An Open Letter to Talia…From an Ex-Yelper
As I’m writing this, it’s Sunday night and now approaching the wee hours of Monday morning. No doubt at this point you have gone viral. Over the weekend your Medium post has amassed 2k+ likes and 400+ comments. Buzzfeed News, which has interviewed you for “This Woman’s Post On Poverty Went Viral And She Lost Her Job” (David Mack) has over 400k hits and is trending. In fact as I’m writing this the numbers keep rising, so I’ll stop updating my drafts from here on out to reflect those. Countless articles are now published across Quartz, Business Insider, Forbes, CNN, Recode, SFist, op-eds about feeding Jeremy Stoppelman to the sharks, an “Open Letter to All Millennials Like Talia…” (Stefanie Williams), countless others translated into languages across the globe. Google search thanks you. Wait. Sorry. I mean Alphabet.
Congratulations, you are officially published and have press to your name to boot.
As a former Yelper, I want to share a story about graduating with a degree less valued than your own in the Bay Area, someone inside the company who took a chance on hiring me, and little thing called working your ass off until you “make it”. God knows this entire endeavor I’m about to share took way longer than the jeez I have to be in this role for a WHOLE YEAR before I can move up? naiveté that seemed to surface in your rant.
All of this as a means to put things into perspective. Because by the time this goes live, it’ll be Monday morning in San Francisco and you’ll likely be wondering “what the f* just happened” over the weekend.
Three years prior to starting at Yelp I graduated in 2008 from UC Santa Barbara with a B.F.A. in Dance and Minor in Applied Psychology, the economy in shambles. The Great Recession was in its second year making the job prospects dismal for anyone and everyone. Us older millennials (LOL) thought pursuing a degree meant job security, stability, making a viable income, and dare I say, a living wage. A scant number of friends from UCSB I knew were actually lucky enough to have those things post-grad. According to popular Bay Area culture deeply rooted in S.T.E.M. education (shoutout to my Mission San Jose High School peeps), I was already considered at a disadvantage by pursuing a degree in ‘the arts’ (You’ll starve, they said! Nobody will hire you with that degree, they said!). A year prior to graduation kidney failure put my budding career as a pro dancer on hold, full stop. I left school with $20k+ in student loan debt, at that time a worthless degree, and could claim merely one administrative internship under my belt. Sound familiar? It was against most odds to have actually completed my degree, let alone see positive job prospects post-graduation. Now that I think about it the former had a higher chance of success.
At this point, I was still a dependent under my parents’ insurance and dual coverage from Medicare due to ESRD (End Stage Renal Disease). I was also living at home, unemployed, on hemodialysis, and actively scraping Craigslist for any and all opportunities to gain any semblance of “work experience”, while grabbing as many temp offers with staffing agencies with elation and squirreling away what little funds I made. I simply had no financial capability to find my own apartment at the time; being smart I lived within my means. I neither had a credit card nor an apartment. Rather, I had it in mind that if I couldn’t truly afford those “luxuries”, I wasn’t going to.
Six months post-graduation I landed my first job after college at Lululemon Athletica on the Peninsula as an ‘Educator’. Paid peanuts, we were expected to wear the gear (a single article of clothing cost more than what I made in a shift), and we weren’t allowed to wear something by simply taking it off the rack and return it at the end of the day. We did get free Yoga classes, but free classes, like peanuts, don’t pay the bills. After a few months in the role, though I loved the culture, I started looking for better prospects in an office setting and landed an entry-level admin job at a small wellness center. The pay was okay but alas I was there for a brief six months because it was a less than ideal work environment. The only (rookie) mistake I made was searching for another job while on the job, instead of posting about how crappy the company was online and slamming their founder.
Still living at home with my parents, and with some decent customer service/admin experience under my belt, in 2009 I was offered a job at a boutique cupcake bakery working with an incredible team and getting paid $11/hr before taxes to take orders by hand, answer phones, fold boxes, make deliveries, run errands, and clean fridges. Around this time I also taught ballet once a week to tweens in order to supplement my income. Teaching paid twice as much as the bakery, but alas, it was only once a week. All these roles offered zero benefits and required braving traffic and commutes across bridges (woah..yeah..bridges). Free snacks? I got to eat free cupcakes, if that counts. Thnks fr th mmmms.
About this time (mid-2010), I saved enough money to move out of my parents’ place — and using this thing called budgeting — made sure I could actually pay for my tiny ass apartment across in the bay on the Peninsula for $750/month AND my cell phone, car insurance, utilities, and groceries. My partner (who was living in SF at the time) would come over and had to shower sideways because he couldn’t fit facing straight on. The bathroom door wouldn’t close when you sat down on the toilet, because your knees would jut out into the room. There was no central heating, so naturally, I used a space heater. You know, ’cause it gets chilly here in da bey.
Just shy of two years at the bakery and making closer to $14/hr (still no benefits), I stumbled upon Yelp’s opening for an entry-level Recruiting Coordinator role. After pulling together the best cover letter I could manage given my limited experience (okay fine…no experience in a corporate setting) and sending my resume in cold (I wasn’t referred in), I prayed for an interview.
And I got it. The interviews and the job.
