/  06.15.2022

Atlanta is undoubtedly one of the most important and influential cities in American society. Justin Samuels, the CEO of Render Atlanta, is on a mission to build on that influence by making ATL a true power player in the world of technology, essentially blending software engineering with culture.

REVOLT spoke to Samuels about Render Atlanta’s 2022 conference at the beginning of June, the importance of Black representation in tech, and much more. Check out our exclusive interview below.

What’s up, Justin? Great to meet you. To start, could you give us a little insight into your background and your path into the tech world?

Yeah, for sure. My name is Justin Samuels and I am a software engineer by trade. I’m currently at a company called Mailchimp, where I’m a senior engineer. I’ve been there for about two and a half years.

I began in tech by being an old school MySpace programmer. I was the kid that you called to make your ‘Top 8’ hot. I was the person that knew how to add that music in your background page. I did that, went to college, and learned how to code even better … and as they say, ‘The rest is history.’ That led me to ATL’s darling of tech, Mailchimp.

Talk to us about what that role encompasses and what you do on the day-to-day.

I help set the organization’s goals and mindset based on what we’re trying to achieve from leadership. So, I help a squad or team achieve those goals that overall impact the entire organization. I’ve been a senior engineer for the past two and a half years, and I’ve been a tech lead for the past five months.

What exactly is Render Atlanta?

That’s a great question. So, Render Atlanta is the intersection of culture and tech. We like to say you come to this conference and learn a lot so you can level up at your job in tech. We understand that there’s two ways that you could achieve that level-up. It’s by either your network or the range of knowledge that you have, and the easiest way to do it is based on your network. So, we like to help get you in the room. But we want to also make it OUR room. 

By ‘our,’ we mean Black folks. By making it our room, we change the radio station to be hip hop, we make it R&B, we give you food you actually want to eat other than, let’s say, boring pasta or dried out chicken. You get actual food like oxtails, curry and everything else in between. But also, you can walk into any of our training sessions and get the knowledge that you need. So when you go back to your team, as let’s say an engineer at Google, you could say, ‘Hey, I learned this particular technique at this conference, and I understand how we can now complete this goal.’ Eventually, demonstrating what you’ve learned will help you get that new job title.

Right, that’s fire. It’s giving attendees a complete experience. When did you guys first kick this conference off?

Started working on it in 2019. We couldn’t have the inaugural one in 2020 because of COVID, of course. So, we had to then pivot and we had it in September 2021. We had about 350 people and over 20 brands participating from companies such as Shopify and many others.

I’ve heard about the partnerships you have with Netflix, Shopify, Microsoft and more. How are these companies involved and how did you make these connections?

Yeah, so all the brands are always involved because they understand that there’s a pipeline problem that needs to be addressed. They have jobs, openings and seats in data that they don’t want to fill with just anybody. They want to fill these roles with diverse talent because they understand that it’ll be a win from an overall organizational culture point of view while impacting and making the product better. From a dollars perspective as well because if they’re able to invest in a young Black man or a young Black lady, that will go far for their demographics.

We partner with them to help get the talent through the door, sourcing them so they can get recruiters in their HR departments to then make those job offers. 

Dope. It’s clear that this is something you’re passionate about because of the opportunities it will create. What’s your ultimate goal as a leader in this annual conference?

The ultimate goal is that we make Atlanta a true engineering powerhouse — to be respected as a whole. When I began the conference, I’d travel to Cali and there were people who’d say, ‘There is no such thing as Black tech.’ And I was like, ‘Well, have you ever heard of the magical city of Atlanta?’ There’s a majority Black population, and there are countless engineering schools. I mean, Georgia Tech is a top-three engineering school across everything. I was told to build it and we’ll come. And we have now built it. 

I’m happy to say that all the major tech brands came out this year because they truly are committed to this. I know for ATL to get the true respect that it deserves as a tech power player with companies here such as MailChimp, Calendly, Honeywell to Home Depot — the list goes on — we need to have an engineering or tech conference that draws over 1000 people. That in time will then get on every major company’s radar — Google, Netflix, Dropbox and more, which now we’ve all worked with. Eventually, they’ll say, ‘Hey, we should probably open an office there, we should probably build there. How about we pour economic dollars in because the ROI is going to be high.’ That helps elevate the entire city as a whole.

For those who’ve never been to Render ATL, what should they expect to see, learn and experience by attending?

It’s you being immersed in all things culture but also being surrounded by the smartest people in the room. I like to always say engineers are the smartest in the room. I do give respect to other professions as well, but this is our time to shine. It’s to where you can show up with an app idea and the room is filled with the people that can help you build it. 

Overall, you see the culture and you learn a lot. You interact with technologies that you have never thought about and you’re introduced to things that are coming out in the future. It’s chill, it’s always a kick back, but you also learn a ton

Render ATL feels really important. Not just for the city but for young Black professionals in general. What would you like to accomplish moving forward? What’s next? 

So for me, the future is kind of complex right now. I’m happy because I enjoy my job, going into my 9 to 5. I also enjoy building out the annual conference.

For the conference as a whole, we plan to do more pop-ups. Like, we do a thing called The Black Tech House where we travel to other areas of the country, such as Miami’s Art Basel or even a SXSW. This is a scaled-down version of the conference, where we just take over a whole area. We’re going to do one at Essence Fest as well. So if you’re out there, holla at me. 

We’re doing smaller pop-ups and even more events around the country. In my personal life. I’m just trying to take a break after this but then start to plot world domination in 2023. Raising more capital and bringing in outside investors.

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