By the time you read this, i’ll be on a plane from New York to Texas, starting over. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I haven’t traveled enough or lived many places. So i’m leaving not because I have failed or was pushed out, but because I have succeeded at so many things. I feel an unimaginable sense of pride and an overwhelming amount of love. I have worked for some really amazing companies. Each role preparing me for the next. Most important, I have met some amazing people, who have all helped me grow in different ways. One of the major things i’ve learned about success, is that it is a very personal thing. You have to feel it deep down in your soul, because there will always be someone who has something to say about what you have or haven’t done. Or what you have or haven’t said.
In 13 years post college graduation I made it from a Word Processor, reformatting resumes for an outplacement company in New Jersey to Associate Director, QA for a digital agency in New York, reporting directly to the SVP of Technology. I’m thankful for every life lesson along the way.
Why I never allow anyone to tell me my degrees and certifications are just a piece of paper
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” ~ Nelson Mandela
Born and raised in Newark, NJ, I grew up in a household where the importance of education was stressed on a daily basis. My parents also told my sister’s and I, it’s what you do with your education that really counts in the end. Both of my parents are high school graduates. My mother was the family’s first college graduate. She graduated from business college when my older sister and I were very young. In 2002, I graduated from Johnson & Wales University in Providence RI, with my Bachelor’s Degree in Information Science. Prior to that, I graduated with an Associate’s Degree in Applied Computer Science. Even though I was a jobless graduate I still had hope. While I completely agree that there are different forms of education, I completely disagree with telling someone that their degree is just a piece of paper. It is true that the university I attended has a more advanced technology program now, than they did when I graduated, but that’s also a sign of the times. I don’t blame them for my post college challenges. As they were and are still an “accredited” university and I earned both of my degrees through hard work. I believe as with many things school is an institution, it was my job after college to do more with my degree, if I wanted more.
Why I take some career advice, but not all
“Re-xamine all that you have been told and dismiss what insults your soul” ~ Walt Whitman
With all the advice I was given while embarking on my new journey, I wasn’t sure what advice to actually take at times. One piece of advice I had gotten, was from a friend, when I had told her I wasn’t getting any responses back on my resume, her advice to me was to change my name on my resume. The reason was because she felt my name did not fit into a corporate environment. She advised that no one would want to hire someone named, “Aqueelah”. I was immediately insulted, but I now realize she was giving me advice based on what she knew. As not long after I started to see things that made me realize her theory wasn’t far off in some cases. From things as subtle as people looking at me weird when I told them my name, to things as blatant as people completely butchering it with total disregard. Rarely ever saying “Oh my apologies, is that how you pronounce it”. Overtime, after getting to know me, i’ve had different people admit to me that they thought I was a completely different person because of my name. Apparently when your name is “Aqueelah”, people are surprised when you have class and intelligence. This is not just a corporate america issue. Ironically enough my name actually means “intelligence”. It’s something I take great pride in, my parents put great effort into giving me a name I could live up to. Needless to say I never changed my name on my resume and never will. Besides, how many people can actually say their name means something that everyone wishes to seek.
Why I never listened to people when they said I should give up on a career in Tech
“I want to inspire people. I want someone to look at me and say “because of you, I didn’t give up.” ~ Unknown
I believe at some point in life, no matter the obstacles we face, we all make a conscious decision of whether or not we are going to pursue our dream or change course to pursue another dream. Whenever we make the choice not to pursue a dream, we must first look at ourselves before blaming others. At the end of the day it was our decision to say, “i’m no longer going to pursue this”. I worked very hard in college and I wasn’t going to allow anyone to dictate to me, what I was capable of. I also become very hostile, when i’m told I can’t accomplish a dream. It’s this force inside of me that needs to always prove people wrong when they doubt my abilities. I’m not one of those people who needs everyone on board with my dreams or ideas. I’m also not one of those people who is going to give up, just because someone said I should. For me being doubted is like a recipe for success, because it makes me work that much harder. I also knew that I didn’t want to simply be a consumer of technology, I wanted to be an innovator. Whenever I accomplish a big dream, I feel like i’m setting an example for my hometown. I’d like to show that you can do and be anything in this world despite obstacles.
