Last month I was fortunate enough to spend 11 days in Silicon Beach, the technology & startup hub of Los Angeles. Thanks to my University and Xuntos, I was able to travel with the nonprofit Color in Tech on their Immersion Program. Our ten-strong Immersion group visited fantastic companies such as Headspace and Snapchat Design Academy, while also visiting startups and venture capital firms.

Here is a snippet of what we undertook & learnt:

• Be your Authentic Self!
• Don’t believe your Imposter Syndrome!
• Take Risks!
• Expand your circle!

Be your Authentic Self!

Colorintech LA Immersion Programme Cohort with Lauryn (Head of Social Impact) and Richard Pierson (Headspace CEO and co-founder)

“Always be unapologetic and create your own space!” — Lauryn (Head of Social Impact at Headspace).

Hearing Lauryn’s long and complex journey from nonprofits to social action at Headspace, she made one thing clear to us; be your authentic self and not to settle for anything less. Honestly, I felt uneasy after hearing the sentence, I started questioning myself immediately.

In my short 3 years at a predominantly white university, have I subconsciously adjusted myself to fit in?

Too often I read about PoC in the workspaces being labelled as aggressive when they are simply trying to be heard, hence so many cases of Imposter Syndrome and code-switching etc. Hearing another WoC speaking so passionately on being her authentic self, I felt inspired to make changes within my own life; I will ensure my voice is heard!

I will be taking Lauryn’s invaluable advice with me into my future workspaces; I will create my own space where I will be heard, respected and unapologetic. Just like everyone else I have worked hard and therefore belong to be in that space. At the end of the day I can only me myself, nobody else can be me. I can not be complacent with discomfort, I must shift the discourse. Don’t believe the Imposter Syndrome! I heard about Imposter System early last year and immediately had an epiphany moment—“oh so that’s what it’s called”. I have been visited countless times by the syndrome during my life; significantly in uni as I am a WoC studying computer science!

British culture is very different from American culture. While America is built on meritocratic liberalism and saturated with people who are constantly selling themselves and their achievements; British culture takes on the more reserved approach of underselling one’s achievements.

Our first day on the Immersion programme started with a powerful session from our leader Millie Zah. Millie had the difficult task of teaching us to unlearn our humble British ways. I learnt not to downplay my achievements and skills, be confident in myself, how to pitch myself and so much more.

“What do you want to achieve?”
— Millie Zah

This was the most important question I was asked on the trip. What do I want to gain? What do I want to learn? What do I want to showcase about myself? I applied this question throughout every visit and event, as I gained knowledge or made new contacts my imposter syndrome slowly disappeared. I started believing in my sauce more and more. Take Risks! The American tech scene surprised me—they take risks. As the saying goes, they really do go big or go home; after all, high risk brings in high reward. This got me thinking about a statistic I heard at Women Impact Tech;

“Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.”

— Tara Sophia Mohr— Harvard Business Review

Why as women, especially in STEM, do we not apply the same risk-taking tactics as America? I have been conditioned to thinking that I cannot fail and God-forbid if I do fail that means I’ve reached the end of the road. This mentality needs to change, failure is not the end—if anything its The start of a new strategy. Taking risks opens the doors not visible beforehand. As a new grad, I aim to make taking risks second nature to me, as I navigate through the winding road of job applications.

Expand your circle!

Networking is important. Building a network will open so many opportunities for you, and even those around you! After all, I was told about this opportunity through Xuntos! If I did not network with the Xuntos founders within my university, I would have missed out on this valuable experience.

Here are the skills I learnt about building a strong network:

  • Invest in yourself!
  • Update your CV, build a strong LinkedIn account, learn new and relevant skills that can boost your CV.
  • Build a strong social media presence, create a blog, pick up a new hobby, start YouTubing etc. Anything to enhance yourself!
  • Keep in the loop!
  • Read up on everything around your career area, follow the important people (and follow who they follow), watch the videos, go to the events and network at the events!
  • Find companies your love and follow them on LinkedIn, network with people that work there. Build relationships!
  • With all the networks you have, build effective relationships and help out people in your network—but at the same time ask for help. Set up coffee meetings, ask for introductions and find people willing to mentor you. Building effective relationships can be strenuous but it is worth it! Don’t give up!

How I Spent My Time?

 

AT&T Shape Conference:

‘5G Connectivity’, ‘Augmented’ and ‘Virtual Reality’ were the buzzwords for this conference. Hosted at the Warner Brothers Studios (on the sets of Pretty Little Liars, Friends and Gilmore Girls), my friend and I spent time networking, partaking in interactive exhibits and listening to panel discussions.

AT&T Shape pt2:

The highlights of the conference were:

– Tyra Banks’ speech on her life and upcoming theme park ModelLand where she will provide the model experience for visitors utilising 5G connectivity.

– The “Scully Effect” Panel Discussion ft. Geena Davis and Mayim Bialik; an insightful discussion on how the X-Files character Scully lead to a sharp increase in the number of women entering STEM and how Hollywood needs to do better in regards to positively representing women in STEM!

Colorintech Onboarding Session:

The onboarding session was hosted by our team leader Millie Zah. Millie acted as our own personal Wonder Woman during the trip; her mission was to ensure each person met their individual targets.

Toms: our first company was Toms, we learnt about their shoe production process, their social actions and completed a focus group (wherein we called them out on their flawed 1 for 1 model).

Backstage Capital: Backstage Capital is a venture capital firm which primarily funds women, people of colour, and LGBT founders. I was shocked to hear that the group of people above receive less than 10% of venture capital deals in the US! The work that the Backstage team is pivotal in ensuring more underrepresented founders get access to the funding and accelerator programs they deserve.

We were able to see one of their founders Reginald Parker pitch his startup Optimal Solar in the California Climate Cup!

Headspace: I love the Headspace app so much, so visiting the office was super exciting! We were hosted by the wonderful Lauryn Nwankpa. From her first sentence she thoroughly impressed me. While discussing her career and role at Headspace, she mentioned how she was headhunted by the CEO for being her authentic self. (We also got to chat to the Co-Founder and CEO Richard Pierson!!

 

Snapchat: At the Snapchat office in Santa Monica, we checked out their Design Academy where they partner with Bixel Exchange, teaching design skills to a select class of PoC. The graduating group then help mentor the incoming class etc. Initiatives like this really excite me as there is an immense need for diversity with the tech scene.

Bixel Exchange: Bixel Exchange is a nonprofit similar to Colorintech, aiming to increase diversity within LA’s tech ecosystem. We spent the day with them and the startups that they support.

Women Impact Tech:

An incredible conference filled with powerful women in tech giving their two-cents about the industry. The ability to discuss sensitive topics in a comfortable space is refreshing and so needed.  Filled with recruiters from companies such as Uber, Lyft, Mercedes and Hulu, I was able to recognise the differences from the UK and US tech scene.

Special shoutout to:

• Colorintech
• Xuntos
23 Code Street

All organisations are filled with thoughtful and talented people who contributed to my development during the trip! I’m so grateful to everyone.
Thank you for reading this long overdue post, until next time!

Hauwau Sonia Bello

Hauwau Sonia Bello

A Computer Science Graduate and freelance UX/UI designer

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