//4 things Silicon Beach taught me about life

So the long awaited, over teased saga begins. BlackGirlCyber Takes LA… No no erm BlackGirlCyber and the City of Angels… naaahh … I don’t know if you can tell but my naming skills could use some work -.-

It’s been a few weeks since I made my maiden voyage to the Americas in search of New Skills, Knowledge and that little bit of Nepotism to get me started in my career. Through the help of little a company called Xuntos (who are very near and dear to me), I was asked to come on ColorInTech’s Tech Immersion Program in Los Angeles.

There I spent 11 days meeting companies, going to networking events, and attending conferences to help further my career in Tech.

We saw companies such as TOMS, Snapchat Design Academy and Headspace where we even got the chance to meet the CEO, Rich Pierson, and chat with him for 30mins!

And I even attended the Women Impact Tech Conference. This was an amazing chance for me to really get to know the tech scene in the USA as well as have talks from inspiring women on topics such as succeeding in a man’s world and diversity in the workplace (Full Post on this coming soon)

Oh boy let me tell you, I learned more in my 11 days in LA than I ever really thought possible. So to spare you the agonisingly long list, here are the 4 fundamental things I learned on my trip and how you can apply them in your life.

  1. Network Network Network
  2. Know Yourself and Your Skills
  3. Be Your True Self, Unapologetically
  4. Say Yes to Opportunity

Network Network Network

The only reason I was able to go on this trip was my network. I was asked to come by one of the founders of Xuntos, a company focused on building a community and up-skilling young, ambitions people from under-represented groups in the tech industry. And very importantly a company founded by students at my university.

The Xuntos Lads!

The connection I made to Xuntos by attending sessions they held at university and interacting with them online, meant that I had my foot in the door to be picked for the trip. Of course, I had to show that I was a capable student, ambitious and all that jazz, but the initial connection is what made it possible.

  1. Know your existing Network – Know what your friends are up to and what cool things they might be trying to start. Try to know who they are connected to, if your friend knows someone who you want to meet, have them introduce you!
  2. Expand your Network – Meet new people who are like-minded. Go to local events in your field, Conferences or Networking Events. Have an up-to-date LinkedIn and get Networking!
  3. HOWEVER, know when to give it a rest – Networking shouldn’t be your life! It can get annoying and tiring to always be switched on, you are allowed to just talk to people without selling yourself. If you’re always selling, always trying to gain something, people will get tired of you unfortunately. Treat your network as friends and the connection goes both ways so help them as much as you would want to be helped!

Know Yourself and Your Skills!

On this trip, I met many inspiring women who kicked serious butt in their careers. Two that stood out to me were Millie Zah, Head of Programs at ColorInTech and Lauryn Nwankpa, Head of Social Impact at Headspace Inc.

On the first day of the program, we met with Millie, the Head of the Program, Organiser, Trip Leader, Tour guide, Counsellor – you name it she is it.

Millie from ColorInTech

A black woman, standing at 5 foot nothing and a half, she commanded a room. Not in the way that she was intimidating or overbearing, but in quiet confidence and knowledge of who she is and why she is there.

The session she held that day revolved around selling yourself and your skills and overcoming impostor syndrome.

The tips she gave were invaluable to me and here are 3 of the best ones:

  1. Cut out the “like”s, “erm”s, “uh”s and “ah”s – This one was tricky for me and I definitely haven’t got there yet but essentially in cutting out the filler words you make what you’re saying more concise and above all, more interesting and pleasing to listen to.
  2. Don’t downgrade your achievements – There is a huge trend, in particular with women, to downplay their work and say things like “oh I handle finances for a small startup” when they co-founded it and manage a huge portion of the company! And to be real, I do this a lot. I don’t want to be seen as gloating or bragging so I make my achievement look smaller than it is. I’m getting out of the habit now but it’ll take some work.
  3. Know what you want to get out of a situation/event – This one was so so so needed. Know what you want, know what you need to get what you want and make it happen! If you’re at an event, know what you want to get out of it. Is it a mentorship, a foot in the door at a job, a new perspective on something. Plan it out and make sure you talk to the right people to get what you want.

Be Your True Self, Unapologetically.

The other woman who stood out as being particularly badass is Lauryn from Headspace. If I can be called a groupie I’ll take it, Woman Crush Wednesday me up.

Having the honour to visit Headspace in their LA office was mind-blowing in itself, but then we meet our tour guide Lauryn.

Lauryn had started at Headspace at the request of the CEO himself and when you meet her you can immediately see why. Her friendly, almost giddy demeanour paired with sheer unbridled confidence and a no-holds-barred no-shit-taken attitude made for a formidable woman.

During our visit to Headspace she told us of her journey in life, going to a predominantly white university, starting her career in not-for-profit, building her own hair care business to finally getting to the position she is right now as Head of Social Impact at a multinational company.

Throughout her telling her story one theme kept popping up, being your true self unapologetically. Not changing the way you talk, dress or act to fit the status quo. To me it seemed clear, Lauryn had gotten to where she was in life through hard work and determination and above all being herself and speaking her truth.

Headspace Session with Lauryn (Centre Front) and Rich Pierson (Centre Middle)

Of course, there are nuances to every situation and ways you should act in a professional setting but meeting Lauryn and Millie taught me a very important lesson. If you don’t speak your truth, no one will do it for you. If you aren’t your own biggest fan and don’t take you own side or have your own back, you can’t expect other people to. Especially as a young black woman, I learned that you really have to be your own groupie, sell yourself (your true self, not the washed down old-white-men-friendly version) like you’re cold lemonade on a hot summers day.

And Finally,

Say Yes to Opportunity

Say YES. There come times in life when opportunities arise that are scary! This trip scared me. I had never traveled without family, never set foot in America, never even thought I could possibly be meeting CEOs of multinational companies. But I did. Because I said yes to a huge and scary and amazing opportunity.

Not every opportunity is going to easy to make a decision on but learning to say yes to scary things has definitely changed my life. I said yes to a last minute interview, in a city I had never even heard of, and managed to get a job offer for a great opportunity in Cyber Security.

Opportunity is scary but losing an opportunity due to fear is even worse!

In Conclusion,

I learned a lot on this trip. About myself, the world and how I have fit myself into it. Now it’s time to stop trying to squeeze myself into the tiny space designated for me, and carve my own place in the world.

Thank you for reading and be sure to follow me on Twitter at @blackgirlcyber ! I’ll be back with more insights from LA very soon 😉

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