Why I believe there is always more we can do
“Never give up. It’s like breathing — once you quit, your flame dies letting total darkness extinguish every last gasp of hope. You can’t do that. You must continue taking in even the shallowest of breaths, continue putting forth even the smallest of efforts to sustain your dreams. Don’t ever, ever, ever give up.” ~ Richelle E Goodrich
In late 2005, after taking an Oracle9i DBA Certified Associate course and passing the exam, I started to re-apply for tech positions. Getting a certification was the recommendation of a tech contact, that I had met a year prior. He said that it would probably put me in front of all the other resumes. He was right! I had received a hit and after 2 interviews I landed my first tech gig. My start date was January of 2006, which was almost 4 years post college. I remember when I landed the role, my boss at the time had been working on a promotion for me. So I immediately had to decide whether or not I was going to accept a promotion for a company I was well established in and move up the ranks immediately. Or follow a dream that I had been fighting for, for almost 4 years and go into unknown territory, where I wasn’t even sure I would make it. I chose the dream, but I thanked my boss for preparing me for the future. The majority of the skills I learned under her and at jobs prior, prepared me for different stages in my career. I also thanked my tech contact for his game changing idea, to which I would have never thought of at the time. This is why I feel that there is always more we can do, when it comes to our dreams.
Why I believe business is really business
“Work like there is someone working 24 hours a day to take it away from you” ~ Mark Cuban
In September of 2009, three years into my technology career and over one year into my second technology job, I was laid off, during a buyout. I was only on the job market for two days, but it felt longer. This isn’t some horror story where I was walked out by security with my things. I was actually treated with respect considering the circumstances. Numerous people started to immediately offer me references and by the time I had gotten home I had unsolicited linkedin references. I hold no malice with anyone for being laid off because at the time I was only “job” smart. No one really said this to me, it was something I figured out years later. At that time in my career I didn’t really do much industry research on what the competition was doing. I didn’t prepare myself for the worse case scenario of being laid off. It was never a question of whether or not I worked my butt off and knew my “job” everyone agreed with that. However, when it came to the merger and acquisition my skill set was not unique enough at the time. For me being laid off was a very personal thing and it was the best thing for my career. From that experience I learned that no matter how much people like you, “business is business.”
I’ve learned to take my own advice and be proud of myself, but i’ve also learned not to get too comfortable in any situation. When someone tells me, i’m doing a great job, I like to keep up the momentum. As a leader I strive to be respected professionally and personally, but the business woman in me knows that isn’t always possible. So I make sure that no matter what, I have people wanting encores of my work performance. I work hard to have a unique and unforgettable skill set. Being respected personally is nice but, being respected professionally makes you a deadly force.
Why I believe that hearing no, means sometimes dodging a bullet
“When I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being redirected to something better” ~ Dr Steve Maraboli
In my career i’ve been on quite a few interviews, where I didn’t match some of the qualifications. I think that a company has the right to question your skill set. I also believe they should be respectful during the process. In 2012, roughly 6 years into my technology career, I had interviewed for a role at an up and coming startup. I knew my skill set didn’t meet all the criteria, but since I landed the interview, I was going to make the best of it. I had my script together for what i’d address, as well as the things I had researched to try and impress the interviewers. I had done this before and came out with great success. I was one of the first candidates to be interviewed, as there was a line of candidates interviewing for the same position. There were two people, but only one got up to shake my hand. The other person did not. However, he was reviewing my resume. As I started to dive into discussing how I could make a great contribution to the company, the person who didn’t shake my hand immediately began to talk over me. He also chuckled a few times as he spoke, while telling me he didn’t know why my resume was in front of him. While I was still talking, he stood up and called out for the next candidate. He would have actually been my direct supervisor and the other guy was his boss. For me the problem was not that I wasn’t a good fit, it was the lack of professionalism. Very often those bullets we dodge are an act of divine intervention.
