Interview: Asana’s Kabi Muhu On Transitioning From International Development To Tech
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Kabi Muhu is a first generation Kenyan-American who works as a Program Manager at Asana, a work management platform. Her role involves managing the Asana for Students program, which offers college and university students free access to Asana Premium.
“This program sits within the Business Strategy & Operations team and is about inspiring and empowering the collaborators of tomorrow,” she tells POCIT.
“By providing students with free access to Asana, they can sharpen their tech skills, and develop more efficient ways of working and collaborating with their colleagues; especially as they prepare to transition from school to work. They’ll enter the workforce already familiar with work management and collaboration tools.”
A year and a half since joining Asana, Kabi reflects on her journey from international development to tech.
I think of my career as a rock-climbing wall
“My career is not a straight line; I think of it more as a rock climbing wall. However, there’s been a common thread throughout my different roles, which always included an aspect of student empowerment and social impact.”
Kabi holds a dual master’s degree in Public Administration and International Relations from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. “I previously worked in city government, and I loved it. Many folks in this space hold Public Administration degrees, so I thought I would learn a lot at Syracuse and work my way up to becoming a City Manager.”
However, her love for experiencing new cultures and environments led her to pursue a career with travel opportunities.
Kabi’s career in international development began with an internship with UNICEF in Geneva, Switzerland. “I was in this space for about eight years and worked on youth empowerment projects in countries like Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Africa, and India.”
Here, she raised funds for disaster relief, trained teachers on how to improve their students’ career readiness skills, helped farmers build sustainable businesses through micro-finance programs, and supported education policy development.
“I did a little bit of everything; I am definitely a generalist at heart.” However, after years of living abroad, Kabi missed home and decided to relocate back to the United States.
“I worked for an international youth development organization in Baltimore, focused on equipping students with entrepreneurial skills to become self-sufficient. This role definitely checked many boxes for me, but right before the pandemic hit, I started thinking about being more intentional about my career trajectory.”
From international development to tech
“Baltimore is a great city, full of young people and successful Black professionals. It was the first time I found myself living in a city that inspired me so much.”
Through networking, Kabi found herself talking about things like financial independence and investing in real estate and the stock market. “I realized I hadn’t been thinking about these things but rather letting the world decide my path for me. I felt that was the moment when I needed to sit down and understand how to achieve my long-term goals.”
“I wanted to make more money. To be in a position to do the things that I love, like travel, support my family, celebrate with my friends, invest, and give back to the community, without feeling financially stressed.
The pandemic gave Kabi time to reflect. “I asked myself what I wanted my life to look like. I documented the cost of fulfilling my goals, to live that holistic life. And I realized that I wasn’t going to achieve the bigger life goals through my work in the nonprofit world.”
“I wanted to make more money. To be in a position to do the things that I love, like travel, support my family, celebrate with my friends, invest, and give back to the community, without feeling financially stressed. During the pandemic, I was also living alone in Baltimore, and my family was living in California. I wanted to be closer to them, and enter a new sector.”
“That’s when I knew I wanted to transition into tech. I formulated a plan to succeed in this new industry, which consisted in getting my foot in the door through a tech sales role. I would then transition to a different role which spoke more to my interests.”
Finding community and a sense of belonging at Asana
“Asana was a clear choice for me; I wanted to work for a company whose product I believe in. A tool like Asana would have been invaluable during my time in nonprofits, so I felt I could sell the product to an industry I knew well.” Kabi worked in a tech sales role at Asana for a year before moving teams to focus on nonprofits.
The role of Program Manager gave Kabi a new and exciting challenge. “I had to put on my research hat and truly understand the market. I did a lot of market segmentation research and created a strategy and a roadmap to achieve key milestones set out in our mission. It’s a great leadership opportunity; it pushes and challenges me.”
“I wanted to set myself up for success because I knew I could quickly feel imposter syndrome in this new environment.”
“Asana’s Employee Resource Groups (ERG) were created as safe spaces to foster a greater sense of community and belonging. From very early on, I could tell Asana takes ERGs very seriously as a form of community. I am a proud Blacsana member, which is an ERG for people who identify as Black.”
“I read the blogs and got a sense that tech can sometimes feel isolating for people of color, especially if you’re going through a career transition like mine. I wanted to set myself up for success because I knew I could quickly feel imposter syndrome in this new environment. I knew an ERG like Blacsana would be instrumental in my transition, and I now hold a leadership role in the organization.”
“In leading our Membership Committee, I get to welcome every Black person who enters Asana and let them know about the ERG, opening up this safe space for Black employees to thrive and share experiences.”
Tips for advancing your career
Asana employees benefit from career support from ERGs, such as Blacsana, free executive 1:1 coaching, and professional development budgets, which Kabi leveraged to upskill herself. “I use my professional development budget to, for example, subscribe to LinkedIn Learning. Having that understanding of where the professional development opportunities are and leveraging those is crucial.”
“When I joined Asana, I also made sure to get to know my colleagues from different departments. I would schedule coffee chats with department heads to learn more about their work and share my story.”
“Having someone advocate for you when you’re not in the room is a crucial resource to advance your career. When people believe in you and know you do good work, you’ll progress ten times faster.”
“It was through one of these coffee chats that I met with the leader of the Asana Impact Growth team. I shared my story about empowering students around the world, which she found compelling. When the team was looking to create a role to intentionally focus on students, she kept me in mind. Once the role went live, I applied and got the role.
“Believing in yourself and that you can succeed in a role is the first step. This is especially true in tech, where the brilliance of the people around you can be intimidating. Understanding and owning your story is also important, being able to clearly connect your skills and experiences to the requirements of a new role.
“Finally, having someone advocate for you when you’re not in the room is a crucial resource to advance your career. When people believe in you and know you do good work, you’ll progress ten times faster.”
“I would encourage young people to invest in themselves and seek professional networking opportunities to learn, connect, and grow. If you’re interested in making a career transition into tech, take advantage of formal programs to help launch your career.
The AsanaUp apprenticeship program creates opportunities for people just entering tech from non-traditional, diverse backgrounds to gain skills, experience, and mentorship necessary for a pathway into Asana.
If you feel inspired by Asana’s openness to Kabi’s transition into Tech, or are simply ready to join a growing and flexible company, check out career opportunities here.
Asana is hiring on pocitjobs.com