The Millennial PhD: Creative Survival at Work & Beyond

Ep 13. How to Break into the Tech Industry ft. tech company recruiter Johanne Sterling

February 16, 2022 Carmela Season 2 Episode 13
The Millennial PhD: Creative Survival at Work & Beyond
Ep 13. How to Break into the Tech Industry ft. tech company recruiter Johanne Sterling
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode I talk with a recruiter from a "Big 5" Tech company about her story getting into the industry and her top tips for breaking into the Tech industry. Johanne Sterling shares advice that is fresh, heartfelt, and on point - not the same old tired "tips and tricks".

Connect with Johanne at @asana_mami.

Don't forget to rate & review The Millennial PhD podcast wherever you are listening! It really helps the show reach as many people as possible.

Want to reach out directly with questions or comments? Email me at !


Episode Guide:

00:00 - 37:30: Johanne's journey from communications degree to Tech recruiter, including advice on making connections and putting yourself out there.

37:30 - 44:00: Johanne talks through the Top 3 "competencies" needed for success in Tech. And they might surprise you.

44:00 - 46:00: Translating Academia for Tech

46:30 - End: Parting Advice for getting into Tech, esp. for ppl with marginalized identities

From the Episode:
Johanne-recommended resources from Jeff Sipe:

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Speaker 1 (00:09):

Welcome to the millennial PhD, a podcast about creative survival and beyond. My name is Dr. Carmela Muzio Dormani, and I'm a sociologist, dancer and creative consultant from New York. In these episodes, you'll find inspiration, ideas, and actionable tips for building new pathways forward in work and life. You'll hear from artists, activists, creative entrepreneurs, PhDs, and professional pivoters. We talk about radical humanity and practical steps to follow your dreams, even in the context of challenging social conditions. Before we jump into today's episode, a quick reminder to follow the millennial PhD on Instagram, and to please take a minute to rate and a review the millennial PhD on Apple podcasts. Your rating really helps the show reach as many listeners as possible. You can learn more about me and get access to free creative resources on the millennial PhD Instagram page I hope you enjoyed the episode. 

Speaker 2 (01:13):

There's the known knowns, there's a known unknowns, and there's the unknown unknowns. And I think for a lot of people on task, you're open to realizing that there's more that you don't know than, than you know, like you're open to learning, you're open to being challenged. You're open to the fact that like things can shift at any second, and that's not terrifying. That's actually weirdly exciting for you. 

Speaker 1 (01:38):

Today we're talking with Joanne Sterling, who's a New Yorker, a yogi, a frequent globe trotter, and an engineering recruiting partner at a large tech company. She's also an all around super dope person and friend. Joanne, welcome to the millennial PhD. Thank you so much for coming on. 

Speaker 2 (01:56):

Oh, hey, thank you so much for having me. 

Speaker 1 (01:59):

Um, so I'm so excited to talk to you a little bit, uh, about, um, just your experiences getting into the tech world, which is obviously an area that people are super interested in moving into and have been for a long time right now. Um, I just write off some very, very short bullet points of your bio, not even just like, just the, the extremely short cliff notes. Um, so let's just get started with, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

Speaker 2 (02:27):

Yeah, no, that was a very sweet, sweet intro. I usually, I usually, uh, go by the phrase, uh, under promise, over deliver <laugh>. Yes. I feel like the intro over delivered a little bit all around super dope person is wonderful. Um, and I feel very honored and blessed that I get to have a friend like you, um, who yeah, just encourages people to be their best self. So yeah, I think all those things are true. Uh, I am a New Yorker. I am a yogi, and for those people who that phrase might be, or that term might not ring a bell, people who practice yoga, um, traditionally like call themselves yogis. That's the male sort of iteration. Yogi is a female iteration. So, um, so yeah, and, um, definitely a frequent traveler, although that has been, that has been shifted in different ways the past couple years. So I can talk a little bit about why that is or I don't know what, how I'm trying to figure out what traveling or experiencing new things looks like for me in this, these times. Um, and then, yeah, I do work in tech. I do, uh, work in recruiting and talent engagement for engineers. Um, and so yeah, I think maybe what I can comment on is like, I guess their first question is like, how, how did I even get here? Right? 

Speaker 1 (03:56):

Yeah, definitely. Maybe you can tell for folks listening who, you know, they're, they're might be kind of familiar with the terms or not so familiar. Like what is, what is a, what does it mean to work in recruiting? Like what is a recruiter? Um, and then if you could talk a little bit about how, how did you get into that? Like how did you get to be in the position that you're in right now? Yeah, 

Speaker 2 (04:17):

Yeah. So I mean, I mean, I think everyone, like probably has come in contact with the concept of being of recruitment, right? Like if you, yeah, if you have applied for a job or like gone to school, like, I mean, there's a whole office of recruitment that manages the flow of people who want to be in a space that has a certain, um, like, what's the word? Um, barrier to entry, so to speak for some places. Um, rigorous hiring process for other places, <laugh>, <laugh>, um, if, uh, like myself, your parents are immigrants, that is also a recruitment process, right? Like, it's like, I think sometimes people have this idea of recruiting as this, like ephemeral like term. It's like we've all probably been through this idea of recruitment, right? Like, um, there's a space you wanna be in, there's gatekeepers or individuals who manage a flow of people into that space to have that space be filled with people that they feel, um, resonate or align with the culture, values, guidelines, requirements of that space, right? Um, and so, 

Speaker 1 (05:36):

Yeah, I just wanna say, sorry, just to jump in that one thing I feel like I didn't realize, um, prior to like having some conversations about it with you, and maybe just because being in academia is so different in some ways, um, academia, you really just need to like, it's very individual, like claw your way in there, which I'm sure tech can be as well, but tech companies, I feel like are very invested in making sure they get the talent in, in the room that they want, and like yeah. Trying to, you know, figure out who's gonna, how they're gonna get who they want to be a part of their company. Would you, is that, is that right? Yeah. Would you say? 

Speaker 2 (06:14):

Um, I think, I think in some ways, yes. Um, in other ways the idea of clawing your way in, right? Like the academia piece, I mean, I think that like, it's like you set up processes to try to attract the people you want in, and I think universities do the same thing, right? Like, you need students who pay a certain amount of money, or like wealthy students or students who like, you know, fulfill or whatever, like, you know, rationale you want, like, right? So I just, I say that to say that like, I think people are probably more familiar with the term recruitment than they think they are. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> mm-hmm. <affirmative> if they don't work in tech. Um, and so what I do is like essentially, um, manage the process or like what I've done for the past eight years is essentially manage a process through which we hire engineers into our company. 

