Tech is a fire career that thousands of Black professionals are gravitating to right now! But, the industry comes with a lot of competition, market saturation…and this is where things can get tricky, fam.
Some peeps get lucky, some use trial and error, some fall into the right opportunity at the right time – and us? Well…we’re not leaving our first job to luck or chance, so we asked our contacts in the industry for the hook up!
In today’s blog, we interviewed two Black professionals in tech – Abdullateef Oyebisi, Project Coordinator, Scrum Master PMP, SCM and Tumaini Shoo, Sales Coordinator, Artscape. They gave us the rundown on landing our first tech role as a newbie, immigrant and career-starter.
What’s your educational background?
Abdullateef Oyebisi: I have a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from the University of Ilorin, Nigeria, a Master’s in Biochemistry and a Master’s in International Affairs and Diplomacy, from Amadu Bello University, Nigeria. I also have my Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.
Tumaini Shoo: I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree with a Double Major in International Development and Human and Physical Geography (Distinction) from the University of Toronto Scarborough. I was also the recipient of two international work and study abroad scholarships – the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee and the Kakehashi Project.
How did you get into tech?
Abdullateef Oyebisi: My tech career started with me working as a cashier in banking. I had graduated with a science-based degree and two Master’s degrees and people always asked me what I was doing there (in banking). Then I moved into tech as a network analyst. Afterwards, I got a job as a Project Support Coordinator. Those experiences helped me to break down barriers, so that I could go on to get the PMP certification and transition into a full-time Project Manager role.
Tumaini Shoo: My tech career started as a Business Development Representative for a fintech software company. I graduated with a social science-based degree then worked at an organization in the NFP and events industry and was introduced to sales there. I’ve always worked in people-facing roles but once I started working in sales, I discovered that I possessed the skills to succeed in that role. Shortly after, I began strategizing my transition into tech sales.
How did you land your first job in tech?
Abdullateef Oyebisi: One day in October I attended a BPTN networking event – BFUTR – which was very enlightening. I spoke to a couple of people from companies like RBC. I later signed up for the Early Career Hook Up Program (leading tech organizations recruit 375 early career Black identified professionals and interns yearly). A recruiter from BPTN, Tylar, reached out to me – I was surprised! She did an assessment and then sent over my info to the recruitment manager at CIBC and other organizations. I applied for a Project Manager (PM) role and was interviewed, then they gave me a Senior Project Coordinator role. It’s the same because I’m doing a PM’s job. Before connecting with BPTN, I was applying for some of the same roles on my own and never got a callback.
Tumaini Shoo: I began by securing a sales role to gain experience. I set a goal to gain at least one year of sales experience before interviewing for sales tech roles. During that time I reviewed job descriptions to understand what I would need to learn. I developed my sales, negotiation, quoting, invoicing, prioritization, and time management skills. Once I gained enough quantitative and qualitative sales experience I began applying to entry level roles on Linkedin and reaching out to recruiters at companies I had interest in that were not listed on the job board.
Was there a program or initiative that helped you to navigate the tech space?
Abdullateef Oyebisi: Yes. I relocated to Canada from Nigeria. When I got here, everyone was asking for Canadian experience, which was very challenging. I sent out my resume and applied for all these jobs but got no response. I was looking for programs to help me land my first job. Things were very different from back in Nigeria, but at BFUTR I started making connections and with the help of Tylar and the Early Career Hookup Program, I was able to learn a lot about the culture and job market here in Canada.
Tumaini Shoo: I liked a post shared by a friend about Black Professionals In Tech Network (BPTN)’s deadline to apply for the CULTIVATE Mentorship Initiative helping Black Canadians 29 and under to find mentors. I was blessed to have been introduced to and be mentored by the intelligent, successful, philanthropic, and fashionable Gershwin Exeter. I was able to learn from Gershwin alongside Sylvia Mwangi, Michael Babalola, MBA, CCDF, GITP, CMAB, CPP and Feranmi Aderibigbe, a wonderfully intelligent, kind-hearted, and encouraging group of young professionals, thriving in their fields, who taught me to acknowledge and be proud of all my achievements and quirks.
During those 10 months of CULTIVATE, I gained a deeper level of self-confidence personally and professionally. It wouldn’t be impossible to share all the great things I learned but I want to share some key takeaways that I got:
- Ask for what you want.
