Last month, Rami Abdou joined the ColorStack team as Head of Engineering. In a predominantly online community of Black and Latinx students pursuing careers in Computer Science, his quiet arrival has set an exciting wave into motion: the beginning of in-house engineering for ColorStack. I sat down with Rami to chat more about his path to ColorStack and where he sees the community in the years to come.
While Rami only recently joined the ColorStack team as Head of Engineering, he's been involved with the organization in various capacities over the years––right from its beginnings at Cornell. “My ColorStack story started a very long time ago,” says Rami. He describes his growing friendship with ColorStack founder and CEO, Jehron Petty, at the end of their first year as undergrads. Together, they’d go on to serve as co-presidents of a student organization called Underrepresented Minorities in Computing (URMC). Under their leadership, URMC grew and gained momentum––so much so that current ColorStack board member Makinde Adeagbo encouraged Jehron and Rami to recreate the organization on a national scale.
After graduation, Rami went down his own path, turning down a full time SWE offer at Microsoft to found his own company and later working as a lead engineer at a Series A startup. He never lost sight of ColorStack, however, and continued to stay involved. Over the years, he has helped design and lead programs like Sprout, which allowed ColorStack students to gain hands-on coding experience. His face lights up when he describes helping out with the program. “‘Till this day, students are messaging me saying, ‘thank you so much. Because of Sprout, I got x internship or y internship’ and there’s few things better than that feeling,” he says.
As ColorStack’s full-time Head of Engineering, he has channeled this passion and energy into a strategic vision for the organization’s new engineering function. He describes a three-step approach with the ultimate goal of creating an open source community for ColorStack members to gain real world coding experience within the organization itself.
In the foundational step of this vision, Rami aims to make it easier for the team to understand how students are engaging in the ColorStack community, by analyzing community data. Given that ColorStack operates on a variety of different platforms like Slack, Airmeet, Mailchimp, and CodeSignal, he notes that the challenge is that “all this engagement data is spread across these mediums.” In the past month, Rami has been working tirelessly building API integrations to bring all of this data across platforms in house. He is beginning to build a picture of how students participate as ColorStack members, what’s working, and what needs improvement.
In the second stage of this strategic vision, he’ll work with the team to begin incentivizing engagement within the community. “We want to recognize and reward students that are pushing the ColorStack community forward,” he says. To this end, Rami describes various ways ColorStack can streamline the student onboarding process and encourage students to become active members of the community.
In the final phase of the plan, Rami aims to get students involved. “It’ll be an incredibly difficult feat, but we want students to be able to directly contribute to this open source software.” He envisions ColorStack’s engineering function as a collaborative environment that is accessible to any community member who wants to gain coding experience. “We really want to paint that whole software engineering picture for students,” says Rami. “Ship a real feature that will impact real people––we want [students] to do that before they even get to their first internship to be honest. And for people who don’t have internships, this is a prime opportunity for them to get something on their resume.”
It’s clear as I chat with Rami that his strategy comes from a place of empathy. It’s the product of looking at the data and seeing himself in the numbers. “I remember the student experience,” he says. “I’ve been on the other side for so long, so for me what’s really exciting is being able to contribute to my past self, and to many other underrepresented students.”
But if lived experience informs Rami’s assessment of the challenges at hand, it is also the very thing that fuels him. “I’m pretty sure if I didn’t have people like Jehron supporting me on campus, I wouldn’t have affiliated [with Computer Science],” says Rami. “I’m just excited that I can be behind the scenes building what’s hopefully going to be one of the best and most empowering community experiences.”
As an entrepreneur and software engineer, Rami brings a spirit of rapid and technically rigorous innovation to the new engineering function at ColorStack. As someone who knows what it's like to be an underrepresented student in tech, he works with a commitment to inclusivity, mentorship, and care. And as the Head of Engineering at ColorStack, Rami is undoubtedly someone who will expand the impact of the organization in the months and years to come.