So that essentially means sourcing for individuals who have the engineering expertise that we need for particular roles that I'm filling, whether that's, you know, folks who are working as network engineers or engineering directors or at this point in my time, um, is recruiting individuals who work within a co-op program that we run. Um, so that's at the very early stages of our engineering career, right? You have individuals who go to college, get a PhD in computer engineering, and then they're looking to spend time at an organization, whether it's three to six months to apply their expertise. And so from that time, right, that three to six months, if they do really well, then we hire them as full-time engineers, um, within a certain team that wants to like, have them. And so when you talk about like, tech companies being very stringent in terms of ensuring that they get the talent that they need, I think in many ways it's, yeah, there is very strong programs around ensuring that individuals who apply for these roles, like we're trying to really run our hiring process to make sure that like we're getting people who are not just competent in what they say they're competent in, but also like can think beyond themselves as just doing what they're told to do, right? 

Like, I mean, there's, there's also that piece of it, right? Like, so ideally you wanna have engineers who represent a wide spectrum of experiences, backgrounds, mindsets, um, a wide diverse group of individuals who yeah, can like attack engineering challenges and problems and really bring like a different perspective to the table in addition to actually being able to code. Um, and so that's essentially what I do. What that boils down to is a lot of running, um, interview processes like coaching and helping engineering managers who want to hire onto their teams on how to actually recruit in an equitable and like mindful way. Um, and then also like partnering with candidates, right? Like, it's very stressful to apply for a job. And I think in many ways, um, sometimes recruiters get a bad rap, right? Because it's like, it, it can almost sound like sales, right? 

Like, it's like this idea that like, we're very self-interested, um, and I know why that is and there are a lot of bad recruiters out there, <laugh>. Um, at the same time, like I think what makes at least my work or the way I approach my work really special and the, the people I work with really special, especially kind of the rigorous, um, like, sort of like, uh, values you put around our process, specifically where I work is that we really do try to treat every single candidate like an individual. Like it's very user focused, right? It's like, how would this, how would I feel if I were in this person's place? And so what that means is like, not necessarily forcing someone to wait a super long time on a decision or just treating someone like a, like a human being in your interactions with them. 

Nice. Like via email or over the phone, right? Like putting yourself in that space where it's like, it would be stressful to interview at one of the largest companies or, and not hear back for three weeks. Like, that was like crazy that everyone's like, you're at brunch, you're like, Oh, how did that interview go? Be like, I don't really know, man, like, I haven't heard from them. And then now you're just like having to sit there, explain that to people. So like, as a recruiter, for me, it's like putting myself in that space. Like I don't want someone to have to feel that way. I don't want someone to have to like, you know, have their partner ask them like at dinner, like, Oh my God, how are you feeling about this? And they're like, I'm really stressed. Like my job is to try to alleviate those touch points that a candidate has with individuals in their life. 

And what that starts with is seeing that individual as a human being. Um, unfortunately a lot of our hiring processes across many industries, not just tech, but academia, finance, law, like so many industries do not necessarily look at candidates as like human beings. It's like a numbers game almost. And so I think that for me, a lot of, yeah, this idea of recruiting comes down to like really kind of inserting the humanity back into it, which is that's all it is. Someone gets a new job, it's an inherently like, life changing experience, right? Like, you know, like it could either be a really great one or not so great one. And I ideally it's, we try to make it a great one every time. 

Speaker 1 (11:45):

Yeah. That's a beautiful thing. And I'll tell you in case you don't know, um, cuz I feel like a lot, why would you, um, the the norm in academia is for people to not hear back when they're not chosen, even if you've done a, like a, even if you've gotten to the interview stage. Um, so sometimes you never hear back or sometimes you get like a form email back like eight months afterwards when it's like quite clear. Um, so that's, that's a beautiful thing, that piece about injecting the humanity, um, kind of into the recruitment process. And can you talk a little bit about how you came to be in this position? Um, because I don't think, I mean, I don't think, I don't know, this was like on your radar. We went to college together. I don't know if something like this job was on your radar back then, but how did, what was your trajectory like, I guess into this, into this job? Obviously everybody's is different, so I'm not asking people like comment on the way to get there, but a little bit about how you came to be doing this work. 

Speaker 2 (12:43):

I'm not, Yeah, no, no. And I'm not gonna comment on the way to get there. There's no the way to get there. People get to, you know, these kinds of jobs and tech through many different ways. Um, there's no, anyone who tells you there's like a specific exact path is either a scammer or a liar, <laugh> or both, which actually like is the same thing. Um, there's no one way to get there. There's things you can do, right? And, um, I will plug one actually person that, a former coworker of mine who's amazing. Um, his name is Jeff cpe. He's awesome. Um, and actually, yeah, he does a lot of work in terms of like sharing, kind of like what are some of the things tech companies are looking for. I think anyone who's transitioning from academia into potentially technology industry should absolutely like, look him up because, um, he just offers really like tar like just pinpointed like analysis of like, what is it like to work in tech? 

What, how do you wanna prepare yourself for those kinds of interviews and things like that. And so I realize like, yeah, it saddens me to hear that some people apply for academia job and don't hear back for eight months. And it's like, that's really like proud because it's like you prepare so long for these jobs. I mean, it's 6, 7, 8 years you're doing, you are in a PhD program, right? And so, um, having some kind of like opportunity to understand like what companies are looking for is great. But back to my original point, um, was this on my radar when we went to Fordham? Um, I mean, a good career was on my radar, right? Like, I think I have, I can't like ignore like right, For sure. What got me into Fordham in the first place was like, I have two parents who immigrated to the United States with not that much, right? 

