Rebecca Brooker

We’re closing out Pride Month with the second part of my conversation with Rebecca Brooker! (If you missed the first part, check it out here.)

We talked about Rebecca’s relocation to Argentina (after a stint back in Trinidad), and how she’s adjusted and found community in Buenos Aires. Rebecca also went in depth about Queer Design Club, the Queer Design Count, and the upcoming Queer Design Summit taking place on July 7.

Rebecca is proof that building community and staying true to yourself is a surefire way for personal and professional success!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
Now for this week’s interview. This is part two of my conversation with designer, art director and community builder, Rebecca Brooker. Let’s start the show.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. That’s a lot. I mean, from –

Rebecca Brooker:
It’s a long story.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, it’s a long story, but I mean, there’s goodness. I mean, having to leave the country like that that quickly because the employer forgot to notify you and now you have to move back home, but then now you might be moving to another country, to Argentina. Oh my God. I guess I’m curious. Once you got to Argentina, what was that like?

Rebecca Brooker:
Yeah, I mean, I’d never been to South America at all before, so this was a completely new experience for me. I had studied a little bit of Spanish in Trinidad, but never used it in practicality. And so I was nervous. I ended up meeting two of my bosses, my would be bosses from that team in New York and they were telling me, “Eh, it’s a cool place. It’s beautiful. It doesn’t snow. You have so much fun. It’s a great nightlife, very young culture. The agency is growing.” So I was like, “All right, this is a totally new opportunity. What else am I going to do with my life?” I felt so beat down having to return to Trinidad and not know should I think about opening my own agency here? Should I think about getting a job at somewhere here?

Rebecca Brooker:
And then this job kind of just fell into my lap and I was like, “All right, we’re going to go on another adventure. We’re going to see what’s in store.” When I moved to Argentina, I was just in shock. I was like in a good way too, in a good way. I was in shock in a way that I was so open to every new experience, Maurice. I really had to put myself in a mindset that I’m moving to this place. I just lost a whole life behind me in the states. All my friends back there, my partners back there, all my coworkers, everybody. But I have to look ahead and I have to be open to whatever comes next, and I think that’s just the mindset that I had to keep going with.

Rebecca Brooker:
And for the first time in my life, it was like I was living in a studio alone. I would go out to eat at a restaurant and I’d sit alone. And I spent just so much time in the beginning of my move by myself, just having not made any friends yet outside of the people that I work with in this office. I think that was a turning point in my life where it was the first time I really had to do that in an environment where, it was different when I moved to St. John’s because I moved into the dorms and I was immediately put into a group of people that I could be friends with. And now I’m 20… God. How old was I? 24, moving to Argentina, by myself, don’t have anybody there. You go to a restaurant, you order for one, you take a book, you read something. And if I heard people speak in English, I would literally turn around and be like, “Did you just speak English?” Like “Where are you from?”

Rebecca Brooker:
And that was really how I started to make my friends. I would just be this like curious, observant person. If I heard people speak in English, I’d be like, “Tell me about you. What are you doing here?” And that was how I started to find my community. I ended up finding an English speaking gym. It’s run by an English guy and he wanted to create a community for English speakers to come together and train. And so I met these people and that put me into a new circle of English speaking people in Buenos Aires that led me to my own network now. In addition to this, the agency I was working at, I had a… I wouldn’t say I had problems at the beginning, but I had anxiety because I was one of the only native English speakers, right.

Rebecca Brooker:
Everybody at the agency could speak English, but we were usually trained to speak English for professional use. So in a meeting example, like we would send our clients communications in English, but everybody in the office would talk to each other in Spanish. So, they would say something and someone would be raising an issue and everyone’s talking in Spanish meetings in Spanish and I was just lost. I could not pick up anything that they would say. And especially also because Argentine Spanish, it has a little different of a dialect than Mexican Spanish or Spain Spanish. So I couldn’t even make out what they were singing. And so many times in my first year, I wouldn’t get the joke. People would be laughing. I’d be like, “I didn’t get it.” And it just made me feel othered. But when I started to learn Spanish and my coworkers, bless them, they made a concerted effort to keep me looped in.

Rebecca Brooker:
We would have a meeting in Spanish and then I had a coworker who would come over and say, “Okay, I’ll stay with you and explain everything we just said in English.” And I’m like, “Thank you, thank you so much.” And it was just a lot of awkward moments like that until I got better and I learned, and now I’d say I’m not fluid, but I could understand a lot. I can respond. So it was definitely a moment of growth in my life, I think. A moment of solitude, a moment of acceptance that sometimes things happen and you just have to go with it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Wow. I mean, I can’t help, but think now, also in the midst of all of this happening, you also co-founded Queer Design Club, which is also about helping to bring together a community while you were also, like in your own life, trying to find community. Talk to me about Queer Design Club.

Rebecca Brooker:
Yeah. I think Queer Design Club on introspection is a manifestation of me looking for a lot of things in my life. And you just named it where I felt motivated on one hand to make this community because I was in a real moment of my life of solitude, where I had my online friends. I had people that I could reach out to from New York, but I spent the majority of my nights, I’d go to the office and I’d come home and I’d be by myself. And I was just like, “There must be something I could be doing with my time right now, right. There must be something I could be doing.” And at the same time I was looking to connect with other queer African designers, right. Because I think the other side of my life, not to go back too far to the Trinidad thing, but not having that community in Trinidad, not necessarily having that community at St. John’s either, it kind of left me wondering, where are my queer friends?

Rebecca Brooker:
I don’t have enough queer friends. And I actually want to meet queer friends that I have something in common with. So maybe queer designers. And I started to Google and I started to look for spaces online for queer designers. Was there a community? Was there a place? And there was nothing I could find. I found Out In Tech, I found Lesbians Who Tech, but when I joined those communities, they felt huge, right. They felt like there were tens of thousands of people in there. And I don’t know who would be my friend. So that was really what drove me to have this initial idea of like, “Why don’t I start a queer community online?” And I’d started putting together some ideas, just very loosely. And one day I went on Twitter and I saw a different person had created a handle for LGBTQ People in Design, or something. And I was like, “What? That’s my idea.”

Rebecca Brooker:
I wasn’t really like that. I was like, “This is cool. Someone else is also thinking about this. I’m going to message them and let them know that I have the same idea.” And that’s how I met John, John Voss. And we began chatting. I shared my deck of ideas with him. He shared his idea with me and we came together to form QDC. And at the time John and I were not friends, we were just two strangers that met on Twitter. We began co-working. He’s in San Francisco, I’m in VA and working towards let’s make a Slack, let’s make a directory. And let’s see if other queer people will join. And we didn’t know who would join.

Rebecca Brooker:
I had a handful of friends that I knew were LGBTQ. He had a handful of friends. We knew some people on Twitter, but everybody felt really disparate and disconnected. So when we formed the community, it was really just a place for us to have a clubhouse to hang out in and talk about the experience of like, “Oh, I’m the only queer person on my team and I don’t know how to bring my partner to the work event,” or “I don’t identify as CIS and my boss keeps misgendering me.” We saw people having these experiences and we wanted to bring them together to talk about them some more. So that’s kind of how we founded QDC. And I think over the years, one of the things that I’ve really ,really noticed about the community is just that, this was not something that just John and I were looking for.

Rebecca Brooker:
This is something that many, many people needed maybe much more than I did. And the growth that we’ve had over the years, the constant commitment from our members to keeping the space fresh, giving each other advice, helping each other, just general resource sharing and like this communal online living, I think has really just changed my perception of what QDC is or what it should be. What started as just a side hobby for John and I has turned into a lifeline for some people. And I think that was when it was a turning point for me that I was like, “Oh shit, we did something. We got to do right by our people. Now that we’ve gathered them all here in this community, there’s thousands of them. They’re looking at us and I’m like, what are we going to do?”

Rebecca Brooker:
So I think that was the real question that we had is like, “Okay, now that we formed this community, what value are we going to bring to their lives?” And one of the early questions, well, we were like, “Okay, there’s all these people in our Slack.” We actually don’t know anything about them because when we let people join the Slack, we just ask them their name and their email. We don’t know anything about where they are, who they are, what titles do they have, how much money do they make? Who is our community, really? We know the people exist. We know that. We have proof of concept, but who are they in their identity? Right. And if we’re going to position ourselves to serve a community of people, we have to first find out who these people are and what are their needs. So that was the things that John and I were mulling over and so we decided to formulate the Queer Design Count.

Rebecca Brooker:
So the Queer Design Count is the only survey in the design industry that is specifically for LGBTQ people in design. And the reason we did that was because when we were looking for data about our own people, we couldn’t find any. There was no data out there about the community. The AIGA Design Census asked one question and it’s, “Are you LGBTQ?” And from that data, you can make a few inferences with the percentages, but there just wasn’t anything deeper than that one question, that one check box. So we decided to formulate our own survey. And in the first year at 2019, which was also our first year as a community, we ended up with close to 1,500 responses. And John and his loving partner, Lori, who is a data analyst, thank God, lovingly went through these thousands of responses and wrote the first iteration of the Queer Design Count, where we made a lot of interesting insights about the community.

Rebecca Brooker:
I think one of the things, the differences about our survey was while… It was both qualitative and quantitative. We got some hard facts, we got some data, but we also had opportunities for people to write in their own responses about why they felt certain things or why they chose a certain answer. And some of the written testimonials are just so powerful. I think that that was one of the things that really showed us the need for this space within the community and how we had a lot of work to do if we were going to plan to change anything in the design industry, it was not a singular problem. It was not any one person’s problem. It was a structural problem that LGBTQ persons were making less than non-LGBTQ people. They were leaving the industry much faster and much younger. So they were not making it to seniority levels.

Rebecca Brooker:
And they were experiencing more bias on a daily basis than other groups out there, especially when it comes to having an intersectional identity, right? So Black queer trans people were most likely to be discriminated against, left out and having to point out design decisions that went against their existence. A really great example of this is like when you are a product designer and your team may be designing some forms and they put options on a form for male female, there’s no inclusive lens. There’s no inclusive perspective to this that would include a trans person. Now a queer person working on that team has to point out and say, “Hey, this is not inclusive towards people who identify as LGBTQ. We need to change this form.” And I think there are a lot of instances of that nature that happen prevalently on a daily basis throughout the design industry, where people get misgendered, people get mislabeled and we can preach about it as much as we want.

Rebecca Brooker:
It all ladders back up to like, we need more diverse teams to bring lived experiences and unique perspectives to the work. And that is part of why we believe LGBTQ designers have a great opportunity to become champions in the workplace and they’re not currently given that opportunity.

Maurice Cherry:
That is fantastic. I mean, I think even just the fact that this Design Count that you’re doing is, in one way building, I don’t want to say it’s building on research that others have done, but it’s like you saw what AIGA was doing in terms of their sense of saying, you’re like, “Yeah, this isn’t enough. We need to do something that’s more for our community that we’re building here.” And so you did this Queer Design Count, and I guess what are some of the lessons you learned while building this?I mean, I know you mentioned that this community came about because you discovered that other folks wanted this community too. But even in building the Count and looking at the results from it, what are some of the findings or some of the things that you just learned throughout this process?

Rebecca Brooker:
Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, I think that one of the major things that I learned is that even within the queer community there’s discrimination. White gay men still make more money than people who identify as lesbian, right? So even within the queer community, we still have hierarchies of the patriarchy and gender wage gap and things that are prevalent outside of the LGBTQ community. They’re also happening within the LGBTQ community. So that was something that was a little bit surprising to us. But probably shouldn’t be because it exists on all levels, regardless of your identity. I think one of the other things that we found was just that people were so eager to participate in this Count because there was no other place that they could share this information. So I think this was especially true in 2021 when we did the second iteration of the Count in a pandemic world when we released it and we actually added a special section of the Count that year for COVID because we wanted to understand what the pandemic has changed about our data, right.

Rebecca Brooker:
So a great example of this is, we found that in 2021, 41% of transgender designers lost employment due to COVID-19, in comparison to 29% of CIS designers. So this is a huge gap, right? 41 versus 29. And on first glance, we didn’t know what that stat is really telling us, right. On one hand, is it telling us that trans designers got fired more than CIS designers because that could be one way to read it. The other way to read it could be, did trans designers due to the pandemic gain more autonomy in being able to work for themselves? Did they participate in quote unquote “the great resignation” and walk into this power of being able to work for themselves and make their own decisions? Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. But this was where now we would look at some of the responses and testimonials that we got as an answer to that question to try to make a better analysis, right.

Rebecca Brooker:
And one of the things that we found is that when we look at these testimonials, people are pouring their heart out to us. It was the first time that people wrote paragraphs of what they were going through. And I think for a lot of queer people, this survey was relieving and like an outlet, almost like therapy, because they didn’t have another place to talk about getting fired from their job. They didn’t have another place to talk about losing all of their clients and having to move back in with their homophobic parents. This was kind of a space. And I think this is important and why we do this work is because we want to create a space for queer people to feel seen and heard and understood. And we want to be able to take those findings and use that as a benchmark in the industry to say, “Hey, every single year you all corporate companies are talking about supporting LGBTQ people, right?

Rebecca Brooker:
You put up all these Pride parades, you put up all these Pride flags, rainbow your logos and when we survey the people that you say you’re impacting, the stats aren’t changing, LGBTQ designers are still making less than non-LGBTQ designers. We want to be able to use this survey as a biannual post check on the industry to really understand if we’re meeting our goals of improving and bettering ourselves as a space. And like I said, I don’t think it’s anybody’s one problem to fix. But as a design industry, we have to come together to hold hands, not just with Queer Design Club, but with all these different communities and movements that are advocating for their own rights, right? Where are the Black designers, [inaudible 00:24:19] design.

Rebecca Brooker:
All of these different, if you want to call them, affinity groups, are all going after the same thing. And it’s changing the industry to be better for those who have been constantly seen as other. And we want to flip that narrative together, not just for LGBTQ people, but for people who really live at these intersections because our data and our research has showed us that people who have multiple marginalized identities are the most likely to be left out and left behind. So how can we gather together and all do this work together of changing the design industry for something that is substantial and not feel like we all have to target it in our silos. So that’s something that we recognize we need to do. We’re here to research and champion LGBTQ rights, but that is one part of someone’s identity, not everything. So we have to find ways to be intersectional. We have to find ways to continue to work together and elevate people who don’t have that voice right now, or are given that space to use their voice.

Maurice Cherry:
And I mean, I think it’s also worth just putting this in a greater context, like you’re also pulling this information together at a time where at least here in the United States, the rights of LGBTQ people are being stripped away through legislation, et cetera. So to really have this quantitative information, that’s not just… Because I think sometimes what can happen, and this certainly is the case, I think, with what I’ve done with Revision Path and talk with Black designers is that, a lot of the anecdotal evidence just gets swept under the rug as like individual experiences. And it can be hard to really put, I don’t know, I guess confirmation to what’s happening without numbers, without some concrete statistics to say, “This is happening. Here’s the study that shows that.”

Rebecca Brooker:
Exactly, exactly. And I mean, one of our goals, I think now in 2023, we’ll be going into our third year of the Queer Design Count, one of our goals is to make this an industry benchmark, like I said, biannually. So we want to do exactly what you said is align ourselves as the knowledge resource of that information and for people to know that we are here to understand research and advocate for the rights of LGBTQ people in design, because like you said, our rights are under attack federally on a high level, but also it trickles down into your every day, right? When you can’t be yourself outside in the world, how can you be yourself at work? How can you bring your best self to your job every day when your life is under attack? That’s not even just a queer thing.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s true. That’s true. And now this year, actually next month, since this’ll be airing in June, you’re going to be continuing this with hosting the Inaugural Queer Design Summit. This is happening on July 7th.

Rebecca Brooker:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Talk to me about that.

Rebecca Brooker:
Yeah. Well, like I said, so this is our second year doing the Count and the first year we had a great response. The second year we wanted to go a little bit bigger. So we were really thinking about, how can we get this information on a larger stage? How can we have this information reach the people who may have the ability to change it? And in my opinion, that’s recruiters, corporations, people who do the hiring, people who do the firing, all of the people who have the power to be able to change the experiences that queer people have in design. Even queer people, because you’ll be surprised that when you’re dealing with your own shit, when you’re an executive leader and you’re not out, and you’re struggling to come to terms with your own identity, that trickles down to the rest of the queer people in your company who don’t feel like they have a safe working environment.

Rebecca Brooker:
It’s all of these things that we want to be able to reach. And we decided to do the summit as a way to bring this data to a bigger stage. And we wanted to, for the first time, really hear from other LGBTQ voices, other LGBTQ designers, and have them discuss some of the statistics that we found in the report and shed their own experiences on that. So we’re going to have a few panels that are based on sections from the report. So one of the panels that we’re going to have is about trans perspective in design. We basically found that trans respondents were consistently overrepresented in facing discrimination in the workplace. So we want to be able to talk through what are some solutions we can put forward to change this in the future? So the goal of all the panels is to really talk about some of the statistics, but also just share your experience as an LGBTQ person and have that feel, seen and heard.

Rebecca Brooker:
So we’re really excited about the speakers. I’m not going to drop some names yet, although they’re probably going to be out by the time this is confirmed this goes live, but I’m super excited. And I think it’s really the first time that we’re putting on an event for the community where they can see all of themselves reflected because all of our community participated in the survey and even people that were outside of the Queer Design Club community, people who aren’t members, per se. So we’re excited to bring it to a wider audience. We’re excited to bring it to a wider stage. And part of my secondary goal of the summit is to really align the organization as a research focused and mission based organization that is doing this work, not just today, not just tomorrow, but we’re going to be doing this work for our people for a while.

Rebecca Brooker:
And we want to be able to find a like-minded organization that will help us do that work. So we’re not professional researchers. I do this because I’m passionate about our community. I’m passionate about finding out who they are. I’m passionate about making sure that we have these data points to leverage when people talk about improving conditions for LGBTQ people, but I’m not a researcher. So maybe there’s a better way we could be doing this. Maybe there is a smarter way we could be doing this. So I think as we grow the study, we want to be able to align ourselves with a research based organization that can also help us and guide us to making this study even more sound than it is right now. And I think that would be our ultimate goal is to have this study be something that’s continued, something that is super serious and ask the right questions, a lot of questions, and helps people really understand the problems that we have in the industry.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I know that we have a lot of companies and a lot of people that work at big companies that listen to this. So my hope is that once this interview comes out, people get a chance to hear it, that you’ll start to get some interest around that because I think what you’re doing is super important from a research perspective, but also just from a general community and society perspective, not just even the design community, LGBT community as well, to be able to not only put the statistics behind the incidents and things that are happening, but to really quantify it and then keep the work going to sustain the work. So people know that this is something that is like an industry benchmark to understand what the queer experience and design is and how, I guess people in general can bring more visibility and representation is super important. So I’m excited for the summit. I’m excited to see where Queer Design Club goes in the future. I feel like you’ve really tapped into something here.

Rebecca Brooker:
Thank you. Thank you, Maurice. I just want to say thank you to you. I know you’ve been a sounding board for us over the past couple years as well, just like in running a community and this being my first time being a community leader. It takes a village, it really takes a village.

Maurice Cherry:
It really does. Yeah. Now, even aside from all this, you’re working at Ghost Note, you’re doing the Queer Design Club with the Queen Design Count, with the Queer Design Summit. You also have your own freelance practice called Planthouse Studio. Tell me about that.

Rebecca Brooker:
Yeah. As if I wasn’t already doing too much. No. I think one of my goals for myself just personally has always been to run my own design studio and I just feel like there’s a level of freedom that I get to have when people want to work with me. I am my own boss. I love to take the projects that I want to work on. Say ‘no’ to the projects that I don’t want to work on. And just generally be able to design things with no constraints of, what do other people think? So I was always a freelancer on the side of any full-time job. It started really after college because I was working at BAM and it was a nonprofit. So I was making some money, but I thought, “Okay, I could make a couple logos on the side and make a couple hundred bucks more.”

Rebecca Brooker:
And it started just doing that for some extra cash. And over the past five years, it’s really grown into just a consistent stream of people mentioning me, sharing my name, sharing my portfolio and getting people wanting to work with me. So it wasn’t until about three or four years ago now that my partner, LG and I had come together and decided we kind of wanted to formalize this business. And my partner at the time, LG was figuring out how they would plug into the business. I was doing all the design and they were handling all of the client management and it’s just grown over the years. So at the beginning of the pandemic, we saw an uptick in people wanting to work with us. And we had a really janky website at the time and nothing was super professional, but we saw this uptake in work.

Rebecca Brooker:
A friend of mine, who I was working at the agency was leaving at the time. And he said, “If you want a freelancer I’ll work with your studio.” And I said, “All right, sure.” So now we have another person working with us and I was able to give him some direction and do less more creative direct and he was producing the work. LG was managing the clients. So we started there and then more requests came and another friend of mine was like, “I’m looking for a job.” I was like, “Do you want to freelance with our studio?” She was like, “Yeah.” So then we had two designers working with us and now it’s become a full-time gig for everybody, right? So LG’s running it full-time. Our two designers are still working with us full-time and my goal has shifted to learning how to run a business and then wanting to do it for Planthouse on my own.

Rebecca Brooker:
So my short term goal is, like I said in the beginning, this is a hustle year for me, where I’m working at Ghost Note, one, to work on some of the awesome projects and the clients that they have. But two is to really also understand how to run a business. And that’s one of the things that I feel really grateful to Ghost Note for is like from the time I joined, I was very upfront about like, “Listen in five years, I’m going to be running my own agency. So I’m here to learn the business facts of what you all are doing. I admire your work. You all are about six years ahead of where I feel like I am. How can I absorb my time at this agency to really learn how to run an agency?” And at the same time, LG and our other two designers are working on client stuff in the background and I’m moonlighting and taking the knowledge I learn at Ghost Note, bringing it home and saying, “We have this process that we implemented at work. I think we should try it in the studio. It could really help.”

Rebecca Brooker:
So, I felt like I had to put in the time and learning how to run a business before jumping into running a business for the first time, right, because like, and I think that’s a thing that at times it’s tiring, at times it’s rough. But I feel like if I stay on track, hopefully in 2023, I can leave my full-time job and just pursue Planthouse if the clients keep coming and going the way they’ve been. We feel very grateful and lucky that people want to work with us. And I feel really grateful and lucky that people want to keep giving us great opportunities to grow. I think we’ve had a few contracts this year where they were bigger shoes than we were prepared to fill, but we stepped into them and I think we’ve grown into them a lot.

