REACHing Higher: My First Week at LinkedIn

My first week at LinkedIn was magical. Here’s the scoop.

I’ve had a long ass journey into tech. Seriously. As a black lesbian woman developer (read: super unicorn, wee!), I’ve experienced things I wish of no one in their path to success in their career. Microagressions, othering, etc. Through the highs and lows, however, I’ve never felt more proud of myself than on my first day at LinkedIn.

Actual image I took of my office entrance… BEAUTIFUL.

Five years ago, I laid sobbing on my mother’s floor. I can distinctively remember the day — recalling it hurts, but the memory keeps me humble. My children and I had nowhere else to go and few possessions, starting anew after being a stay-at-home mom for years. With zero dollars in my pocket and two tots depending on me, I assessed the things that brought me happiness. I’ve been attached to a computer since my first at 14, cruising AOL 3.0 chat rooms that my mom didn’t know I entered. While working as a domestic engineer (a better title, IMO), I learned that my love of customizing Myspace pages could turn into a career, and started freelancing for moms like me. I was passionate about helping people, and this passion drove my career. I used CMS platforms like Wordpress and Weebly to build sites for clients, but wanted to take it to the next level. I wanted to stop being afraid to code (and afraid of math) and just do it. Radical action, undying passion, and being super broke prompted my journey into tech, and I learned through self-teaching, mentors, and boot camps.

Through it all, LinkedIn has been an important part of my story. A while back, I sent an inMail to a CEO and was offered a job, just like that. I’ve built over 3,500 connections since I started that have helped me to find work and support my family through some really rough times. Each incremental success that I received in my career I documented on my profile, and opportunities came my way. I believed in the product way before I ever stepped foot inside its doors.

Imagine carrying that with you, walking into your first day of work. I felt the weight of expectation lifted, and so much pride and excitement to walk into my new journey. I am here at this company that I’ve loved for years because my skills are appreciated. Because my actions were recognized. Because I’m damn good at what I do and can motivate the next generation to be their own shade of epic. I wanted to SHOUT, okay? I wanted to stand in the middle of the parking lot Hitting the Quan and shouting I MADE IT, but I resorted to internal screaming. It felt so powerful to have achieved this within five years, and I’ve endured homelessness, extreme poverty, hundreds of rejection letters and no-replies, and more. But I’ve made it to a company that I love, who believes in me enough to extend an opportunity to lead a new way of hiring in Silicon Valley. My excitement was palpable!

They did it better than I did!

The REACH Program is a pilot apprenticeship program with a belief that top talent can be found in non-traditional backgrounds and experiences. Breaking the mold of the traditional hiring standard (Ivy League School? Check. CS Degree? Check.), applicants are considered holistically and selection is primarily based on PASSION. How cool is that? My cohort of 28 and I (of 750+ applicants considered for the apprenticeship) are optometrists, digital production experts, and lindy hoppers. We’ve followed a ton of different paths to get here, but the joy expressed on each of our faces during orientation showed the same quiet disbelief, slight ‘what if’ anxiousness, and plenty of internal screaming. We made it, and I’m so proud to be among such talented people and to help usher in a new wave of engineers who represent different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences.

My first week was a whirlwind and packed with more information than I thought I could handle, but I felt energized the whole week! Learning about access, free food (all three meals and any snack you’d like, all healthy, with all of the toppings and sauces you could imagine, plus homemade ice cream), company culture, and procedures felt so exciting to me, and through orientation with the uber talented facilitator, I felt welcomed from day one. I’ll go through a quick rundown:

Day 1: Orientation

This day was all about introductions, setting the pace, and getting us set up to be released to our managers and teams. We learned about culture, community, benefits, and more. I learned about my team assignment and location (go SF Sales Navigator team!) and was filled with pride about where I work and what we do to help so many others in their careers. Most importantly, I got to learn just how wonderful the folks I’d learn and grow with in the REACH program are through icebreaker exercises. It was an awesome intro to the company, and I left feeling as excited as I came. I Hit the Quan when I got home, but not at all successfully. More like gently tapping the Quan.

