By Ashley Benkarski

Nonprofit Blacks In Technology, LLC and the Blacks In Technology Foundation (BIT) is holding its fifth annual BITCON in Music City September 5-7.

Aimed at bringing together “Black IT professionals, entrepreneurs, gamers, afro-futurists, and technology enthusiasts,” the conference (BITCON), held at the JW Marriott Nashville, will feature speakers, workshops, panels and networking and recruitment opportunities.

More than 1,000 people are expected to attend. BIT was founded by Greg Greenlee, a 20-plus year veteran of the tech industry who started off doing help desk work before eventually becoming a senior engineer. Greenlee has an extensive background that includes designing high availability networks, network administration, Windows and Linux system administration, and more. “Along the way, I dabbled in information security and ran with a bunch of ‘hackers’ that introduced me to technology conferences. Through those
technology conferences is where I started noticing that there was a lack of representation of
Black people in tech, in attendance or as speakers at these conferences, and that led me to
think, ‘Why is there this disparity here?’”

It may have been lack of awareness, or what Greenlee refers to as a “revolving door” of
attendees due to a lack of representation, but in the search for an answer he began building an online community. “The thinking was that if we build it . . . we can help each other become more aware of the happenings of these tech conferences, and then we can meet up there so that we are not alone. We don’t feel isolated. And then, along the way, even building up so we can exchange knowledge and ideas and engage with one another.”

“The conference is the key,” said Executive Director Dennis Schultz, who, like Greenlee, has
more than 20 years of experience in the tech industry through consultative marketing and sales.

Schultz got involved with BIT when he stumbled upon the organization through a Google search for Black tech organizations back in 2018 and attended BITCON. “The vibe was there, as they say . . . I came back and was super pumped to be a part of the organization.” He started out as a member at-large and became a chapter leader and board member before serving in his current role.

“BITCON has and always will be about providing a platform and voice to our community of Black people in tech, not just here in the United States, but globally. It’s a statement to our community that we not only belong in this space but that we also thrive in this space and are leaders and experts in this space,” said Greenlee in a statement.

The awareness of Black people in tech is increasing, with celebrities like Serena Williams and Nas getting involved and investing in the tech sector, and BIT is helping to platform and connect Black tech professionals with corporations seeking the most qualified people.
Programming includes a Pitch Competition, Urban Karaoke Party, The Partnership Gap with speaker Dana L. Wilson, Squashing the Gaming Stigma with Tamika Moultrie, Ivan Curtiss, and Derek Waltford; and Black Tech Entrepreneurship: Past, Present, and Future with speakers Holly Rachael and Lena Winfree.

The conference will also provide interactive tech spaces that feature a Microsoft gaming lounge, an autonomous electric vehicle and holographic projections.

“I’m always excited that we can do this . . . This year has been tight for everyone. And not just us as an organization, but for all of our fellow IT people, right? There’ve been massive layoffs and companies tightening their belts, things like that. So just being able to share and put on this conference is a blessing,” Greenlee said. As a person of the community, he added, he’s looking forward to the engagement aspect of BITCON and seeing attendees smile. “This is impactful to people, just emotionally impactful, because there aren’t a lot of times where they get to get where people get together around other Black people . . . that they can not only talk to about tech things, but they could talk to them about things that pertain mainly to Black people . . . I’ve had people literally not want to leave . . . they want that feeling to last forever. And that’s a beautiful thing,” Greenlee said.

For his part, Schultz said, “I’m excited to give away some money.” The Pitch Competition
winner, a startup tech company, will receive $10,000 from BIT. He’s also excited to “hopefully get some folks some jobs out of this,” he said. “There’s a number of ways you can go about recruiting. But if you’re looking for diverse talent, we are the largest community of Black technologies. It would make sense for companies to want to partner with us and not because it’s a diversity play, but because it makes good business sense.”
Greenlee said, “We don’t exist explicitly to solve your diversity issues in your company. We exist so that more Black people have opportunities . . .We want people to be able to utilize their skills to either gain employment or to start something of their own. And it’s more so that we can have that financial freedom later on, that generational wealth that we can build. I’m doing this so that we can have these opportunities to enrich ourselves financially.”

BIT is driven solely by companies who fund them, Schultz said. In turn, they provide a valuable talent pool in their member base and root resources that benefit their sponsors.

“We don’t have a lot of overhead, so the majority of the money that comes in goes back out into the Black community,” Schultz said. “We’re always looking for additional sponsors . . . There are a number of ways that you can work with us and we don’t turn anything down. There’s no wrong way to give to us.”

BITCON is sponsored by Microsoft, Disney, Google, Northwestern Mutual, Juniper Networks, MetLife, Asurion, Intuit, Block (CashApp), GoodRx, Taco Bell, Universal Music Group, The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and The Hartford, among others.
For tickets and more information visit Follow @BlkInTech on all social media platforms.