Rebecca Brooker:
So it’s given me a lot of confidence to say, “Okay, I’m doing Planthouse part-time right now and it’s doing really well. If I do this full-time we could be doing excellently. I just need to harness the knowledge of how to run this business full-time, because it’s not just full time by myself, right? It’s full-time with three other people as well that we’re sustaining. So I’m in my hustle year. I’m doing three jobs. However, I do feel like it’s really important right now for me to be a sponge and really learn how to do it right so that when I step into it, I can make, hopefully, a little bit less of the mistakes and go into it with some kind of knowledge.

Rebecca Brooker:
So that’s part of one of the things I love about Ghost Note is they’re very supportive of my own hustle. They’re very open and transparent about the workings of the company and how to write an extra W, how to make sure things stay on track. And I feel like I’m really learning the business angle of it alongside the art director part of it and making the fun stuff. I’m doing both things. So I’m excited for that.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s good. I mean, I think it’s good that Ghost Note is transparent in that way to let you all know this is how the business is. This is how it works. So it’s not just of course showing up and doing your job, but also you’re kind of gaining this almost secondary education in a way.

Rebecca Brooker:
Yeah. And that’s something that I think doesn’t really exist in our design industry right now is like, there’s no course to go learn how to run your own studio. There’s no course to say, how to found your own agency. It’s all about you got to fumble your way into figuring it out. And that’s what Ghost Note told me as well. They were like, “We’ve been doing this for eight years and we’re just now figuring it out.” And I’m like, “Okay, so what can I learn that you can impart that knowledge on me and I can maybe not take years to figure it out?” And I really love that about just a community culture is that resource sharing is so important because I would love to help any other person who’s thinking about founding their own business, their own agency. We don’t have the resources out there. So we need to be in community with each other more and figure that out.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now it takes a village to do all this, as you said. Who’s your village? Who have been the mentors and the peers who have really helped you get to where you are now?

Rebecca Brooker:
I have a list of them. One, I would say is one of the first people that I met in the design industry was a designer working at [inaudible 00:39:35] at the time. Their name is Kyle Richardson and they are an incredible designer and a friend of mine still and just someone who brought their authentic self to work. And me being a young, bright eyed, bushy-tailed intern, I was like, “Oh, you’re my role model. I like what you’re doing. All of your work is fire. Your personality is so dope. I want to be like you.” And it was really the first person who showed me that I could show up to work and be myself, be a little crazy, be a little funky, be funny with your coworkers. And Kyle always just gave me a sense of ease and the ability to just be you.

Rebecca Brooker:
Another one of my mentors, I would say is someone that has always helped me open doors. And this is a person named Liz, Liz Oh who used to be the head of design at Compass is now the head of design of Grammarly and Liz has always been someone who will give me an opportunity that I can grow into. And I think it’s really people like that who are in positions of power, who can see potential in you and open a door that will change your life. And Liz has done that for me a few different times. And I think that’s important to acknowledge people who are willing to take a chance on you.

Rebecca Brooker:
Another one of mine, a close friend of mine, Amélie Lamont. I love Amélie. She’s someone that has helped me navigate just the space of being a community leader and running a community and like navigating the world out there. And with someone who I really met online and we connected in real life for the first time at XO XO conference, where they invited me to be part of the POC House and I was just honored to be included in a space that like, there were so many amazing creatives and thinkers and people who were just so themselves. And I think that’s something that I’m really drawn to. I’m really drawn to people who can be unapologetically themselves, recognize that, and use that as their superpower and use that as the thing that can open doors for other people. So those are my three mentors.

Rebecca Brooker:
I can probably name a million more, but I can’t remember at the moment. But I guess something that I try to do is I try to learn a little bit from everybody. It may not be in a technical way of like, “This person taught me design,” or “this person taught me this,” but it’s more in a, what is it about you that makes you you? Is it your ability to show up and be yourself? Is it your ability to stand up for what you believe in? Is it your ability to take no shit and let people know that? I try to really learn some of these qualities from all of the people that I think are doing it right. And like I said earlier, I just want to be a sponge and learn about what I should be doing in my future what I think is right. So that’s how I approach the people that I look up to.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. We had probably on the show… Oh, that was a while ago. I think she was episode 148 or 149, something like that. It was in the 140s. I remember that. You mentioned XOXO. Was that in 2018?

Rebecca Brooker:
It must have been 2019, the year before the pandemic. 2019. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Year before. Okay.

Rebecca Brooker:
In 2019.

Maurice Cherry:
I went to XO XO in 2018 and I remember, Amélie and Kat doing the POCs [inaudible 00:43:05].

Rebecca Brooker:
Yes. Also another person that I love and is an icon and a role model for me. Kat’s a person who champions game developers of color and has been running that conference in that community for a long time. Just amazing people, amazing people that are out there, like showing up as themselves and making dope shit.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. She’s great. I love Kat. We kind of just talk over email, I guess maybe about a couple of weeks ago or something, because she’s about to make a big move. I’m sure it’ll probably be announced by the time this interview comes out, but she’s making big moves now because she just left Asana and is about to announce where she’s going next. So I’m excited to see.

Rebecca Brooker:
I could believe that.

Maurice Cherry:
What does success look like for you now?

Rebecca Brooker:
I think success looks like being able to feel confident in the things I want to pursue. I feel like I always have this yearning to be super secure before I make a big move, which is probably why I’m still at Ghost Note and not doing my full-time thing yet. But I think success looks like having the confidence to do that, make those decisions and live the life that I want to live, find balance between my work and my personal life and my free time and feel satisfied and nourished by the work that I am doing at work. So I think that is what success looks like for me.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? I know you’ve given some sort of benchmarks for where you want Queer Design Club to go and I guess even with where you want Planthouse to go. But if you could forecast five years from now, it’s 2027, what’s Rebecca Brooker doing?

Rebecca Brooker:
Well, hopefully Rebecca Brooker is no longer the only person running Queer Design Club because then that wouldn’t be nice. But I think Rebecca Brooker will still be a fierce advocate and speaker or someone who is called upon to help champion LGBTQ rights. I want to be known for helping people show up as themselves, even helping myself show up as myself and I want to still be in the creative seat making amazing things that have impacts and that have the ability to change lives and change perceptions and make the world a tiny bit of a better place. So I hope in five years from now I’m doing that.

Maurice Cherry:
Well just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find more information about you, about your work, about everything that you’re doing? Where can they find that online?

Rebecca Brooker:
So you can find me at rebeccabrooker.com. You can also find me on Twitter @Becky Brooker or on Instagram @Becca Brooker. And you can find Queer Design Club at Queer Design Club on all channels. And I’m an open book. So anybody who ever wants to reach out, feel free to email me. I would be happy to connect with anyone who wants to talk.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, Rebecca Brooker, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I had a feeling that we were going to have a really deep, wide ranging conversation. I’m so glad that we were able to touch on. I mean, just so many different things, talking about representation, entrepreneurship, building community. I feel like you’ve done so much already. You’ve already had this very prolific career and I just want to see where you go from here. I hope that people are listening really support the work that you’re doing and really can help put some real velocity behind the plans that you have, because I feel like we’re going to be talking about the work that you’re doing years and years from now. And I’m just so glad to have had you on the show to really just explain like this is who I am. This is where I came from and this is the work that I’m trying to do. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Rebecca Brooker:
Thank you for having me, Maurice. It’s been an amazing conversation. It’s been an amazing time. Thank you for creating this space so that we could continue to have these conversations with myself and other people who are doing good work.

Queer Design Summit - July 7, 2022, 10am PST

The Queer Design Club is hosting their inaugural #QDCSummit on July 7! 🌈✨ Join the queer design community online to discuss two years of rich data. The goal of the Summit is to bring the community together and use it as a breakthrough for the industry as to why events like the Summit and groups like Queer Design Club are important. Be a part of it!

Tickets are available at QueerDesign.club/Summit

Sponsored by Hover

Hover

Building your online brand has never been more important and that begins with your domain name. Show the online community who you are and what you’re passionate about with Hover. With over 400+ domain name extensions to choose from, including all the classics and fun niche extensions, Hover is the only domain provider we use and trust.

Ready to get your own domain name? Go to hover.com/revisionpath and get 10% off your first purchase.

Rebecca Brooker

Sometimes, the conversation is so good and so wide-ranging that I can’t contain it in just one episode. For the first time in over five years, we have a two-part episode on Revision Path, and it’s with the one and only Rebecca Brooker. She is perhaps most well known as the co-founder of Queer Design Club, but Rebecca is also an art director at Ghost Note Agency and founder of her own freelance practice Planthouse Studio.

In the first part of this interview, Rebecca talked about her “year of hustle”, including her work at Ghost Note Agency and the rewards and challenges that come with that. She also talked about growing up in Trinidad, LGBT representation in the Caribbean, and moving to NYC to attend college and study design.

Tune in next week for Part 2 of our conversation!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So, tell us who you are and what you do.

Rebecca Brooker:
Hi, Maurice, I’m Rebecca. I am a queer graphic designer and art director from Trinidad and Tobago, and I’m currently living in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Maurice Cherry:
I have been trying to get someone in South America on the show for years. You are the first Black designer in South America that I’ve had on the show, so I’m really excited about that.

Rebecca Brooker:
Yeah. Thank you. I’m excited. It’s actually kind of funny, because I feel like you don’t see that many Black designers in South America, in Argentina, at least. Maybe in some of the more Northern territories, maybe, but in Argentina, I feel like you rarely get to meet other Black designers. I’m not even from here, so even doubly so.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2022 been going for you so far?

Rebecca Brooker:
It’s been going well for me. It’s definitely been a year of hustle. I have been grinding, working towards a few dreams, and really, just trying to figure out where I want to set myself up for the next couple years. I have a few really good gigs going on and trying to figure out, is this a hustle year and heads down and just do some work, and then next year can be a relaxing year? But 2022 has been very positive so far.

Maurice Cherry:
Are you seeing any big changes this year from last year?

Rebecca Brooker:
Yeah. I think one of the biggest changes is just my personal confidence and value, really. I feel like for the past few years and throughout the pandemic, I was really trying to figure out where I wanted to spend my time, spend my energy. Is it in my organization? Is it in my job? Is it in something else? So, I would say that the biggest shift has just been in that decision-making of what I want to do and how I’m going to move forward with the things on my plate.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I definitely want to talk about Queer Design Club, which I think most people that are listening to this know you from, but before that, I want to ask you about your current gig. Right now, you’re the art director at Ghost Note Agency. Can you tell me about that?

Rebecca Brooker:
Yeah. So, Ghost Note is a Black-owned agency based in Washington, DC. I met them about a year ago because their creative director, Veronica Corzo-Duchardt, is actually in Queer Design Club. So, at the time I was working at a different agency, and Veronica had posted in our job postings channel and had said, “Oh, this amazing, Black-owned agency that I’m running the creative team at is looking for a senior designer to join the team.” I thought to myself, “Oh damn, that sounds like a cool opportunity.” I looked at their work and I was like, Oh, this is sick.” And so, I messaged Veronica being like, “Hey.” Veronica and I had probably had a digital coffee once before and we were acquaintances, but I messaged them just being like, “Hey, would love to learn more about Ghost Note,” and they were like, “Let’s hop in on informational with some of the team.” When I went into that first interview with them, it was just amazing, the energy in the room, the vibe, just it felt different to any of the other agencies I was working at.

Rebecca Brooker:
I had been, at the time, working at Media.Monks, which is a huge agency that was just a very different culture. So, it wasn’t until I had that first interview at Ghost Note that the potential of going to a different agency entered my mind, and I was like, “Oh wow. This is a really different vibe, it’s a lot cozier. They seem to be growing rapidly. For the first time, it’s a place that I feel like, really, you could bring your culture to.” The reason I said what I said in the beginning about Black designers being in Argentina is because when I moved to Argentina, I felt like the work environment that I was in was very homogenous. The majority of people in Argentina are white, and I wasn’t working with other… Probably just a handful of other people of color in an agency of 100s. So, I was finding it really hard to find diversity and find any semblance of culture, and along comes Ghost Note, which was just the complete opposite. They were all about the culture, which I thought was great.

Rebecca Brooker:
I did an in an initial interview with them for that role, the senior designer. Veronica said to me privately after, they said, “I think you were great, but you should be applying for an art director role. We’re going to open one up, if you’re interested.” I said, “What? I didn’t even start working and y’all going to give me a raise? Damn, okay.” So, I had a second interview and I met more of the team, I met the partners, I met the people who working there at the time, and everyone was just very chill. The day after the interview, Veronica phoned me and said, “I just want to let you know you got the job.” I was just like… This happened over three days, Maurice, it was so fast.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Rebecca Brooker:
My jaw was on the floor, because I wasn’t even really thinking about leaving my job, but now I was really thinking about it, because I was like, “Oh, the opportunity is in front of me. Okay, okay.” So, that was how Ghost Note came around, and I’ve been there for the past year. They’ve gone through incredible growth themselves. The partners are three Black friends that they have been friends since childhood, they have baby pictures together.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Rebecca Brooker:
So, they grew up together in DC and all went on to three different life paths, and then later in life reunited to start this agency. They’ve been around for almost 10 years now doing this work. So, it feels really great for the agency to be in a spot where they can really see their growth, we’re getting a lot of bigger clients. Most recently, they actually announced a strategic partnership with Godfrey Dadich Partners, which is… I don’t know if you know that agency, but they have aligned with that and entered the kyu Collective of companies, which I think really turned a new chapter for the agency, as well, just in the potential that we have to create outstanding work. So, it’s been really great to work with people that are like me and people that… Our entire creative team is queer-led, which I think is amazing, we’re majority people of color on staff. It’s just been a total 180 of what I was used to, so I’ve been really enjoying my experience there.

Maurice Cherry:
I like that you refer to it as cozy. You often don’t hear that word when people talk about their work experience.

Rebecca Brooker:
Yeah. I always stray away from using the term like, “Oh my coworkers are my family,” because I don’t like to think that way, but this is one of the first jobs that I would say where I feel really close and a real bond of friendship, more than any other place that I’ve worked, with the team that we have now. I think it’s because we all are striving towards this goal of… We want to work at Ghost Note because we believe we have a unique voice and a voice that not a lot of agencies get to have. So, I feel like we all are bonding by this experience of like, “What is the Ghost Note lens? What is the Ghost Note angle?” They’re hiring Ghost Note because we have a different perspective and we can talk about topics and things that other people can’t.

Rebecca Brooker:
I think that just brings a level of genuineness and authenticity to the people that work there. I feel like we’re trying to build a culture that’s really rooted in our humanity and not necessarily just in, can we make cool stuff? Can we get the biggest clients? We want to do that stuff, too, but it’s really more about bringing our humanness to the work.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s a superpower, really, to be able to bring that perspective to the work.

Rebecca Brooker:
Yeah. I definitely see it. I think that we’re smart in the way that they don’t necessarily bill themselves as a social justice agency. It’s not about that at all, but it’s really about using our collective voice and this unique voice that we’ve crafted to be able to create impactful work that benefits other people. For example, one of the recent projects, actually, my first project at Ghost Note, was actually rebranding the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, DC. I don’t know if you’ve ever been there, but ACM is actually the United States’ first community museum. It was the first one that was ever established, and it’s one of the only museums I think, if not the only, to be founded in a historically Black neighborhood of Anacostia, Washington, DC.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Rebecca Brooker:
So, when I was first put on this project, I had never heard of ACM. You hear about all the other museums in the Smithsonian’s collection, but never ACM. It was a really unique challenge, because it’s not in Washington, DC itself. It’s not on Capitol Hill on the museum route with the rest of the Smithsonian museums. It’s out of the way, and it’s a different type of work that they’re showing, they’re always showing community-based work. So, a lot of the pieces that we got to interact with were actual historical documents from the community of Anacostia. So, the first baseball that was thrown on their community pitch, photos from families that lived there. ACM has been around and was founded by John Kinard, who had a very unique vision for the town of Anacostia. It was just such a unique project to be able to really meld all of that history and all of that deeply rooted culture of Black history, too, and work on that with a Black team.

Rebecca Brooker:
The strategist that I worked with, Georgie Arimah, who also works at Ghost Note, both of us really had to put heads down and say, “How can we really bring the story and the history and all of these years of deep-rooted community value into the work? How do we turn that into brand equity for ACM?” That felt like a really unique project that I don’t know if I would be able to do with everybody, so I really appreciated just having people who understood. Georgie, actually, at the same time, was moving to Anacostia, so it felt really personal for her. I think that it was just that Ghost Note gets unique opportunities like that because we have that unique skill, superpower, as you put it, to create impact where not every agency could.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. I think it’s also about the fact that the culture really makes the work personal to the people that are working on it in a way that it probably wouldn’t with any other type of agency, so that’s amazing. I did hear about the investment recently from Godfrey Dadich, I’ve heard about them. So, I have a, I guess it’s a funny story, I don’t know. I ran across them… How many years ago was this? This was back when I was working at Glitch, so this was back in 2019. Yeah, this was 2019. We were looking at studios because we were building this lifestyle vertical website or whatever, and I remember I had reached out to them. I reached out to a few places, like them, Pentagram, Ali, a couple of others, just to get quotes and just see what might be available. I remember they had hit me back because they were like, “Oh my God, Jabari’s chair, we’ve heard of you from Revision Path.”

Maurice Cherry:
I was like, “Okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s great.” But I’m really interested in like this quote, and they mentioned that they had recently done, I think, creative work for Abstract, which is the series on Netflix where they do-

Rebecca Brooker:
Design.

Maurice Cherry:
… it’s documentary episodes of designers. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was so funny, because this was before the second season came out, and the person there was like, “We’re about to have the second season come out,” and she was like, “And you’ll be surprised about this, we’re featuring two Black designers this season.” I’m like-

Rebecca Brooker:
Oh wow.

Maurice Cherry:
… “Wow. That’s amazing.” Telling me? I don’t know, I thought that was a weird thing to relate to me, like I would be impressed by that. But I’m like, “Wow. You talked to two Black designers, really? That’s great.”

Rebecca Brooker:
Yeah. So, I also hadn’t really known a ton about Godfrey Dadich before the investment. I had heard their name in passing, maybe seen a few things that they produced here or there. I think Abstract is one of the more notable things that they are produced for. But that’s such a wild thing to say, I can’t believe that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So, with the agency joining the kyu Collective, has that impacted your day-to-day work in any sort of way?

Rebecca Brooker:
Not yet, I think that it’s still… So, they only made the announcement of the investment and the joining a couple months ago, I think in April, early April. So, it hasn’t affected my day-to-day yet. We actually are still, I think, figuring out how best we integrate. But Q recently, actually this week, held this internal collective conference that brought all of their agencies together, so I attended a couple sessions and got to meet a couple people from other agencies, SYPartners, ATÖLYE. It was an interesting experience. In one of the main sessions that I went to, they had over 300 people joining, so it was definitely a big work group. I think we’re still new to the Collective and trying to figure out what are some of the best ways that we could work collaboratively or side-by-side, or really partner with some of the other minds in the kyu Collective. I think that there’s a lot of great companies and probably a lot of really smart people working at those companies. So, I’m excited to see what happens, it’s definitely an unknown path right now, I would say.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So, what does a regular day look like for you when work comes in? You come in on projects as the art director? Talk to me about that.

Rebecca Brooker:
I feel like this is really beneficial information because before I started as an art director, I thought I knew what an art director did, but I feel like we don’t have enough resources out there to tell people exactly what the job is about, so I think this is a great convo. But basically, my day-to-day really looks like, I’m probably on about two to three projects at the same time, it depends on how heavy those projects are. My role right now is half executional and half managerial, so I’m usually talking to clients, making decisions, but also working with the designers, our senior designers and our mid-level designers, to produce work for our campaigns. So, for example, we are, right now, working on a couple campaigns for Nike Chicago, and I am leading the art direction, so I will put together the look, the feel, talk with the client and understand, from the brief, what they’re trying to convey, what assets do we have to work with? Is it a new design system that we need to make? Is it something that we’re picking up from?

Rebecca Brooker:
I, basically, get the work to a place where it is ready and executional for some of the other designers to take it into production. So, a really great example of this is on this Nike project that we’re working on, we’re going to be producing some reels and stuff for the Nike social handle on Instagram. Part of what I’m proposing to Nike is that we’re going to create a GIPHY sticker pack on Instagram, so people can go search Nike Chicago, and they get the stickers on GIPHY and they put them on their stories or whatever. I will probably put together a deck, along with some of my other ideas, pull some references of what those stickers will look like. My job is to really sell that idea to the client before it gets produced, so that the client buys into it. I prep it for the team, we’ll probably have a kickoff and say, “Okay. The client loves this idea of the stickers. Let’s put these into production.”

Rebecca Brooker:
Maybe our senior designer, who is also an amazing illustrator, he’ll help us draw out some shapes, he’ll help us draw out some stuff, maybe we pass it to a different designer who’s going to add some typography to it. It really depends on the project, but my role is usually a little bit higher level, a hybrid of client management and coming up with the overall look and feel of the work before handing it off to some of our other team members to bring it to life.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say is probably the most challenging part about what you do?

Rebecca Brooker:
That’s a great question. I think one of the most challenging parts is really finding new inspiration all the time. I feel like sometimes when I’m working on multiple projects at the same time, sometimes my ideas tend to blend together, so all three of those projects may end up looking similar. So, I feel like finding inspiration and ways to keep things really distinct and unique in their look and feel of each campaign or each identity is a challenge, because you constantly have to be looking at inspiration, not just on the internet, but, really, all around you and in your world, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Rebecca Brooker:
I’m constantly thinking about how can I take some of the things I see in my everyday, whether it’s some graffiti on the street, whether it’s an old street sign, how can I take things that I see in real life and bring them into my project, so I’m not just lost in this world of Pinterest and Arena and Behance and looking at what’s already out there. I think trying to keep your work original when you’re working at speed and scale is really difficult, sometimes. It’s easy to lean on the internet to just see what else is out there, but I feel sometimes, it could make the work all feel really homogenous.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Rebecca Brooker:
So, staying inspired, it’s always a challenge.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s so interesting you mentioned that, I was just talking about that a little bit with… At where I work now, we have a creative director, and one of the projects that we have worked on for the past few months is creating a print magazine. So, we’re creating a print magazine from scratch for the company, coming up with the name, the brand, talking to printers. I joked, “I feel like Khadijah James in the first season of Living Single trying to put flavor together,” wrangling contributors and stuff like that. It’s a quarterly magazine, so we have a little bit of breathing room in terms of going from issue to issue. But right now, our first issue came out a couple of months ago, we’re currently in design on the second issue, and we’re starting planning on the third issue.

