My Journey to Airbnb — Beti Gathegi

From exploring careers across continents to now helping others find their place at Airbnb.

After trying a series of careers ranging from television production to university communications and marketing, Beti Gathegi works as a Senior Program Manager on the TechED (technical education) team at Airbnb. When she’s not lurking in the #bookworms Airbnb Slack channel, you can find Beti leading Bootcamp, our onboarding program for new technical hires, which takes engineers and data scientists through their first commit at Airbnb. Before this role, Beti was a recruiting program manager for Connect, Airbnb’s engineering apprenticeship program targeted at people from non-traditional technical backgrounds.

Beti herself has a non-traditional background, with a degree in journalism and several experiences outside the tech industry, including substantial time abroad. She is a major advocate for diversity and inclusion; part of her role in leading Bootcamp involves setting the company’s culture and encouraging new hires to shape the culture in their own unique ways.

Setting my own direction

I describe myself as half East Coast, half West Coast, with a bit of time abroad added in. I’m the child of Kenyan immigrants and I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, in a town called Albany, California. When I was 15, I moved to the East Coast, and it would be many years before I found myself back in the Bay Area.

For a long time, I wanted to be a journalist. To that end, I studied journalism in college as part of my communications degree. I was never fixated on a specific path and certainly explored a lot to reach where I am now. My father, who pivoted later in life by getting a law degree around age 40, was my guiding light in terms of being willing to try new things. I find personal exploration liberating — crafting my own, organic path gave me a chance to figure out my likes and dislikes, as well as my skills and growth opportunities.

Part of my outlook on life is that it’s okay to stop something that isn’t right for yourself. Sometimes there can be a lot of inertia that makes it hard to pause and change directions, but I think making a decision to pursue another path is really brave and can be worn as a badge of honor. In my case, I started a master’s in liberal arts in which I was studying the South Asian diaspora and the children of Indian immigrants in particular. Inspired by the stories of others, I was eager to discover more about my own background and history. I chose to leave my program to go live in Kenya and experience Kenyan culture for myself. Until that point, I’d only been to Kenya with my family, so this was a new lens to see the country on my own.

Living and working in three continents

Living in Kenya was a transformative experience and helped me understand my own identity more deeply. Having previously been told, by some, that I’m not Kenyan enough or not American enough, actually living in Kenya and encountering the sheer diversity of people made me realize there’s no singular way to be Kenyan, just like there’s no one way to be American or any culture for that matter. During my time abroad, I also realized I was ready to get more hands-on experience and enter the working world.

Ready to live a life of adventure, I moved to New York City but stumbled into a financial crisis when seemingly everyone was getting laid off. I worked retail for a little while but otherwise didn’t last too long in New York. This was just the first in a series of new experiences, my next being at a TV production firm where I was an assistant, and where to this day I have an IMDB credit for four episodes of the show Swamp Men on National Geographic. If that wasn’t enough, I also had jobs writing TV quizzes for Nielsen, doing marketing for the University of South Florida, and working at an Australian Aboriginal art gallery.

Eventually, I happened upon the tech industry when a friend recruited me to join Lyft in a customer support role. This was a completely new universe to me and I took every opportunity to get involved and apply my skills to a growing company. Practically by accident, my initiative to gather people via the company’s internal email list turned into Employee Resource Groups or ERGs. I helped form the Black ERG and Women’s luncheon, while also supporting others who wanted to create similar spaces for their communities. Very organically, I was taking a big part in the diversity and belonging conversation and making sure to educate myself to be a thoughtful contributor to these discussions. Later, this turned into an official job focused on Lyft’s culture, and afterward I moved to Pandora as a diversity and belonging program manager.

Onboarding to Airbnb

By the time I applied to join Airbnb, I had shifted to leading Pandora’s university recruiting program. I noticed a tremendous amount of potential in students, and found it really impactful to work on this key pipeline. That said, going directly from college to the tech industry isn’t the only way, my own career being a prime example. I jumped at the opportunity to join Airbnb as an apprenticeship program manager where I had the chance to revamp this pathway for engineers with unconventional backgrounds to join the company.

I ran the apprenticeship program for two years and while the role was primarily on the recruiting side, we worked very closely with engineering and I started to develop an interest in TechED, the team I’m on now that owns the onboarding process for Airbnb’s technical hires. I was already meeting regularly with my manager at the time, Leo, about growing in my career, so I started by sharing my goals in that setting. Leo was incredibly supportive and epitomizes how Airbnb has a culture of empowering people to explore their passions and what energizes them.

I reached out to the manager on the TechED team to express my interest in the space and not too long after, a role happened to open up. After interviewing, I got my current position leading Airbnb’s Bootcamp program, the onboarding process all software engineers and data scientists go through in their first weeks at the company. It took a ton of experiences across many other roles to arrive at my current spot, but that came with immeasurable learning and I wouldn’t have it any other way! I feel uniquely equipped to welcome people to a new experience or challenge, having gone through so many of my own.

Leading Bootcamp and onboarding others to Airbnb

My current role aligns with my passion for helping people acclimate and providing them with the resources they ended to be successful. It’s fulfilling to advocate for an incredible new hire experience, help new team members feel confident in their respective roles at Airbnb, and support them towards making their first commit or code change. I strive to be really respectful of people’s time and make Bootcamp as relevant, engaging, and valuable as possible to everyone who participates.

Onboarding is a challenging task because there are multiple variables. Typically you are onboarding people in various roles, at various levels, to various teams, which may use their own tools and process. There is a balancing act between providing general information and hyper-relevant but also highly specific information. Remote onboarding also adds its own set of challenges.

That being said, I love co-creating solutions. I get to work with incredibly smart people on the engineering and data science teams to identify and clarify our challenges, workshop ideas, execute solutions, monitor progress, and iterate. I get a ton of energy from that process and from our collaborations.

How the first weeks at work can leave a lasting impact

I’m also grateful to the many volunteers I partner with to shape the onboarding experience for our technical hires and set them up for success. For example, we pair each new hire with a buddy from their team. They serve both to scope the hire’s starter project as well as to answer the many questions that inevitably pop up in onboarding.

We have volunteers from various teams who raise their hands to host Bootcamp and lead sessions for each new hire cohort, and most of them are driven by providing a sense of belonging. Additionally, there’s a great community of collaborators across the industry to benchmark with and get mentorship from, since onboarding is a challenging problem that a lot of companies work on.

Beyond the technical parts of onboarding, Bootcamp plays a critical role in setting Airbnb’s culture. Especially in a remote work environment, the quality of onboarding can make or break whether new hires feel a sense of community and feel comfortable engaging with it themselves. We emphasize belonging and inclusivity as core values of our culture, and we welcome new hires to bring their own special qualities to integrate into our ever-evolving culture.

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