Like, and also, um, full disclosure, they are West Indian and anyone who's listen your podcast, who is West Indian knows there are three, four careers, like doctor, lawyer, engineer, or disgrace to your, your entire family, <laugh>. And uh, I just, that's a joke. That's a joke. Um, but no, but I mean, the thing is, is like a good career was on my radar, right? Like even when I was at Fordham, like I was a visual arts major, but then I also like was a double major. So I major in communications cause I was like, I just need something to like legitimate legitimize my like time here. Uh, so my parents don't freak out. You know what I mean? Um, so that was always on my radar, right? Like just kind of like, okay, how do I, how do I get into a career that like a is not like kind of tapped into what I can do well, um, but also like I can enjoy it, right? 

And so I don't think technology as an industry was on my radar, but definitely like, not, like, not necessarily like struggling the way my parents did was on my radar. And I think they also very like influenced that as well. Like my mom always said like, I'm doing this so you don't have to do this. Right? Like, her work was incredibly manage. She was, she worked as a nurse in nursing home for like 30 years. So like, her thing was like, I don't want you doing what I did. Right? And so like that was something we grew up just every single day hearing, which is like, as a kid you're like, yo, like you gotta show, like, you know, growing up it's like, as an adult when I went to college I was like, okay, like how can I cobble together different courses, experiences, things like that so that like I can graduate and like not stress so much about like life things. 

Um, that's not to say didn't happen because I graduated and signed up to do AmeriCorps <laugh>. Um, and for anyone that does not know, um, we both did Public Allies and AmeriCorps program. And AmeriCorps is essentially like a service program, um, where you make a very right, very, very low stipend. And you essentially at this, the program we were in Public Allies, which is essentially a program that's built to help encourage a new generation of non-profit leaders. Um, you do like intensive program work for a non-profit that you're placed with. Yeah. So I was placed with cool culture, um, essentially cool Culture is an organization based in Brooklyn that like, um, really widens art access to arts institutions in New York City to parents who are under resourced, underserved and underserved neighborhoods. And so it was a really amazing opportunity because it really tapped into like my artist sensibility. 

I was like, Yeah, this is great. Like, you know, I'm an artist. I get to, you know, get to be in museums all the time, get to work with families and like encourage 'em to like, use museums as a right pathway to like be there child sports educator. Um, and but before that, like while I was at Fordham, I did an internship at an organization called a National Association for Special Be Food Trade. And they offered me a job after I graduated and that was essentially a communications and industry relations role. So I was like, I always had an internship my whole senior year at Fordham that I feel like no one really knew about <laugh>. Um, essentially I was making like $15 an hour, which in 2011. Very good. Oh, that was the bag. Like I was like, ok, this is great. And, and it was kinda like hilarious cause it was like, you know, I got to go into an office of midtown, like, and I, and it was really interesting work. 

I was like learning about different, you know, our food industry in a different way. Like, it was like specialties That is really interesting. So everything you see sold in Whole Foods, like it went through our organization first. Like we helped them market their stuff. So if someone, like, let's say there's a grandma in Louisiana who's like, Yo, I have this special sauce in my family for generations. I'm trying to bottle this stuff and sell it. And like, they would reach out to our organization like, Okay, here's a marketing plan. Here's like, um, stores that would sell it. Here's how to like, get yourself on shelves. You can come to our specialty food trade like show in DC there would be senators, Congress people there who are all about small businesses. So I was essentially running those industry relations for like a year and they're like, Yo, Joanne, you're so fun and you did great work. 

Like you want a full-time job here? And I was like, No. Like I'm gonna go do AmeriCorps because like, it's something that I really felt like I had signed up for. And at that time in my life, I was really about like finishing what I started. Like I was a D one athlete. Like it was like, I was like, I signed up for this, I'm gonna finish what I started anyways up for AmeriCorps, did a year that, and then after I finished a year, I just expected that they would give me a job. I was just, you know, I was, I just like, how did the same, right? Yeah, no, I totally feel level, same level of excellence that I brought to this internship I had, they offered, I know you want benefits. Like everything I, like, I just was like, I just assumed they would gimme a fulltime job. 

And like they looked at me and I was like, Do you wanna volunteer another year? And I was just like, No, absolutely not. It sounds so interested. But like I said, I can't divorce my upbringing and my parents and kind of like the things that they, Right. Like it's like these val there are values that I just had that like, I realized like are, you know, a result of people I grew up with and you know, sometimes there's questioning are those really my values or not? But like at the age of 22, like you're not thinking that, Like you're just thinking like, yo my dad didn't come here on a boat for me to like volunteer another year. <laugh>. Like, it's, it's very um, legitimately, um, you know, like that's not funny, but it's like, yeah, my parents really struggled to like make sure we have what we had. 

So it's like, for me, I was like, absolutely not. Like I, I have, not only do I have bills to pay, but you know, better than I do like the education system in our country. It's like just saddles you with debt. Yeah. That is debilitating at the age of 22. Like, I owe more money than like my parents made in an entire year. Yeah. Like, you know, and Yeah. You know, immigrant kid, I filled out FFA on my, on my own. So I was looking at tax returns, like mm-hmm. <affirmative> going through online items at the edge of 17. And I knew how much my parents made. I knew like it wasn't easy to, you know, send us all to school and stuff. So I was just like, this is wild. Absolutely. I just, I have to get this together. Like, and I, it it it is kind of frustrating that like yeah, that is something that a lot of people go through, right? 

Like this idea of yeah. You know, you want, there's things that you are really passionate about at the same time. Like, you know, do we have the wherewithal to go for those because we have these like realities of finances and and lack in our lives, Right? Like right. Yeah. And a lot of that is like yeah. There is not necessarily a social safety net. Like college isn't free unfortunately for a lot of people. Yeah. Um, so I like started applying for jobs. I like went on, I like left that organization. I went to Haiti for a summer, live with family on the beach, just generally being a beach, all my cousins for a whole summer, which is absolutely glorious. Um, got to be where my mom was from for, um, for like a, a, a little while. And that was beautiful. And I think that that experience really changed me and the fact that like, even though I was stressed out about finding a job, I realized there's so much more, there's so much beyond like just getting a job, right? 

Like yes. This whole like living on an island in Haiti and like, you know what I mean? And I was, but the thing is I was so lucky that like I did that at the age of 22. Like if I hadn't done that, like I wouldn't have had that, Right? Like I was so lucky that I had family who still lived there and they're like, You'll come with us. We go there every year and like my uncles are not about being in the US like in the winter or in the summer. They're just like, we are out. Like we were drinking ru and lobster and dancing on the beach for an entire summer. So it was a lot of fun. And then like while I was there, you know, I was sending emails back and forth to a couple nonprofits that I worked on. Cause I also felt like maybe this is the only place I can really work at cuz I didn't have experience in the corporate sector. 