Rebecca Brooker:
Third issue, that’s great.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ve already mapped out themes for the next six issues. So, up until issue 6, I’ve mapped out themes for that. Even looking at that, we’re looking at these covers and thinking, “Well, do we want this to tell a story?” Because even as we look at the themes itself, so far, the themes are usually around propulsion. The first cover has a jet on it, the second cover, when people see it, it has a city rising up through the clouds. So, everything that we’re doing here is not only about propulsion in some way, but also could tie into a theme of discovery or exploration, which ties into the theme of what we’re trying to do with the tool. Even as we look at that, because the company is named Orbit, so there’s a lot of space imagery and terminology and things that we can pull from, this next issue that we’re doing is all about Web3, which is a bit of a departure, just in terms of it’s a very new topic. Well, I’d say it’s a very buzzy topic.

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know if it’s necessarily super new, but it’s a pretty buzzy topic, because it’s all wrapped up in the metaverse and Dows and cryptocurrency and blockchain and all that stuff. It can be confusing to just think, “Well, how do we depict something like that?” It’s funny you say looking at inspiration, because we just did a working session recently and we’re looking at creative inspiration and we’re like, “We see this octahedron symbol everywhere, and I want to use that in some kind of way.” I’m like, “Eh, I don’t know. I don’t think we should use that because it’s used everywhere.” It turns out that it’s actually the logo for Ethereum, which is why it’s used so many places, because the person who came up with Web3 is also the founder of Ethereum, so it’s a branding thing, for them, at least.

Maurice Cherry:
But the theme that I think we’re going to settle on, we may change this by the time it actually goes to print, is actually going to be a retrospective from the 1920s to the 2020s in the theme of the movie Metropolis. It’s going to be about the… I forget what the name of the Android is in Metropolis, it’s the Metalnmensch or something like that.

Rebecca Brooker:
Oh, I don’t know.

Maurice Cherry:
So, it’s going to be like a human, but we’re going to have… Well, we’re taking inspiration from that and we’re also taking inspiration from RoboCop, so-

Rebecca Brooker:
Wow. Very different.

Maurice Cherry:
… so it’s going to have a helmet that’s a Oculus helmet, it’s going to have a shoulder plate that’s blockchain, it’s going to have another shoulder plate that’s… So, we’re thinking the person is whomever is on the internet, because Web3 is also very user-centered, and so we’re thinking of all these different aspects of what make up Web3 coming onto a person as an Android thing. It’s interesting, because when we were trying to think of inspiration, a lot of what we saw just all looked the same like, “Oh everything’s purple and blue and there’s the Ethereum logo.” We want to do something different from that, that stands out a bit. Trying to find an inspiration is tough.

Rebecca Brooker:
It’s tough. The thing I’ve been struggling with lately is when you work at an agency sometimes, and this is maybe what I miss about working in-house sometimes, but when you work at an agency, I feel like the speed at which you have to produce ideas, sometimes it’s exhausting. Every month is a different campaign, maybe two campaigns, and you’re constantly churning out ideas. And then what happens when you can’t be creative on demand? What happens in that moment when everyone’s like, “This is your sixth campaign this year, and sorry, but this idea sucks”? You’re like, “Yeah, I’m tired and burnt out.” So, I think that’s something that we’re also just trying to, as an agency, as a world, I guess, I don’t know if this is in other agencies, as well, but I think we’re just trying to find balance sometimes, where we have some downtime to rest and recuperate and generate some new creative ideas. And then other times, we’re working really hard and producing at volume. I think it’s a balance of both things, and part of why I feel like we’re in this moment of the Great Burnout where every…

Rebecca Brooker:
Burnout is a buzzword, and everyone is burning out, everyone is over Zoom, over being on the computer eight hours a day. I think people are right now just looking for some sense of balance in their life, and I think for designers, that can be draining when you have to wake up and produce a new idea every day. So, that’s something I’ve been noodling on for the past couple of months, is just how do we continue to have jobs that require us to exert creative energy, while still being able to find a refill and recuperation for that same creative energy? Is there answer, is there a solution? I don’t know. I feel like we’re all equal [inaudible 00:28:37] capitalism.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Look, it’s hard to pour from an empty cup, especially with everything else that’s going on in the world, political issues, we’ve had an ongoing global health crisis for the past two, almost three years. So many things have taken a toll just on people’s psyche that it’s tough to always try to come up with stuff, whether you’re in a highly creative role, I think, or not. But certainly with what you’re saying, as an art director, it probably is super tough to always have to pour from the well of imagination when the well is running dry.

Rebecca Brooker:
Yeah, yeah. I think that’s not just art directors. I feel like, even as a creative strategist yourself, you probably could relate to that at some level, where just idea generators, I guess, have to constantly be figuring out a way to continue generating ideas or having thoughts about these things. I think it touches everyone on some level. I don’t think it makes my job any different from a creative director’s job or a creative strategist’s job. But I think, generally, it’s a tough world out there to be creative right now, in the midst of everything.

Maurice Cherry:
Absolutely. Well, let’s switch gears here a little bit and talk more about your origin story. I know you were born in Trinidad and Tobago, tell me what it was like growing up there.

Rebecca Brooker:
Yeah. So, I was born in Trinidad, in San Fernando, to be exact. I lived in Trinidad until I was about 18, before I went to college at St. John’s University in New York. I love Trinidad, I love my home. It’s my people, I will always care for them and always support my people. But I think really early on, when I began exploring my sexuality and just my awakening reality that maybe I’m not like my friends, maybe I’m not straight and I don’t know what that means. I think something that still hurts me to this day is just that there is not a lot of LGBTQ representation in the Caribbean. There’s a culture of homophobia, and there’s a culture of very religious-based homophobia, as well, that I think really scarred me. I came out when I was 16 to my parents, and my parents sent me to talk with a nun.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Rebecca Brooker:
At the time, I didn’t have the words to describe that. I guess, in 2022, we would probably describe that as conversion therapy, to some extent. But I remember having this conversation with this nun and going for a couple sessions. One of the things this nun said to me was, “You are feeling this way,” this way being gay, “Because you’re a child of divorce.” That stuck with me all my life, and it always made me feel like as much as you are Trini, this place is maybe not for you. So, it wasn’t until I left Trinidad and went to New York that I felt this ability to own that part of my identity, really, in a culture and a way that didn’t feel harmful, it didn’t feel unsafe. So, growing up in Trinidad as a queer teen was tough for me. I felt like I had to fit in a lot. I felt like I had to wear dresses and wear heels and flat iron my hair and do my nails and my makeup. It all felt like I was just doing this to be friends with my friends.

Rebecca Brooker:
I think now, years later, I don’t feel like any relationship to that part of my identity anymore, this part of myself that needs to present in a more feminine way or be more ladylike to be loved by my people. I think it’s taken me living outside of Trinidad for 10 years to really come to terms with that acceptance that this is a place that made me feel a little bit small in who I could be. So, that is always something that has stuck with me. I would love to return home one day and really find a way or find resources to change that mentality. I have a lot of friends in Trinidad who are doing work to create a space for LGBTQ people, and I want to be able to contribute to that work in the future, because I do think it’s important for people to feel safe when they’re growing up and feel like they can explore who they are and be themselves and not feel like, whether they’re religious or not, that they’re going to get judged. So, that was one of the major reasons that I wanted to leave home.

Maurice Cherry:
I think it’s really important, this point you mentioned about you had to leave in order to see the rest of the world and experience who you are outside of the confines of being in, not just, I would say, a small town, but also just a very closed-minded environment, overall.

Rebecca Brooker:
Yeah. It’s not just a Trinidad problem either, it’s really a Caribbean culture problem, I would say. I know other Caribbean countries also have large percentage of homophobia, Jamaica is rampant with homophobia. You hear it in dance hall, you hear it in the music, you hear it in all different places. It’s almost casual to be homophobic, people joke about it, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Rebecca Brooker:
So, I think that it’s a huge culture shift that we have to make as a society and as a people to be more accepting. It’s funny, because there are a lot of cultural ties to Trinidad that are inherently queer, it’s so funny how we’re selective in the way that we see it. I feel like there are just a lot of different spaces where it’s more okay, then it’s not okay, and then it’s okay in the way that we want you to be. So, it just feels like a culture that is accepting when it’s entertainment, but not when it’s your real life. You could go up on that stage and you could cross dress, you could sing about, you could do what you want, we’ll laugh, we’ll dance. Okay, great. You’re a great performer. But if you went on that stage and actually brought your partner, no.

Rebecca Brooker:
So, I feel like it’s very much a culture of where you have to present a certain way, you have to act a certain way, you keep your business private. That’s how you survive, and that’s tough. I don’t think any LGBTQ identifying people, anybody who feels like they can’t be who they are, should not have to live that way.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. So much of that, as you mentioned, just reminds me of… I grew up in a small town, I grew up in Selma, Alabama. To that point that you mentioned about how queer people are celebrated when there’s a certain presentational aspect to it, in a way. I remember, in high school, we had gay men in high school and one of them was our head majorette, ironically. One was, he was, I think, in the class above me, he and his sister… Well, sorry, me and his sister were in the same class and he was a class above me, but he also wore a lot of women’s clothes to school. I can’t presume to know what their individual experiences might have been like outside of school, but I know when they were at school, they were always celebrated because of that. It almost in a way felt mocking, I don’t know, but-

Rebecca Brooker:
Mm-hmm. Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
For example, the guy who was the head majorette had his own suit made and everything that was just like the suit that the girls had. At least from what I could tell, nobody said anything, but then I wasn’t close to that person, so I don’t know what other sorts of discrimination or things they might have received. But to be in that small town and to try to express yourself in that way, I can’t imagine how just stifling and confining that can be, and you have to break out, eventually

Rebecca Brooker:
You have to, you have to. I think that was one of, like I said, one of the things that I’m so grateful for is the opportunity to break out. I have so many friends in Trinidad who do identify as LGBTQ, but don’t have, one, the privilege or, two, the resources to get out of that situation, too. I think that’s an important thing to acknowledge here, is that I feel like I got to embrace and explore that part of my identity because I was given this opportunity to leave the country, and travel the world, and find myself, and not feel unsafe with presenting the way I want to present. But there’s so many people in Trinidad who don’t have that same opportunity. I have a really dear friend of mine who I grew up with, know their family, they are super religious. For years, this person has been telling me, secretly, “I’m queer, I’m actually trans, and I want to identify this way, but I live at home and I can’t do that. I can’t dress the way I want to. When my parents go out, I try on different clothes.”

Rebecca Brooker:
It just reinforces this culture that not everybody has that opportunity, so that is part of why I feel really moved to find ways that I can contribute or ways that I can change the narrative about what queer Caribbean culture is, because it’s important that we redefine the context of what queer Caribbean culture is. It’s always been so tied to God and like, “You’re going down the wrong path and God doesn’t like that. Why do you want to change your body when God gave you this beautiful hair and this beautiful, feminine body? Why do you want to identify as a man?” It’s never come from a perspective of this is not a choice that I’m making. My identity is not a choice. I’m not choosing to wake up today and say, “I’ve decided I like girls,” or, “I’ve decided I like boys.” It’s something that you come to that discovery, it really is. It’s there all along, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, it’s who we are, it’s something that we’re born with.

Rebecca Brooker:
So, I feel that in the Caribbean, there’s always been a sense of homophobia is equivalent with the devil is equivalent with breaking the law of God. It’s never been looked at from a perspective of this is a biological thing that is present in all living beings, to some extent.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Rebecca Brooker:
So, I feel like it’s just a huge culture shift that we still have to make. Like I said, I think that’s something that we have to accept and work on as a community, not just the queer people, but we need allies and we need people coming together to be able to advocate for those rights.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about St. John’s University. You mentioned moving away from Trinidad, going to St. John’s in New York City, and you studied graphic design there. Tell me what your time was like there, because I would imagine from the environment that you just described, going to New York City was a complete culture shock.

Rebecca Brooker:
Exactly. Yeah, it was. So, context. People are probably like, “If she’s so against religion, why did she go to a Catholic university?” Well, I can tell you a couple things about that. So, I went to Catholic school all my life, actually, from primary school to secondary school. When I was applying to universities, I had actually, coincidentally, visited St. John’s a couple years before at a conference that I was attending in the States. This wasn’t my first time in New York, either, my grandmother at the time was living in New York, so I was always traveling between Trinidad and New York to visit and was fairly familiar with the city. But when I was applying to universities, I applied to St. John’s just because it was one of the only US college campuses that I’d ever visited. I was like, “All right. I kind of know that place, let me just apply and see what happens.”

Rebecca Brooker:
The other schools I applied to were SCAD and other design schools, because I was like, “I need to go study design and I want to go do it at SCAD. I don’t know what St John’s program is about. They have a graphic design program, but whatever, that’s a throwaway option.” St John’s, coincidentally, came back with almost a full tuition scholarship. On top of that, they were like, “Oh, you’re a Catholic? We’re going to give you an extra scholarship for being Catholic.” I was like, “Damn. For the first time, it came in handy,” I was like, “Okay.” So, that was how I ended up making the decision, because while I did get into SCAD, it was four times the price, my parents were paying this out of pocket. Just the opportunity to go to St. John’s almost for free versus pay money that we definitely didn’t have to go to SCAD and possibly take out loans, it didn’t make sense in that way. So, reluctantly, I chose St. John’s, not knowing.

Rebecca Brooker:
I was like, “Okay, I’m going to have to put my best foot forward, because I don’t know what type of design program they have.” I’ve never heard anybody say, “I got a graphic design degree at St. John’s.” They’re known for law, they’re known for all different other things. So, I was a little bit skeptical, but like I said, it was a new opportunity. In Trinidad, we didn’t have a ton of tertiary education to pursue design. We had a field of art that you could study, but there wasn’t a huge design industry, and there still isn’t a huge design industry in Trinidad to have made it worth staying there. So, I knew that if I wanted to study design, I had to leave. This is sexuality aside, I was just thinking about career-wise, how was I going to pursue design? I had really even gotten into design in high school because I had a cracked version of Photoshop on my computer, and just started making posters. In high school, they asked me, “Oh, do you want to make our school yearbook?” I was like, “Yeah.” Maurice, I designed an entire yearbook in Photoshop.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Rebecca Brooker:
They sent it to the printer and the printer was like, “We cannot print this file. You need to use InDesign,” and I was like, “I don’t know what that is. I’m a graphic designer, I use Photoshop.” The school ended up having to pay the printer to redesign the thing I had designed in a principle way. But I was so convinced, I was like, “This is amazing, I’m a designer. I’m going to do this for the rest of my life.” That was really where my inspiration started, just playing on Photoshop making posters, doing design tutorials from the internet, and teaching myself how to design. So, fast forward, I get into St John’s, start there. I’m honestly really surprised by the design program, I had no expectations. It was a small program, there was no more than 20 of us in my classes, but some of the professors changed just what I thought I knew about graphic design. I knew nothing about graphic design.

Rebecca Brooker:
Here I was, making my yearbook in Photoshop, and you get into your first graphic design class, and I realized, I was like, “Oh wow, I am starting from scratch. I know nothing.” That was an amazing feeling, to be able to go to school and have just the time and the ability to just play and do what you want and learn so much, different techniques, learned from other people in class who were making cool stuff. It was just an eye-opening experience for me. I feel like that was when I really fell in love with design, was when I started really learning it and learning the concepts, learning how to not just make something, but how to really bring an idea to life. To think about a concept and to then bring that to life through design blew my mind, it blew my mind in 2015 when I started school. That was my experience, St John’s was four years, and I came out of it with a ton of connections.

Rebecca Brooker:
My professors were working in the design industry in New York. We were always going to visit different studios and museums and galleries in the city. So, I felt like being in New York really helped me to make the industry connections and the network that I didn’t know I was going to have.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. You were there at the right time. In college, not just being a fish out of water coming from another country to the States, but then also relearning what you knew about design, what you thought you knew about design in this program. College is always touted as a time where it’s really transformative, but for you, it really sounds like it was a good starting point for you to build the career that you have now.

Rebecca Brooker:
Definitely, definitely. I think that was part of… Something that always drove me in college, was I think I knew that I didn’t have another option. My backup plan was going back to Trinidad and really figuring out how would I be a designer in Trinidad when I don’t know anything about design, I don’t have any industry contacts, I don’t even know where to begin to do my own design thing, even as a freelancer? So, I feel like it was really a transformational moment for me, where I had to push myself to be some level of successful so that I could stand on my own two feet and I could make this career that I doubted myself, I didn’t even know if I could do. I think that determination, that drive, really, is what gave me the confidence, Maurice, to just ask people anything.

Rebecca Brooker:
I feel like it comes across as outgoing, but I was always just so curious to, “Why did you do that? Why did you make that decision? How did you meet that person? How can I meet that person? What do they do? How do you know them? Is there an idea here?” So, I was just constantly hungry, and I think that hunger is really what led me to getting my first job at BAM as an intern.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I see that after you graduated, you worked as a curatorial assistant at a couple of art galleries and such.

Rebecca Brooker:
Yeah. So, at the time, I had an on campus job at St. John’s in the student art gallery. I took that job because it was a unique opportunity, not just to learn about the art, but one of the early assignments that I would do was design some of the vinyl and design some of the material for an exhibition. So, that was a lot of like, “Okay, we’re going to do an exhibition, let me design the wall text, let me design the logo, let me put together the postcards, the flyers, put these around the campus.” So, I took that job because I wanted some hands-on practice of making stuff that wasn’t just for my classes. I started at the art gallery at St. John’s and I met a contact there, someone who came in once, and this guy was a friend of the curator at the time. He said, “Oh, I have an art gallery in Bushwick,” and I said, “Wow, do you need an intern?” He said, “Yeah, why not?” So, I got this internship at Outlet Gallery in Bushwick and, really, I became the curatorial assistant.

Rebecca Brooker:
It started just like, “Watch the gallery, talk about the work if someone comes in. We have a new show coming up, can you design the poster? Can you design the catalog?” So, I was getting a little bit of design experience, but I was also really, at this time, really into the art, and just learning a lot about art. I felt like there was a lot of similarities between the art world and the design world, just in the way that you present ideas on a page. So, I spent a lot of time in my senior year of college really going to a lot of galleries and really immersing myself and learning a lot about the art world. At one point, had another doubting moment where I was like, “Damn, do I want to become a curator? I don’t know,” and thought about that for a little bit. But art has always had a special place in my heart. I get a lot of inspiration looking at art and finding ways to translate that into design.

Rebecca Brooker:
I think that the two have a lot of overlap and it was something that I just really enjoyed looking at, generally. So, I did the curatorial assistant gig for a couple years, both at the St John’s gallery and the internship in Bushwick, and then I got this internship at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which was the perfect melting of the two worlds. Now, I was working at BAM and I was actually designing the programming for some of the opera shows, some of the festivals, and the programming that they would have at their venues. That was definitely the first job that I was working on a team with, and I was starting to learn the dynamic of being a designer in the design world, and working with a creative director, working with other designers on the team. I was the intern and just learning even the process of working in a studio, they’re like, “Oh, we have all these softwares, and I’m going to assign you a ticket, and we’re going to change the status.”

Rebecca Brooker:
For the first time, I was like, “Oh my God, you don’t just want to email me the file that you need? Damn, okay.” So, that was really my first experience, as well, with formalized design in a professional sense, outside of the classroom. That was an incredible learning experience for me, just being able to work with some of the best creatives. I think BAM was a great exercise in finding ways to be creative in a design system. They have a very tight design system that they use, and it was the first time I had to learn a design system, it was the first time I had to understand how to be creative within these constraints of the same logo, the same type base, the same everything. I felt like that just unlocked a whole new world for me. So, I worked there. Unfortunately, at this time, I was starting to think about my post-student visa status, and I had to get a job that would sponsor me a work visa.

Rebecca Brooker:
So, after talking to my boss at BAM, he said, “We’re a nonprofit, I don’t think we’re going to be able to sponsor your work visa. I have a friend who runs a team at this company called Compass, and they’re hiring a lot of designers. They’re growing really fast. Why don’t I send your portfolio?” So, I said, “Sounds good, do it,” and he sent it over. The guy from Compass called me and he said, “I’d love to bring you in for an interview.” I met with them, the recruiter that I met there was actually Trini, and she was like, “Oh no, this is a great place to work.” I was like, “Okay, okay, okay. I’m going to work there.” Surprisingly, they gave me an offer. So, I worked at Compass and things were going really well. That was a huge switch, because I was at a nonprofit where budgets were tight, and then I went into this new startup tech company, beautiful building on 5th Avenue, overlooking the city. It was just a different world. I was, again, a fish out of water.

Rebecca Brooker:
I was just not sure what to do and going along with it, but it was a great paying job, it was a bunch of new contacts, and the design work was pretty cool. So, I worked at Compass for a year and they agreed to do my work visa, we got that in place and started moving. In about July of 2018, I hadn’t heard back about my work visa status. A friend of mine at Compass, actually, who we applied at the same time, she had come over to my desk and was like, “Oh, I got my acceptance of my H-1B, did you get yours?” I was like, “No, didn’t get mine at all yet.” She said, “Oh, I’m sure it’s going to come. I’m sure it’s going to come.” So, I emailed my manager, I emailed the lawyers that are handling the case, and I don’t hear back for about two weeks. They come back and they say, “Unfortunately, your application wasn’t picked in the H-1B lottery, and you have three weeks to leave the country.”

Maurice Cherry:
Whoa.

Rebecca Brooker:
I said, “Wait a minute, but usually when you get the denial, you have 60 days to leave the country. Why is it three weeks?” They said, “Oh, I’m sorry. We forgot to inform you earlier-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh God.

Rebecca Brooker:
… that your application had been denied.” So, there was all this time that was just lost between the time of the notice and the time I was notified that I could have been preparing to leave the country. By the time I got the news, they were like, “You basically have three weeks left. You have to leave by the end of August.”

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Rebecca Brooker:
I was like, “Oh my God.” That was my whole life turned upside down, Maurice. The next day, Compass was like, “You’re no longer employed here because now that we found out your H-1B is denied, you have to stop working.”

Maurice Cherry:
Damn.

Rebecca Brooker:
I had just signed a new lease a couple months ago with my partner and another roommate, so I was like, “I’m on the hook for at least another eight months on this lease,” just a lot of big life changes. I was like, “Okay. So, I have to go back to Trinidad. What am I going to do? I have $4,000, $5,000 saved in total. I don’t know what that’s going to get me in this next life, but we’re going to find out.” So, I left the States, I went back home to Trinidad. My parents at the time were actually on vacation in Europe. It must have been two or three weeks, maybe a month after I got back to Trinidad, my old boss at Compass called me and he said, “Hey, I want to let you know, we’re about to sign a deal with this agency in Buenos Aires. They need a designer who knows our brand to go down there and help them build a team of 15 production designers.” I was like, “Okay. So, you’re saying I should go do the job?”

