2020 has been a rough and difficult year for many, including our Kenzie Academy family. Many of our students have experienced joblessness, food insecurity, and underemployment as a result of the pandemic. Our graduates are also working harder and take longer to land full-time jobs in the technology industry. Many felt a sense of lost hope after getting rejected in their job search.
Things may look grim for us today. But there is a silver lining in every crisis, as long as you look for one. I’m proof.
Job search during the financial crisis
In 2008, I was called to a conference room at Goldman Sachs. My Managing Director, long-faced, let me go in that meeting. I was escorted out of the building and could not even return to my desk to retrieve my things. I remember sitting at Zuccotti Park–heart for Occupy Wall Street–and calling my wife to convey the bad news.
I have no trouble saying I was scared shitless that day. How was I getting another job in the middle of the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression? How would we pay our mortgage? How would I take care of my family?
After a few hours at the park feeling sorry for myself, I needed to spring into action. I made calls, sent emails, and applied to jobs anywhere in the country, to any company that would hire me. The 2008 job market quickly turned very competitive, with employers drowning in resumes from highly qualified candidates.
An opportunity to enter the tech world
Needless to say, I received rejection after rejection. At one memorable interview with Salesforce, things were going well until they gave me a technical problem, a laptop, and 30 minutes to solve it. The hiring manager cheerfully claimed that this test was to differentiate the grown-ups from the kiddos.
Even with 5 years as a Software Engineer, I failed miserably. With all the pressure to land a job, I just froze and could not type beyond a few lines of code. Still, I did land a temporary contract developer job at another multinational banking firm while I searched for a permanent role with benefits.
Not long after, an email to a friend and former intern paid off. He’d just joined an exciting geolocation startup called Loopt, and recommended me for an interview. I flew across the country to Mountain View, interviewed with a group of amazing people, and not long after received a job offer.
The caveats: moving to California and temporarily leaving my family behind on the East Coast. The new startup job also paid about 50% less than what I used to make. I took a leap of faith, and making that pivotal switch was the best career decision I ever made.
The power of networking
Many of my friends and advisors in finance questioned my decision. This was after all 2008, pre-Facebook and Twitter IPOs, and it was not in vogue yet to work for startups. But I knew my future was no longer in finance. I had to take the risk.
Making new friends turned out to be a superpower for my career. I met some amazing people in the Bay Area and built a new professional network outside of finance. My new network opened up opportunities for me and helped me launch my first company, AgilityIO, along with co-founders Trung Ngo, Angelina Ho, and Tho Pham, in 2010. Within a decade, Agility grew to more than 250 people and won more than 300 projects from tech giants like NerdWallet, Meetup.com, Google, and Uber.
Seven years later, with the experience gained at AgilityIO, I launched my second company: Kenzie Academy. My roommate in the Bay Area became the first head of curriculum at Kenzie, and my friends and advisors Ling Xiao and Doug Galen joined our first board. By working with new people in a new industry, I was able to choose the best partners to build with.
Creating your silver lining
Looking back at that fateful day in Zuccotti Park, I understand things could have played out very differently. I could have blamed Goldman for laying me off, or the unfairness of a collapsed economy. Instead, I made the choice to change industries and accepted a salary cut to make the transition.
I could have taken an easier path by finding the next job in finance and hunkering down. And today, I’d be at a banking job, doing similar things over and over, and miserable. The layoff I experienced stripped me of any sense of job security, but it also triggered me to take more risk than I otherwise would.
And I’m grateful for that; without it, I would not have founded the companies that collectively employ hundreds of people and generate millions in revenue. I wouldn’t have traveled the world or met dozens of amazing entrepreneurs and technologists over the years. That day in the park, I made my silver lining.
Today, in the middle of a deep recession and a pandemic, many of my students and graduates at Kenzie are feeling as scared and as stressed as I did 12 years ago. They feel discouraged when turned down for interviews, hopeless when they lose their front-line jobs, worried about how to pay the bills while they complete their tech training. They start questioning their decision to go back to school or contemplate if they were even smart enough for a tech job in the first place.
But I’ve reminded my students that there is a silver lining to every crisis. Even for those of us with degrees and prior work experience, finding a job in the middle of a recession is a challenge. We must become comfortable with rejections and failures, and learn from every failed job application to prepare for the next interview. Nobody can ever rob us of our tech skills, and all we need is one employer who’s willing to invest in us as much as we invest in ourselves.
So, where is your silver lining? How do you create a path forward amidst so many challenges? It turns out the possibilities are endless if you look for them.
This year, the fight against systemic racism is driving corporate leaders to acknowledge the empirical value in diversity, equity, and inclusion. The pandemic has accelerated digitization and cloud migration. The best, fastest-growing companies have begun hiring based on skills in lieu of degrees. They’re also hiring remotely, opening the industry to all Americans outside of tech hubs like Silicon Valley and New York. The future of job growth is in tech, and tech skills are the currencies of this new economy.
The opportunities are there for those willing to put in the work, make the necessary sacrifices, and do what it takes to get their foot in the door. We are seeing an acceleration of tech hiring since June 2020, and employers are again competing and bidding for talent. Our graduates are getting offers from companies such as Shopify, Infosys, and JP Morgan Chase. 2021 will see employers searching for more tech workers.
For those willing to take the risk and the leap of faith, I firmly believe that opportunities and a better life await them on the other side of the struggle. At Kenzie Academy, though, you won’t go through that struggle alone. Our team is dedicated to helping our students earn the skills they need to move forward in their careers. It’s what I needed to take my next step–and it’s what I want to offer our students.
Good luck and may 2021 bring about positive change and good health to all of you.