A Conversation with Sabrina Short

The Mind and Mission of NOLAvate Black’s Founder & CEO
Sabrina Short 001
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

We talk a lot about tech—the expanding presence of tech businesses in Greater New Orleans, the industry’s growing impact on both the regional and state economies, and an ever-increasing slate of initiatives to develop and train tech’s next-gen workforce. Still, there are critical conversations to be had about how tech can become a powerful engine for inclusive opportunity creation in our community, and who the drivers of that change can and should be.

So just how inclusive is tech? That very question is what motivated Sabrina Short—a native New Orleanian thinker, speaker, author and advocate—to identify and bridge existing disparities within the Greater New Orleans tech community. Short’s response is NOLAvate Black, a community and forum of Black professionals in tech who are combining education, advocacy and collective capacity to create a more equitable and sustainable tech ecosystem for our region.

Short spoke with REGION to discuss her inspirations, key observations she’s made through NOLAvate Black, and what every New Orleanian can do to ensure that no talented professionals—including themselves—are left out of the conversation.

Q: What inspired you to create NOLAvate Black?

As a community organizer and digital media creative, I wanted to offer a space where people of color could gather to network, learn from one another and explore opportunities to collaborate.  At the time, New Orleans was getting national recognition as an emerging tech hub, but I just didn’t see many Black professionals in the spaces where techies were convening. After speaking with a few tech creatives like myself, they shared that they didn’t feel that they were represented in this emerging industry. I strongly felt that we couldn’t invest in industry growth without strategically exploring how to include the people who represent the majority of the New Orleans population. In response to the many followup conversations I had about access within the ecosystem, a group of us hosted the first ever Inclusive Innovation conference, Black Tech NOLA, during the 2018 Essence Festival. It was the perfect time to have a discussion about inclusion in tech at the largest gathering of Black professionals and influencers in the country.

Q: How did you end up dreaming up and leading this organization?

I am a convener. My personal mission, my purpose, is centered around bringing people together to strengthen our communities. When I organized the first Black Tech NOLA, I didn’t really think that NOLAvate Black would grow to be the respected organization it is today, having reached over 2,000 professionals in the Gulf Coast Region. I am honored the tech community chose me to carry the torch of addressing equity for people of color in the industry. I have always been committed to the work of social justice and undoing racism.

Now, I am advocating in the tech sector. We are moving beyond advocacy, toward taking an active role in building an accessible and sustainable pipeline from entry to exit. There are so many organizations focused on non-traditional pathways into the industry by exposing our youth to STEM, preparing our high school students for high demand, high wage jobs in tech and organizations teaching adults to code. NOLAvate Black wants to ensure that our community knows about these resources and organizations to get the training needed for the hundreds of jobs available in our region.

Q: What’s the biggest thing you wish people knew about Black tech in New Orleans?

I want people to know three things about Black tech in New Orleans: First, there are already qualified and experienced tech professionals in this region. When companies say they have challenges finding qualified candidates, I say they aren’t looking hard enough. Silicon Valley isn’t the only place where innovation is happening. New Orleans is filled with tech founders, professionals and educators of color, all working to bridge the gap in tech.

Second, you don’t have to be technical to be in tech. Software developers and engineers aren’t the only roles in the industry. We have companies right here in the city looking for project managers, sales managers, account representatives, marketers, artists and content creators. Don’t be intimidated by the word “tech.” Technology companies are just like any other business. They have roles that need to be filled across departments and skill levels. Don’t count yourself out!

Finally, inclusion is not just a Black people issue. We need everyone working together to find solutions to not only make the industry more equitable, but also fostering a culture within the companies where everyone is valued. That means policies that match DEI statements, authentic community engagement and financial investment.

Q: Where do you see Black participation within tech in New Orleans going in the next five years?

I envision New Orleans becoming the epicenter of Black tech creatives in the world. Our city is the perfect place for leaders from across the globe to gather around the intersection of tech, art and culture within the Black community. NOLAvate Black’s mission is about building the collective capacity of the Black tech community. We are stronger when we come together to leverage our resources and increase our economic impact, not just as consumers, but also as innovators, founders, investors and policymakers. 

Q: Living or deceased, who are two people you’d want to have dinner with and why?

I would love to have a sit down with Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou. Both women are so powerful! Ms. Winfrey, for her ability to build a multimedia conglomerate while being able to identify talent and invest in their goals, and Ms. Angelou, for her ability to inspire and uplift with her eloquent words. Oh, the conversations we would have about life, people, leadership and the world!

Q: How would your friends and family describe you?

I am known as the great connector. When I say that I believe it is my personal mission to bring people together, I mean it. I love people! My friends and family say I stay busy and am always up to something. I am blessed to be able to do what truly brings me joy. 

Q: What do you do in your downtime?

What’s downtime? I am getting better about taking time to relax and unplug. I love to travel and am a foodie. When the world opens back up, I can’t wait to get on the plane to anywhere with my husband and son!