Rebecca Brooker:
They were like, “Yeah. We put your name in to go do that, and they’re going to call you.” I was like, “All right.” [inaudible 00:55:14] are done, just a really lucky break and a real opportunity, where my boss from Compass, shout out Jeff Lai, he threw my name in the hat. I was still just one year working there, there were people working at the company years who could have probably done that job, but he took a chance on me, proposing me for that gig, and I ended up getting the job. So, that was the thing that moved me to Argentina at the end of 2018, was this new opportunity with Media.Monks to help them build a team of designers for Compass in Buenos Aires, and help lead that team to understand the brand.

Queer Design Summit 2022

Queer Design Summit - July 7, 2022, 10am PST

The Queer Design Club is hosting their inaugural #QDCSummit on July 7! 🌈✨ Join the queer design community online to discuss two years of rich data. The goal of the Summit is to bring the community together and use it as a breakthrough for the industry as to why events like the Summit and groups like Queer Design Club are important. Be a part of it!

Tickets are available at QueerDesign.club/Summit

Sponsored by Hover

Hover

Building your online brand has never been more important and that begins with your domain name. Show the online community who you are and what you’re passionate about with Hover. With over 400+ domain name extensions to choose from, including all the classics and fun niche extensions, Hover is the only domain provider we use and trust.

Ready to get your own domain name? Go to hover.com/revisionpath and get 10% off your first purchase.

Alexandria Batchelor

The thrilling part about entrepreneurship is following your dreams while pursuing your passions. That’s definitely the case for illustrator and creative director Alexandria Batchelor. As the head of her own company, Foxee Design, Alexandria uses her skills in graphic design, branding and illustration to not only provide killer work for her clients, but to also redefine standards in the industry within art and design that represents minorities (primarily Black women). Now that’s change worth supporting!

We kicked off our conversation talking about plans for the summer, and Alexandria talked about how she named her company, some of her notable clientele and collaborators, and the best kinds of clients for her to work with on projects. She also spoke about an upcoming book she worked on with noted authors Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes, and shared some secrets and advice on creativity and self-motivation.

If you’re looking to get a dose of inspiration, then this episode is the one for you. Enjoy!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Tell us who you are and what you do.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Hi, everyone. My name is Alexandria Batchelor, AKA Foxee Design. I am currently the CEO and creative director of Foxee Design. Completely self employed right now, and I am a designer, but I specialize in branding illustration and comic production specifically. That’s me in a nutshell.

Maurice Cherry:
How is the year going for you so far?

Alexandria Batchelor:
It’s going really well actually. Lots of good projects are coming in. I’ve actually started subcontracting. That’s where I’ve started leveling up where I have acknowledged that I can’t do it all by myself. One of my mentors taught me that he kind of taught or ingrained this mentality of looking out for your community and your network and taking on all the talented people that you know and spreading the wealth, because I am tired. This year I am focusing on self care and that’s why I bring it in like, oh, you have some time? All right, I’ve got two projects for you here, and I’ve got this much money and I’ve got this for you and this for you. That’s kind of how I started managing my business this year. It’s already working quite well, so good start so far.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a great start so far. I’m telling you, and for people that are out there listening that might be running one person shops, the minute that you get into subcontracting, you will feel like you have unlocked the cheat code. Wait a minute. I can do this self employment thing. Once you build that network or that collective, you’re like, oh, I got this.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I know. That’s not sustainable. Not if you want to be happy and be a real person, because I like reality. Let’s stay rooted in it.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, and also with subcontracting, it can also help you to even just expand your services. If there’s something that a client may want that you know someone in your network has the capacity to handle, it just kind of makes you appear more well rounded, so good for you. That’s good.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Right. Thank you. I can’t wait to continue to build. I just actually recruited one of my old design confidants from college as well as one of my old interns who are both my friends still to be my right and my left hand for my company, so that was a big move where I’m like, I told one of them, I’m like, you’re my successor. The other one is just stepping up to the plate, so it’s just really nice to have people I really trust my business with and I could only be thrilled to imagine how they would run my company one day when I have to go expand to new horizons. Still come back to Foxee because that’s where my heart is.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s amazing. I guess with that, do you have any plans for the summer?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yes. I’m going on vacation. I don’t vacation often, so yes. Actually summer, well starting off with my birthday, my birthday’s next month. May babies, Tauruses. Any Tauruses in the house? I’m going to Alabama because you were talking about the south, but my family’s from Alabama and I’m visiting my grandma for my birthday. We’re going to hang out in Atlanta for a bit, so that’s going to be really fun. Then in June, I’m spending the month in California because I’m also going to be speaking at VidCon, which is exciting, but most of it I’m going to be relaxing, but yes. I’ll have my first major speaking engagement in person. I don’t think I’ve nervous yet, but as we get closer, I’m going to be a ball of nerves.

Maurice Cherry:
You’ll be fine. VidCon is one of those conferences that everyone’s going to have a camera, of course. It’s a video conference, VidCon, but you’ll be fine. I think there’s enough energy at that kind of event where everyone wants to see you do well.

Alexandria Batchelor:
That’s true. It’ll be good vibes. As long as there are good vibes, I’ll thrive.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I’m curious, where in Alabama will you be visiting?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Nobody knows where this is, so I’ll be surprised if you know. It’s called Elba. Elba, Alabama in Coffee County.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I too am from Alabama.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Really?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Oh my goodness. I.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m from Selma in Dallas County. I’ve heard of Elba though.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Oh, really?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Oh my gosh. You’re the first person who’s ever heard of where my family’s from. That’s amazing.

Maurice Cherry:
People will come to me and name random cities in Alabama, like Utah or Boaz or something. I was like, yeah. I’ve heard of that. Really? I’m like, yeah. I grew up in Selma, from Alabama, south central Alabama. Yeah. Nice. Alabama in the summer is hot.

Alexandria Batchelor:
It’s going to be brutal, yeah. Well, May, so that’s not too bad.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s not too bad. Yeah.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yeah. My grandma wants us back later in the summer in August, so I think I might die. I don’t know if I could do that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. August is Alabama is brutal, but the thing about visiting small towns in Alabama like that is it just strips everything away, like technology, wifi, cable. Selma is not a big city. Even when I go back home to visit my mom, she’s got cable and she has internet, but like it’s not the cable and internet I have at home. In terms of the entire environment, it just kind of strips everything away and forces you to be still for a while.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Nice. Yeah. That’s exactly what I’m looking for to unplug, kind of reconvene with nature. My grandma’s got this cute little vegetable garden that I want to see and just kind of learn about the land, because we own land too. It’s low key our inheritance eventually, so I just want to get back to my roots and what better time to do it than for my birthday? I’m really excited.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Let’s talk about Foxee Design. I know you’ve been freelancing for a long time now, but tell the people more about Foxee Design.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Foxee Design, I wanted to figure out a nice alias that really represented me, and we started branding ourselves in college, but everybody was kind of doing… no shade to people who just use their name. That’s a very legitimate brand because your name actually holds a lot of meaning. I’m big into name etymology, so I love learning the meaning behind everything, but I just wanted something more than just like A and B.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I just realized my hair became a really big signifier and symbol in my life because I used to have chemically straightened hair up until I was like 18. Right when I was in college, I did a big chop and I went natural and that was the first time I had had natural hair in my life. That’s why the hair kind of became a big thing. I have a beauty mark, like the Marilyn Monroe beauty mark and the lips and I’m like, you know what? Maybe this is the visual I want to represent my brand.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Then Foxee, the name, kind of came about because… actually, it’s from Foxy Brown, the Pam Grier movie from the 70s, but I learned about that from Quentin Tarantino’s iteration of it, Jackie Brown and Pam Grier again. I was like, oh, I’m in love with this movie. It was my favorite Quentin Tarantino movie. It just really resonated with me, so I was like, well, this character is so cool because she’s re-contextualizing black female sexuality and she’s kind of making the black woman a very powerful force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. I’m like, I want to do that in the design industry. This was before where are the black designers, which we were just talking about too, where I’m just like, I just want to be myself and be this very strong black woman without any consequence and have it resonate with my work. It doesn’t always need to be about my work, but it’s always rooted in it because it’s a part of me.

Alexandria Batchelor:
That’s why it kind of was a little sexy. At times I would ask my friends like, should I have done something a little more palatable, but I just kind of leaned into it and I really want to embody this persona where… if you see me, I’m very naturalista, like Tom boy, but I can have those moments where I step out. It feels like an alter ego to an extent as well, but I like stepping into this alter ego because I’m this authority in the brand space and the design space and the illustration space and I get to know what I’m talking about and feel really empowered behind the knowledge that I’ve accrued over time. That’s kind of how Foxee came about and the meaning behind my whole business.

Maurice Cherry:
I love that. I love that there’s so much intention behind it.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yes. Always have intention behind the work I do.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you specialize in, you mentioned, graphic design, you mentioned illustration or comics and branding. What specifically drew you to branding? I’ve been finding, I’d say probably on the show within the past year or so, a lot more designers getting into branding, but what draws you to it?

Alexandria Batchelor:
I look at branding as storytelling. I realize illustration, comics and branding are all storytelling mediums for me that are my favorite mediums. I also write a little bit and my mom is a writer, so I have that in my blood. There’s something about branding that I feel like can be missed where you just think it’s a logo, but it’s much more than that. You’re telling someone’s story. I think it’s more of the owner. You go back to the owner, you find out even more about the business, and that actually influences a lot of decisions, like what colors. Is this based on your favorite colors? Is this just tied to how that color represents the specialty that we’re trying to brand? What is this interest, this hobby? Did you like skiing? Is that why you wanted to make something related to skiing?

Alexandria Batchelor:
I think brands always go back to the first person who came with that idea, and I love learning about people and understanding the attention behind all of the things that we are drawn to. That’s why I really like branding, because it’s kind of like decoding and getting to know someone. It’s kind of personal, because I know recent years people are trying to separate the personal brand and the business brand. I actually think it can be both. It’s one logo. One brand can, I believe, represent both personal and business. That’s how I do it. I don’t have a separate page. It’s all at one.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I am a person, I am my business, but I can also be just the person that can just be the business. I can be like, okay, I’m taking a mental health day and I go to the spa. I feel like when you try to split, it’s hard to navigate, so I love creating this space where you can feel like your work isn’t necessarily your life, but it is an important part of your life and it can still be a representation of you, your will, your passion. That’s why I love branding.

Maurice Cherry:
I love that. That’s a great way to put it. I see now branding and storytelling and it’s something I’ve definitely seen with a lot of small companies are trying to get into it, or I think they’re trying to get into branding because they’re starting to see it now as more than just a logo. They’ll come to a designer, I need a logo, but the logo should hopefully tell the story of your business or why you’re doing your business or something. It’s not just something generic that you just slap together and say, this is what my business is. It’s this logo.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Right. It’s Papyrus type. No, I’m just kidding. I’m literally always walking around like, I don’t like that, I love that. My dad’s like, stop working. I’m like, I can’t help it, dad. The whole world is design. Oh, man.

Maurice Cherry:
Talk to me about how you approach a new project that comes into Foxee Design.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I’m a big process person, like process junkie over here. I love how you got from point A to point B. I learned that a lot of clients and even designers are only about the final product. When I was getting introduced to this culture of design, I would notice that designers would hoard their designs until they were ready to share it and it would be more finalized and clients would just be like, I don’t get what this concept is. Just give me the final product. This was in college I reached this theory. I was like, I think there’s a gap in understanding, because actually my college major, it’s not graphic design. It’s communication design, so I quite literally can design communication, and I realized there was a gap in communication between the designer and the client.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I made my process very transparent. I start with a sketch. I’ll give a couple rounds of sketches and I’ll share it with the client. I’m like, what do you think? This isn’t obviously what it’s going to look like in the final stage, but these are just some ideas to get from point A to point B. Do you like this? What do you like about that? What do you like about this? We can combine those ideas and see if they work. I can tell you why they might not work. Let’s try this instead. When you bring the client in and involve them, you just get a much more successful design.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I’ve definitely had projects that have fallen through, obviously. No one’s perfect, but when the projects really go to the finish line, I’ve always had very high success rates. People are like, I didn’t even know this is what I wanted. I’m like, exactly, because the client always wants to be like, hey, I trust you. Just do whatever you want. I’m like, no. This is your business. You have to do work too, so I give them homework. I’m like, fill out this brand brief, answer all these questions. Some people are like, I never thought to answer all these questions about my business. I’m like, well, you’ve got to think about some extra stuff before maybe we even start your logo, because I always start with the logo if we’re doing a big brand project, because it’s an easy starting point but there’s way more to that. Especially if you want to be a musician or if you want to be on YouTube.

Alexandria Batchelor:
There’s a lot of other deliverables that go around the logo. I’ll give you colors and type bases to work with, even if that’s what you lead me with, but there’s always more than just a logo. Yes. I make my clients work just as hard as me, and that’s why I think I work really well with people and now they appreciate the process. They’ll always walk away like, I learned something about design today, and I’m like, that’s amazing. I’ve got teaching in my blood.

Maurice Cherry:
I think that’s a good way to approach it. Back when I started my studio, which was… what year is this? 2022. Back when I started in my studio in the olden days of the inter… no, I’m kidding, but back in the late 2000s or so, there was this really big push and maybe it’s still this way now, I don’t know, but there was almost this dichotomy that was set up between designer/entrepreneurs and clients where the designer is always right and the client is always wrong and there was this whole thing about clients from hell. Clients from hell.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I remember that blog.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Not to say that they don’t exist. They do exist. But also I think it’s up to the designer to vet the people that are coming in.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
I think if you’re doing a good job of that and they know that you’re educating them along with doing the work that you don’t run into many clients from hell after a while. They know to kind of stay away, but that education portion is super important. I think clients want to know sort of what they’re paying for, of course. They’re not just paying for hopefully a set of hands. They want someone that can illustrate, especially if it’s for their business and its brand. I would hope that they would want to be involved in it.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Me too. Yeah. Someone, I can’t remember who, but there was four types of clients. You have the smart involved client, you have the smart, lazy client, you have the… sorry to say dumb, but the dumb involved client and the dumb and lazy client. I think the worst one they said was the dumb involved one because they want to be all up in your business but aren’t listening or anything. It’s interesting that there are types of clients out there, but you have to know how to deal with them. If someone is more the uneducated one who wants to be involved, that’s great. You shouldn’t see that as a loss. You should be like, no, this is a learning moment. You want to be involved, but you’re not listening to me and I’m the authority. You paid for this.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Also, sometimes that’s where I take an L. If you don’t want to listen to me, then we’ll go with what you want. It might not be the right decision, but because you don’t want to listen to the specialists that you hired, then we’ll just go and do what you want to do. I think as I got older I started to be less precious with my work because yes, I’m here to guide you. I’m here to be like a salesperson. I’m here to persuade you, but sometimes if they just don’t want to listen, then that’s fine. I paid you to do what you want me to do and that’s that. I think a lot of younger designers get really hellbent on like, well, they’re not doing this. They’re not do it. I’m like yeah, I know that stinks, but put all that energy in your own work then.

Maurice Cherry:
Design, at the end of the day, for what it’s worth, especially as an entrepreneur, it’s a service industry, so you are serving the client in that way. Honestly, just because you did the work doesn’t mean you have to put it on your portfolio. There is a lot of work that I’ve done for horrible clients that will never see the light of day for me.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Right. I get you there, or I’ll put the one that they should have picked in my portfolio. I’m like, this is the nice version that we just left from ground zero, and it’s a dream, but this is the reality it should have been, so I get that.

Maurice Cherry:
You mentioned earlier about subcontracting and having people as you’re left and right hand. What does a typical day look like for you?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Oh my goodness. I’m in a decompression mode right now, so it’s a little different. Sometimes I’ll be gaming all day while also working, so I balance it out, which is kind of hilarious, but other days… I’m a Switch girl, so I’m playing the new Kirby game. Nobody’s paying me to promote this, but it’s really good. It’s beautiful. That’s been nice to feel restorative, especially if I have a stacked day, but I go through my emails. Also, email anxiety is so real. Some days I just put them off, but I try to have admin days where I can focus and respond as I go so they don’t build up, because if I’m away from my email for at least a week, I will have at least 200 emails and that is not fun to go through. Yes. That’s real. Email, admin stuff, I’ll go through any contracts that I have and get them signed and sent over, because I always collect deposits or I have regular income where I’ll have to give bills and stuff. So I’ll send in my invoices then. That’s the business side of things.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Then some days I like to blog in the mornings, especially if I worked too much the past day. I’ll just be writing my memoir, which is a little passion project I have going on, so I’ll spend time either doing that. This morning I spent embroidering, so I’ve been trying to get back to traditional art because I want to spend less time on my computer. Yes. I’ve been wanting to paint more, so in the coming days I’ll get back to painting. I like to play as much as I work with even my art because it’s my passion and my job, but traditional is where I’m steering, so I like being able to balance that throughout the day. Then I’ll work on a project here or there. I’ve usually got several going on.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Some days I’m like, I’m not working on this project or I’ll have to prioritize which one, like they need this one urgently or this deadline or this sub-task deadline is due this day, so that’s how I organize my tasks. Then I try to not work into the evening. Then I unwind with some anime and food. That’s what a day looks like for me.

Maurice Cherry:
I love that you said I like to play as much as I work and that you kind of weave that into your work day. That’s pretty cool. I like that. I think it’s a good way, one, to just get through the day, but then as an entrepreneur, I think it can be so easy to fall into that trap of just work, work, work, work, work, because everything has to depend on you. Incorporating those moments of play like that into the work is a good strategy.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yes. This is very new too, because I was work, work, work, work, work, and then I crash, crash, crash, crash, crash. Now I’m like, okay. I have to make sure I am relaxing. I want to bring back yoga and meditation into my routine, because I also was doing that because self-care is just so important. That’s what I’m trying to stress as much as I’m trying to make money. I’m good. I think that’s also important to have financial literacy when you’re in these spaces and to be able to save and not worry about going check to check. That’s where I’m like, you know what? I’ve worked hard enough to be like, I can relax. It’s going to be okay.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a good place to be.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yeah. It takes time. I think everyone can get there, but even if you are living check to check, still put a few bucks aside to get a facial from Walgreens. One of those things to just do the mini. I love doing like those really home care days. I’ll put my feet in like some Epsom salt or whatever and soak, so you can do it in a very affordable way too. I suggest that as well.

Maurice Cherry:
I like that. I first heard about you about a year or so ago from YouTube. I think I told you this before we started recording. I was randomly watching videos. I was letting the YouTube algorithm guide what I watch next and I ended up on this… I guess the best way to describe it would be maybe an anime discussion channel. Not necessarily review, but more like discussion. This anime discussion channel called Beyond The Bot. Can you talk about how you became a part of that?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Sure. Actually it goes back to my history at Frederator. We actually got laid off during the pandemic too. It happened to a bunch of different companies. I have no disclaimer. There’s no shade. I wouldn’t be the designer I am today without that company. I have much respect for Frederator, but we just couldn’t afford to keep all of us on after the pandemic hit. If it didn’t hit, we probably would still be there, to be honest with you. That crew wanted to keep a channel that we started at Frederator called, Get in the Robot. That had to pause production because we had lost our jobs, so we evolved it.

Maurice Cherry:
I watched Get in the Robot. I didn’t know that was the succession. Look at that.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Right. Here we go. Full circle.

Maurice Cherry:
Full circle.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I knew we’d get there. Yes. We just evolved it to the next stage with Beyond the Bot. We did it completely independent. We were crowd funded. We had a lot of really great opportunities to us. Then they were like, all right. Come on board, because we literally took the whole old team from Frederator and just started this because we just needed extra work and the fans were helping us pay and keep it alive. We got a couple hundred bucks a month working on it and we just kept the joy alive because that channel meant a lot to us, like Get in the Robot, and then Beyond the Bot was a new baby that helped us be able to do even more than we wanted to do without corporate constraints.

Maurice Cherry:
For people that want to check it out, you should really go to YouTube, search for it. If you’re into anime, I wouldn’t even say just modern anime, like My Hero Academia or whatever because you all have talked about stuff with Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z and stuff. If you’re an anime fan of any stripe, definitely check it out.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yes. We do deep cuts. I think we did a Neon Evangelion Genesis video. We’ve done a Cardcaptor Sakura video, so even the ones you’ve never heard of, we were talking about that stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. What are the best types of clients for you to work with? I know you’ve worked with, you mentioned Frederator is a place that you’ve worked at before, and we’ll go through the rest of your work history, but you’ve worked for some publications and other publishing studios. What are the best types of clients for Foxee Design though?

Alexandria Batchelor:
I love working with YouTubers. YouTubers are where it’s at because everybody is getting on that. I’m even trying to get on YouTube. I would love to be able to be like, come follow me at Foxee. Content will come this year, I promise, but yes. I love the YouTube space. That’s kind of what Frederator did too. We were kind of cornering the mark. They were kind of the first people really doing what they’re doing on YouTube. A lot of these clients that have reached out to me are like, I’m inspired by Get in the Robot. I’m inspired by this. We’ve kind of set a domino effect of these new big YouTubers who focus on anime or cartoon industries or video games. Well, there were other people like [inaudible 00:30:17].

Alexandria Batchelor:
All those different names, but YouTube is the place to be. There’s kind of a lot of not so great branding on there, so I would like to save YouTubers. That’s also why VidCon is a great space for me to speak at. I can’t wait to connect with a lot of people who might need a new brand. Either a brand refresh, a whole rebrand, or just a brand in general, but I think YouTube is a great spot because there’s a lot of authentic personalities that… the algorithm serves up authenticities. They love when you are just yourself and you have a good niche and you have a good hook. If people have those good ideas and just need a good brand, then they’re a great fit for me because I can help visualize that and help build their brand on YouTube.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Those are my ideal clients, but I’ve worked with musicians. Back when I was living in Buffalo, my first set of clients were local rappers who would charge $50 album covers. I’m like, the come up is real. I’ve worked with musicians, but I don’t charge $50 for album covers anymore. I’m all about indie. I listen to indie music. I love like indie films, so anything independent and not discovered by the world, it just feels more special. You were one of the first few fans to get access. When you see someone blow up, you’re like, I was following them when Spotify didn’t even exist. It just feels like an achievement to be able to be in those spaces. I think it’s high honor, especially if you’re a designer in those spaces to work with those kind of artists who are doing their thing, because it’s solely based on passion. Of course they want to be famous and they want money, but they are 100% driven by passion, and passionate clients. Ideal clients are just anybody with a dream and a lot of passion, and money too.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. There’s a guy I design… not design. Sorry. I had him on the show… was it last year? I’ve been doing this for so long I really have to think, like when did I interview this person? It was last year. This guy, Chris Burnett, he started out doing some designs for Odd Future. He loved the music and lucked into becoming their creative director for a while, did work with Tyler and with Frank and them. I’m like, wow. To be able to come in at that level, whether it’s a musician or even with what you’re talking about with a YouTube channel or something like that, to get in on the ground floor of working with another passionate creative is amazing. That’s the best. It’s the best. It’s so good, because that energy is there. They’re doing their thing. You’re doing your thing. It’s so good. It’s so good.

