The week before Thanksgiving, I was fortunate enough to attend the UNCF HBCU Innovation Summit. I and 63 other students (representing 21 HBCUs around the country) embarked on a 5 day tour around San Francisco’s hottest companies. I took some notes, and I wanted to share the highlights with you. Some of the advice may overlap, and some might cancel out with the others, but I hope you digest it all and find inspiration to go do some of your best work.
Jeff Lawson is excited to work at Twilio. You can tell by the way he talks that he loves it, and that was one of the biggest things he expressed to us: do what you love.
He was never fully happy in his roles before Twilio, and he is thankful that he kept searching instead of settling on something that he truly didn’t love. When it comes to business, he let us know that it’s all about getting your customers to love your product. You don’t have to wait on the investor to [have people love your product]. In fact, the investor is waiting for you Lawson says. He encourged us to choose a place to work right after school where we can learn alot and make a difference.
We went a couple blocks down the road (literally) to Yelp after Twilio. We heard from a panel who gave very genuine and timely advice. We were encouraged to take ownership of our own careers, and pushed to reach out to people doing the things we want to do and learn from them. We were told there are three types of people we should try to add to our network:
- Peer, or someone who we is experiencing the same things we may be going through and will be willing to help support along the way.
- Mentor, or someone you can see yourself as when you think of your career trajectory.
- Sponsor, or someone who can open the door and provide opportunites for us because they see the potential in us.
Pinterest had an awesome headquarters. One of the best on the trip in my opinion. They also had some of the most genuine and honest panel speakers. Some of them graduated from HBCUs, and it was cool to hear their stories. They told stories about them quitting their jobs, moving to Paris to become lingerie designers, making mistakes and never quitting along the way. They pushed our group to make the most of the opportunites that will come our way…like going on a 5 day trip to Silicon Valley, all expenses paid.
I want to remind you…this is all on the first day of the trip. Half of the group had to leave Pinterest early to head to Uber. To our surprise we were meeting Travis Kalanick, the Co-founder and CEO at Uber. (The other half got to meet Pinterest’s CEO.)
Uber is home to some awesome people like Damien Hooper-Campbell, who is the Global Diversity & Inclusion Lead at Uber, and an HBCU grad (Morehouse). After Damien’s presentation, it was time for Travis to speak with us, and he’s big on stories. A story about Mark Cuban rejecting an offer to invest in Uber. A story about him having to eat ramen with no money in the bank. A story about him overestimating the risk in a decision which allowed Lyft to come in and take market share. The man has stories for days. I asked him a question…nervously. I asked him who does he go to when he needs advice. To everyone’s surprise, he said he doesn’t ask others for advice. Instead he listens to stories and takes what’s applicable to the decision he has to make. I thought it was interesting that he’s also reading about the founding fathers because if those guys could successfully start a country, then [he] can handle the problems that come up with a company. Travis encouraged us to hustle, hustle and hustle. He talked about his socks that say “Blood, Sweat and Ramen”. These socks are a perfect match for his Champion’s mindset: Work harder, smarter and better than the competition and never 2 out of the 3. Leave it all on the field he says.
We left Uber and hopped on the elevator to go see Square. Yes…they’re in the same building. Square’s card reader is a very elegant piece of work, and that same care and attention to detail is seen throughout the office. It’s beautiful. We went to Square on the same day that they IPO’d, so it was cool standing inside the headquarters on such a historic day for them. Square has an awesome, awesome, awesome group of recruiters that we met. They’re very genuine and truly looking out for students’ best interest. Gloria, Saqi, Anil and Vanessa are all really good people; Some student got to do paired programming with Square’s engineers which was a great to see them taking the time to invest in the students after work hours on IPO day. Gloria, a recruiter at Square, is very passionate about creating a diverse environment at Square. She encouraged us to not be defined how people labeled us and to always believe in our abilities 100%. Simple, yet timeless advice.
In my opinion the trip wasn’t about exposing us to Silicon Valley, but about exposing Silicon Valley to us. It was such a group of talented Computer Science and Engineering majors who have had bomb internships at The White House, Jawbone, Yik Yak, Adobe, Johnson & Johnson, NASA and more. If anyone out there is looking for talent from an HBCU, I suggest you do two things: search through the list I compiled of the students who went below with their LinkedIn profiles. I also suggest you visit an HBCU and walk around the campus and connect with students. There’s so much talent.
Isaiah Grigsby, Clark Atlanta University
Carlette Odemwingie, Spelman College
Lusenii Kromah, North Carolina A&T State University
Angelica Willis, North Carolina A&T State University
Swedhana Viswanathan, Hampton University
Kehlin Swain, Prairie View A&M University
Chidimma Christine Amagwula, Prairie View A&M University
Josuel Musambaghani, Morehouse College
Shannon Johnson, Bowie State University
Aaliyah Griffin, Spelman College
Anthony Washington, Tuskegee University
Jonathan Smith, Florida A&M University
Jasmine Stith, Prairie View A&M University
Janay A. Johnson, Bennett College for Women
Darian Nwankwo, Morehouse College
Isaiah Weaver, Morgan State University
Surabhya Aryal, Fisk University
Frank Nijimbere, Morehouse College
Sydney Meeks, Bennett College for Women
Brianna Fugate, Spelman College
Ebenezer Nkrumah, Fisk University
Kehinde Orogbangba, Hampton University
Taiwo Orobangba, Hampton University
Aminata Sow, Bowie State University
Joey Courseault, Morehouse College
Elizabeth Lynch, Spelman College
Nicole Jefferson, Virginia State University
Aaron Chambers, Clark Atlanta University
Morgan Marshall, Florida A&M University
Pradip Khanal, Claflin University
Emmanuel Mong, Claflin University
Gentry Redmond, Florida A&M University
Zack Myrick, Morehouse College
Johan Rhodes, Prairie View A&M University
Ifreke Okpokowuruk, Morehouse College
Samman Bikram Thapa, Howard University
Jenish Koirala, Claflin University
Ty’Javon Brown, Miles College
Nia Cawthorne, Bennett College for Women
Roshan Thapaliya, Howard University
Bright Dotu, Fisk University
Sakshyam Dahal, Claflin University
Elizabeth Sengoba, Spelman College
Ashley Kelsey, Prairie View A&M University
Quentin Morales-Perryman, Hampton University
Jonathan Taylor, Tougaloo College
Shyainne Bell, Bennett College for Women
Briana Granger, Clark Atlanta University
Sarah Jones, Howard University
Dmariee Hanson, Howard University
If you want to learn more about the trip, click here.
If you want to connect with some of the awesome people who organized the trip, click here.
Big thanks to Jarvis Sulcer, Aisha Bowe, John Martellaro and Kitt Grant for making it possible for me to go on the trip. And my sister 🙂