Yeah. Like I had that internship in college, which was really good experience, but I didn't really know, really know how to parlay that into like anything Right else, other than what I had already been doing anyway. Yeah. Got a job in a nonprofit, whatever. Um, and then worked there for about a year. And I think the job I had there was recruiting volunteers to like support our programming. And that was when I really got into recruitment as like a Oh, amazing. That that is amazing as a job. Yeah. As a job, as a career path. And so like that went on for a year. It was extremely intense because it was a nonprofit that was trying to scale and grow. They were trying to open a charter school. It was just a lot of stuff going on. And I think for me, I inherently felt like this idea of working super hard, You mention like academia, you apply for all these, you know, jobs you don't hear back. 

There's incre incredible devaluing of like the work you put in. And I kind of felt that with this organization a little bit. Like people working very hard, very stressed. They weren't necessarily being compensated the way they should have been. And then it was kind of like, you know, um, unfortunately like I, I just looked around me and I was, I was like, I do not want to be like any of these leaders. And I think as a young person, um, or someone who's starting out in, in an industry or in an organization, if you look up and you don't see anyone that you really like, are like, Yo I, that is someone I really look at and I admire. I think they're amazing. That's a red flag. I know there was a whole mean thing about the red flags, but <laugh> legitimate. 

Speaker 1 (24:09):

No. Yeah. But I mean that's so wise, you know? Yeah. It really is. Like, it's so important, 

Speaker 2 (24:14):

You know? Yeah. And so, so you know, fast forward and I don't wanna fast forward cause I think there was like a lot of pivotal experiences I had that like led me to this place, but I was there and I was like, this is ridiculous. Like, I don't wanna be like any of that. And there was a lot of problematics stuff that was being said and being done. I was like this, you know, like we're working in a community that like, we're working to kind of support folks who are under resource or don't have the same, you know, resources that people who live in more wealthier neighborhoods or more wealth neighbors in the city. And I just saw a lot of stuff being done that I was like, it did not sit well in my spirit. And I was just like, just like, this is not cool because the families were trying to help our families like, like mine, like I grew, I like, do you know what I mean? 

Like, I necessarily didn't necessarily grew a program like that cause my mom literally broke her back to Senate Private schools. But like, it was just like, I was, I don't feel comfortable like being in this space. So Sounds true. What I did is I, I started looking at internships again cause I was like, I might need to go back to the drawing board. Uhhuh <affirmative>. Um, I thought about getting a masters, but I was like, there's no way I wanna stop working to pay the amount of money it takes to get a master's. Um, I think that's also, you know, it's uh, you know, you were talking about Yeah, the, on a podcast talking about PhDs and I'm just like, I don't know if this is the time for me right now to, to do that with myself because I didn't really know exactly what I was getting master's in. 

And I had always heard people who told me like, if you don't know exactly why you're gonna do this thing that you're gonna pay a hundred thousand of dollars for, you should probably just take a deep breath. Which, uh, will probably like resonate later on. But the thing is I'll just like, what do I do anyway? So my partner who is American at, at the time we were dating and he was looking for, he was like being kind of pushed towards a job in Houston, Texas. And we were living together and we were just like, yo, like, we was just like, do something different. And like you, I mean, you know me, people listening might not know me, but I'm inherently like, I love to just pack my bags and go like, let's just like see what's out there, see this new experience. I was like, you know, I've never lived in Houston, Texas. 

Like Beyonce's from there. Like, let's try it out for a year. Let's see what's up. And I was applying for jobs, but I had also spent time as an, I mean at four miles a student athlete. And I think the other thing I have to recognize is like, yeah, there's a lot of connections you make. And so like I had knew a few people who left Fordham and were working in different industries. And one of my good friends, this guy Martin, who was on the water polo team, I randomly ran into him at like a recruiting event on Fordham's campus. I I was recruiting volunteers and he was recruiting for interns at his job. And we were good friends cuz we like took this advanced Spanish class together. He was like, Yo, Joanne, I remember you in that class. Like, you were, you were always, you always had like good input, like engage yourself to say like, it was obvious. 

You read the readings, which a lot of other people didn't read. And I was like, Yo, you know me Martin, like, I've always a little hard to paint whatever. Anyway, so we're just chatting it up, whatever. And I was like, So what are you doing with your life right now? We're like two years outta college. And he was like, Oh, I work at an executive search firm. And I was like, that sounds really interesting. Like he, he's like basically recruiting like kind of what you're doing, but like, it's different. And I was like, Oh, okay. Like I'm recruiting for volunteers. He was like, Yeah. Like, he was like, well, he was like, Listen, take one of these pamphlets. I actually think you'd be amazing at this job. Like, I think you'd be really interested just judging from like the classes we took and how much you like, are like always interested in learning and like kind of diving deep into things. 

I was like, okay, whatever. Anyway, went home, stuck that thing in my drawer and like never looked at it again, <laugh> until I was like, you know, I left the non-profit I was at where I was recruiting for volunteers and I was like, I need to do something different. So I was, you know, going through my stuff and I ran into, I was like, Oh my gosh, like I should probably reach out back to Martin or whatever. And so I, you know, I thought about it, didn't do it, and then randomly like, Carmel, this is like, I think it's like hilarious, but like we're talking about this. Like, I was at a bar in Brooklyn where, you know, they have like the big Jenga, like Jenga things. I was with my partner there and we were in the back room and who do I see? 

But like Martin and he's like, he's like, is a wild story. Not to, not to, I know it's a wild story, right? It's crazy. It's like, not to put mart on blast, but like, he was very inebriated <laugh>. Um, and he recognized like Joanne like, like he was like, I can't believe like you're here. Like, did you remember what I told you? Like please apply for that thing. I'm like gonna, I'm leaving the organization. Like if you apply like I free with the highest of phases, like whatever. And the thing is, is like, I think, and this is a kind of like a running thread in my life, but I think for, for like anyone to think about, it's like there's good people out there willing to help and just like share like, and I think that's something I had to recognize like early on is like, there are good people out there. 