Why the story behind the photo below will warm your heart
“Remember there is no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” ~ Scott Adams
A week before my last day of work and last week in New York, I sent an email around asking my co-workers if they could take a photo with me for a motivational article I was writing. The responses were amazing. For me this photo symbolizes kindness and love of people. Even those who couldn’t make the photo expressed their support for what I was doing.
As an Associate Director, I was a respected leader as soon as I walked in the door. I had the opportunity to sit at the head of the table often. I had the opportunity to make decisions and be a part of the decision making process. I had the opportunity to build others and speak up for them. My opinion was always heard and respected. There’s this quote from Robert Greenleaf, “Good leaders must first become good servants.” Had I not experienced my career from the ground up, i’m not certain that I would have been an effective leader. I don’t think that everyone has the ability to lead just because they have a particular skill set. “Effective leaders need to be unselfish heroes and heroines very often and in my personal opinion, that’s not something everyone is capable of. Selfish leaders are bad for people, which is bad for business, because people build businesses.”~ Aqueelah Grant
Thank you to Geometry Global for giving me a “Queen’s” see you soon, because this is not the end of our friendship. One thing i’d like to recognize about Geometry Global and the other WPP brands is that they are dedicated to diversity. The pressure of being a great cultural fit for the company is not something you come in worrying about. Geometry Global and other WPP brands work around the clock with in-house established cultural committees to ensure that its employees feel comfortable at work. There is also a host of courses on management, leadership, work life balance and more that employees participate in.
Why I wish I could go back in time
“The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution I know that works, is the family” ~ Lee Lacocca
My mother and father are two of the most amazing people. Their life advice has always been timeless. Some things i’ve listened to and some things i’ve been delayed in understanding. As sometimes understanding can only come from life experiences. If I could go back in time, I would have spent less time thinking that everything I was going through was the end of the world. What we fail to realize when we don’t quite have the life we want, the people who usually get the brunt of our anguish and pain are those who love us the most. We don’t take enough time to realize that the people who really matter are those who have been in our corner from day one. One thing my parents have always told me, is that they would always have my back and time and time again they prove it. So nowadays I try to make up for those moments I didn’t realize this. Sometimes I even say, “Mom and Dad i’m sorry”. Though they tell me I have nothing to apologize for, it’s still something I feel I owe them for always giving me the best of what they had.
What i’ve learned about success
“Success is never delayed, it’s our own ignorance, that won’t allow us to see it” ~ Aqueelah Grant
Success is family. Success is friends. Success is being able to say, “thank you”. Success is not always waiting for Friday to be happy. Success is feeling accomplished everyday you go home, no matter what your day was like. Success is being respected as a leader. Success is doing what many said you couldn’t and what you thought you couldn’t. Success is maturing and getting off your own high horse. Success is knowing you can’t control everyone’s actions but, you can control your own. Success is knowing when to shut up. Success is knowing when to listen. Success is knowing when to speak up. Success is forgiveness and that includes forgiveness of self. Success is realizing there is always more to learn. Success is finally finding peace. Success is understanding that sometimes you have to “go in” with no backup. Success is being proud of your own story because….“If we all had the same story to share, there would be no story to tell” ~ Aqueelah Grant
My 13 year career has helped me develop myself not only as a technology professional, but as a business woman. I hope that Texas treats me kind but if it doesn’t, i’m prepared. This isn’t my first rodeo!
Additional companies i’d like to thank:
Lee Hecht Harrison, F. Schumacher & Co., CNNMoney.com, the Feedroom, Tremor Video, Tribal Worldwide, Evoke Health, utest.com, The Talener Group, Creative Circle, Solomon Page, Jobspring Partners, Workbridge Associates, blacksintechnology.net, blackgirlscode.com, Girl Developit NYC, This Developers Life, Leanin.org, ISPOSSIBLE In Tech