As the sun sets in San Francisco, I wanted to take some time to reflect on my time here at AfroTech.

AfroTech is a conference for Black techies, startups and entrepreneurs. Currently in its third year, it has 4000+ engineers, designers and business leaders from across the US for a 360-degree look at how culture and tech runs the world.

There were three main tracks at the conference: Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Engineering & Design. My focus was on Engineering & Design.

Design Thinking & Rapid Prototyping

The first session was a workshop on design thinking and rapid prototyping from Product Designers at Facebook leading design on Facebook Stories and News Feed.

Design is about solving problems for people.
The Process
  1. Problem Definition - who is the user you are solving for?
  2. Hypothesis Creation - doing X may increase the performance of Y by Z.
  3. Concept Designing - create concepts that elicit strong emotional reactions.
  4. Research - ask your users and collect data.
  5. Iteration - iterate on the feedback.
  6. Execute - ship it.
  7. Test - A/B test.
Case Study: Facebook Stories with Music

Problem Definition: It's hard for people to capture video.

Hypothesis: Make it easier for people to make videos and they will share more.

Using the "How might we..." framework, the product designers used rapid prototyping to iterate on designs, get feedback and iterate again.

Check out what they shipped below!

More Ways to Share and Connect With Music on Facebook
Rapid Prototyping

We also carried out a rapid prototyping exercise; draw a boombox in 2 minutes. Afterwards, we were tasked to draw a boombox in 30 seconds. Below is my 30 second drawing. The point of the exercise was to show that rapid prototyping is about boiling down an idea to its bare essentials.

  • Design is about solving problems for people.
  • Product designers directly impact business goals.
  • If you build it, they will come is a common misconception.
  • Adobe XD, Sketch and Figma are tools that product designers use.

A / B Testing

This session was about A/B testing and was presented by a Product Designer at Netflix.

The process of A/B testing begins with defining a hypothesis and defining the primary and secondary metrics of success. After a test has been run, use data to guide your decisions (as opposed to being data driven where you use data to make decisions).

A metaphor used during the presentation to help make the concept more concrete was how one could go about A/B testing whether Drake should have a facial hair or not and if so, how much. See the images below for examples.

The case study for this session was the Netflix user sign up flow on mobile and how conversions could be increased by using A / B testing on this flow. The results of the A/B testing meant that Netflix was able to significantly increase user conversions. Take a look at the last image below to see the alternatives that were tried.

  • A/B testing is not about the wins, it's about the learning.
  • The test subjects should be representative of the target audience.
  • is a good resource for learning more about design.

Designing at AirBnB

This session was on how AirBnB does design and how designers can collaborate better with engineers.

  • Shared stand-up decks are a great way to ensure cross-team alignment as an alternative to stand-up meetings.
  • AirBnB moved from using Sketch to Figma because Figma allowed their teams to collaborate better.
  • To improve the design to engineering hand-off, use a Design Language System. Building a Visual Language - Behind the scenes of our new design system is an informative post on this very topic from the AirBnB Design blog that I'd recommend reading if you can.
  • Lottie was created so design could work better with engineering on animations. Lottie renders After Effects animations in real-time allowing apps to use animations as easily as they use static images.
  • Good collaboration between design & engineering leads to more efficiency and better products.

Microsoft @ AfroTech

Microsoft had a strong presence at the conference with employees from all disciplines in attendance. It wasn't just the Seattle/Redmond folk either, we had representation from employees in Washington D.C., New York and the Bay Area just to name a few.


Below are my selection of memorable quotes from the conference.

On unconscious bias:

The first thing to do to eliminate bias is to recognize it.

On product roadmaps:

Your product roadmap is useless without the support of key stakeholders.
Use data to help prevent HiPPO (Highest Paid Person's Opinion).

On navigating your career:

Find music in the noise / Find clarity in the chaos.
You never know how tall you are until you're in over your head.

On balancing participation in D&I initiatives and doing your day job:

You can't help if you're not there; focus on being successful at your job first. Knock it out of the park!

It's a wrap

It may look like you're one in a million but you're one of a million.

The conference was a weekend about pulling us together and advocating for diversity and inclusion (D&I) in tech while learning and growing with each other. It was a great reminder that while you may be the only one in the office, there is a whole community just like you.

Thanks to all the sponsors and to Microsoft for sponsoring the Blacks at Microsoft and its continued commitment to diversity and inclusion in the industry.