Episode 28- Aaron Russel
Sourcing Manager, Edge – Facebook
What made you decide to work in tech?
I’ve always had a strong interest in tech. I was an early adopter of Facebook and took some C++ classes in high school, but my path into the tech industry probably looks a bit different than most. After graduating from college, I pursued my passion at the time (finance) and worked as an investment banking & business valuation analyst for two years. During that time, I had the opportunity to work on multiple engagements in the tech space and I began to think more about how cool it would be to work in tech! An interesting opportunity arose to join a Content Delivery Network (CDN) company, and I decided to take a risk and switch my career focus; I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I found myself doing less finance work and shifting my focus to supply chain negotiations, building out CDN infrastructure across the globe. It was that work that led me to Facebook.
What was an obstacle you faced and how did you overcome that obstacle?
I think the biggest hurdle for me was a mental hurdle; I didn’t have a technical, engineering background, and that was a bit intimidating at first. However, I also saw this as an exciting challenge, and a personal growth opportunity. So, I purchased the CCNA books, enrolled in network engineering courses, read a lot, learned through experience over those next five years, and…probably bugged the engineers at my job at the time by asking lots of questions. Haha. I was also fortunate enough to have mentors that invested in me as well. This made a tremendous difference and, over time, I gained confidence in my abilities. The space is ever-evolving, and I’m really passionate about learning–it’s what makes this industry so fascinating.
What is your experience being a POC in Tech?
I’ve been blessed, as I’ve had a really pleasant experience. I’ve now worked in two industries (investment banking and tech) that have historically lacked diversity. When comparing the two, my experience as a POC in Tech has been much more enjoyable, as I truly feel that I can be myself. It is for those reasons that I am passionate about ensuring that other POC are afforded those same opportunities. I think we have a great responsibility to do so. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a good friend/coworker at Facebook a couple of months ago. He joked that I should unplug more and really enjoy a better work/ life balance. (Anyone reading this will instantly laugh because they know that I have trouble doing this, as I always respond quickly to emails and messages.) I explained to him that while I should definitely take his advice, one of the reasons that I’m this way is because I feel that I have a responsibility to pave a path for increasing diversity. If I stand out in my role and commit myself to excellence, then maybe, just maybe, that somehow helps to get another POC hired in tech. Conversely, to give anything less than my best would be a disservice to all of the other POC who are trying join the tech industry.
What was your perception about the tech industry before entering it? What is your perception now?
Before entering the tech industry, I pretty much assumed that everyone was an engineer by trade and those were the only jobs available. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the diverse skill sets that people have, and how they’ve leveraged those skills to build a career in tech. It’s truly an incredible industry to work in, and I’m really appreciative of the opportunity.
What are three tips you can give to high school/college students who want to enter tech?
1. Remember that there are multiple avenues to explore in tech such as marketing, finance, network & software engineering, product, etc. Spend some time discovering which subjects you are most passionate about, and don’t be afraid to take some programming classes in high school! Today, there are a growing number of (free) resources available; it’s so important to take advantage of them.
2. Try to have a short-term memory of your failures. Don’t be discouraged when something doesn’t turn out exactly the way you planned. If you’re passionate about something, pursue it and remain optimistic. Perhaps you don’t get the first job that you apply for, but continue working on improving your skills, investing in your future, and positioning yourself for success.
3. Seek out a mentor and/or find someone who works in the industry to talk to about their experiences. Scour the alumni directory for people to reach out to, and ask lots of questions!
Any projects/ programs/ etc. you are working on?
I’m primarily focused on increasing and building strategic long-term relationships with internet service providers, carriers and data centers to support the delivery of Facebook/Instagram content to users. There is a lot of fun work to be done, and I’m excited to be a part of it.