Alexandria Batchelor:
So good. Glad you agree.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s switch gears here a little bit. I know we’ve talked a lot about your work, but let’s talk more about you. Where did you grow up?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Me, I grew up in the Hudson Valley in New York. A little town. I don’t know if you all know Fishkill. More like the Poughkeepsie area. I’m just throwing out general terms because this is so specific. It’s like the greater New York City area. I know some people are going to be like, what? Then other people are like, what the heck is that? It’s near Beacon. Beacon’s also really nice. I don’t know. Good. It’s the upstate New York area kind of, but not really. It’s very white, which is fine. That experience made me very comfortable being in predominantly white spaces, which actually helped me out in corporate and college, although my college program, our class, there was a lot of diversity there, which was surprising because it was Buffalo, but anyway. Yeah. I grew up in a predominantly white area in the suburbs and I lived there my… that’s not true. I was a baby in Mount Kisco, so I barely re remember that, but remembering the growing up experience, I grew up in that other area that I ranted about that half of the people listening will probably not know.

Maurice Cherry:
When did you know that creating art was something you wanted to do for a living?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Probably when I was five. I was always drawing, especially when we hung out with the family. I was always curled up on the couch just doodling. I still have my doodles. I have a great archive. I’m excited to go through it, like through recent revelations and deeper understanding of my work, but I have stuff from when I was really young still in my possession, but I always knew. Yeah. I’m an archivist, which is a fancy term for hoarder, but it’s still worth it. I think having your old work is really important because it says a lot about the interest that shaped you as an artist. I always knew, and I actually wanted to get into architecture briefly because I do love architecture, but I’m not good at math, or maybe I am but I just didn’t have good teachers. The pressure it is to be an architect, uh-uh (negative). I was like, I’m not going to build a house that could fall down and me get sued. I don’t think so. Then I found graphic design and that was a wrap.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you mentioned studying communication design. You started out at Dutchess Community College and then you attended University of Buffalo. What were those experiences like? Did they really prepare you once you got out there in the world as a working designer?

Alexandria Batchelor:
I would say yes and no. Dutchess, the community college, it was a great school for saving money. I just wanted to save. Maybe I was a little not like ready to run, like jump the nest. That’s my mom’s theory, even though I’m like, no mom. It’s probably not that, but she’s usually right with her suspicions, so maybe. I went for free because I graduated in like the top 3% of my high school, but it felt like the 13th grade and me and one of my friends were really bored and we were just like, we have to get out of here. We got to do really fun programs. I got to learn fencing while I was there and did a dance program. I want to get back into fencing. Fencing was super fun and you look really cool. I love swords, and video games, I am always the person with a sword. That’s my ideal weapon choice.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Just in case you guys were wondering, but I didn’t get to take really graphic design classes there. I took a 2D and 3D design class and a photography class, which is indirectly graphic design, but I had to wait the next year to take a graphic design course, but I was already onto the University at Buffalo. Those courses, they were okay. I thought the teacher I had was kind of pretentious. He was kind of a jerk and told me I couldn’t get into other schools, even though out of high school, I got into like RIT and I’m like, okay, well I’m here just to save money for my family so you’re wrong, but thanks.

Alexandria Batchelor:
That was a crappy experience with that guy where I’m like, maybe you’re just mad you’re teaching and you want to be out in the field. I don’t know. It was not really about me, but it was a crappy experience to still have. University of Buffalo was way better. I actually met two of my mentors that I’m still friends with today, John Jennings and Stacy Robinson. They together work as Black Kirby and they are leading the Afro-futurist… they’re just big names in the Afro-futurist space, especially in the comic book industry. They just kind of took me under their wing immediately when I met them, and that was the best thing I got out of UB especially. Then also all my friends. I still keep in contact with a lot of my classmates. We just kind of all stuck together. I had a friend reach out to me recently like, hey, we’ve always been fans of your work and we always thought your stuff was next level. I’m like, me? Fans from school? Oh my gosh. Thanks guys. That was so sweet.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. I had John on the show a couple years ago. I want to say 2017, 2018. Yeah. John is great. John, you mentioned his name.nd I think any Afro-futurist circle people are going to be like, oh yeah, Kindred. We know John. Yeah.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yep. I’ve worked on most of those projects he’s worked on, so I actually helped color Kindred too.

Maurice Cherry:
Work. Nice.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I just think those things [inaudible 00:39:39]… because I’m a very humble person. I don’t go out reciting my resume, but I’m like yeah, I worked on that too.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yeah. He’s dope. He’s very cool to work with. He was the one I mentioned earlier who taught me, don’t leave your network behind and bring them up with you. He is trying to master the subcontract and that’s who I got that from.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. I like that a lot. I like that. What was your early career like once you graduated? Is that when you started freelancing right alongside working?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yes, because my first job out of college was at The Cheesecake Factory. I was a server. I couldn’t get a job for the life of me because I was in Buffalo and the industry there is very small. It’s a very blue collar town. No shade to Buffalo, but design was not flourishing there. I’m not really sure how it is. I don’t think it’s flourishing now. You’d have to work at like a doctor’s office or some kind of establishment to really be a designer there. I wanted to work at an agency or some kind of innovative company, but I just couldn’t get in. I was behind on internships because I didn’t take internships in school because I was kind of a lazy student. I’m going to be honest with you. I slept during class all the time, since high school. I was a sleeper. I don’t know. That was my bad.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Instead, I decided to go into the restaurant industry and I made really great tips. Then that also encouraged me to freelance. If I never served, then I would’ve never really focused on freelance work and Foxee Design may not be what it is today, because I didn’t want a gap in my resume. I was like, well, I’m going to have to really operate as a freelancer so I have this experience for when I’m ready to get into design. I did end up getting in two offers at internships. One at like a car dealership place, which I’m like, I’m not a big car person, so I’m like, it’s not a great fit. Then the other was at a newspaper, which is really cool. It was called the Buffalo News. It’s one of the biggest newspapers in the Western New York area. They had a medley of different clients that they would work with, so I thought that was a better fit than a car dealership. No shade.

Alexandria Batchelor:
It was a great offer that she… it was the first time someone took me out and wined and dined me to be like, are you going to choose our internship? I’m like, for an internship for real? No, but thank you. I mean, not wine. She took me out to coffee and got me a snack or whatever, but either way it was [inaudible 00:42:21] that she really wanted me to work there, but I chose the newspaper instead. I worked in their digital ad department because they were still focusing on penny savers, but my department was the smallest and newest and youngest. We worked on Facebook ads, like back in the day when you were only in the backend, working on Facebook. This was back when it was so new that you could actually discriminate through it because you could choose to serve your ads to specific races. It was very interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, yeah. I remember when Facebook had that. I think it was some sort of housing. I forget what it was, how someone found out. I think it was because they were making ads that would discriminate against people for housing or something like that, but I remember when could do that with the ad manager.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yes, and I witnessed that happen. The sales rep didn’t allow it, but the woman was on speaker phone asking and I was just like, oh my goodness. I can’t believe she just asked if she could only serve this housing ad to white people. It was just the most baffling experience. I was like, wow, people really be doing that nowadays. Still to this day. That was a very interesting experience because it was very old school. I had to dress up for work. I had a retirement fund. I was like, what in the world? I had a retirement fund. That’s how old school this place was. That was my early career. It was very interesting. Very interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, what was it like at Frederator? What did you learn from there? I know you said it kind of helped you now in terms of, I guess, process and such, but what was that experience like, because Frederator, and we talked about this a bit before recording, but it feels like it serves a very specific type of demographic that I don’t know if it encompasses black women, black people in general, but probably specifically not black women. What was your experience there like? What did you learn from there?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Well, it’s funny enough. I was one of the first three black people employed there. It was two black guys and me and one of them, he’s still there and just got promoted to president, so now he running the place, which is amazing.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. Look at that.

Alexandria Batchelor:
The first day he started, he said, I’m going to run this place. I said, okay. That was me meeting him. I was like, sure. Then he did. I’m like, of course he did. Of course he did. It’s being run by a black person now, but it was a wild ride because it was definitely predominantly white for decades, which, it makes sense. The higher ups were all white. That’s usually what happens, but that’s why I was really grateful to my boss who gave me a chance because I needed to get out of Buffalo. Through friend or something, I was able to connect and she’s like, I love your work. Then I got the job and I got to New York City lickity-split because I was ready to go. It was just amazing to have an opportunity to be in that space, because it’s so hard for us to get into design spaces for whatever reason. Well, the reason is because it’s systematically designed like that, but that’s a whole other conversation. We’re partially going to talk about it.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yes, it was kind of hard being there, as any predominantly white space, but for whatever reason, there was more and more minorities that kept flooding in. At one point, there was half minorities and half white people and then there were less white people. I’m like, oh, they’re getting scared. They’re getting scared. I’m just kidding. It was so funny though. We would joke about it, but I think I was able to navigate the space where I let people feel comfortable talking about feeling uncomfortable. I would be able to talk to the one half Hispanic, half indigenous guy and the one Asian guy about in high school when they used to give us really racist names.

Alexandria Batchelor:
This was water cooler talk, and I don’t think anybody would ever have been able to have a safe water cooler space talk like that if it was only white people around. I didn’t really have an influence on company culture because I was the only designer there too, so I was so tired and busy, but the moments I had were really nice where I could just bond with people and we could talk straight with each other. I even talked to some of the white people about it because I’ve always had white friends who just let me talk. I’m like, if you just listen, I’m cool with you. You cool. You know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Just let hear my voice. I’ve had really real talks with some white folk and those are the ones to stick with; the ones who aren’t going to tell you how you are supposed to feel or about your experience. I had a lot of those moments with some people there, which was nice, but design wise, it was YouTube. I got to figure out how to brand YouTube. I made extensive style guides. I’ll make you a 50 page brand guide that you will use and share with the video editors, because we had a huge freelance network too, some of whom I still keep in contact and using my own network now. Yeah. The people I met there were worth it. The skills I gained there working on YouTube was worth it. Yeah.

Alexandria Batchelor:
As a black woman, it wasn’t always great. I didn’t always feel like my voice was heard. I feel like I had a lot of good ideas and they would always be overshadowed, and then every time the white guy said exactly what I said two weeks ago, I’m like, of course. Of course now it’s a brilliant idea. I don’t want to think it’s always intentional, but you always feel a type of way where it’s like, is anybody listening to me, but still a good experience. Still a good experience. Again, it made me strong. I had interns be like, because we went through a lot, I was able to handle a really crazy work situation being only in a small team, and I’m like, I’m glad, because it hardens you when you are responsible for a lot. It was too much. I definitely needed like another designer, but I run my own business now.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. That’s interesting. It hardens you. That’s an interesting way to look at it.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yeah. It’s not 100% great terminology, but that’s the strong black woman though. Unfortunately, that’s the trope that we do have to play often.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, this kind of leads into my next question, which is kind of about representation. I mentioned to you before and I’ve talked about this on the show too when I have black illustrators or fine artists, do you feel a need to quote unquote represent with the work that you do?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Not necessarily. Obviously I’m going to go for the black female representation or even just a lot of women I’ve always drawn, because I’m always going to go to the self first. It’s an easy subject. It’s like Frida Kahlo. She says, I know myself the best. That’s why my best subject. She’s one of my favorite artists. That’s why I quote her. That was not a direct quote, but anyway, and then also, because I’m bisexual, I also love how women look and it’s so easy to draw women. I always have to be like, oh crap. I haven’t drawn a man in months. I should probably do that. Men are cool too, but dang, I don’t know. [foreign language 00:50:26].

Alexandria Batchelor:
Anyway, I think it’s important specifically to represent the black women in my work because I pull a lot from my feelings, so I make a lot of sense of what I’m feeling and what I’m going through through my illustration work, and because black women have to be hardened by society, I think being vulnerable in that way helps be like hey, I’m still a person and I’m really sad or I’m really frustrated, or I feel like I’m falling apart, which is why I do a lot of disembodied, disconnected body parts. That’s kind of a style I’ve developed. I’ve always been doing that for I think maybe for 10 years.

Alexandria Batchelor:
That’s kind of been the art style where it’s like just the head or the bust or a hand or an arm. It just shows this disconnect and just feeling really outside of your body, because there’s so much going on, you don’t really know the feelings that are kind of taking over you and you feel like you’re just kind of fractured. I’m constantly breaking apart and putting myself back together to make sense of myself, to reassemble myself, like a stained glass mirror or a stained glass window. Sorry. That’s why I think when I try to represent the black woman it means more because we aren’t allowed to feel feelings like that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now, you do a lot of work with like Afro-futuristic [inaudible 00:52:02]. You mentioned John Jennings and you mentioned Kindred. You’ve got a new project that’s coming out in September with Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Sure. We’re now allowed to talk about it. I was doing hold up because I was the colorist on the project, so I colored that whole bad boy. I had some help with my assistants. They were great, but yes. It’s funny because I’ve been coloring with John since I was in college and I’ve been getting promotions with him. This was the first time I was the lead colorist. Oftentimes I’m an assistant colorist, like on Kindred I was an assistant, but this time I got to be the senior level colorist and I got to see the inks that Marco Finnegan did. He’s incredible. He loves film noir. That’s why the shadows are really heavy. I always forget this name, the really intense contrast. It’s the [inaudible 00:53:01].

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, chiaroscuro. Something like that.

Alexandria Batchelor:
There you go, chiaroscuro. Yes. I never get that right, but one day I will, so thank you for the assist, but it has that really beautiful effect. It made my job easier because I was like, great. I got to do less shadows because he made this so exaggerated, but it was beautiful. His inks were just so strong on their own. Then I got to just take a look at them, understand the scene. I had to plot out the script to see how many days this story went over. It took a place over seven days. It’s about this little girl, she’s eight, which, fun fact, was based on Marco’s daughter, which is really cute. I love when, again, you’re using your reality as your subject and that’s what makes it realer, because the expressions, I’m just like, this feels heartfelt. I’m like, well, if it’s based on your daughter, I get it.

Alexandria Batchelor:
This little girl, she goes through a lot of death and she is kind of on her own after a while because her caretaker dies and then a monster is summoned to take care of her, called the keeper, but there has to be a sacrifice to keep it alive because it needs life to keep it alive. It’s a beautiful, horrific story. It was funny because I was listening to a talk with Tananarive Due and she was talking a lot of black history or black stories. They are horror. They’re horrific, so it’s technically a horror graphic novel. I think the demo is like around… it’s supposed to be young adult, but I think it can skew higher because it reads really well. I highly recommend, not just because I worked on it. It’s good. We nailed it.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. We’ll put a link to it in the show notes so people can pre-order it, because this will be out before this comes out. Side note, and only because I’m a nerd, you talked about [inaudible 00:55:06], and as soon as you said that, I was like, there’s a song by a British jazz singer named ZR McFarland called chiaroscuro, so if anybody’s listening and they want to check that out, it’s a pretty good song. She’s a good singer, but that’s a pretty good song.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Nice. I’m going to be jamming to that after this podcast.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. How do you get back your creativity when you’re feeling uninspired? Do you have any methods that you go through or anything like that?

Alexandria Batchelor:
I wish my brain could shut off that I could really be uninspired, but I understand it’s not necessarily not being inspired, but the creative blocks, I guess, where it’s like I know I want to do this, but sometimes I don’t know how. Sometimes I guess going back to traditional media, just doodling mindlessly helps, me going back to nature. I was just going on a walk with my mom and she was so annoyed because I literally was stopping and picking the flowers because I mentioned wild flowers in a blog post, so just taking root of my surroundings, even if it’s a fire hydrant and the colors on that because I’m a comic book. I work in comic books, so the background art, you think the things that you just pass by every day, we love. We put that in the background so we’re always studying the environment.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I think that’s been a really good way to, I guess, push through creative blocks where I’m just like, let me just go outside and collect some research and also get in the fresh air and I just want to hike more. I want to get back to nature because I think as we get back to nature and respect it more and I want to raise more plants, I want that to help revitalize me when I’m feeling like down with my creativity.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s funny. As you said that about creativity and even as you mentioned this about horror before. Have you been to Elba before? Is this going to be your first time visiting this summer?

Alexandria Batchelor:
No, I used to go when I was a kid, but it’s been a while. It’s maybe been over five years, so it’s been a while.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. One thing I remember about Elba is that it’s flooded a few times. At least in my lifetime, it’s with the river there, the town is flooded. I don’t know. As you started talking about that I was thinking, what if there’s some interesting southern gothic horror story of this town that’s been repeatedly flooded with people that can breathe underwater or something. I don’t know. My mind is wandering a little bit.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I would love that. No, please, because it’s funny. We have another piece of property and on it there’s this little mini house and they call it the doll house, and it’s near a lake, so I’m like, oh, you might be onto something. Okay. We might have to talk. Okay. We’ve got to talk about this little story over here. That sounds awesome.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you have a dream project or anything that you would love to do that you haven’t done yet?

Alexandria Batchelor:
I am literally working on a dream graphic novel, so yes. It’s pretty much I have very vivid dreams because I’m very stressed out a lot, I guess. Yeah. People would call them stress dreams, but I’ve started getting them again. They’ve been hilarious. One dream someone said that… like I was an X-man and someone was like, your sister’s a normie, and I pimp slapped them because I was like, she’s amazing. Don’t you ever talk about my sister like that. These are the kind of weird dreams I have. I’ve recorded at least 70 plus of these. I’ve started organizing into a story because there has been a lot of through lines between all of these dreams where it’s like, there’s this underlying plot or there’s this love interest, so it’s been very interesting mapping out all these symbols because I also love dream symbolism and dream interpretation.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I’ve used that as a resource for this story because it’s literally writing itself. I literally just have to go to bed and dream and that’s part of the writing and now it’s tightening it up, but then I’m paralleling it with my actual life to be like, what is going on to instigate these dreams? It’s biographical as well as a dream memoir, so I’m pulling from my journal entries at the same point in time and I’m creating this beautiful story that weaves in and out from reality and dream world and creating a narrative. This is going to be a hybrid piece where it’s graphic novel, but there’s going to be written pros and there’s going to be dream dictionary-esque aspects of it. This is a passion project. I’ve already finished the beginning and figured out the beginning and end. I’ve just been working on it diligently and hopefully I am going to get this published maybe next year or the following year, given how much time I’m able to work on it with everything else going on.

Maurice Cherry:
That sounds amazing. I’d love to read that once you have it. Once it’s out there and ready, I’d love to read that.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Absolutely. I will send you a link personally.

Maurice Cherry:
What is the best advice that you’ve ever been given regarding your craft?

Alexandria Batchelor:
I guess reserving my passion for my own projects, but I don’t think that’s actually the best advice because I’m so passionate about everything. I think just focusing more on myself though is important because I’ve always been worried about everyone else. Not that I’m going to drop the execution that I spend on projects, but I just need to be a little selfish nowadays and there’s nothing wrong with that because it’s a balance between selflessness and selfishness, but with my work, I want that dream to come true. I also want to have an exhibit. If I want all these dreams to come true, I’ve got to think about me, so I think that’s probably the best advice. Balance, letting myself get a little bored, re-centering myself and just letting go a little bit. That’s, I think, what I need to continue to grow and not stagnate or burn myself out or give up on this because I feel like I’m onto something.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Alexandria Batchelor:
I want to do more environmental design. I want to figure out how to help the environment more. I’m not really sure. I’m still very new about sustainability. I do it in different ways. I don’t have a car, so I don’t add to the carbon footprint. I take the public transportation. I recycle plastic bags and use them as garbage bags. There are little ways I do it, but I want to know how to build that into my business more. I also want to build interactive spaces for people to be able to enjoy separate… hopefully including sustainability. I want to get more into the museum exhibition space and just create a new world that you walk into whenever you go to a show or some kind of piece. I want to get out of the 2D space because I’m ready to graduate to 3D.

Maurice Cherry:
I like that. That’s good. Well, just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your work and everything? Where can they find that online?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Sure. Well, I’m actually not as active as I need to be, but I will be more active on Instagram. That’s where I prefer to post work. I’m also on Twitter. It’s all Foxee Design, F-O-X-E-E Design. Then I’ll be on YouTube this year too, so those are my main platforms, and then you can find other links through there, but that’s all I’ll share for now.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Alexandria Batchelor, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I was familiar with your work, like I said, through YouTube and watching the videos and being like, this is so really well done. Who is behind this? Then of course now being able to talk to you and really get the passion and the fun and the energy and the vitality that you have behind your work. I’m excited to see what comes next, because it sounds like you are working across a lot of different spaces, doing a lot of just really cool stuff. I’m excited to see what your design future is going to hold, so thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Of course. Thank you so much for having me. I had a blast.

Sponsored by Hover

Hover

Building your online brand has never been more important and that begins with your domain name. Show the online community who you are and what you’re passionate about with Hover. With over 400+ domain name extensions to choose from, including all the classics and fun niche extensions, Hover is the only domain provider we use and trust.

Ready to get your own domain name? Go to hover.com/revisionpath and get 10% off your first purchase.

Dr. Kenya Oduor

I was introduced last year to Dr. Kenya Oduor through a Tech Circus panel we both participated in, and I’m really glad to have her on the show now so she can share her brilliance with you all! She is a human-centered designer, researcher, and strategist, and also runs her own consulting and staffing firm Lean Geeks. Very impressive!