The position was on contract at $20/hr before taxes (a.k.a. 1099-MISC). I had to negotiate the pay — not the fact that I was an IC, sorry no choice there! Still no benefits. This was it, I thought. I finally got my foot in the door at a tech company I admired, no prior experience, after busting my ass the last three years, taking up stints in retail, food service, teaching dance, and office jobs, I — had — made — it. Then the real work started.
Here’s where we meet, Talia. Well, at least in terms of age. By this point I, like you, was 25.
During my first week, my then-manager immediately sat down for our first 1:1 asking me:
- What are your priorities / most important things to get done this quarter?
- What are you most interested and excited to work on?
- What do we (Yelp) need to do in order for you to obtain your career goals?
These check-ins were my gateway into knowing what I needed to do in order to advance into a full-time role, while also creating a viable career path. They didn’t stop after our initial conversation but kept going through each month, each quarter. Talia, I’d be curious to know if you’ve had the same types of conversations with your former manager? We talked about these three areas constantly as the projects, tasks, and work piled up.
My manager had hundreds of folks to pick from to hire into this role — likely more qualified, with a better degree on their resume, but this was an opportunity that landed in my court, so why would I go and blow it?
The learning curve for the position was steep AF (for me at that time), there were days where I had no idea what I was doing. Days where I failed miserably, peaks and valleys where I would go through immense periods of stress, then joy when my brain finally was able to wrap itself around the position. As best as I could, I managed these waves with aplomb. A fake it until you make it sort of deal. While still busting my ass at work, I made it a point to never miss 5am dialysis treatments down in the Peninsula (oh yeah, that was still going on three days a week), before heading up to the city to work, commuting 45-minutes everyday into the city on BART, staying late, I did everything in my power to prove myself as a regular employee.
After the first few months my manager sat down with me during our 1:1 and excitedly offered me a full-time role — knowing full well this was something I desperately wanted but also something I worked for Every. Damn. Day. Wow! Finally! Three years after graduation, I had my own health insurance, dental, vision, perks, and O-M-G stock options.
I would lose my parents’ coverage a year later at the age of 26. Serendipity? Nope. Just the messed up healthcare system in our country.
Talia, I worked as a Recruiting Coordinator for close to two years before I asked for a title change, which in the staffing world is a bottom of the barrel position. However, during that time I did everything within AND outside my JD to continue proving my worth. I saved up, didn’t excessively party, barely went out, and pulled in the overtime during the crazy university recruiting seasons. It was only then I was given an “upgraded” title change and raise, after researching and presenting the facts of my own performance to my manager. Sure, as my financial situation improved, I allowed myself little luxurious.
Bourbon was none of them.
Having now been away from Yelp for 2 years this April, I look back on my time and don’t regret a minute of it. Nor do I regret the three years prior to Yelp, and time/effort spent to get there.
Would I do those first three again if I had a choice? Probably not. But that’s the lesson here.
With this Talia, I leave you with a few insights:
- It’s the norm to work in a position at any company for at least a year before talking about advancing. Especially a role immediately out of college. Be okay with it. Do what you can in your power to earn it, whatever it may be (a department transfer, a promotion, whatever you desire). Pay your dues, girlfriend.
- Your life circumstances are your own, and I’m proud of you for trying to change that by surfacing the inequalities in the tech industry. There are so many. But at the end of the day, it is also YOUR responsibility as a fully functioning adult post-graduation to figure “life” out, whatever that may be. It’s not the responsibility of Jeremy, Mike G., Patty, Yelp, Eat24, mine, nor your Venmo/PayPal/Square donors. It’s wholly yours.
- Delayed reactions are best when the initial impetus to write stems from anger/frustration. Better is an hour or a day removed, than a post to prove. Tweeting your CEO continuously and posting a public “shame on you…” creates great buzz for the media who will jump on any story involving a tech company these days (look at Uber). But hun, it also makes one look desperately unprofessional, and potentially unemployable in the near term. Also, not cute.
- Reprioritize what is important to you and figure out how you can manifest it within your means, and know it takes a long ass time. If it’s writing memes, getting published, becoming a writer, so be it — but know you’ll have to work at it way longer than just a year and harder than what it takes to type out a 140 character Tweet. Everything takes a long ass time (there, I repeated it for emphasis). Is it really that important to have a shiny new car, a brand new credit card, an apartment you can’t afford? Or is it pursuing what you love to do and knowing life’s not a race but a marathon?
- Please dear, take a class on budgeting and basic financial management. We as millennials of all ages could use a refresher TBQH.
In closing, to the Yelp team and Jeremy, do your due diligence towards every one of your employees (see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) and the return in investment will be great. Retention will skyrocket. That means across Sales, Eng/Product, Recruiting, HR, BizDev, and yes, Customer Support. Talia was certainly in a situation that demanded swift action but something didn’t align in time to solve it.
There are undoubtedly others sitting nearby who are still in her situation equally as frustrated, and are looking to you for guidance.
In full disclosure I was was neither paid or endorsed for writing this for Yelp/Eat24. It is certainly and absolutely based on personal experience. In HR there are two sides to every story, and I have no insight into what has been or has not been discussed internally at Yelp/Eat24.
“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” ~ Jean-Jacques Rousseau