Um, and asking questions or being a little vulnerable where you're at in life is, is incredibly helpful to open you up to that, right? Anyway, applied organization that I applied to this executive search firm, which essentially executive search firms are like recruiters for executives. So an organization, a company like, or a organization like a university, right? Like Columbia University needs a dean of students. They're not necessarily gonna put a job posting out there for a dean of students. That that just, there's a very limited amount of people who can be a, a dean of students will call me university in their mind, right? I say that in their mind is very quote unquote. I'm sure I could be, I mean, I don't know. I could, I don't think I could be a dean of students. I wanna be a deans students. But like there's a limited amount of people who have that job experience at that level. 

You know, that they mm-hmm. <affirmative> wanna pull that from that pool from, Right. So in executive search firm is an organization that's where people who work there have very specific and deep experience in essentially like interviewing and assessing individuals with long careers to be able to be placed in like an executive function, right? And to be placed as a dean of, or as a CEO or as a, a chief executive officer, a chief financial officer or whatever it is that you are looking for to run your organization. Right? And so he worked for his executive search firm called a Egon Zender. There's five major ones and a Egon Zender is one of the five. And so I applied to be an intern analyst, essentially like an analyst helps create materials and works with consultants to run research for different industries that they're staffing for. So let's say an industry is chocolate. 

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you run a chocolate company and you wanna hire a chief financial officer for your chocolate company. Ideally you need someone who's worked in the food industry and who has financial officer experience. So you need to create a, you need to understand that industry, right? Like what is a chocolate industry facing right now? That is really big issue and you need to understand it. And then you need to understand the companies that are major players. And then you need to understand like who has the experience across these different companies who could be a really great fit. So that might be people who are not chief financial officers at Chuck Companies now, but they might be people who are like, have 10 years of experience in accounting at a chocolate company. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And they might be ready to take a leap into an organi, like an organization where they can lead, right? 

So like executive search is essentially a function of who's like getting the bench ready for who's ready to be in the game, right? Like a very like, you know, kind of watered down version of executive search that you say, I applied for the job in New York, didn't again in New York. And then they called me up the organization or called me up and they're like, Do you wanna move to Houston cuz they have an opening in Houston. I was like, this is really weird. Cause we were, me and my partner were thinking about moving to, and it was like, I was like, Yes, obviously I need a job. Please take me. Amazing. So moved to Houston, did that for a year. And what do you know about the same thing that happened to me in New York happened to me in Houston where they were, I thought I was getting hired and they were like, Girl, we're not hiring in this office. 

And I was just like, No. And so like repeated this process. But the thing is, and like I said, if you do great work and you trust that like good people around you at, in my experience, that has been something that I think really like, has been like a recurring thing in my life. And so I did do great work. I did connect really well with people at that organization. And I didn't just work with people in Houston, but I worked with people in the Bay Area as well. And so they pulled me in for different projects where like in Houston, the major industry in Houston, Texas for a lot of people don't know is oil and gas. Oil and gas does not help me, Does not make me jump outta my bed every morning unless my heat is on, right? Like <laugh>, like it's an industry that I think, you know, we'll talk about, we don't even stop us now, but like, there's a lot of issues with it. 

You believe in climate change, which I do like, you know what I mean? There's a lot of issues with that industry. And so a lot of the work I was doing as an analyst was helping executives, was helping our consultants in the Houston office help staff oil and gas companies with executives, Right? Like a director of engineering or exploration or whatever they needed to like do, right? And so I was like helping build out the research and collateral so they could like run searches for people who could like be placed in these positions that, I mean, I did it like I, you know, and I was, I was good at what I did, right? In terms of just like really being focused on finding out who's ready for this next step in their career, why are they ready? How do we assess that they're ready? 

What are the questions that we're asking them, right? Cause assessing someone who has like 20 years of experience and executive level is very different than interviewing someone to like be, you know, on a, on a recruit, on a volunteer team at a nonprofit. It's just a very different set of questions, right? Yeah, sure. So that being said, like there were exec, there were like consultants in other offices who are like, yo, like we need an analyst to help with this project remotely. So Chicago a big industry. I mean, in Chicago, like some of the biggest industries there is marketing, um, consumer packaged goods, um, pharmaceutical, like there's a few pharmaceuticals companies there based there because a lot of pharmaceuticals are like in the Midwest, right? So like worked with some of those consultants and then, but the biggest one I think that like probably relates to what I do now is I was asked to help out with a few projects in the Bay area, a few like executive searches in the Bay Area. 

And we all know now, like, or most of us, you know, most of the large tech companies that we're, we use their products every day. Zoom, you know, Instagram, like a lot companies that like, you know, we know of, like, we can rack them off very quickly. A lot of them are based in the Bay area anyway, so one of the analysts in the Bay area had left, they were like, they needed someone to support some of the searches and one of the associate consultants was like, call the Houston office. Like, yo, do you have anyone who would be interested in working with us? And I was like, Yeah, sure. Like my, my boss came in and asked me like, Yeah, do you wanna help? And I was like, Absolutely. It's not oil in gas. It sounds wonderful. Like take me on. I'm happy to help. Right? Whatever. Learn a new thing and learn about a new industry, which is tech. And I was like, Oh, this is really interesting. Like I'm actually really, really interested in this whole entire industry and how it works. What makes individuals like viable choices for leadership within these companies, Right? Especially because these are products I was using. 

Speaker 1 (35:51):


Speaker 2 (35:52):

A lot. Right? Anyway, that being said, did, didn't get hired in the Houston office. And then I had told the consultant I worked with, I was like, Yeah, like, uh, he was like, Oh, so, so what, what are you do? What are you doing after this? And I was like, uh, I don't really know actually. Cause uh, <laugh>, I'm just, I guess I'm just like, back to the drawing board. He was like, Absolutely not. He was like, You did such a great job here. Like you did such an amazing job here. Like, I'm gonna try to see if you can, like, if you obviously have a passion for technology, like let's just try to see if there's people who know who we know, who might get you like interested in like, opportunities out here. Would you be willing to move to California? I was like, I'm already in Houston. Like, Kelly's just 

Speaker 1 (36:31):


Speaker 2 (36:33):

I was young. I didn't have a, Yeah, 

Speaker 1 (36:35):


Speaker 2 (36:35):

Was, I was just like, was a good, I gonna have a boyfriend in Houston, we'll stick out. Like whatever. Like, we'll figure it out. Anyway, long search short ended up getting a job out in the Bay area as an engineering recruiter, um, doing actually the same level of search work that the consultants in the Houston office were doing. So it was like a very up level, like comeuppance moment for me. I was like, I knew I could do it <laugh>. Um, so did that for, in a contract role for a year and then got hired full time. So it's a very long-winded story I realize. But at the end of the day, I think it's like there's a lot of threads there, right? A lot of threads in like not being afraid to jump into something that you don't know how to do very well. And then also being okay with sharing a little bit about your situation, right? Like, that happened a couple times. Like, you know, like not like a whole like story about like how my life is terrible right now, but like, yo, like I, I need, I need, I actually need a little bit of a, of a little like nudge, help, support whatever it is. Um, because people, people are generally, people are generally hoping to help or offer helping him. 

