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Female Disruptors: Mari Nazary of Bloom Institute of Technology On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Know your strengths. But don’t stop there. Use and lean on your strengths instead of constantly trying to level up your weaknesses. As I grow in my career, I’ve found this is great advice for leading, too. Not everybody’s the same. Each member of a team has inherent strengths, and letting them shine is the best way to lead. People feel successful and rewarded when they’re able to tap into what they’re best at, rather than feeling like they never measure up.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mari Nazary.

Mari Nazary is Chief Experience Officer at Bloom Institute of Technology, where she focuses on delivering an unmatched learning experience that yields the best possible outcomes for BloomTech learners and hiring companies. She is rethinking the education experience to create an accelerated path to employment in tech — accessible to more people who have traditionally been underserved by higher education. She lives in Miami, Florida with her husband and son.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My background had a big influence on where I’ve ended up. I come from an immigrant family: My parents were born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan. They had to make sense of a totally different world when they moved to Queens, NY. My older sister and I were their de facto translators growing up.

My parents stressed the importance of education for me and my two sisters. I started tutoring other kids in my elementary school when I was in the fifth grade. I still remember how excited I felt when I saw them understand something — those “aha” moments lit me up!

I went on to study classics, Spanish, and linguistics. I never lost sight of wanting to help others learn, so I joined Rosetta Stone — a revolutionary company at the time — to develop its first online classroom experience. I then focused on instructional design and product development at Education First, Voxy, and DataCamp.

At one point, I took a computer science course at a prestigious university. On the first day of class, the professor lectured for three hours, and we didn’t write a single line of code. After class, I asked him when we’d begin the hands-on portion of the course so we could practice what he was teaching. He explained to me that he’d been teaching for decades, that he knew how to best teach, and he was going to keep on teaching that way.

I walked out of that classroom and never went back.

Since then, I’ve built my career on questioning “how it’s always been done” to create results-driven learning experiences that work for students.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

As the Chief Experience Officer of Bloom Institute of Technology, I lead the design of our online programs and learner experience. We’re hyper-focused on meeting the needs of motivated learners underserved by traditional higher education. Every detail of the program experience, from curriculum to career guidance to post-graduation support, is focused on a single goal: helping learners get a better, more rewarding, and higher paying job. I wish this work weren’t so out of the ordinary, but jobs-focused education is less common than it should be.

Too often, work — especially in the tech field — is like a fancy club or gated community. If you’re a member, you get access to all the benefits. You have better opportunities. And once you’re in those opportunities, you pull up more people behind you who are like you — who are already in the club.

That kind of exclusion infuriates me. It’s why I’m so proud to be part of BloomTech, where we provide an accessible, direct, and accelerated path to higher income and a tech career.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Fair warning: This mistake isn’t particularly funny, but I carry its lesson to this day — so I think it’s worth sharing.

My legal name, and what my family calls me, is Morwarid. It’s a Persian pearl that means “pearl.” It’s also a lot of consonants, and anytime someone sees it, you can see the look of panic on their face. So in high school, I shortened my name to Mari.

During one of my first jobs, I was meeting with a director within the company, and he mispronounced my name — he called me Mary, like “cherry.” I didn’t correct him. It was an awkward moment, and the uncomfortable situation just spread. My coworkers felt awkward on my behalf and didn’t know if they should correct him. Then other people started calling me Mary. It was a mess.

Now I correct people much more readily. “It’s Mari, like ‘sorry,’” I say, to everyone from venture capitalists to CEOs to candidates I’m hiring. Names are powerful, and everyone deserves to hear their name said correctly.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

My mom has been my mentor from day one. When I was little, if I wanted to give up or I was falling behind in class, she’d say, “Those other people can do it. Why can’t you?” Her point was that I shouldn’t sell myself short. She was right. Whenever I felt like I didn’t understand something, I’d ask myself, what am I not getting? Then I’d go figure it out.

I’ve internalized my mom’s voice to the point where I ask myself, “Why can’t you do it?” — but for others. Everyone has the potential to learn, code, build a website, build a regression model — all of it. Human beings don’t lack potential. They just need a GPS. We’re designing BloomTech courses to be that guide and a cheerleader along the way. We surround learners with resources like live instruction, career success coaches, office hours in the day and evenings so they can get help when they need it. That way they’re eliminating barriers to learning and gaining confidence.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Too often, people think distraction equals disruption. If a company or a person is doing something different, but it doesn’t make a difference, it’s gratuitous, not disruptive.

True disruption is tied to accessibility and opportunity. Are changes a net positive for opportunity or accessibility? That comes from rethinking an existing model to make it better.

I think of Uber. It offered both customers and drivers more access, flexibility, and opportunity. Drivers were able to make money on their own schedule by using a commodity they already had — their car. Passengers benefited, too. That led to other ridesharing companies, and the old model — taxis — adopted things like apps and more transparent pricing to compete.