We dove right in and talked about her increased focus at this stage of her career, and from there we discussed how Lean Geeks works and what she want to accomplish with the firm this year. She also spoke about growing up in Queens, studying to become a physical therapist, and then pivoting into human factors and user experience design. According to Kenya, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is how you grow, and her path to where she is now certainly proves that!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Hi, Maurice. I am Dr. Kenya Oduor and I am a human-centered strategist researcher and designer.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s on your mind? How’s 2022 been treating you?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
What’s on my mind. So, I think there’s a lot going on right now in terms of coming out on the other end of COVID and understanding what that means to the work that my team and I do with our clients. And how much of this remote model will change to a more hybrid or in-person model, again. I think in looking at some of the work that we do for our clients, I think there’s a huge opportunity for those conversations to shift to what new expectations do users, customers, clients have around their products and services. So, I’m really curious, not only to see what that means in terms of work opportunities, but also what insights do we gain from the work that we do in that regard.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
I’m also finding that my career is gravitating towards more focused on me being a Black woman. And 10 years, 15 years ago, I would’ve never imagined that my identity would matter so much to the trajectory of opportunities and the voice that I present out to the world and that thing.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s interesting. Can you talk about that a little bit more?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Sure. So, I never forgot who I was, just because in the industry that I’m in, I might be the only or have been the only woman in the room, the only Black person in the room or both. And so, it’s always been a constant reminder for me because at certain points in my career, I didn’t necessarily feel like I was an integral part of the organization, in terms of feeling like I’m a fit within the culture because of my differences, or I didn’t feel like I was necessarily heard as much as some of my peers were. But what I’m finding now is that all of that experience and all of that maybe insecurity, imposter syndrome or angst that I was feeling throughout my career, I feel like that’s all coming to a place where I’m now using it to tell my story.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
And it’s becoming what I never realized would be a story that a lot of people, Black, white, or otherwise, want to hear in terms of just, we all have our unique differences. And knowing that and embracing those differences and using that to your advantage in terms of, especially in the design room, using that to your advantage in terms of bringing a different perspective.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m curious if that change has happened since the summer of 2020 because I feel like for a lot of Black folks who I’ve had on the show… well, all the Black folks. I’ve only had Black folks on the show. Let me be clear about that. But I think every person I’ve had on has said since that summer, there’s been a shift.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Absolutely. I am more comfortable in the skin that I’m in and I am unapologetic about. And I’ve heard that in a lot of circles that I’m in, being unapologetically Black. And just recognizing that if you are uncomfortable with my identity and who I am, then that’s not my problem, that’s yours. I don’t have to work to make you feel more comfortable. I have to be me and recognize that. And especially, as a business owner, I recognize that clients that want to do business with me and my company have to be comfortable with who I am and that sort of thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Speaking of your business, let’s talk about Lean Geeks. This is your design agency. Where did that name come from?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
So, the name came from, as a researcher by training and coming from the academic world and having a PhD in human subject research and that sort of thing, I recognize that throughout my career, a lot of times I would get the poo-poo to ideas of “let’s go and validate stuff.” I would get a lot of resistance where the immediate response that people would go to is, “It’s going to take too long. It’s going to be too complex. We don’t have time for that. We didn’t bank in that, that time to do those things.” So, I recognize that being able to position research around being lean research and scrappy where necessary is really, really important in terms of getting buy-in.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
And the geek part comes from just as human factors professionals. I’m not the only one that subscribes to this, but what I found is a lot of my colleagues, we always have swapped stories about whenever we take on a project, we have to go really deep in understanding a new domain or a new type of industry and user within that industry. And so, we almost geek out in the things that we learn about medicine or what we learn about different industries that might be very different than what we would play in otherwise, banking and that kind of thing. So, it’s always interesting to think about all of those different industries and how you have to go deep in order to be effective in creating solutions or redesigns for services in those different fields.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, your agency offers both consulting and staffing services to clients and you have what you call a human-centered approach. Tell me about your process.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Absolutely. So, the ideal, let me tell you about the ideal because this is what really excites me. When we have a client come to us and they’re in this phase of discovery where they have certain assumptions or certain hypotheses around what they could do or what their product could do differently. And so, having the opportunity to help define and execute on some research that validates their ideas, we usually provide them with more clarity on essentially what are the requirements for their solution.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
And so, having the opportunity to do that and informing the experience design and having data to support our design approach is really, really, to me really exciting. Because it’s not one of those things where you or I on the team are going off of what we think is the right experience or approach. We’re using some of our experience to understand what is the best design, but we’re more so using data to validate the person’s ability to get something done. Okay? And in those types of projects, we help our client get to the point of sprint zero or basically giving them the different assets that are necessary to feed development and the engineering effort.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
And the really ideal experience is when they then allow us to partner with them from a contractor perspective and having maybe an interaction designer or a strategist join their team as a contractor. So then, there’s continuity from the work that we did. So, it’s not as if we’re just throwing research and wire frames over the fence, we’re actually continuing on with their team. And that allows those individuals that did the research to stay connected to the project and help to still continue and inform the direction that things go in. And for me, if every project started and continued in that fashion, my life would be golden at that point. If that was the model that we could always follow.

Maurice Cherry:
To that end, it sounds like the best types of clients then for you to have are ones that possibly would have you all on retainer, because it sounds like the work that you’re doing continues along a timeline. You’re not just going in doing one thing and then that’s the end of the project.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
I wish that we were on retainer. Typically, it’s the upfront research and the deliverables around requirements, priority, wire frames. All of that stuff is usually time boxed and it’s a fixed cost effort. Over my career, I think, being in a practitioner role and in a leadership role, I’ve gotten really good at being able to estimate how long an effort should take. So, those are usually time-boxed. And then when you talk about the contractors, those are typically your standard contractor on your team. Somebody that’s there six months and then they’re converted to a full timer or they’re on the project for two years as a contractor. So, those are typically, someone who has a badge and a computer from your company and they submit timesheets to our company. And we pay payroll and that sort of thing, benefits and all that sort of thing.

Maurice Cherry:
That sounds that’s where the lean part kicks in, at least in terms of being able to estimate the time pretty, pretty accurately.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Absolutely. The one thing that I’ve not necessarily learned, but has become really clear over the last few years, is that in any project recruitment is the longest [inaudible 00:12:55]. That’s going to be the hardest part of a project. And it’s going to take the longest is to recruit panelists to use for interviews, qualitative interviews, or to observe, or to have them do usability testing and that sort of thing. Recruitment is probably the hardest part of what we do.

Maurice Cherry:
What does an average day look for you with Lean Geeks?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
It typically, like most other people, getting up and checking your emails and “What do I need to do today?” It’s engaging with, I don’t want to say, prospects, because I don’t look at engagement with potential clients. I don’t look at them as prospects. I want to get the opportunity to talk to them. “Let me hear about what’s going on in your organization. What are your biggest struggles? What keeps you up at night?” So, having or scheduling conversations with different people is a lot of what I do.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
I am focused on business development and closing the sale. So, I’m not so much doing the research work anymore or the design work as per se, but I try to bring in those projects. And I stay involved from the extent of knowing what’s going on, so that might also be a part of my day is checking in with the team to see how are things progressing. “Show me where you are. Maybe I have ideas or questions that help you to expand what you’re thinking is around a particular problem.” So, I also spend a portion of my day doing that.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
And I’ve had to get comfortable over the last year or more comfortable with marketing. So, just thinking about strategically, what is my brand and what is my voice and what do I want to put out there? And this goes back to my identity, becoming so much more of what I present to the world where historically that wasn’t necessarily something that I put as much importance in or on.

Maurice Cherry:
Now for those out there who may not have heard of human-centered design. Again, we talked about how you have this human-centered approach. Can you talk about what it is and why it’s important?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Absolutely. So, human-centered design is essentially, I don’t want to say putting the human first, it’s informing your approach to a solution with information around your user and their motivation, their needs, what are their goals in terms of interacting with your product or service. And most importantly, the most important part is context. And I teach a human computer interaction class and my students are software engineering students. And whenever they ask questions, I always get them to unpack their understanding of the context.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Because context really, really impacts our ability to assume what is someone thinking in a particular moment. What are the environmental factors that are outside of their control that they have to consider in using your product? When you think about your product, what features or capabilities need to be in the forefront because of that context? So, that to me is what human-centered design is all about is allowing someone or giving someone the tools that they need to get something done and to consider their motivation and their context in that.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you to really accomplish with your business this year?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
I really want to get to a place where obviously closing more business. Any business owner wants to continue to grow, so I always want to continue to grow in my business. I want to get connected to more designers and researchers that are in a freelance situation because I’m always looking for talent. And as you know right now, the market is really hot. So, either we’ve lost team members or we’re constantly looking for new ones and I think I do a pretty good job of spotting talent, but in most cases they’re already either fully committed or not available or whatever it might be at that particular time. So, that’s a huge goal of mine in 2022 is to build up our network in that regard and across the country, ideally. I have some little pet projects that I’m working on with colleagues and I would love to see some of those pet projects shape up a little bit more and for us to move from idea to concept.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Let’s switch gears here a little bit, because I want to get more into your background and learn more about really how you came about all of this. So, let’s start from the beginning here. Talk to me about where you grew up.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and I was really young before I started school, we moved to Queens, New York. So, I grew up in Queens. Very different from Pittsburgh and it was very different going back and forth during the summers and holidays. And so, I grew up around a lot of people who might have been first generation Americans. And it was to me, I think that is what shapes my belief that culture and context have so much to do as inputs to any solution because I just remember being around people that were so different, but had similar goals.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Everybody wanted the best for their children. Everybody wanted to work hard and earn a living and that kind of thing. So, I knew that there was a common thread amongst the culture of the people that I was around. But I knew that, when I went into different people’s homes, the way they did things and the languages and all those sorts of things were different. So, I look back and when I talk to some of my friends growing up, we always talk about how unique our situation was. And we didn’t realize it until now that we’re adults living in different parts of the country.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s so interesting that hindsight, looking back and you don’t think about it at that time when you’re a kid, probably not even when you’re a teenager or a young adult. But I find the older I get, when I look back at how I grew up and how I first got into tech and everything like that. It’s abnormal for the time I think, but I didn’t even think about it because essentially at the time when I was doing this stuff, it just all felt like play. It just felt toys that I was working with, not actual computers. Teaching myself a language, that kind of thing.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Yeah. And I think that’s the beauty of, I’m the parent that, “Oh, I want them to do the things they enjoy and double down on the ones that they’re passionate about.” But I always have to tell myself that you have to also remind yourself and your kids that exposure to as many different things as possible really open your eyes to things you didn’t even know existed. And like you were talking about, the things that you did with computers early on, you would’ve never thought about the impact they would have on your career now is just we, as people, have to always look beyond what we’re comfortable with. Look at the beauty of art and how that translates into the beauty of what you can create. And just being able to translate some of what we see and experience into the work that we do.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Did you have a lot of exposure to design or tech as you were growing up?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Yeah. So, my parents coming from a small or from small towns in and around Pittsburgh, their intention in moving to New York was to be around culture and that kind of thing. So, my parents used to drag me to the theater when I was younger and I was always, “Ugh, we have to get dressed up and go to the theater.” And I used to go to the Museum of Modern Art or Guggenheim Museum. And I used to always look at it like such a chore, because it was maybe different than what my friends were doing or my friends didn’t go with me.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
But as an adult now, I’m like, “Oh, my goodness.” I thank them all the time because all of those different experiences and that exposure had so much to do with, my mother used to do art projects and she would get wood and carve it and then do stamping on fabric. And I look at all those experiences and say that creativity and just seeing different types of creativity, they remind you that there’s so much out there that can apply to what we see, what we do, what we experience.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, when it was time for you to go to college, you went to the university of Maryland. Tell me about what your time was like there.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Too much fun. That’s why I was on a five-year plan. I knew when I was in high school that I wanted to go away to college. I didn’t want to stay in New York, surprisingly. As much as New York is a wonderful place, it’s exhausting. And I was talking to somebody else from New York the other day and we were saying how until you leave New York, you don’t realize how much life there is outside of New York because it takes so much out of you to do everything.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
So, I went to Maryland and I struggled with figuring out what do I want to do or what do I want to be? I started out as an engineering major. Then I got interested in psychology and people. And then I thought I wanted to be a physical therapist. So, I ended up having to do an extra year because I thought I was going to be a physical therapist and I had to do additional classes. But my time at Maryland was my awakening to experience Black culture more than when I was just going to see my family. Coming from Queens and then going to Maryland, I felt like my identity as a Black woman, I was able to see other people like myself, that I was actually around all the time and not just family that I’m going to see during a holiday.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
So, that for me was really interesting and exciting. And I just knew at that point that I wanted… I used to get the itch to say that one day I was going to start a business. What that was going to be, who knows. But I used to say to myself that I wanted to create something one day. So, I enjoyed Maryland, but obviously not enough to stay there because I’m in North Carolina now. But yeah, I enjoyed my time at Maryland.

Maurice Cherry:
One thing that I remember really, again, another hindsight thing that I remember is just how many different types of Black people I met at college. I’m from the country-country. Everybody is they’re Southern. You really don’t see other types of people unless it’s maybe on television or something like that. And I remember being at Morehouse here in Atlanta and meeting Caribbean people for the first time that wasn’t via Caribbean rhythms on BET. Actually meeting people from the Caribbean. Meeting people from other parts of the country and stuff. And realizing how much that really shaped my Black experience, but just the diversity of what is considered the Black experience.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
It’s true. And so the difference, I think… I have a cousin, actually, a cousin by marriage, who’s from Atlanta, born and raised. And I just found out recently that he did not see non-Black people until he went to college. And that blows my mind because for me, you see Atlanta obviously as a metropolis or a metropolitan area. And I think about the fact that to me, that’s so fascinating in the sense that you had exposure, you had the means and the capability to go to college and in your lived experience, you never saw people that were not Black. That tells me that the upbringing and the community had was one that helped you to get to where you needed to be in order to get to that next level, which I love.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
And then I think about the flip side of it with my experience in growing up in Queens, I used to almost feel, I was one of the few people that were not white, whose family had several generations that went back in terms of being in the US. So, I almost felt like, I felt like the outsider because I was the one whose family had been slaves. And to have that connection to this country, but to have no one else around you that has that connection to this country, I felt like the outsider.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Yeah, yeah. And I think going to Maryland is where I experienced more of my people who were like me, descendants of slaves. And so, I could relate to them in a different way than I could my people in Queens.

Maurice Cherry:
So, you were enjoying your time at University of Maryland, soaking in that good Black experience. What was your early career like after you graduated? What was next for you?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Oh, my gosh. Yeah. So, like I mentioned, I thought I was going to be a physical therapist, so I got a job even before I finished school. I got a job at a nonprofit that worked with special needs children as a physical therapy aide. And the place that I worked was in the hood, in Southeast DC. And I’ll never forget that that was probably my first immersive experience into seeing and experiencing, I’m not going to say we all, but I have the experience of growing up and having family that lives in public housing or we had to eat government cheese and all that stuff.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
I had had that experience, but this was my first time really experiencing true poverty and seeing children who were probably in a situation that when they left school, they did not get food. They didn’t get their diapers changed. They came to school the next day with the same diaper on. So, that experience really opened my eyes to just the divide that existed in this country and the unfortunate result of real poverty that I’d never experienced, even if I was poor or with poor members. So it really, really became an emotional, not only was it hard to do therapy with special needs children, who born with fetal alcohol syndrome or vitamin K deficiency. Things that you would think are preventable.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
But it was just the emotional part of just seeing that even when they went home, there was no joy necessarily for some of them. That was hard. That was hard. So, it made me revisit only wanting to be there, but also, did I want to consider a different career?

Maurice Cherry:
Is that when you decided to go back to school after that?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Yes. So, I would come home from work in the evenings and it’s just, so when I went to college, the email just came out the last semester before I graduated. So, me working on a computer was word processing and that kind of thing. And so, the internet was just starting to become popular when I would come home, for me, at least. It might have been for other people, but not for me. So, I would come home from work and get on the internet and start to do my search and look at different fields. And then I found Human Factor Psychology that way.

Maurice Cherry:
And what about that appeal to you?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Because I don’t know if you remember me mentioning that I started out undergrad as an engineering major, so I was very interested in engineering. I was interested in designing things and creating things that would impact people and their lives. And I loved interacting with people. So, Human Factor Psychology was the intersection of those things.

Maurice Cherry:
And so, you attended North Carolina state studying this. This is where you got your master’s and then eventually, your PhD in Human Factors, Ergonomics/Experimental Psychology.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember from that time, whenever anyone talked about ergonomics or at least maybe in the context that I heard. It always was about office furniture like an ergonomic mouse, an ergonomic chair, an ergonomic desk. But of course, ergonomics is more than just that. Correct?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
It is. And it’s funny because when I first came to North Carolina State, I thought that was going to be more of my major and that my minor would involve psychology. But when I got here, I got to know more about the psychology program and I flipped it. And I was like, “No, I really. I enjoy more of the experimental and cognitive psychology and the physical is also a part of your context in your environment.” So, that was to a lesser extent, my areas of interest.

Maurice Cherry:
And now prior to founding Lean Geeks, I know that you worked for a long time at two companies, but you also alluded that you’ve worked for other places as well. But you worked at IBM for seven years, which people know for big tech and you worked at LexisNexis for eight years, which I know is a service that a lot of lawyers use, I believe, for background checks and things like that. But with both of these work experiences, you were focusing on user experience.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m not asking you to necessarily give the years, but I’m curious on during that time, how did you notice user experience in the design community? Was it something that a lot of people were latching onto or how did you see it at that time?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
So, IBM was my first foray in the whole user experience. True user experience realm in terms of, so I shouldn’t say that. I take that back because the definition of user experience for so many people is something different than what some of us know or understand it to be. When I started out, it was human-centered design and this was in consulting and then IBM. And it started with discovery of who’s your user, what is their context and what is their need or motivation. And so, at that time, I think IBM was one of the companies that was in the forefront in terms of doing the work to constantly iterate and validate on ideas or concepts.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
And as time went on, what I saw was more of an evolution towards design, more of UX than being termed design or focusing on design less about the validation or the discovery aspect of things. Probably midway in my career is when I started to see people who would talk about stumbling into a career in UX, or they might have been painters or people who did visual arts or, industrial design and that their interests. And of course there were people earlier than that time, but in terms of my experiences in the software world, that’s when I started to see more people coming from the more design community. More of the design community that were playing in the software space. But my early experiences were primarily people who were coming out of the human center design space.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting. How are those IBM and LexisNexis experiences, how were they from each other?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
I was just talking to someone earlier today, a student that is considering a transition into UX and I was explaining to her that one environment was very structured and the other was very unstructured. And so, when you talk about structured versus unstructured environments, it’s what rigor do they have in place and how mature are they from a user experience perspective? Do they have the right people in the organization and do they have a design system and that kind of thing, a process? Do they have validation baked into their framework sorts of things?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
So, one was very different than the other in that regard. And some people thrive better in one versus the other. But I realized in my career, I made an intentional decision to shift from one to the other because I wanted to see and to build up my own toolkit of navigating two different environments. And I think that’s helped me in the consulting world, because I’m able to spot where an organization’s mature is and how to interact with the people in the companies that we work with.

Maurice Cherry:
And so, what was the impetus behind you starting your own company? You’ve put in now 15 years in this industry, working as a user experience professional with human-centered design research. What made you say I’m going to start my own thing now?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
So, it had been probably more than 15 years at that point that I was saying to myself, I was getting that itch of wanting to spread my wings and go somewhere new. And I explained it or I likened it one day to someone that every day I walked into the office, I felt like I was a caged bird that had to get in the cage. And then every day at the end of the day, I felt like I was stepping out of the cage. And so, I felt like I was being constrained by the four walls of industry. And I didn’t feel like part of that came from presenting ideas that didn’t necessarily align in terms of “it’s not your job” kind of thing or “we’re not there yet,” that kind of thing.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
So, it got frustrating and I said to myself, “Okay, I’m either going to move on to a new company and take on a similar type of role. My highest level of evangelism and hiring and all that stuff and firing.” And I said, “Well, do I want to do that? And do I want to go through that same climbing the ladder.” And honestly, I didn’t want to and I felt that it had almost been 20 years at that point that I was doing this work. And so, I was like, “You know what? It’s time for me to spread my wings and try something new and take the show on the road.” And I’ve built a pretty good network over those years, so why not tap into that network and see what happens?

Maurice Cherry:
You stepped out on faith and here you are.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
I stepped out on faith and I have to tell you that statement right there is the only thing that has kept me going is stepping out every day. When you talk about my day-to-day, every day is stepping out on faith and it’s a faith walk and it’s constantly reminding yourself that just because you don’t know something today or it’s an unknown or it’s uncomfortable, you got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. And always know that you have to do the work to figure stuff out, even if you don’t know it today.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Who are some of the mentors that have helped you to get to this place now in your career?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
I always had formal mentors when I was at places like IBM. I had people who I leaned on, who were able to help guide me in that way. But as I got further into my career, I found that I didn’t have as many mentors or the people that I sought out as mentors weren’t necessarily either in my discipline or they just didn’t have the bandwidth to take on additional mentors. I started to do a lot in terms of coaching and finding other resources.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting. I would imagine and I’ve talked about this with other like PhD level people that I’ve had on the show is like it’s lonely at the top. Once you get to that level of education and you get to that point in your career, you look around and it’s just you in a way.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Yeah, yeah. And it’s interesting because I would see people and I would see people who were in a position of running their own company or who were in a certain type of leadership role. And I would look at them and say to myself, “I aspire to be there.” And what I found in a lot of cases was that, they were and it was no slight on their part in any way. They would just say, “I don’t have the bandwidth to take on the responsibility of being a mentor.”

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
So, I would get whatever opportunity I could to connect with them and then figure out who do I want to be when I grow up and what does that look like. And, and I think the part that’s most important for anyone that’s exploring that thing is to always, always, always connect with people and ask questions and invest in yourself. That’s something that I’ve recognized I have to do a lot of.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you appreciate the most about your life right now?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
When you meet people and they’re like, “Oh, I hate my job” or “Oh, I’m so unhappy,” or “My kids are stressing me out,” just have life stressors. What I’m really happy about my life is that I’m fortunate to be in a situation where life is hard. I work really hard, but the joy that my family and my career and my company, the joy that I get from those things mean so much to me. And I feel like I’m so fortunate. Even if things are hard, I’m so fortunate to have the ability to do these things at this point in my life.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
And to not have the grumbling. Whenever I work with colleagues or whenever I talk to colleagues or I work with a client, it’s so refreshing to know that whatever drama I get pulled into for work projects. As soon as I hang up the phone, leave the meeting or whatever it is, I don’t take any of it home like I used to when I worked in-house.

Maurice Cherry:
What haven’t you done yet that you want to do? It could be in life. It can be through your business. What’s the dream project?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
So, I definitely want to travel more now, especially after COVID. I want to travel more, but more importantly, I have colleagues that I’m working on side projects with and we’ve been talking about them. And some of them were things are starting to get off the ground, but I would really love to see some of those things come to pass in terms of us being able to realize and to see things happen.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
I always, I’m very much a visionary. So, I put out there if you have a vision board or they say do visualization of what you want to do or where you want to be. And I see myself creating something that is impactful. So, just doing project work or engaging clients around project work is one facet of my interest. I also have ideas that I feel like I need to bring to life.

Maurice Cherry:
Speaking of, this traveling now, you and I have both spoken on a couple of panels now. Are you starting to see a return to in-person events? Are you getting invited to speak out at any conferences?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Yes. I have a speaking engagement next month in the Baltimore area. I have a few, I want to say late summer or early fall. So, I do realize that things are starting to open up. I actually spoke on a panel recently. So, I’m excited to see and to interact with people in-person, because I feel like the connections. And I had a conversation with someone that I met in-person after meeting them over or talking to them over Zoom a number of times. You really don’t get the value of connecting with someone the way that you do when you meet that individual in-person first and then transition to virtual versus the other way around. Because it’s like you make that connection with people face-to-face that you can’t make over a screen. So, I’m looking forward to that again.