Speaker 1 (37:44):

Yeah. I definitely heard a thread through your story about the power of connections, um, and connecting with people. Um, and that seems like it was something that kind of went throughout your story. Um, yeah, I also though I wanna be cognizant of time. Um, so I wanna ask you a, a few quick, um, kinda like short questions. Yeah. Um, just to kind of, I, I wanna transition for a few minutes, um, into kind of the nuts and bolts type info because the podcast is geared toward folks who are looking to make a professional pivot, especially out of academia, um, and utilize their skills including tech, technical skills, creative bandwidth, um, in new ways. A lot of people are turning to tech. Um, so in your expertise, um, what skills, if you had to name like, let's say three or four skills, um, what skills do you feel like are really important for people who work in tech or who wanna transition into tech? I'd say kind of like, besides the specialist, right? So like the software engineer is a software engineer, but there's all these other roles. What are a couple of really important skills? It doesn't have to be like the top ones, but just a few things that come to mind that you feel like people coming in, you know, should have really strong project management and a really strong people skills or really strong whatever communication. Yeah. You know, 

Speaker 2 (39:12):

No, that's a good, that's an interesting question. I mean, the biggest thing people need to realize is that like technology companies would not be what they are without, with just engineers. Like, it takes an entire, 

Speaker 1 (39:24):

Which I think is really encouraging for people 

Speaker 2 (39:27):


Speaker 1 (39:27):


Speaker 2 (39:29):


Speaker 1 (39:30):


Speaker 2 (39:30):

Engineer, like 

Speaker 1 (39:31):

You run an outside, it's like, oh, I don't know, that's a bunch of, you know, people doing code, whatever. 

Speaker 2 (39:36):

Yeah, I'm engineering adjacent. Which I guess like when I remember the beginning when I said there's three careers for West Indian, four, the fourth is a, you know, being a disgrace, but like I'm engineering adjacent, so I kind of like, you know, foot in 

Speaker 1 (39:48):


Speaker 2 (39:49):

Foot in there a little bit. Um, I'm engineering adjacent, which means I do not code. I don't pretend to learn, know how to code. I mean, I have some technical, you know, I guess understanding. Um, but what that means is that I work very closely with engineers so they can assess effectively, keep people for their teams. Um, I also have a very strong knowledge around talent engagement. Like how do we ensure that our hiring process is equitable and fair and mm-hmm. <affirmative>, those different things. Um, so that's really interesting. That's an interesting question because of the fact that like, I don't think there's like three top skills, skills per se. You can have, I think there's like maybe three top ways to approach your work because like a technology company that's a successful one is gonna need engineers. They're also gonna need lawyers. Unfortunately <laugh>, they're also gonna need, um, project managers. 

They're also gonna need artists. They're also gonna need marketers. They're also gonna need people who have experience in psychology. And like, I mean, we can get to that later on. Like a lot of technology is like, yeah, like, um, this idea of capturing people's attention in many ways, right? And that's a larger conversation that we can have. But a lot of technology companies, especially when you think about like technology that is platform based, a lot of that is capturing attention. A lot of these companies actually have very, very, very successful individuals with PhDs in psychology and neuroscience working for them. And so I think like in many ways there isn't necessarily three top skills per se, but there's three like kind of like competencies or approaches to your work that like, I think really help. I mean, the first one is it's like there's the known knowns, there's the known unknowns and there's the unknown unknowns. And I think for a lot of people on task, you're open to realizing that there's more that you don't know than, than you know, like you're open to learning, you're open to being challenged, you're open to the fact that like things can shift at any second. And that's not terrifying. That's actually weirdly exciting for you. It's very difficult, amazing working technology without that being something that's like an inherent party. And for me, like I didn't realize it then like when I was 22, I was like, yo, this is me. Like, 

Speaker 1 (42:14):

Totally, totally. 

Speaker 2 (42:16):

Like, and I like it's very difficult to like grow, right? So that, that's the first thing. The second thing is like being able to like do whatever you do excellently, right? Like mm-hmm <affirmative>. It's like whatever skills you have, like whatever it is that you do, whether it's project management, whether it's engineering, whether it's you're an artist, whether you're, you know, kind of in a, in a more legal sense or the word or finance or whatever it is, is like being unafraid to really strive for excellence in your work. And that's something I see across tech, at least at the very larger companies, is that people really do excellent work no matter what they're doing. And then the third thing I think is um, you know, being able to show to like demonstrate that you've been able to not only do great work but do great work with other people. 

Like how do you collaborate with others, especially when they're different from you, especially when they have different set of ideals or backgrounds or things like that. Because that's essentially like what we're trying to get at is that like tech as an industry is unfortunately too homogenous to like, it's just, it's just, it just is. It's like a fact of life. Yeah. Look at the like statistics, at least, at least in the engineering sense, this very, very male dominated unfortunately. And I say unfortunately very like intentionally because like I think if you're creating products for which to half of the users are women, you have to have that represented in your workforce, right? Like at the table there needs to be like people who identify like your users at the table. I'm not saying uh, male engineer can't identify with people who are not male, but I'm saying that like, this is why you get phones that are too big for my own hands, <laugh>. Like, it's like, I mean, um, 

Speaker 1 (44:04):

Uh, I wanna jump in for a second cause 

Speaker 2 (44:06):

It's like these are the three things I think that like are helpful. 

