to be a disruptor, he just listened to his gut and through a combination of hard work and a few lucky breaks he, with his colleagues, built a business that changed the world. McHenry never got the recognition or rewards he deserved. He walked away from money on the table after selling the company and realizing the new owner had a toxic culture (at a time when we weren’t even talking about work cultures). He said: “We were focused on proving some other things; we were focused on creating a culture where diverse people could really work together.”
Thirty years later and the internet is an intrinsic part of our lives — for better or worse. We’re still facing many of the same issues: toxic cultures, exclusivity and elitism. Black tech founders are still facing huge disadvantages. But… in the internet we do have a place to build our communities and share our stories. I take inspiration from McHenry who refuses to be bitter, but instead keeps moving forward, mentoring others, helping tech companies to improve their diversity and inclusion and always reminding us of the value of community and humanity in business.