At BloomTech, we’re trying to disrupt higher education and formal education. We’re providing people a faster path to the jobs that used to be reserved for only those who had the time and financial resources to get a four-year college degree. It’s my ultimate goal to contribute to a statistically significant change in the demographics of people holding tech jobs.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

The first one: Know your strengths. But don’t stop there. Use and lean on your strengths instead of constantly trying to level up your weaknesses. As I grow in my career, I’ve found this is great advice for leading, too. Not everybody’s the same. Each member of a team has inherent strengths, and letting them shine is the best way to lead. People feel successful and rewarded when they’re able to tap into what they’re best at, rather than feeling like they never measure up.

Another one is to tap into your experience as an outsider. When I was an undergrad at Barnard, I think I was the only student of Afghan heritage. I felt different from most of the students. My parents couldn’t afford to pay for my college and I earned scholarships and grants on my own to get there. I didn’t have a Kate Spade backpack; I did work study; I didn’t look like my classmates.

It was sometimes hard at the time, but those experiences allow me to empathize with people who aren’t members of the fancy club. I can better understand our learners, many of whom have been left out of opportunities because of their background or life circumstances. That perspective pushes me to create a more inclusive team and a learning experience that works for more people.

Finally, a mentor reminded me that delegating gives people room to grow. It can become second-nature to take on more and more, to add things to your list, especially as a woman and a mom. At one point in my career, I had put my name next to all these OKRs in my department. My mentor told me to delegate. You know what? I realized that empowering others to take on responsibilities, too, allowed them to move in and move up.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I can’t stop talking about making BloomTech even more jobs-driven. We’re implementing changes literally every day to make tech education more accessible to more people. For example, we’ve made changes based on feedback from hiring managers who said our graduates needed to better communicate about their code. Our curriculum continues to focus on technical proficiency, and we’ve incorporated computational thinking and professional skills as well. We help them practice explaining their thinking and whiteboarding. We support them in producing and refining what we call career artifacts, such as their LinkedIn profile, GitHub profile, and resume.

The career aspect of our programs are now baked into the curriculum, which makes sense, since everything we do is designed to help our learners find and thrive in rewarding careers. Learners can’t move on in a unit until they pass everything, from technical sprints to earning a solid score on the General Coding Assessment, which is often used as a filtering mechanism by hiring managers. They can repeat the parts they don’t pass, and we support them throughout. That way they’re ready to be hired as soon as they graduate.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I could talk about so many challenges faced by female disruptors, unfortunately. I wish this didn’t even have to be a question. Layer on top being a woman of color in an industry that has representation issues and you have even more to discuss.

First off, risky or disruptive ideas are often more palatable coming from a man rather than a woman. By definition, unconventional ideas disrupt the status quo, and that can ruffle feathers. So from the get-go, that gets in the way of the pressure for women to be “likable.” Plus, women are too seldom seen as pioneers, creatives, and entrepreneurs. That means people sometimes fail to see their ideas as pioneering, creative, or entrepreneurial.

So many times in my career, I have offered new ideas only to see someone else get credit for them. As female disruptors, we have to find ways to amplify our voices without being perceived as pushy.

It’s really too bad because we end up splitting our energy between innovation and the delicate work of not offending people. It’s a waste.

I wish I didn’t have to share tips on how to navigate offering your best to make your industry better. One thing I’ve found that helps is to share your opinion in writing. It’s especially useful in today’s world, when it may be uncomfortable to jump into the conversation over Zoom. This strategy has the added benefit of connecting your opinion to you so you get credit.

I’m thrilled that most of these issues don’t apply to me in my current role. Not everyone works in as supportive an environment as BloomTech’s leadership team, though. I hope that talking about disparities helps nudge all workplaces toward welcoming minimized voices and innovative ideas.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

This isn’t business-related, but one of the most impactful disruptors in the parenting space has been Emily Oster. Her data-driven parenting books, such as Cribsheet and Expecting Better, cut through the noise and are a total departure from the usual unhelpful parenting advice.

It was very nerve-wracking to have someone else’s life in my hands when I had my son. It’s overwhelming. You have to wade through unsolicited advice, which always seems to contradict the wise words you heard from someone else just minutes before.

Reading her books helped me relax a little because she doesn’t tell you what to do. She dives into the data, shares what you should consider as tradeoffs, and gives you tools to figure out what works best for your family.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I wish people would listen more and talk less. This applies at home, at work, and even at a geopolitical scale. Miscommunications arise when people talk over each other or are just waiting to get airtime.

We can learn so much by listening. Pay attention to other perspectives, especially when you disagree. Focus on the other person’s story rather than formulating your own opinions or counterarguments.

A good rule of thumb: Every time you want to talk, wait five seconds. That small change would be a movement I could get behind.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I recently read something that hit hard: Be the adult you wish you had growing up. It changed how I look at everything. Being a parent, I’m always questioning how I’m doing. Am I focusing on what I should focus on? Am I spending too much time on my phone? Is my son getting what he needs?

Thinking about what I wanted and needed as a child crystalizes the kind of parent I want to be.

You can look at just about every aspect of your life through this lens. I want to build the type of school I wish I had and, more importantly, our learners wish they’d had. Thinking about our learners’ needs first guides all my decisions.

How can our readers follow you online?

I’m active on LinkedIn; you can also follow along with the exciting jobs-driven school developments at BloomTech.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

It was my pleasure — thank you!

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.