Speaker 1 (44:09):

Those, so that's, that's such useful information. I just wanna like, not translate it but put it into academic speak for a minute. Just because of the focus of this is that's the, that that first um, thing you were talking about. I'm gonna call it adaptability, even though you like much more eloquently flesh it out. Yeah. Um, but that sense of adaptability is something that I feel like academics in general are like deeply, deeply trained in or, or like forced into almost because like usually surviving a PhD programma like amounts to some type of multiple project management dealing with a lot of different Yeah. Different actors and inputs, some of whom are very hostile in a variety of ways. But at the same time, academics are trained I think many times to act like they're not adaptable. Like to act as though they, they know all the info. 

It's a, it's a survival tactic. Um, cuz you were talking about be open to the fact that, you know, there's more that you don't know than that you do know. And unfortunately I think a lot of academics take on like a survival skill of just like trying to act as though they know everything because that's like the vibe in academia. So for the academics listening, I feel like this is, this is low hanging fruit in terms of something that you can really sink your teeth into If going into tech is something that people have been interested, do it. Excellent. I love that. Be able to demonstrate that you do great work with others and collaborate. Um, so helpful. 

Speaker 2 (45:38):

Um, yeah, absolutely. I listen and you know, I'm a, I'm a just be keep the hundred, like talk your shit. Like if you listen, if you have handled a hurricane of things that came at you like in a particular Yeah, talk that talk you know, class or whatever. Yes. Talk that talk. Sorry, <laugh>. 

Speaker 1 (45:58):

No, no, no. Yours, yours was fine too. 

Speaker 2 (46:01):

Please do not, please do not like brush it over to make it seem like there was nothing going on when and actually really went there and you really handled some things that were really difficult to handle. Like I I I think it's like yeah, owning that story that like you really, if you really kind of corralled, uh, you know, a whole bunch of disparate situations into like something meaningful, like you gotta speak to that, it's really important, you know? 

Speaker 1 (46:30):

Yeah. I'm the 

Speaker 2 (46:31):

Question I'll, I'll let you, I'll let you go. 

Speaker 1 (46:33):

No, no, that's great. That's great. Um, uh, final question. Um, do you have any general parting advice, um, that you'd like to give any, uh, for if someone came to you and said they'd like to get into what you're doing specifically, not even looking at maybe not thinking about tech as an entire field, cuz that's so broad. Maybe just even thinking about like your area of tech, if someone came to you and said they wanted to move on that path, are there are a couple pieces of advice you would give them and if you have any particular advice that you would wanna put out into the world, um, directed towards women, people of color, people who have traditionally been, um, marginalized and kind of locked out of this industry. Yeah, you can, you can slip that in there as well. I know that's a big question. 

Speaker 2 (47:17):

No, that's a big, that's a big question. 

Speaker 1 (47:19):


Speaker 2 (47:19):

That comes question, Uh, it's a big question but it's a worthy question. Um, I mean the first thing for folks who are looking to get into technology is like, don't create this like, universal technology that's far up in the heavens and that you can't touch because that's not what it, like we all Oh, nice. I love that. Every day we use technology every day. Like you are inherently extremely qualified to comment on technology cause you use it every day as a user of technology. Like that is like, that's the most important person in the room, right? Like you, you can comment on like why this particular product is like trash or needs to work better or needs to be, you know, like improved on or fives like, it's like go. I think the biggest thing we act like is like this, this industry is so far beyond us that we can't even touch it. 

It's like this rarefied world where like, we don't belong. And that's the biggest thing, that's the biggest lie. Like you absolutely can like reach for this industry, right? Like, especially like if you have deep academic expertise, that is the, those are the individuals we need in this industry who can offer like a very rigorous thought process on why this technology even needs to exist, right? Like, and that's something I kind of struggle with too. It's like technology in many ways has improved our lives in some ways, but in other ways it's really like, you know, we have to be conscious how we use it, right? Like I, for one, we the first to talk about the like issue and the problem of distraction and lack of focus because of technology. Um, which is a big reason why I even decided to like do this whole other thing in my life and get a yoga cert teaching certification like, and start to teach yoga because it's almost in like, in react like, not reaction, but like, it's a response to sort of like, what I see happening is like this inability to focus, this inability to stay, to like own our attention, which is happening to me too. 

I should be very more, more personal. I should speak for others, my own inability to focus sometimes or my own distraction or my, um, owning my, reclaiming my attention, which is a powerful, our attention is the most important thing we own. Cause when you own your attention, you can own what you focus on and you therefore like own a lot of like the direction of your own life, right? Like it's really important. So yoga in a way for me was like this deeply physical, spiritual like mental practice to like reclaim some of that. And so for someone who wants to go in the tech, the first thing is do not let this industry intimidate you. And the second thing is, there are so many jobs and types of work within tech that are beyond just engineering. So project management, whether it's like a certain type of technology, right? 

Like it's not just tech in general, right? There's technology that's like hard technology, like creating computers and phones and things like that. But then there's also technology companies that are like in health tech, right? Like companies that are like in finance, that are like technology focused. Companies that are like focused on education and are technology focus, right? Education technology companies, right? There's so many different types of companies, so many different types of like, umbrellas within tech. And so I would say get interested in just exploring the different types of companies there are and realize that like there's so many more jobs than just engineering, right? And I think that's the biggest thing I think I would advise people on. The second thing is like, you know, and I'll give you this information after if you wanna like link it to the show notes, but there's so many. 

Um, the one thing I will say to anyone who's looking for in job site is like, like I mentioned, a good friend of mine who launch his own like just kind of like, um, resource sort of library of like things you can do to kind of prepare yourself for interviews with a technology company, whether that's in sales and marketing or like, you know, project management. We'll definitely link that. I have you. Um, he offers a lot of great advice. And so, um, Jesse Bay was like, he's just great. Like, and former coworker of mine, also a mentor of mine, when I first started recruiting, he was just like a superstar recruiter and like really kind of put me under his wing. And that's kind of, i, I attribute a lot of my confidence to not, to knowing I belonged in that industry, to, to like the relationship and the friendship I had with him. 