- Always be fearless in your pursuits.
- Be unapologetically yourself; authenticity always wins.
- Develop your brand by identifying five (5) things that make you unique.
- The world and the workplace need variety; a socializer, an intuitive, an analyst, a quiet observer, etc. Play to your strengths and improve on your weaknesses.
What tips did you get that helped you secure your first job?
Abdullateef Oyebisi: Tylar gave me insights on how to respond to customer pain points. That’s a key feature of what employers look for. She also helped me with the interview prep so that I could learn more about navigating the Canadian job market. I learned how to draw on all the experiences I’ve had, problem-solving experiences and different projects I was a part of. I realized that every experience – no matter how small or insignificant you may think it is, plays a role in your success.
Tumaini Shoo: My mentor taught me that your interview(s) should feel like a conversation and that how you answer the question, “tell me about yourself?” can make or break your success in landing the job. He made it a point to have me pick five unique things about myself that I must lead with when answering that question.. These were things that I would use as my selling point, that would set me apart from others, and that I must be able to recall without hesitation.
What is your advice to Black professionals looking to secure their first job or employers looking to recruit diverse talent?
Abdullateef Oyebisi: The starting point is all that matters. Pick up entry-level roles and use them to put your foot in the door. Even if this is not your ideal role and you have to start from scratch, start by taking that first step. Don’t be deterred by not starting where you want. The end goal may even take you somewhere better. Any experience is better than no experience at all. After that first step, you’ll realize it’s easier to progress in your career.
Tumaini Shoo: For professionals, don’t be afraid to reach out directly to a company on Linkedin and ask them if they’re hiring or express interest in working for them. Social selling is a big piece of the puzzle when you don’t have direct referrals to rely on.
For recruiters, diversify where and how you post your job postings. I say this because referrals and word-of-mouth job opportunities cross our paths less often. Since most young Black professional’s networks are smaller than their non-black counterparts, especially children of immigrants. Sharing job opportunities with wider communities and job boards is a solution to increasing inclusivity.
What is your advice for Black professionals looking to climb the career ladder in tech?
Abdullateef Oyebisi: I believe that preparedness always meets opportunity. You have to understand how the culture works so that you can take the right steps and do the right things that will move you forward. All your experiences are an achievement that you can leverage so talk about them. Have a willingness to start from scratch and take a step back and start all over again.
Tumaini Shoo: No job is easy, especially done well. Work hard at your job, hit your targets, build rapport with your team and organization and apply for those internal positions.
How did networking and mentoring help you in your career journey?
Abdullateef Oyebisi: I’m working under different teams and managers in my organization. I try to initiate conversations and find common goals that we align on. I will start conversations with them and that right there is an opportunity to interact and see if we align. That’s how you make friends. I see everyone I meet as an opportunity to grow my network which has helped me a lot in my career.
Tumaini Shoo: The cultivate mentorship program helped me gain a new network of young professionals interested in breaking into tech. I also met a mentor who offers me insight, life experience and reassurance to help calm the anxieties of interviewing. I’ve also learned unique perspectives on mastering your personal development. Overall my self-confidence and drive to continue my pursuit of tech sales increased.
What is the most interesting thing about working in tech?
Abdullateef Oyebisi: The best part about working in tech is that it’s dynamic. It evolves daily. It’s hard to get left behind in tech because you have to stay ahead with all the new developments.
Tumaini Shoo: Careers in technology allow you to remain current, ignite your curiosity, exercise your creativity, and offer big rewards!
What is a gem or takeaway you’d like to share with early-career professionals in tech?
Abdullateef Oyebisi: Look at the positive side of every challenge. That’s when you can get the best out of it. If you are just whining you will never go far with that.
Tumaini Shoo: Youtube is your friend. Linkedin is your friend. Research companies, and look at job titles and learn about what people do. Your ideal job or career is likely something you have no idea exists because you don’t know what it’s called.
Folks, running in the right circles, leveraging the CULTIVATE mentorship initiative and Early Career Hook Up were crucial in these two young Black professionals successfully landing their first job in tech. If you want to get it right off the bat, you can start with the same formula by joining Obsidi to grow your network then tap into the mentorship and early career hook up opportunities that await!
All the best in your job search!