May 6, 2021

Semra Ezedin: How an Entrepreneurship Class at College Took Me From Pre Med to a Silicon Valley Data Analyst.

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Semra Ezedin is a positive, proactive graduate with a passion to motivate and inspire others. While she studied to become a doctor, an opportunity in Spain propelled her on a path to tech, and eventually landed her a unique role with Adyen. We spoke with Semra about her unconventional tech journey, working with NASA and why she chose freedom and flexibility over an overly structured life at Silicon Valley.

This interview was edited for clarity. 

Tell us about yourself 

I’m Semra, first-born daughter of Ethiopian immigrants. I work at Adyen on the US data team based out of San Francisco. I enjoy traveling the world and watching European football whenever I can, live or on TV. You can usually find me picnicking with friends and basking in the California sun with a good book.

What’s a sneak peek into your role at Adyen?

As a Data Analyst, I drive cost optimization and network partnerships for our strategic merchants like Uber, Facebook, Spotify, Netflix, and Nike. We’re a global company with our headquarters based in Amsterdam. My role entails gathering the requirements to resolve the business’s varieties of issues and ensure that our merchants have the most seamless payments experience possible. This involves lots of data analysis, deep-diving into data infrastructure, and developing custom dashboards.

It’s empowering to make a significant impact within our merchants and the local communities we serve.

How has the pandemic impacted your role?

My experience so far has been really positive, although it’s been entirely remote working. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves and about the people we work with. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that I’ve been able to flourish both professionally and personally in the pandemic. Even with working remotely, I’m able to empower local communities through our strategic merchants and see my contributions manifest throughout the business and cross-functionally with our other teams.  

Tell us about the beginning of your tech journey?

My tech journey started in the South of Spain in Seville, where I studied abroad during my second year in college. Although pre-med, I took a class called Entrepreneurship, The Art of Creative Business. It was taught by a founder of a startup based in San Francisco who opened my eyes to the innovation and ingenuity fuelling the business world. 

It was so intriguing to know, “You can do whatever you want, as long as you put your mind to it. You can create a business from scratch and see it flourish. You can take an idea and give it life.”

How did you make the switch from Pre-Med to Economics?

When I returned to the US, I immediately changed my major to Applied Economics. I thought that the quantitative and qualitative aspects of that major would give me the opportunity to both be challenged and open my mind to solutions for contemporary business problems. A month after the switch, I landed an internship at NASA at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena as a Business Data Analyst.

What was it like working with NASA?

I started in the summer of 2017 and worked part-time alongside studying. As part of my role with NASA, I revitalized the Cryogenic Service Center and worked on coding an aspect of the Mars 2020 Rover, which just landed on Mars! It was such a busy time for me because I was also President of the Ethiopian/Eritrean Club at school and doing PhD research at the University of Southern California for the Spatial Sciences Institute, amongst other ventures. It seems like I didn’t sleep in college because I wanted to explore all the options available to me.

How did that lead to Adyen?

Before I landed a role with Adyen, I worked at Apple as a Solutions Implementation Engineer, but I began to seek out other opportunities when the gloss of working in Silicon Valley wore off.  I wanted to be free from the structure and have more freedom and flexibility. I wanted to see my contributions and my input make a difference. That’s when I found Adyen. 

How has Adyen allowed you that flexibility and freedom? 

It’s an exciting place and time to work at Adyen. I’ve not only been able to scale strategic solutions for our merchants and drive experiments but also spearhead the global DEI efforts here. Before I came, there wasn’t a strong foundation regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion. We were about 1,500 globally and unsure of what was the right point to start thinking about DEI. 

Within my first two weeks, I remember asking, “Is there a Black Employee Resource Group?”

That initial question led to me establishing our first Black ERG. What was so exciting was the fact that I didn’t need permission from anyone as long as it made sense. It’s really comforting to know that I’m able to venture out and happily given the support and resources required to succeed. That’s where the flexibility and freedom reside. My initiative also inspired others, like my colleague who started the first LatinX@Adyen group and the North America DEI team, which leads our local initiatives. 

When it comes to business, you ideally want to reflect the society you’re within, not doing so would be an injustice. In the US, with 330 million people (15% Black), more needs to be done to ensure representation and at Adyen, we’re actively redesigning with diversity in mind.

How have DEI initiatives grown at Adyen?

DEI has become more of a priority to everyone at the company which is really fulfilling to see as this seemed unthinkable a year ago. The board has made a consistent effort to demonstrate their enthusiasm and eagerness for where we’re headed as a collective, providing us with direction and resources when needed. Our version of ERGs, Adyen Communities, has more than doubled in size since the DEI conversation started, highlighting the passion for making Adyen a more inclusive environment.

As part of the “Advancement” pillar within our global DEI committee, we launched an inaugural survey to benchmark the company’s DEI, allowing us to measure improvement and encourage more engagement. We’ve partnered with various organizations such as AfroTech and Techqueria to diversify our pipeline and increase our brand awareness. For Black History Month, we held a Black Trailblazers in Tech virtual panel with four successful Black leaders from Affirm, Apple, Disney, and Netflix spotlighting the Black tech experience. Adyeners are engaged and excited to take the company forward into a new age, and I’m glad to say I’ve helped catalyze that. 

What’s your advice for finding your voice in the workplace?

I had the privilege of starting my tech career at a young age, so I learned early on that it was okay to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. Starting off as an intern, it was liberating to know, if I made a mistake, I wouldn’t be reprimanded if things didn’t work out. It gave me the ability to fail and keep on learning. 

I made a bunch of noise, banging on doors and said, “Hey, this isn’t okay.”

You really need to be your own champion and always question everything, advocate for yourself! I had the luxury of learning that early on, so now I’m unapologetic in my pursuit of success. However, I want to make sure that other people like me are brought along the same journey. It doesn’t do us any justice if there’s only one of us at the top. 

Another thing I try and remember is if you don’t say anything, often likely, nothing is going to happen. So be intentional in your inquiries and relentless in your curiosity, be a powerhouse and trailblazer in whatever you do. Believe in yourself and have the confidence to voice that loudly. 

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Keisha Morant

A freelance writer with a passion for telling impactful tech stories online.

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