From getting fired for not having technical skills to starting my own tech companyFeatured
I’ve made many sudden moves in my career and life. If you’ve ever been scared to just jump, please read on. Case in point, as a college student, I actually left school the summer of my senior year to dance for the Washington Wizards. Dancing has always been my first love and was the reason why I moved to NYC about 10 years ago.My stint as a professional dancer didn’t last very long - about a year and a half. I started having knee and Sallie Mae issues. And after a small episode of depression, I decided it was finally time to give up my dream of going on tour with Beyoncé and start using my mathematics degree.I had no idea where to start. Most of my friends who had graduated at the same time as me had been in the corporate world for three years. Not to mention, my decision to transfer universities as a senior put me back a few semesters, so I was coming into my career about five years behind - and terrified!I figured the only way to jump in was through temp agencies. My first job ever was at an architecture firm. I needed a job and said, “Hey, why not. It’s only a temp job, right?”Wrong! After my first day of work they decided to make a role for me and just like that I began my career as an HR analyst. I was scheduling meetings and shredding things while holding a math degree.As is very on-brand for me, I immediately started to notice inefficiencies in the company’s performance management system and decided to take it on as a project. Mind you, I never make these decisions consciously. I always feel like I can do it better, so if I see something, I just go for it. I never think about why or if I’m allowed.Needless to say, after a short period, I had completely overhauled and quantified their performance management system and was quickly promoted to junior compensation analyst. Shortly afterward, I was in charge of calculating budgets, 401(k) administration, payroll, and more.After a year and a half of working in my first corporate role, I decided I was ready for something more. I made the move to my first financial services firm, AIG.At AIG, I went from being in charge of analysis for 3,000 people to 67,000. There, I would provide reports to my HR partner to help her and her business partners make decisions regarding staffing, layoffs, bonuses, and - my absolute favorite - performance management. Here, I again saw an opportunity for improvement and actually created a performance management document that was adopted by the entire firm. We had performance management software worth probably hundreds of thousands of dollars and here I was, creating an entire tracking system in Excel and making it easier for managers to rate and rank their employees.But that was just my first self-appointed project. My second was a staffing efficiency program that fell in my lap. I was working with the chief of staff to one of the largest partners in the property casualty division. He was calculating things in Excel with the filter feature and, of course, cringing at the inefficiency. I asked him if I could take a stab at putting together formulas that will automatically calculate things for him. He loved it and officially brought me on board as a special appointment. My name was being passed around in meetings and people started to find out who I was.But being an African-American woman in a mostly male environment is tough. It became very clear that there were a lot of things I wasn’t prepared for and a lot of experiences I just didn’t have. I say all the time that the conversations around the dinner table in a home of a black family are much different than other families. So while white kids are hearing about their father’s experiences with Bob at the office, black families are discussing police brutality and voter suppression. Think about that the next time you speak about diversity and inclusion. It’s not just getting us in the room, it’s also about helping us prepare to sit at the table. But I digress...Eventually, my boss told me that I was not ready for this big girl role, so while HR was restructuring, those at my level of HR analyst were let go as our role was seen as duplicative. I knew for a while that this was coming, but I held off on finding a job until the very last minute. As luck would have it, the first resume I sent was to one of the fastest growing investment banks in the U.S. As my friend said, I was, “officially in the big leagues”.I won’t bore you with the details of this role but as I was a math major, I did a lot of computer science and physics coursework while in college and always had an interest in the tech industry. So after my obligatory year and a half in HR, I decided it was time for me to do what I really was interested in: tech!I had a few choices. Either I was going to go back to University to get my MBA so that I could matriculate into becoming a tech investment banker or I was going to a bootcamp to learn how to code and start from the bottom in the tech startup scene. I knew that I did not want to start from the bottom, so I chose a combination of both. I figured my best bet would be to matriculate into banking as an analyst and work in the technology sector. That way, I could learn how tech companies work, how they raise money, and how they think about their revenue streams and drivers by working as a banker. My plan was to be a tech CEO one day, so this was always a means to an end.With my plan in place, I convinced the recruiters to let me come in with the next class of bankers and was awarded an analyst position. I was a 33 year old working in a 22 year old’s role. Sleepless nights. Confusion. Disrespect. Crossing of physical and emotional boundaries. It was brutal. So brutal, that it was decided that I wasn’t a good “fit”. Apparently my technical skills were lacking and I was sent packing. Another job and another severance package.But my story doesn’t end there! Remember, I said that I have always seen myself working in tech and with startups? Well, while working as a banker, I co-founded TBC-Capital. It was supposed to be just a group of my finance friends getting together to be better investors, but it quickly turned into a business. We are now building our online platform with a relaunch scheduled for early 2020. I don’t want to spill too many details but we are doing something special to pair highly skilled professionals with startups and investors and I’m excited.You also remember how my boss fired me from my banking job because I didn’t have any technical skills? Well, guess what I do now working for myself? I work one on one with founders to build financial models and funding strategies for those looking to fundraise. I get paid to do what they told me I was incapable of doing just a few months ago and I love it!I pick my projects and the founders I work with. I watch them win and play in Excel all day. This is my dream job. It’s been a long road and it’s still hard. Being on your own isn’t for the faint of heart. I’ve gotten fired twice. I’ve left college as a senior to pursue my dream and I’ve really scared the sh*t out of my parents along the way, but I promise that every single thing before now has prepared me for today. Every. Single. Thing. So if you feel stuck or lost, if you don’t know what to do next, or you feel like a failure, trust me - there is a light on the other side of the tunnel. Without getting fired from AIG, I would have never found the investment bank. Without working in banking, I would have never learned finance. And without finance, I would never have been able to service founders in the capacity I am now. Don’t give up. Don’t be afraid to break and try things. You are in charge of your life and career and it all comes full circle, I promise!--Shondra Washington has worked in financial services in New York since 2013. She learned corporate finance and financial modeling as a technology investment banker at one of the fastest growing investment banks in the world. She made the transition into investment banking with no prior experience after working as an HR and Operations associate where she analyzed data for and supported over 65,000 employees. Her role as an investment banker allowed her to expand her skill set and work in the tech industry which she has always been highly interested in. In 2018, Shondra co-founded TBC-Capital, an education-first investment firm. Working with TBC, she has helped entrepreneurs to get over six-figures in investments and grants and continues to work with underrepresented founders in the tech and consumer products industries.