Tech Spotlight: Yasmin Mattox

The Abernathy Tech Spotlight series highlights black professionals working in tech, from freelance developers to non-technical founders. Complete this form to submit your profile.

What is your current role and where do you work?
I work in higher education, specifically in urban entrepreneurship, and I am also the Founder & CEO of Arkatecht, LLC, a technology startup whose mission is to create digital tools that assist professional women with proactively and integratively planning for family and career advancement to facilitate success and positive outcomes in both areas.

How did you get into tech?
To be honest, I can’t pinpoint an exact time or reason. I can say that growing up, I’ve always been in awe of technology and just learning as much as I could about a number of topics and subject areas. Part of my interest in various disciplines has always extended to technology. My grandfather used to subscribe to a kids’ newspaper for me. The paper was called the “Minipages,” and I fondly remember being exposed to current events, technology news, and even foreign affairs as a result. I think that I’d also cite my lifelong interest in astronomy, something else I inherited from my grandfather, as my real introduction to tech in terms of learning about the mechanics of telescopes in order to buy my own (a refractor), and then just staying current with tech news, in various disciplines and pursuits. More recently, my real entry into tech was precipitated by my love of interdisciplinary research and analysis and using the interpretation of increasingly big data, through AI-driven technologies, to better elevate people, especially those for whom significant inequities exist and can be positively addressed by technological innovations.

What’s your favorite technology to work with and why?
At the risk of sounding terribly corny and saccharin, my favorite technology to work with is not new by any means. It’s old, but it’s reliable. It’s a phone.

One, to be most effective in the work that I do, primarily through my startup, I must be able to hear insights from stakeholders (mothers). In a world in which a lot of the women I need to speak with live hours away, I think there’s a wonderful intimacy, efficiency, and rapport that you can get through a phone conversation. Even when you haven’t known someone for long, with the right outlook and sense of adventure and purpose, I’ve found that the phone allows me to bridge many divides and connect with a wealth of dynamic, storytelling, women. The phone allows for communication, not only through verbalization, but also through silence, something that has helped me and them better understand the dynamics of being a mother in a professional context as expressed through conversation. Phones admittedly aren’t sexy, new, or shiny, but they work, and they work well. And, I’ve found that people feel safe and free to open up on the other end.

What project are you most proud to have worked on and why?
It’s not technology related really, but in college, I was able to participate in cultural exchange with indigenous communities in rural Peru. I was in Chamber Singers and we were involved with music-driven exchange. We were young, adventurous, and took rickety, old boats along the Amazon to this remote village to sing. We performed for a couple of hours with our indigenous hosts. If memory serves me correctly, we had only had audio recordings of the other to clue us into the other’s sound and what we’d be singing. We were in the middle of nowhere, with some anacondas, and yet we had been united by technology and love of music. It was the rough and tumble of the Amazon, and yet the work we did in a couple of hours easily was the most monumental and personally uplifting of my life. I will never forget the experience.

What do you see as the most interesting technology on the horizon?
Probably natural and directly related to what Arkatecht is working on, I see the continuing advancement of AI to be the most interesting, powerful, and truly beautiful technology on the horizon. I think it can capture the best of human talent, intellect, and curiosity and improve upon it to facilitate our progress in many ways. I think what’s most interesting about AI is that the story continues to be written. While its applications to date have been wondrous, we have yet to really venture into how AI can not only lead to human progress on account of streamlined logical abilities, but also how it can facilitate deeper introspection into our own humanity, intuition, and, I think in a real sense, divinity as such a remarkable species, as we learn more and more from big data.

If you weren’t working in tech, what would you be doing?
If I wasn’t working in tech, I would be working in some capacity with people to facilitate communication, learning, and progress through business.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your tech career?
My tech career is very much budding, but so far the most valuable lesson that I’ve learned is to always be open to failure. In business and especially when dealing with startups, there’s much talk about failure being okay, which I think is great in many ways. I think, though, especially as we work with high stakes technology, it’s important to remember that this is all still very much a learning process, perhaps an expensive one depending on the price tag, but a learning process still, and one that should be based on humility, openness, and always looking forward.

What can companies do to create more inclusive environments?
Companies can do more to foster more inclusive environments by really allowing people to air their grievances in a constructive manner. While I’m very much about organizational harmony, I think after working in the mental health field for a decade now I’ve witnessed that you only really ever get to harmony if people feel free to truly express themselves, including their grievances, and by shining a bright light on them. It’s the funniest thing because in business, especially in startups, we’re all so focused on learning about customer grievances so that we can innovate market-based solutions to them. We should be doing that in all facets of life including within companies. We shouldn’t be dwelling on what irks us, but we should feel empowered to state our cases, have our arguments heard, and then, from a real place of honesty, build from that. We do ourselves no favors by focusing on comfort. Even in the workplace, and actually, especially in the workplace, more inclusion can arise if we are all honest with each other and work from there. We can’t learn from each other if we aren’t honest, and it’s often human nature to be most honest about what gets under our skin, makes us feel rattled, uncomfortable etc.

What keeps you busy when you’re not being a technologist?
My kids keep me busy when I’m not busy being a technologist. Our 4 and 2 year old daughters definitely keep my husband and me busy, and we have another one on the way who will also keep us busy. Like my work, it’s a tiring busy, but it’s a joyful type of busy too.

The Abernathy Tech Spotlight series highlights black professionals working in tech, from freelance developers to non-technical founders. Complete this form to submit your profile.