Let me pause on the benefits for a second because they are amazing. Every benefit offered is set up for me to be my authentic self and my best version. I’ve never earned this level of compensation in my life, and to have benefits that compliment this new stage of my journey is just, I can’t even. I plan to learn acoustic guitar (offered right on campus), pick up weightlifting and run a marathon this summer (at the awesome gym facilities on campus), gain tips on leadership by a personal coach assigned to me for my success, and to evangelize engineering and teach underprivileged youth to code through volunteerism (which I’ll do via LinkedIn For Good). I want this for so many others, and I’ll do my best to help increase tech access and education so that more women who look like me could be at desks adjacent to mine. The REACH program is a great step in the right direction!

Day 2: Meet the Team

We all went to our offices on the next day to get acquainted with our team and individual projects. I reported to my desk at the SF office, where I was warmly met by my awesome mentor and manager. I learned about the projects I’d be working on and got to tour our office. I’ve walked past this building so many times in my travels in San Francisco, but never dreamed I’d visit. Yet, here I am, arriving at my desk. Surreal af. I felt myself feeling like I didn’t belong, like a tourist, and like someone would take my access card and yell, “SIKE! You don’t work here,” but all through the day I felt affirmed that everyone around me is here for my success. It empowered and motivated me to learn as much as I could about every aspect of my job, building, and the location of each smoothie bar in the building. Green smoothies are life. I’ve only found one smoothie bar so far!

Day 3–4: Absorb, Break Things, and Jeff

Day three and four were similar- those in the REACH program were all now settling into their teams, learning conventions and finishing up on new hire stuff. I got to see exactly what I was working on and learned about how my piece of the puzzle would be used in public. Something I am working on will directly impact the livelihoods of professionals — I’ll try not to break it, guys (no worries- there’s tons of thoughtful code reviews before that happens)!

We got to attend our first All Hands meeting — I’d tell you about it, but what happens in all hands stays in all hands! Here’s a pic of some of my cohort members and our leader, Jeff Weiner (not pictured: me and a few other apprentices who were in a different office).

We’re reaching higher!

Being assured that it’s ok to explore meant a lot to me, as it wasn’t something honored in other jobs, like at all. As with any company, there are conventions we follow, but I have the freedom to think about and share different approaches to a problem or feature. There’s even a way to share ideas about our products with other teams when inspiration strikes. We’re empowered to help each other grow in our careers, and that’s something that resonates highly with me. I’m happy to work at a company that supports this uplifting spirit.

Day 5: Teambuilding and Super Explorers

Our last day of the week was all about team building. The REACH cohort met and learned about the employee resource groups offered, who provide safe spaces, events, and resources for those of all walks of life. We also got to learn about other benefits, chat VR with the VP of Product, take 5 Dynamics training and learn about our work styles (I’m the cohort idea maven), and enjoy lunch on the patio in Sunnyvale. Everyone looked both exhausted and exuberant — while we still felt joyful for the experience, the rush of new info seemed to be catching up to us all! Everyone I talked to at the evening mixer mentioned ‘staying in’ as one of their plans for the weekend.

To reflect on the week, I’m still kinda in disbelief that I’m here, but I know that I deserve this seat. I’ve worked hard to get to a place where I could inspire other black women to be engineers. I’ve fought to provide a better life for my kids and family. I’ve put in the hours, the tears, and the motivation to learn to program and teach it to others. I’m forever thankful to LinkedIn for seeing this in me, and for giving me an opportunity to walk into my purpose. Tears, y’all, as I finish this.

I’m so excited for the weeks to come and plan to keep blogging my experience throughout my 6-month apprenticeship with REACH. Leave your comments below about aspects of working for LinkedIn that you’re curious about, and I’ll answer (if I can).

Stay tuned and thank you for your positive energy. You helped to get me here, too. ❤

(This was originally published here.)