That goes directly to the second question, you asked, what would I say to folks who have been marginalized and tech who have been, um, historically underrepresented and cut out of this industry? And the biggest thing I will say is that, um, sounds very counterintuitive. Um, a job in technology cannot become your identity. Like, I think for me, or at least that's my, that's my own un sorted advice, is that I was very wary of working in tech and not letting that be encompassed my entire personality. And that I, what I, when I say that, I mean have it take inch into my life in a way that prevented me from doing the things I love to do, right? Like, this is a, this is at the end of the day, I love technology. I love the, you know, kind of like talking about a wax and poetic about the future of technology, whatever. 

But at the end of the day, it's also my nine to five job, which I love, but it also is a means to other things I love to do, right? As a human being. I think acknowledging that we are multifaceted and we expand and we're say multitude is really important. So when you've mentioned like, I love traveling, like that was one a big thing. Like, I was like, Well, I work in technology, There are a lot of resources and a lot of privilege I have with this work, and how can I use the finance of things I love to do? So like, I didn't travel that much growing up. It's very difficult to buy six plane tickets for your kids when you are working, uh, a very difficult job like my parents did, right? Like, so it's just like, you know, I realized that was a gift I gave myself in my late twenties. 

Like, I decided like, Oh, I'm just gonna go to like a very large number of countries, like, and just see how many I can hit in three years. Thank goodness I did that. It was like, then the pandemic hit and I couldn't travel anymore, but it was like, I'd already been to like 37 countries at that point. It was like, great, you know what I mean? I was like, this is amazing. Um, like realizing that that like, you know, maybe going into a movement practice and reconnecting with that part of myself, I was a student athlete. I've always been love movement, like dance in high school athlete, in high school, athlete in college, and always had been fairly active, like, you know, whether it's running or, um, dance or strength based, like kind of movement, whatever. And I realized yoga was something I've always done since I was at Fordham, but like now, like how do I kind of really like deepen my practice? 

Not just the physical practice, but like the mindfulness practice, the breath work, all of that. So that's been a really like life changing experience for me. But I also feel like a lot of the, the opportunity to do it without a lot of stress is because like, yeah, I have this like foundation of a, of, of, of a job that like allows me to do the things I love to do. Um, and I would be doing them anyway even if I didn't have this job. But the thing is, is like, it's not letting, like once you come into a company like this one, especially, and I'm as a black woman, I'll just say like, especially as a black woman, you are so much more than what you do between the hours of nine to five. Like, you're just so much more. And it's like, don't allow anyone to tell you that this is like what you are, which is, I always like, you know, I worry about, I, I'm, you know, not worry about it, but like I'm, I'm wary of, you know, like always kind of saying I work in tech as like the first thing that comes outta my mouth. 

It's like, well, I'm interested in a lot of different things and this is one thing I'm really excited about, but that it also lends itself to being excited about a lot of other things. Right? And so I think that's one thing I would definitely say. Um, and then also, yeah, I think one big thing that I think is really important to say, especially, I mean, finance is always an elephant in the room Yeah. In these conversations when you're looking for a job. And I think the biggest thing is like, how do you, or at least for me, like how did I, how did I set myself up so that like, I don't wanna do this, I don't wanna work at a technology company for the rest of my natural life, right? Like, at some point I'm gonna do my own thing. I wanna take time off, I wanna work for myself, right? 

Like, I don't wanna work for a corporation forever. And so I think in a lot of ways it's like, how does this time I have, how can I like start to think about my financial freedom in a way that like, service is what I want in my life, right? Like, and so I think that's something important to think about, and especially for folks who have been marginalized, because a lot of times, like I was true for myself. I did not come from a ton of resources, a ton of money, but it's like, how can like this be sort of a means to the ends that I want it to be a end to a means to, right? So I don't know. That's what I would say. 

Speaker 1 (56:14):

Thank you. That's so helpful. Thank you for sharing. Yeah. I appreciate you. Um, 

Speaker 2 (56:18):

Appreciate you. I was a little long winded, but hopefully that's okay. 

Speaker 1 (56:21):

It's great. No, it's been, it's fantastic. The people, the people wanna know, they wanna, they wanna hear the full story. Um, we'll wrap up. Uh, is there anything you wanted to add that you feel like you didn't get to say or that I didn't ask you about that you were really hoping to put out there? 

Speaker 2 (56:38):


I don't know. I think there just a general like, uh, I guess not taking yourself too seriously, right? We, we make this into a very heavy thing sometimes. Like, I think it is like looking to shift, you know, what you do for your livelihood. Because I do think like it, unfortunately, especially in this country specifically, there just isn't necessary social safety net to allow you to the time and the sort of like, slowness in discovering what really excites you and what helps you make a good living and like what allows you to like live the life you wanna live, right? A lot of it's fraught with a lot of stress and tension, unfortunately. Um, but I think at the PhD level or like if you're in academia, like it's not to take yourself so seriously that you cut yourself out of things. That could be really exciting path to go down and be open to having conversations, be open to realize that you do great work and be vulnerable and saying when you're looking for a new opportunity, because I realize, yeah, like you mentioned in a world where everyone's buying for a very small number of slots, it can almost feel like detrimental to your future to like share the, the hardships you're going to like, outside of very trusted circles, right? 

Right. But it's like, you might have friends who work in different industries, like, no, wait, we could a pha on what, like, I mean, there's like opportunities in my company like, do you wanna, like, you know what I mean? Like, it's like, it's like being okay with not necessarily sharing every single detail of your hardships with everyone necessarily, but like share, sharing where you're at. There's a little bit of vulnerability there. And I generally realize, like, I did not necessarily trust that. Like, I don't know if I'd be where I'm at, Right? I'm at right now, You know, that's what I would leave people with. Be a little more vulnerable. Vulnerability isn't bad. 

Speaker 1 (58:32):

Thank you so much. But 

Speaker 2 (58:33):

Like, yeah, just like, you know, share, just, just realizing that like your community, it might be a little larger than you think it is. 

Speaker 1 (58:42):

Nice. Beautiful. Thanks so much, Jojo. 

Speaker 2 (58:44):

Yeah, no problem. Bye <laugh>. 

Speaker 1 (58:50):

That's it for this week's episode of the Millennial PhD. You can find more content, resources and information on Instagram at the millennial PhD in this collective moment of reevaluating our relationships with work and exploitation. I look forward to connecting with you and building stronger bonds of community and collaboration. I would love to hear from you via email at the millennial with any feedback, comments, questions, or concerns, or if you're interested in coming on the show as a guest. That's all for now. It's been real. See you next time.