Current job title: Senior Technical PM
Current location: Remote/ATL/DC
Years of Experience: 7
Total Comp: 450,000
How I Got Here:
I have the “traditional” tech career track in the sense that I went to college and studied computer science with a minor in business. However, I was never the sharpest in any of my comp sci classes but I always knew what I needed to do to lock in to ensure I got the grades, whether that being friends with the smartest kid in the class to have them be my fake tutor, or becoming cool with the teachers so I could get extra office hours with them which would ultimately lead them to giving me favorable grades. This mentally is still something I have to this day, the mindset to leverage my strengths and soft skills (networking, building relationships, being strategic and just outworking everyone since I knew talent/smarts can only get you so far). Before I graduated college I had over a dozen full time offers and learned early (from my aunt) to leverage them against one another to run the bag all the way up. I got to this point in my career based on always thinking about the next play and never being complacent with what was initially presented to me. My first role out of college was a 3 year rotational engineer for an aerospace and defense company. I’d like to think I started my career just going through the motions and not really thinking about where I wanted to be in life. As I get older I realize it was more of me just trying to experiment with things I liked and didnt like. Joining this program helped expedite my exposure to different functions in the tech space which included software engineering, scrum master, automated test engineering, project management and systems engineering.
Truth be told I disliked my aerospace & defense experience (culture was old & white male dominated) but the exposure to roles where I played a part in the product strategy along with the technical decisions were the ones that gave me the most excitement. From there I knew that I wanted to dive deeper in that space. To my advantage, the world of Product Management / Technical Program Management had begun to open up and hadn’t had cookie cutter qualifications. I knew I could break in as long as I could connect with the right people.
After 3 years in defense/aerospace and a masters in Engineering Project Management along the way I made the decision to jump into big tech (FAANG). I interviewed with the top companies in the game Google, Microsoft, Amazon, IBM, you name em. In my head I thought it would be just like my senior year of college interviews where I racked up offers, pitted them against each other and walked away with like 250K. Welp, it was actually the opposite, I got rejected over 30 times in the stretch of 3 months. I was deflated and stopped applying to focus on what I was doing wrong. To this point in my career I had a knack for always coming away with the bag but not this time. I had to humble myself and reflect. Through this reflection I learned I wasn’t properly preparing for my interviews and essentially relying on smooth talk and a solid resume to carry me to this point.
Once I made that discovery I sharpened my focus and leveraged resources like Igotanoffer, Cracking the Code, and Exponent to beef up my interview prep. Not only did I get strict with interview prep but I also got stricter with my lifestyle. I maintained a strict schedule of home, gym, studying and that was virtually it. I switched my diet to paleo to give me more energy and the only social events I attended were networking events. Tbh this is very extreme but this is just how I get when I take an L, I never wanted to experience an L like that again so I did what I needed to do to reduce those chances.
In Nov 2018, I attended what was probably the most pivotal event of my career which was afrotech. It was there I made life-long connections with folks who have gone on to build multi-million dollar startups and become leaders at the top tech companies in the world. I also met a Facebook (now Meta) recruiter who ended up referring me for a PM role on their new product Oculus. You know the thing about staying ready so you don’t have to get ready, that’s all facts. I went through a long 7 rounds of interviews over the course of 4 months with Facebook and landed the role!
Truth be told, the bag wasn’t that great (less than 200K TC) especially for someone living in the Bay but I knew the future opportunities and the leverage of having Facebook on my resume would give me, so I ultimately made the move and the rest is history. Since then I’ve bounced around to 2 more FAANG companies while doubling my tech income, building an array of new tech skills while also building up an even stronger tech network. Not only have these career moves helped me with respect to my income and tech skills but it’s also opened up speaking opportunities, investment opportunities and opportunities to teach in higher education. Again, always focus on the long term play and not the short term vision.
Overall reflections/thoughts to share/advice:
Writing this has actually been refreshing and kinda therapeutic for me because I’m naturally heads down and don’t do much reflecting. The one thing that I’ll say that has helped me immensely in my career early-on has been saying yes and using each experience as a learning experience. Another thing that has helped me has been to identify my strengths early, along with my weaknesses. Things that people naturally compliment you on or consistently ask you for help on are good indicators of your strengths. Things that you struggle to do and when you do them they consistently aren’t done at a high quality are good indicators of your weaknesses. Having weaknesses isn’t bad, in fact knowing them is good because that’s the first step in either changing that or avoiding careers that put a heavy emphasis on them. I highly encourage anyone who’s reading this to examine their strengths and weaknesses and begin to brainstorm the best use cases of their strengths in the tech field.
My final thought is that anyone who is reading this, specifically those who are pursuing the tech industry should have a long term vision for what they want out of their career and begin reverse engineering the process on how to get there. There’s a big push to land a tech job but we have to ensure once you land your role in tech you keep running your race and pursuing greatness because if you’re not you’ll eventually realize that you’re running in a rat race.
As we all know there’s multiple routes to a destination so don’t think that anyone’s route is the best for you. The only route that is incorrect is the one that you’re walking in blindly. My motto with tech companies has always been I’m here for a good time, not necessarily a long time. Reason being is because I know my purpose in my career calls for (financial) resources, a strong network, tangible skills & adequate time. 3 out of 4 I’d say I have a good grasp on. Once I have all 4 that’s the signal for the next phase of walking in my purpose and coming closer to making my vision a reality. Until then I’ll continue to run MY race.