July 9, 2024

Interview: How Akilah Found Her Dream Job At FanDuel By Blending UX With Sports

FanDuel is hiring on POCIT

Meet Akilah Hugine-Elmore, a sports enthusiast who found her dream job by merging her love for sports with her expertise in UX research. A former basketball and softball player and avid sports watcher, Akilah is now the UX Research Director at FanDuel, America’s #1 Sportsbook.

In this interview, she tells POCIT how she turned her passions into a fulfilling career.  

Introduce yourself and what you do at FanDuel. 

My name is Akilah. I’ve worked at FanDuel since August 2021 and am on the UX research team. If you don’t know what UX research is, it is the voice of the customer. We look at what our customers are thinking about with FanDuel, especially with the product Sportsbook. For example, [we analyze] their behaviors and motivations when using our product, their experiences, and help improve the product. We also bring features that help with their sports betting. I’m the director of UX Research, so my team covers all of Sportsbook.

Tell me about your career trajectory and your journey to FanDuel. 

I have an electrical engineering background. For my undergrad and master’s, I did electrical engineering. Then, when I was doing my master’s, we had this project, Cognitive Radio for Public Safety, and we had to work with the Psychology and Human Factors Department. I was really fascinated by human factors in psychology. I ended up switching gears a little bit and doing my PhD in human factors with a concentration on user experience.

I wanted to be a professor because I went to a historically Black university, and I can count on my fingers how many Black professors I had. So, I wanted to get my PhD to change that narrative, but I had a really bad experience that left me kind of jaded.  

I’m a huge sports fan; if I can do sports and research, that’s my perfect marriage.

So, from there, I decided to go the industry route and spent almost seven years doing user experience research at [a large insurance company]. And then one day, I was like, I don’t think I can do insurance for the rest of my life.

At that time, FanDuel was coming to Atlanta, and I was like, I’m a huge sports fan; if I can do sports and research, that’s my perfect marriage. I also wanted to get into leadership as well. FanDuel presented the opportunity where they’re looking for research managers, and so I applied for the position. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been really good. FanDuel has a really great culture and really great people to work with. 

FanDuel’s Bet on Black Tech Summit. Image Credit: Chuck Marcus

Tell me about your experience as a person of color in tech and at FanDuel 

In general, especially in engineering, you’re always probably the only Black woman or person of color in most meetings and things like that. I think one of the things I like about FanDuel is that a lot of companies talk about increasing diversity, but they actually put programs together to help with that.   

We have the Black Leadership Academy that they started, which somebody on my team was a part of. I was in a women’s leadership group, and I also did an executive leadership program through the University of Georgia. They are giving those opportunities to help matriculate you up into leadership. I really appreciate those opportunities because those are some things that I didn’t really get in my previous company.

Another thing I like is that most of the time when people look for mentors and sponsors, they look for people who look like them. But sometimes that’s hard because, a lot of times, you don’t have people of color in leadership roles. Here at FanDuel, a lot of my mentors and sponsors don’t look like me. For example, my mentor and I have two different backgrounds, but he looks out for me and gives me good advice.  

What kind of support did you find valuable in advancing your career? 

A really good thing is that they made me think about my career, not just at FanDuel. Like, what if you leave FanDuel? What if you go someplace else? What do you want in your career? What is going to help you in your life in order to be the best person that you can be? It’s about what skills you can translate to any job, not just at FanDuel. 

One of the things I like to ask my team is, what are your superpowers? What are you trying to put in your toolkit to make you the best person that you can be for any job? That’s one of the things that I focus on with my team and me, to have all these superpowers. So, no matter if you’re here at FanDuel or any job, you have the tools you need to succeed.  

What are your tips for people of color getting into the tech industry? 

Networking. That’s the biggest thing. You never know who you might run into, talk with, or who someone has an affiliation with. When you go to different events, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and talk to people.

Even when you’re finished with school, find ways to better yourself. Whether it’s a personal development course, learning coding, or something new, always increase your toolkit.

Talk to five new people that you’ve never talked to at this event. That’s the way that you get to know people, and that’s the way you get to work on yourself. If it’s somebody I don’t know or [somebody] new in the office, I’ll just be like, hey, you know, my name is Akilah; which area do you work in? You never know where that person might need your help, or you just need to be able to reach out to someone.

Networking is my biggest tip for people. That helped my career the most. I’m a nerd at heart, so I’m always learning. Even when you’re finished with school, find ways to better yourself. Whether it’s a personal development course, learning coding, or something new, always increase your toolkit. You never know when you might need some of those pieces as well. Continuous learning and networking. 

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

We have different ERGs, including Bold, our Black leadership development one. We have many different events. We’re actually getting ready to do this event called Bet on Black, which is focused on increasing the number of people of color in technology and engineering here at FanDuel. I’ll be on the panel, it’s myself and three other engineering managers. It’ll be an open panel focused on two things. One is how can you prepare yourself to work here at FanDuel or go through the interview process? The second is how do you ascend your career? What are the tools you need to ascend your career?  

We have another program called WIN, which is for women. We also have a mentoring program where I have both of my mentees—one is Black, and one is Asian. That’s the other way that I try to give back: by seeking out people of color, especially women of color, to mentor. 

I’ll even do side things; for instance, I think our team is probably the most diverse team. Sometimes, I’ll have a session with the Black women on my team and say, “Hey, is anything top of mind? Is there anything that I can help with?” just to make sure that they don’t feel like they’re alone. Even though, as a team, we’re pretty diverse when they go out to work with other departments, they’re probably the only Black woman. So, I make sure that they feel comfortable in all those places. 

Bet on Black panelists. Image Credit: Chuck Marcus

How many people are on your team? 

We have twenty-two on the research team all together people and five Black women. 

That’s quite impressive. 

Yeah, that is. When I try to hire, I seek to make sure that we have diverse candidates. FanDuel also wants to have a diverse panel. So, let’s say that a person of color is coming to be interviewed, they make sure that there’s a person of color on the interview panel, too. 

We have opportunities to be flexible. If I need to just drop everything and go get my kids, it’s not an issue.

One of the things too at FanDuel is that we have opportunities to be flexible. If I need to just drop everything and go get my kids, it’s not an issue. I think that’s something I need in my career. 

I also want to add that I wouldn’t be able to do my job without my parents. They just moved to Atlanta a year ago. I have three kids, so trying to be a working mom and trying to deal with the kids, my parents coming is a huge help, for example with picking up the kids if I had to go into work and things like that. They’ve just been really good allies and mentors, my family, like my husband and kids and my parents. They definitely help me be the person I can be.

Featured image credit: Akilah Hugine-Elmore

Ruvimbo Gumbochuma

Ruvimbo is a British-Zimbabwean writer and artist. Her work was longlisted for The Netflix Screenwriters' Fellowship 2021 and has featured on the BBC, Complex UK, GUAP, and TRENCH. Her literary work has also been commissioned by Apples & Snakes, Arts Council England, The Poetry Society, and Beatfreaks and primarily explores themes of culture, identity, religion, love, and loss.