Maurice Cherry:
I just got my first in-person conference invite in a while. I just got it a couple of days ago. So, I’m leaking it early by saying it on the podcast, but I’ll be at Design Thinkers in Toronto in October, which is cool. Because I’ve always wanted to visit Toronto and to now go and do my first in-person conference thing really since… gosh, I think the last time I did one was in maybe 2019, I think, probably 2019. Wow.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Wow, so it’s time.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s time.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
[inaudible 00:41:49].

Maurice Cherry:
I’ve done a ton of virtual things, so it’s time to get back on a stage. So, I’m excited about that.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
I think it’s time, yes. Well, I can tell you that since COVID my whole dress and shoe game is different, so all about-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, really?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
I’m all about comfort now. So, I’m like, “If you say I was going to put on heels and all that, forget about it.”

Maurice Cherry:
What advice would you give to anyone that’s been listening to all of this and they want to follow in your footsteps? What would you tell them?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
So, I would tell them that don’t ever look at any experience that you have as a waste of your time or that it’s in vain. From the time I first moved, when I first moved to North Carolina and I was an administrative assistant in an engineering firm to the jobs that I’ve had that have nothing to do with what I’m doing today, each one of those experiences gave me a perspective on interacting with people. Gave me a perspective on myself, what I’m good at, what I’m not good at, where my strengths are.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
So, every experience that you have in life and know that they all build upon one another, even if they’re not in the same field. And always walk away from bad experiences with the ability to say, “What did I learn from it?” Especially when you work with people that get on your nerves or you can’t stand, figure out what it is you can learn from that. And getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is another thing.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
The only way we grow is by going through some change and I found that I can procrastinate on the things I don’t want to be bothered with or do. But when I look back, sometimes I delay the things that really were in my mind overwhelming, but once I got into them, they weren’t. So, don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today. And know that you don’t know if you can do something unless you try. That’s the way I see it.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s the legacy that you want to leave behind? Where do you see yourself say in the next five years or so? What work do you want to be doing?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
So, in the next five years or so, I realize in my whole marketing effort that honing in on my brand, my personal brand is something that before I used to, I was always the little young, skinny one in the crew throughout my life. So, I was always quiet and in the background and the observer. So, I never really thought that my brand or who I am or what I have to say was necessarily that impactful or important. But as I get older and I have platforms to do that, I realize, “Wow, I do have things to say that people are listening to.”

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
And so, I think in the next five years, continuing to sharpen my brand and my voice are a big part of my focus and that I want to be able to use my skills around being an idea generator, being a connector, helping people to progress ideas. I like to see others, I thrive by seeing others thrive. So, being able to utilize that capability and everything that I do would be just the most awesome thing ever for me.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you and about your work online?

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
That’s a good question. So, definitely connect on LinkedIn, Kenya Oduor, PhD. Last name is O-D-U-O-R. I wish I would have kept my maiden name if I knew my last name was going to be so hard. Check out the web company website leangeeks.net, L-E-A-N-G-E-E-K-S dot-net. And I think LinkedIn is the best place to start because from there, you can get to YouTube video thing. You can get my contact information.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
And I just like to connect with people and like I said, I’m trying to build up my network of folks, especially like us designers and creators and researchers that look like us are important for me to connect with at this point in my career. Especially those that I don’t know now or yet. Yeah. Keep in touch.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Dr. Kenya Oduor, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. One, of course, I think just thank you for telling us about your story. But also about putting forth, this really powerful message about look at your experiences and see what you can gain out of them.

Maurice Cherry:
My mom used to tell me when I was younger, especially early on in my career before I started becoming a designer, sometimes you have to do the things that you don’t want to do, so you can do the things that you want to do or something like that. I might be screwing up that whole thing.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Amen. No, but that to me, I get it.

Maurice Cherry:
But it’s true. Sometimes you have to put the time in, you have to see what you can gain from those experiences, and then use those to become a better person. And certainly, I think from what you’ve shown in this interview and then even with what you’re doing through Lean Geeks, you’re definitely making that happen. So, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Dr. Kenya Oduor:
Thank you so much for having me, Maurice. And continued success to you as well.

Sponsored by Hover

Hover

Building your online brand has never been more important and that begins with your domain name. Show the online community who you are and what you’re passionate about with Hover. With over 400+ domain name extensions to choose from, including all the classics and fun niche extensions, Hover is the only domain provider we use and trust.

Ready to get your own domain name? Go to hover.com/revisionpath and get 10% off your first purchase.

Anthony D. Mays

It’s no secret that the tech industry has weathered the last few years better than a lot of others, and many people are trying to ditch their current jobs and start their careers in tech for big opportunities (and even bigger salaries). But working for companies like Google and Microsoft take more than just talent — it takes the helpful hands and heart of this week’s guest, Anthony D. Mays. As the founder of tech career coaching firm Morgan Latimer Consulting, Anthony uses his 20 years of experience as a software engineer and developer to help his clients to ace tech interviews and get real results.

We start our conversation with a quick check-in, and he talks about starting his firm and finding a good work life balance. He spoke about growing up in Compton and learning BASIC on a VTech PreComputer 1000, studying computer science at UC Irvine, and shared how looking for growth opportunities, and his faith in God, helped him succeed throughout his career. So if you’re looking to work in tech, then Anthony is just the person to make that happen!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Anthony D. Mays:
Sure. I’m Anthony D. Mays. I’m a former software engineer at Google, and I am presently founder and career coach at Morgan Latimer Consulting.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2022 been going so far?

Anthony D. Mays:
It’s been an adventure for sure. I left Google on February 1st of this year and I have dived head first into full-time entrepreneurship. Whatever I thought it was going to be, it seems like it’s just a bit different than that, but it’s been for the good and for the best.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, wow. Congratulations on making the leap.

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah, thanks. It’s been quite a ride. And I thought that my time at Google was an adventure and a ride, and it just seems like entrepreneurship has made that escalate. It has escalated that ride even faster. I feel like I don’t have guardrails either, so I’m really holding on to my seat, my family and I.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about your firm. Again, it’s called Morgan Latimer Consulting. For folks who might be interested, that comes from Garrett A. Morgan and Lewis Latimer. Right?

Anthony D. Mays:
Yes. Yup. Garrett A. Morgan, Lewis Latimer, two of my favorite inventors from Black history. They were innovators during a time when it was neither expected for them to be innovators. They weren’t encouraged to be innovators. No one was willing to carve out room. There was no DEI program. There was only racism, discrimination, slavery, things of that nature. But they weathered all of that in order to innovate in this space. And because of the innovations and their contributions to society, we live in the world that we live in today and benefit from the privileges and technology that we enjoy.

Anthony D. Mays:
And so, with my firm, my aim is to renew, I think, an understanding or to introduce an understanding that Black people being innovators in the tech space isn’t anything new. We’ve been doing it. And similarly, other underrepresented groups, the same can be said for them as well. And I want to help connect that next generation of talent, wherever they come from, no matter who they are, whether you’re underrepresented or well-represented, connect that generation of talent to the companies and organizations that are interested in leveraging and harnessing that talent.

Anthony D. Mays:
So I work directly with candidates, but I also consult for companies and help them to understand their hiring processes, their practices, through the lens of someone who’s come from a different background and provide just that insight and wisdom.

Maurice Cherry:
What inspired you to start your own firm like that?

Anthony D. Mays:
I’ve always been attuned to this idea that entrepreneurship is important, especially in America. And when I was in middle school, I attended a very special charter school that was funded by none other than the National Football League. And as part of that middle school experience, I was exposed to entrepreneurship and this idea that I could go and start a business and begin an enterprise and take the risk and dive in. And so, I felt like that sowed the seeds for me to be thinking about entrepreneurship and independence and just making my own moves.

Anthony D. Mays:
I only kind of realize this now, but my career journey has always been set up for this. I think one of the reasons why I wanted to work at a variety of places, spend time doing professional consulting, and then ultimately get to Google is just to establish the credentials and build a network that would allow me to strike out on my own one day and try to carve a different path towards the success that I was looking for.

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah. So hindsight 2020, I can see where everything all fit together, but it wasn’t immediately clear even when I got into business, when I got into the working world, that my path might take me to entrepreneurship 20 years later. But I’m glad to be here.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s having that kind of social proof, I guess, as you might think about it with working for these other places and then striking out on your own. I think it helps with clients certainly to know that, “Oh, well, you know what you’re talking about in terms of the work that you’re doing.” And there’s some level of vetting in place because you’ve managed to have these other experiences first before starting your own thing.

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah. That’s absolutely right.

Maurice Cherry:
So one thing that you do with your clients, you sort of help them gain the confidence to work in tech, and these are people that either have an interest in tech or maybe might be early career or mid-career, I’m assuming, and you do a lot of prep with them for coding interviews. Tell me about that process, because I’ve heard that Google specifically, their coding interviews can be pretty unusual.

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s important to really call out that word, confidence, because I think that my job as a coach or my unique contribution is really helping someone to see themselves in the role based upon their experience and their willingness to put in the work.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Anthony D. Mays:
And a lot of people can study on their own. There’s tons of resources out there. There’s academies and boot camps and free courses and all that stuff. But there’s this recognition that taking all that stuff in alone may not be enough for some people. And not only that, but there’s these additional challenges and burdens that you may have, especially if you’re from an underrepresented background, where you may not have a network of people who can help you to connect your own life and experience and your own journey to the tech space.

Anthony D. Mays:
And so, what I aim to do is to talk about that and to help people understand how to have the right framework and preparation so that you can begin building that confidence and know that you’re the right person for the job. And that takes a little more effort. That takes me really getting to know my clients. It takes exercising them, paying attention to their problem-solving, making them think through their own problem-solving, arming them with the right frameworks of thinking, so that as you’re tackling different kinds of interviews, you know what you need to do and when you need to do it. And I talk to my clients a lot about building something called muscle memory. It’s the same kind of thing that athletes rely on in professional sports.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Anthony D. Mays:
People see them playing the game, but they don’t see them spending the hours of doing repetitive motions and different kinds of exercises to get prepared. They’re able to have confidence at game-time playing at the highest level in front of millions of people because they have that muscle memory. And so, part of what I seek to teach to my candidates and help them develop is that muscle memory so that they can go into an interview knowing that they have a great chance and not hindered by doubt and fear and uncertainty and those kinds of things that often stop very talented people from being successful.

Maurice Cherry:
So you’re kind of like part consultant, part psychiatrist in a way, because you’re kind of helping them to build that internal confidence so, like you said, they see themselves in the role, and I think that is super important. I mean, I’ve worked at a couple of tech startups and I’ve been in the position to hire, and one thing that has been a big thing over the past few years has been inclusive language for job listings.

Maurice Cherry:
And it’s now even a thing to put in job listings, particularly for tech and design positions, to say like, “Even if you don’t have all of these requirements, you should apply anyway,” or “If you only have 50%, apply anyway,” which I think is a way to kind of help people to see themselves in the role because, oftentimes, you may look at the job listing and look at all those different bullet points, and instead of seeing where you’re strong, you see where you’re weak, like, “Well, I don’t have this. Well, I don’t have this many years experience,” and then you end up not applying when, in actuality, what you need to have is the confidence to say, “Well, I’m strong in these things, so I’m going to apply just to kind of see what happens.”

Anthony D. Mays:
Right. And I also want to help you look at that same job description and maybe realize that it’s not for you, that this isn’t going to help you achieve your goals. There’s a lot of people who come to me because they want to crack those top tech companies, those FAANG companies, the Googles, the Amazons, the Microsoft, et cetera, et cetera.

Anthony D. Mays:
And sometimes, I’ve got to look at them and say, “Based upon the goals that you just shared with me, you don’t really need to crack a FAANG company. What you actually need is to consider this startup or maybe think about something mid-tier. Maybe not even a tech company. Maybe you just need to get your foot in the door, and instead of looking at a tech company, you need to look at a non-tech company that has an IT department but also has the framework and infrastructure to help you grow and develop the skills.”

Anthony D. Mays:
So depending upon where you are, you may not understand how to correctly map your specific goals to the opportunities that are out there. If you come away from a conversation with me realizing, “I wanted to do this thing, but I realized that that’s actually not the best fit. Maybe I need to think about entrepreneurship,” then I’m like, “All right. Great. Fantastic. I’ve saved you some time. I’ve saved you some trouble.”

Anthony D. Mays:
And I think that, especially as an entrepreneur now, I realize that my own path was about making it to a place like Google and operating at that level. That’s not everybody’s path. Some people don’t need to pursue that journey. That was my journey. That may not be your journey. And there has to be that conversation. There has to be somebody asking those questions, because I think right now, especially in the tech interviewing, tech prep career coaching space, everybody wants to get you to a FAANG company. They’re pointing you in that direction. They’re talking about those salaries and all that stuff. But you’re not really serving candidates well because you’re selling them this dream and this bill of goods that isn’t going to be helpful for them.

Anthony D. Mays:
I care about my clients and the people that I work with because I think that there’s tons of transformative opportunity out there and available, but you need somebody to come alongside with you to educate you on how to best put a plan in place, helps you get to where you’re trying to go.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ve started seeing companies, even the big ones like the Microsofts and stuff, they’re doing outreach on TikTok. I probably spend too much time on TikTok. But there’s a lot of people on TikTok that are really like, “I want to find the high-paying, six-figure tech jobs. How do you find those jobs?” Because there will be people that have those jobs that are on TikTok, and they’re saying, “These are the perks that I get. I get free lunch here. This is my ride to the office.” And they sort of paint this very idealistic picture of what it means to be in tech through these kinds of perks.

Maurice Cherry:
And I’ll never forget… I interviewed Kristy Tillman. She’s been on the show twice, but Kristy now works at Netflix, and I’ll never forget how she told me to look at perks at companies as filters that just because something may look good in that way, it could also be something that’s used to filter people out. So I do see a lot of… I guess you could almost call it propaganda where people are really painting this very idealistic picture of what it looks like to work in tech in these fancy offices, and you get a free MacBook Pro and all this, but not really showing them what it means, not just to work in tech from day to day, but even the process, like you said, to interview to be a part of a company like that, because it might not even be that they need to be there. They probably just need to start out somewhere smaller maybe.

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah. No, absolutely. And here’s the deal: You want success and you want the paycheck and all that stuff. You get that by being good at what you do. You get that by being excellent at your craft. And that has more to do with you and how you move and how you develop than it does on the place that you work. And certainly, when you’re working at a company, there’s an expectation that they’re going to play some part in your development, in your growth, and in your assessment, and provide useful feedback, and all those things.

Anthony D. Mays:
But ultimately, you’ve got to take your career and your craft and your responsibility and put in the time and work to be effective and to really be thoughtful about how to make the right plan to get you to where you’re trying to go. And so, I think that a lot of people are looking for shortcuts and they’re trying to circumvent the process, and it’s important that I remind people that there aren’t shortcuts to this. It’s just the same hard work. It’s the same hard work that my ancestors poured into being who they were and accomplishing the things that they accomplished, not letting excuses or things of that nature get in the way. And because of that, they were able to do what they were able to do. And they faced a lot of unfairness. They faced a ton of unfairness.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Anthony D. Mays:
And just like we face, to certain degrees, unfairness in today’s processes, some of that just comes from natural imperfection. We’re not perfect at what we do as companies or as individuals and applicants. So there’s that, but then there’s also these other biases and even discrimination or racism, to some lesser extent, that we’ve got to combat. And I sometimes struggle with the approaches that I take because I’m very focused on the individual regardless of the surrounding circumstances.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Anthony D. Mays:
But the circumstances, those could use some changing as well, and it’s important. And that’s why I want to tackle this from both sides of the bridge. I want to help clients and candidates to understand what they need to do, but I also want to talk to companies and say, “There are some things that you need to change because the talent is ready. It’s not a pipeline issue. It’s a you issue. You need to change what you’re doing and the pipeline will come. The people will come. You just haven’t built a room for them.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. That’s a really good point, to let the companies know that sometimes, there’s things that they’re doing wrong or things that they may be doing, even just in the language in job listings, the way they’ve talked about perks, et cetera, that might set them up in a bad light. It’s funny, speaking about startups and things like this, startups can be a really good place to cut your teeth on working in tech. But they have their own issues too, particularly depending on the scale of where the company is at, and even with diversity and inclusion.

Maurice Cherry:
At least I’ve started to see, on the startup level, it’s becoming less and less of a factor than it has been at larger companies. I don’t know if that’s just because of time or DEI fatigue or whatever. But I remember in the early 2010s when those reports started coming out about Google and Facebook and such about their single-digit workforce numbers for Black employees and what does that mean, and stuff like that.

Anthony D. Mays:
Right. Right.

Maurice Cherry:
And I feel like those companies have started over the years to improve that, certainly. Startups are under no obligation to do that. I just know from working at a couple of them. They do not care.

Anthony D. Mays:
It really depends because… I agree with you that when it comes to the larger companies, there’s an interest to change, but in many respects, it’s almost too little, too late to make the kind of change that you need to make as quickly as you want to. Right?

Anthony D. Mays:
So for some of these larger companies that have been around for 20 years, 40 years, 50 years, whatever that may be, you’re talking about a deeply ingrained culture. There’s a lot of rot that you have to get rid of first before you can even start talking about doing the right things, very carefully guarding that small little flame, that little spark that turns into a fire that then leads to change. So there’s a lot of momentum that you’ve got to slow down if you’re a big company so that you can begin shifting gears.

Anthony D. Mays:
But when you’re a startup, you are in a better position because you’re new, because you have the opportunity to learn from those mistakes and, from the very beginning, think about the right things to do. My latest client right now, I just signed with Karat as a tech advisor for their Brilliant Black Minds program. And what I love about Karat is that from the beginning, they’ve made this very early commitment to increasing the number of Black engineers in the business and really thinking through how they can play a role in that. You can go visit their website and read the statement and the thinking and the resource that they’ve done.

Anthony D. Mays:
I love that they’re small enough and nimble enough to really tackle this problem at a speed that other companies can’t do. And I think that there are similar startups that have that opportunity. And to your earlier point, there are some startups that really did get this wrong in a big way. Most notably, I remember learning about the mess at Uber, and I know that they went through some strides to turn over a new leaf. And from what I understand, things are better, much better than they were back in those days.

Anthony D. Mays:
But you could see that where… When some of today’s startups started making those mistakes, they got called out on it a whole lot faster. It’s a lot harder for those companies to grow and develop without having that scrutiny, whereas 10 years ago, nobody really cared. 15 years ago, 20 years ago, nobody cared. You could do whatever you wanted.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Anthony D. Mays:
So I think that for those in the audience or for job seekers or candidates who are looking for companies who may have stronger commitments, who may be making better progress, looking at those smaller firms, those startups, those growth phase companies, that might be the better play if that’s something that you care deeply about.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I agree. I agree and I disagree. I mean, I’m disagreeing from my own personal experiences, but I do agree that there are some startups out there that are doing it, particularly because you’re starting to see a lot of POC-owned, Black-owned startups. So of course, they have diversity and inclusion in mind because they started it. So that’s something that’s important to them. So I get where you’re coming from. Absolutely. What is a typical day like for you? I know you just said you kind of struck out on your own, but have you started to achieve a work-life balance with the firm?

Anthony D. Mays:
No, I wish. Every day is different, and that’s been great and it’s been challenging at the same time. I woke up today and I was like, “What am I going to do? I know I got to do a podcast, but other than that, what else am I going to do? Should I go put some meetings on the calendar? Should I work on a thing?” And so, I would like to say that I’m a lot more intentional and wise in terms of how I’m planning my time. But each day has been a little bit different, and I find myself in infrastructure-building mode a lot.

Anthony D. Mays:
So I think as I work through some of these beginning things as a new entrepreneur, I’ll get more of the consistency and the regularity out of my routine. But right now, I’m still, I think, figuring it out. I’m trying to be patient with that as well. I don’t want to rush into completely filling up my schedule with things. I want to make sure that everything that I’m committing to is intentional and thought out and is going to serve, in some way, the mission that I’m pursuing.

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah. From that perspective, it’s been fun. And the other part of this too is that my wife is the co-owner of Morgan Latimer Consulting. So I’m working here at home and my wife is a key partner with me in this effort, largely working behind the scenes. But I’m also getting the kids involved too and having conversations out loud and in the open as they’re doing school.

Anthony D. Mays:
And so, it’s been interesting to expose the whole family to entrepreneurship and to this lifestyle and to be open and honest with my kids about the challenges and opportunities. And so, I think what happens more than that is, I’ll find a learning opportunity in the middle of the day and put everything on pause and talk to my wife or talk to my kids about what I’m thinking and where things can go and even getting their advice and input, and that’s been a lot of fun.

Maurice Cherry:
A true family business. I like that.

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah. Absolutely. The only other challenge that I’m contending with right now is just needing to travel a little bit more as things thaw out with regards to the pandemic and travel resumes. Now I’m needing to be in more places crossing the country. And so, I try to look for opportunities to bring my family with me so that they can experience that part of it as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Speaking about family, let’s switch gears here a little bit. You grew up in Compton. I know that because it’s on the hat that you have in all your photos.

Anthony D. Mays:
Well, I could be faking it. I could be-

Maurice Cherry:
No, I don’t think you’re faking it. I don’t know anyone that would fake and… Well, let me not tell that lie. I do know people that would fake and say they’re from the hood. Let me not say that.

Anthony D. Mays:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
But you’re from L.A. You live in L.A. Tell me, growing up in Compton, was tech a part of your childhood?

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah, it was, amazingly enough. And that may come across as unexpected for some of your listeners. But growing up in a poor place, in a place like Compton that was renowned for things like gang violence, drugs, poverty, all that stuff, now, well, it turns out that having rich people in the area means that we receive some investment and support from very notable people. And I think it was Magic Johnson who, in the early ’90s, donated a non-trivial sum of money to my elementary school. As a result, we got a basketball court, but also a computer lab.

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm.

Anthony D. Mays:
And it was in that computer lab when I was in the second grade that I had the opportunity to use a computer for the first time. And it profoundly changed my life because that’s when I realized that computers were cool and this might be something that I want to keep doing, whether I get paid for it or not. And so, I remember asking my parents for a computer and they said no, and I didn’t understand at the time that computers were $5,000 or more to get something decent. But my foster parents, as well as my birth mom, they both bought me toy computers, which were super cool. And when I was about eight years old, I used one of those toy computers to teach myself how to code.

Maurice Cherry:
Mmm.

Anthony D. Mays:
And I remember, at the time, I was being bullied for a variety of reasons. And so, I became somewhat of an introvert out of necessity and would pour focus and time and attention into computers and programming. And I just remember feeling this sense of empowerment and agency and control using computers that I didn’t have in other aspects of my life. I failed to mention this, and it’s pretty much common knowledge now, but I grew up as a foster kid after my first grade teacher or kindergarten teacher had found signs of physical abuse.

Anthony D. Mays:
And so, losing your whole family and being moved out of your home is a very transformative and traumatic experience for someone who’s four years old. And I found that interacting with technology allowed me to reclaim control and power and just to have a space to be me and to be a creative thinker and an innovative thinker. I wasn’t building apps and all this stuff, but it was enough to whet my appetite and get me engaged, and I would just continue to pursue computers throughout middle school and throughout high school where I was fortunate in both cases to meet mentors who saw that early love and decided to invest time into developing my knowledge around technology and the internet.

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm. Something you mentioned there, I think, we have in common in terms of growing up in… I don’t want to say small towns. I don’t know how large Compton is, but certainly growing up in towns with dubious reputations.

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m from Selma, as most people-

Anthony D. Mays:
Hey.

Maurice Cherry:
… know from the show, from Selma, Alabama. Kind of like the first generation out from Bloody Sunday. And so, now Selma is like a pit stop on every politician’s tour throughout the country. They stop in, they go to Brown Chapel AME, they walk across the bridge, yada yada yada. They do all that stuff. But because of that general perennial attention on the city, you do have people that will come in and there’s like an influx of cash to one of the local schools or… You know what I mean? So we had a computer lab in high school, which is how I learned about the internet. That was my first foray with Netscape Navigator 1.0.

Anthony D. Mays:
Oh, wow. Let’s get it. Yes. Yeah. I’m right there with you, brother. We learned that the same time.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. That was in my… I was in, I think, ninth or tenth grade when they installed the computer lab and got to see what the internet was like back then. But even as you mentioned learning and teaching yourself how to code with these toy computers, I’m super curious, what was the computers that you were using?

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah. So the one that I used specifically to learn coding was called the PreComputer 1000.

Maurice Cherry:
Get out! Oh, I’m sorry. Go ahead.

Anthony D. Mays:
Oh, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
No, no, no. No, keep going. Sorry. Sorry. I had that same computer. I had that same… The blue one with the handle?

Anthony D. Mays:
That’s the blue one with the handle. Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Okay. Okay. Okay. Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead.

Anthony D. Mays:
So I’ll tell you a funny story real quick. I would talk about that computer when I would go to schools during my time at Google and all this stuff, and I had lost the computer. I didn’t have… I don’t know what happened with it. Things get lost, as they do, over decades. And one day, this Christmas present was sitting on my desk and I opened it up, and it’s a PreComputer 1000. A co-worker had bought me a PreComputer 1000 off of eBay or something because they knew that I had grown up on that computer and they knew-

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Anthony D. Mays:
… how passionate I was about sharing technology with the young people. And so, I would take that computer with me on tours and flip the switch where you’d hear the little (singing). And I would take out the big old fat D batteries on the back and say,-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh man.

Anthony D. Mays:
… “This is it.” That’s what I had. And one of the reasons why I’m passionate about supporting underrepresented people in tech specifically is because out of scarcity comes innovation.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Anthony D. Mays:
Out of scarcity and challenge and struggle comes some of the best ideas and some of the greatest opportunities to do things that haven’t been done before. And for me, growing up under the scarce conditions of the hood and with the family that I often describe as middle-class poor, that led to me doing things like teaching myself how to code and learning about the internet and all these other kinds of things. For an industry that’s looking for talent that knows how to build technology under those kinds of circumstances, what better place to look than the hoods and ghettos of America?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Anthony D. Mays:
Why spend all of this time going overseas looking for that kind of talent when we have our own neglected neighborhoods in the backyards of America?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Listen, these kids don’t know how good they got it now. When you have to teach-

Anthony D. Mays:
They really don’t.

Maurice Cherry:
… yourself how to code on a one-line dot-matrix screen…

Anthony D. Mays:
That’s right.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, come on. So my older brother had… And this is when I was younger. I probably might have been about seven or eight or something. He had a… It was also a VTech, but it was a Laser 50.

Anthony D. Mays:
Mmm.

Maurice Cherry:
And so, the Laser 50 is about the size of a standard, regular keyboard that you would get now, but it had a one-line dot-matrix screen at the very top and you would use that to code. And I remember… The Laser 50 was particularly interesting because it had all these peripherals you could get for it. You could get a tiny dot-matrix printer. You could get a tiny-

Anthony D. Mays:
Oh, wow.

Maurice Cherry:
… storage thing. And storage back then were cassettes, because you didn’t have flash drives. You didn’t have…

Anthony D. Mays:
Yup.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, you had floppy disks, but you certainly didn’t have… But it was a cassette. And so, I would often be mistakenly putting data, like taping over somebody’s radio mix, because it used this…

Anthony D. Mays:
Oh, no. Not the radio mix.

Maurice Cherry:
Trying to explain to someone that like, “Yeah. We use cassettes for music and for data storage.” They’re like, “What? I don’t get that.” But yeah, I had a PreComputer 1000. I think I was in probably fourth or fifth grade. I remember that spiral-bound flip notebook. I taught myself how to type on that thing.

Anthony D. Mays:
There it is.

Maurice Cherry:
I taught myself music on that thing. I’m sure my mom wanted to launch it into space because I was making all kinds of noise on that thing. Yeah. And it’s funny, you mentioned getting one off of eBay. Someone gifted one to you. I got one off eBay also-

Anthony D. Mays:
Hey, there it is.

Maurice Cherry:
… a few years ago. I got a Laser 50 and I got a PreComputer 1000 just to have them as artifacts of like, “This is how I got into technology.”

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah. And I wish that I had the opportunity to meet the product managers or project managers who worked on that because it would be so great to just give them a personal thank you for thinking about a product like this. Again, to your earlier point, I’m hard on this generation of technologists that are coming up because, as you said, they don’t realize how good they have it. And I do understand that there’s a challenge. There’s so much information that it can be hard to pick through what’s reliable and useful from that, which isn’t.

Anthony D. Mays:
But I had to go to a library that had books that were five, 10 years old out of date, trying to teach myself coding and programming, just kind of growing in that. That was a tough challenge, and that was… It was enough to make me give up programming until I got out of high school when I would go get my first job as a developer.

Anthony D. Mays:
I remember feeling so frustrated because I would pick up these old books and I would try to apply what I was learning, but I didn’t understand it all the way and I didn’t have someone that I could lean on to explain. I remember this one time in middle school where I typed out this whole program. I must have spent a couple hours just typing out this whole program into Notepad on Windows.

Maurice Cherry:
Whoo! That takes me back.

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah. And so, I saved… I just saved this text document as an exe thinking, “Well, all I have to do is just save it and then change the extension to exe and I should be able to double-click and run it.” And I spent an hour just trying to get that to work and it wouldn’t work, and I was so frustrated because I didn’t understand that you needed a compiler in between that’ll produce the actual program. And so, I remember those kinds of moments.

Anthony D. Mays:
And then I think about the fact that my son can watch a YouTube video now that tells him exactly what tools to install and how to make it all work and have all the sample code and then he could put that up on GitHub and all this other stuff. And so, I reflect on that and I try to… I have to kind of take a step back and just not yell at people, not get gangsta at them.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Anthony D. Mays:
What do you mean? What are you talking about? You ain’t got no struggle. What are you talking about you can’t do this? What are you talking about you don’t have information?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Anthony D. Mays:
Get over it.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh man. I remember we… Our public library had one book on BASIC. It was like this green and white book. And I mean, I check that thing out every two weeks till the cover came off, taped the cover back on. And because Selma is like a… It’s a small town. It’s like 20,000 people maybe.

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
No mall or anything. So the nearest bookstore was 50-plus miles away in Montgomery. So if I was like, “Oh, I want to go get a book,” that’s a whole trip. That’s a field trip, pretty much.

Anthony D. Mays:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh God, I think I got my first HTML book, I might have been in high school or something, but I remember getting it at the Montgomery Mall because we were at some trip in Montgomery and I got it. But there’s… Also during that time, I spent a lot of time in the computer lab by myself. My mom worked at a college. And so, I had access to Windows computers. And I just spent so much time looking at source code, writing stuff down, trying to figure out how it all worked, because I could only do it at the computer lab. I would do that and then have to go home and write a paper on a typewriter.

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah. Right. Right. Right.

Maurice Cherry:
Because I could only use the computer either at high school or I could use it at my mom’s work at the college. I didn’t get my own personal computer until I went off to college in ’99. But yeah, kids, they don’t know how good they got it. I’m saying kids in a general pejorative sense, but just like, people that are learning technology now, there’s so much at your fingertips. It’s astonishing.

Anthony D. Mays:
I mean, and that’s the thing is… One of the things I try to impress on this generation is the importance of making things and building things and being public about that.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Anthony D. Mays:
So as you’re learning and as you’re growing, assemble that gallery, assemble that portfolio, and make it external and use social media to your advantage. These are things I didn’t learn till later on, but it was partly because of those reasons that I was able to even get the attention of a Google in the first place. And I think that… I ponder what my path in tech might have looked like had I had the tools that I had. And another part of this too, because having a son and daughter, my son is 15, my daughter is 12, I look at them and I realize that they just don’t have the same gumption. They don’t have the same motivation that I did, my drive and my wife’s drive.

Anthony D. Mays:
We came from a place where you had to find a pathway to success. You needed the struggle. You needed to overcome a lot and be intentional about figuring out where you wanted to go to avoid all the little traps that come with growing up in the hood. And so, we were sufficiently motivated to take advantage of every possible resource we could find and get our hands on to succeed. My kids benefit from a great deal of privilege. And without much effort at all, they have access to tons of information and tons of resources, but not necessarily having that drive.

Anthony D. Mays:
And I think that there’s time for them to develop that and to grow on that. There’s a sense in which I want them to just enjoy ingesting knowledge and doing it carefully, but just being slow. They don’t need to build an empire now. But I’ve got to push them a little bit to put in the work to really realize what they have so that they are being producers and not just consumers of technology.

Maurice Cherry:
Mmm. I want to go back to… You mentioned, in high school, you had this aptitude for technology after learning about it so much. And then for college, you went to UC Irvine. Tell me about that time. What was it like there?

Anthony D. Mays:
That was an interesting and difficult time for me personally, and I don’t mean difficult just in terms of challenging. Yeah, it was challenging, as education should be, but there was also this aspect where I think I had to deal with difficulty that maybe other people didn’t have to experience. The first thing is that I didn’t see a lot of people who look like me and who came from where I came from in classes with me learning about computer science.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Anthony D. Mays:
I looked at the population of students that I was surrounded by in the computer science program versus in other places of the university and would sometimes think to myself, “Am I in the wrong major? Is this really a pathway and a world built for me?”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Anthony D. Mays:
And I had to struggle through that. I didn’t have the best study habits. Well, let me put it another way. I was a lazy bum when it came to school. I think part of it was that I didn’t understand how I learned and how I would best ingest information. And so, that was one thing. But the other part of it was that, in school, I had to conserve energy a lot. I wasn’t one of those kinds of people that could just go to school and focus on my studies. I also had to work. I had to earn income to make sure that… And I had scholarships, but I didn’t have a full ride.

Anthony D. Mays:
And so, there was a lot of context switching between being devoted to school, but then also making sure that I’m taking care of bills and other concerns associated with being an adult on your own. And so, I think in the craziest time of college, I would go to school at UC Irvine. I would drive to downtown L.A., which took about an hour and a half, to go work part-time on my job. And then I would sometimes come back to school, which was another hour, finish off classes, and then drive 30 minutes home. And that was a real grind for, ooh, a couple of years throughout my college education.

Anthony D. Mays:
When I talk about providing the perspective of someone who’s underrepresented, there are a lot of people who want to get into tech who have very challenging life circumstances, where they struggle just to either support themselves or their family or whatever that may be, and they’re trying to get their leg up and study and learn all these things, and it’s a challenge. But by God’s grace, even in college, I had a lot of good support and that I had summer internships through the INROADS program. That was fantastic and really helped to root my education.

Anthony D. Mays:
And then during the year, I had the opportunity to work for City National Bank to work as a developer in real life. And so, in addition to what I was getting in the classroom, I was also, in some respects, playing that out in the working world. And so, it was good to have that reinforcement there. And there were a community of folks that I could lean on and talk to. I think there was a good community of Black folks on campus.

Anthony D. Mays:
I did other strategic things. I took gospel choir three times in college. I don’t even know if I got credit for the last time I took it because I think there was a limit, but I would take gospel choir because I grew up in the church and I grew up as a gospel music musician from the time that I was, I don’t know, nine years old, 10 years old, and I’ve been playing every Sunday at church ever since then. So gospel choir in college was a safe space for me, if I can use that phrase, for me to just be around something familiar and around something that really encouraged and gave me hope. So it was great.

Anthony D. Mays:
And ultimately, I left the University of California, Irvine with a 2.87 GPA on the five-year plan. I had gone to a charter school for high school as well and had great education opportunities. I really should have gotten out of college in three years because I came in with college credits. It took me five. And I reflect on how challenging that was and how that experience impacted how I saw myself as a professional after I graduated, because I didn’t have a lot of confidence when I graduated high school, even though I would go on and get a job and all that stuff. I certainly didn’t see myself as big tech material, as Google material. Just walking across the stage with a diploma was a generational accomplishment, if you know what I mean.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Anthony D. Mays:
And so, when you’re coming from the perspective of survival, any success is big success. And so, it didn’t take very much for me to feel satisfied and accomplished after graduating college. And I had no idea the amount of headroom I had to work with in my career. If I would’ve known then what I know today, I think that would’ve drastically changed my career trajectory and path. I didn’t have those examples. I didn’t have that network of people that I could look to and say, “Hey, I want to be like this person.” I see that they kind of have a path like mine’s and they’ve had some struggles and they’re able to do what they’re doing. I might be able to do the same thing. Let me apply myself. Let me work even harder. Let me take advantage of these opportunities that I was too scared to take advantage of.

Anthony D. Mays:
And I think that’s why I’m so public about my own journey, my own trials, and really kind of getting in the face of other folks who might be like me or might have come from where I’ve come from to let them know that I am that living example of what they can accomplish if they’re willing to take the risks and to step out on faith, as it were, and really own their journey, their path, their growth, and their development.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, once you graduated from UC Irvine, what was your early career like?

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah. So I transitioned from being an intern to a full-time employee at City National Bank. The experience was a little jarring in that when you grow up in a computer science education, you kind of expect that you’re going to see theoretical things playing out in the real world. And for the first several years of my career, I really didn’t see that happen, and it’s because I didn’t understand that a computer science education is really designed to position you well for working at a tech company or working at a tech-focused organization. And at the time, I was working for a bank. Banks aren’t tech companies.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Anthony D. Mays:
They see IT as a cost center. They see IT as a… You want to spend the least amount of money possible to get the bare minimum so that you minimize the cost. And so, they just didn’t care a lot about making things fast or quick or really applying, at that time, good UX principles and stuff like that. And so, it was confusing. I’d say, “Hey, we need to do this and have these kinds of practices,” and it was always seen as a burden and as something that kind of slowed down the process.

Anthony D. Mays:
And so, I was confused by this and eventually began to fit into the more corporate IT way of thinking about software development and all those things. That’s useful. It was useful for where I was moving at the time. I learned how to engage with my craft in that kind of environment and find success, but I became detached from what I was learning in school.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Anthony D. Mays:
And I didn’t really connect with that again until the Google interview, where I had to dust off the Data Structures and Algorithms book and reacquaint myself with the big O and with some of these other formal concepts that I learned in my computer science education. But the upside of working in the corporate environment that I worked in during those times is that because of what I perceived as chaos and disorganization, I got to learn a crap ton of stuff. It’s kind of like working at a startup that just hasn’t figured it out yet.

Anthony D. Mays:
You do 10,000 things, because there’s nobody else to figure it out. And so, you’re just kind of throwing mud at the wall to see if it sticks. That was kind of my experience early in my career. And so, that made things fun. And I would often say yes to things, even if I didn’t know what it was or how it worked. My boss says, “Okay. Who wants to tackle this thing?” “Yeah, I’ll tackle it. I don’t know what this is, but if you give me time, I’ll figure it out.” And I’ve just began to develop and grow that muscle of figuring things out, going from knowing nothing to knowing something to then being effective. Repeating that process over and over again really helped me to develop good, solid problem-solving skills that I would take later into my career.

Maurice Cherry:
And you were at City National Bank for a long time, like almost nine years.

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And even after that, you worked at a couple of other places for a pretty long time. You worked at Slalom Consulting. You worked at Junction eCommerce On Demand. When you look back at these experiences collectively, what do you remember?

Anthony D. Mays:
I definitely remember leaving City National Bank and making that decision. What caused me to leave… For me, money isn’t everything. And what’s more important to me, or at least what was more important to me at the time, was growth opportunity and learning. I felt like I needed to learn and grow or at least get paid really good money to stay in my seat. And at the time, I felt like I wasn’t really growing in the way that I wanted to grow and stepping into opportunities that I wanted to step into.

Anthony D. Mays:
And part of that was because I was working for a bank in 2008 in the middle of something called a financial crisis and a Great Recession. So I was not in the best industry for that kind of stuff anyway. And so, I decided to leave at the time to pursue growth in my development. And so, I remember going from this non-technical company to a tech company in JunctionEOD and all of a sudden connecting with some of these things that I talked about learning in my computer science education.

Anthony D. Mays:
I was like, “Oh, okay. That’s where this really applies.” And so, I got to learn a lot of cool stuff and to do some things that would set me up again for success later on. Got to work with a… I’d worked in a large company with thousands of employees, and then ended up working in this department where there were just five of us. And so, it felt very much like a startup or a startup in growth phase. It was interesting to work with… to have a technical manager and someone who was a manager, who was also an engineer. My previous manager wasn’t an engineer. I have experience coding before, but really didn’t dabble in the technical.

Anthony D. Mays:
So to go from that to someone who is technical and having those discussions, I just found that to be cool. And I really learned a lot from my boss at the time, Mike, who was just a great engineer, double-majored in physics and math, I think it was, or actually had a master’s degree in physics and math. So just really a smart guy. I just remember growing and develop… Honestly, Mike, if you’re listening, sorry, wasn’t necessarily the best manager at the time. And so, I perceived that I needed to get myself into a position where I could find even more growth and learning.

Anthony D. Mays:
But again, a lot of what motivated me to move from one place to the other was the learning and the growth, not necessarily the money. Now, as I move from one company to the next, I found myself getting $15,000 raises each time, so that was nice. But it wasn’t something I was looking for.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Anthony D. Mays:
I felt like it was just necessary for me to keep growing and keep getting better. And if I didn’t feel like that was happening, then I wanted to move. And so, by the time I got to Slalom Consulting, I had the opportunity to work with consultants in past jobs and past roles, and I really loved looking at consultants and watching them work and seeing the kinds of opportunities they got to dive into. And so, when I had the chance to become a consultant, I really enjoyed that, and working on a variety of customer projects in a variety of different contexts and seeing how the same skills I’ve been using for over a decade at that point could be used in a variety of different contexts. And that was very helpful. Very, very helpful.

Anthony D. Mays:
And again, I love this idea of being hired to be an expert in something that I didn’t know or understand yet, being entrusted to just kind of dive in and start solving problems using brand new tools and processes, and I really enjoyed that. And I enjoy Slalom as a company. I think Slalom continues to be a great company and I hear nothing but good things, still, from folks who have worked there in the past and have gone on to other things. I might still actually be at Slalom today if it hadn’t been for Google knocking on the door.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, let’s talk about Google. I mean, I’m sure that folks that are listening have heard about how tough it is to break into Google, their interview process, et cetera. Tell me about what your Google experience was like.

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah. So I connected with Google as a young man in college, my first and second year of college actually. So Google Search showed up on the scene, and you probably remember Infoseek and AltaVista and Ask Jeeves and those earlier search engines.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Anthony D. Mays:
And I remember Google Search coming on the scene and just changing the game. All of a sudden, I felt like I had this world of information at my fingertips where I could find exactly what I was looking for with just a few keystrokes. Then I remember Gmail, this free mail service. And people take advantage of, then neglect to appreciate free email. You had Gmail, which is free email service. I could put attachments in and schoolwork there and use it, and it was amazing.

Anthony D. Mays:
And I thought Google as a company name was a weird name. The first thing I said was, “Look at this Yahoo clone. Google. Who do they think they are?”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Anthony D. Mays:
But they were interesting and innovative, and they were dabbling in a bunch of these different spaces even in the early days. And then they went public and made millions of dollars for folks who had joined the company early and been part of that process. I was attracted to Google as a company and to Google technology. And even today, post-Google career, I still love Google products and services. And I forgot to turn off the device, and so there might be something that… The Assistant might chirp in and interrupt me at any time now. I’ve always loved the technologies and things they built and their ambition as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Anthony D. Mays:
And so, even though I love the company, I never saw myself being worthy of being employed there, being considered amongst the ranks of software engineers there. And so, when I encountered a recruiter in college, I think it was my third year of college, they gave me an application, asked me to fill it out for an internship. I walked away some steps and threw the application in the trash, because I knew-

Maurice Cherry:
Whoa.

Anthony D. Mays:
… that they weren’t going to hire a Black dude from the hood. I just knew that. They weren’t going to hire a Black man from the hood who’s a former physical, sexual abuse victim. I’m like, “No.” So that was my early interaction with Google. And then some years later, 11 years into my career, a recruiter reached out to me over LinkedIn and said, “Hey, I think that there’s a place and a role for you at the company. You should consider applying.” And it felt different because the recruiter used my full name. They singled me out on LinkedIn.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Anthony D. Mays:
And I had 11 years of career experience under my belt at that point. And so, I felt emboldened to go through the interview process. Yeah. I didn’t have a friend, cousin, uncle, brother, whatever, that had worked anywhere near a big tech company. And so, I had to do what any self-respecting engineer would do in my position. I googled it. “How do you succeed at this interview process?” And I came across some good information but I also came across some bad information. I didn’t know how to disambiguate the two. And so, I ended up studying brain teasers for two weeks and went into this interview process and not a single brain teaser was asked.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Anthony D. Mays:
And I fought as hard as I could with the information that I had and worked very hard. It wasn’t an issue of work ethic. It was an issue of information and not being connected to the right network. And ultimately, I was saddened to hear from the recruiter that they weren’t going to move forward. And I remember reflecting on that “no” and thinking that I had let down myself, my family, my community, my church, all Black people everywhere, because when-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, wow.

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah. I mean, when I’m coming into the space as an underrepresented person, I know that the people that I’m talking to, I might be one of the very few Black folks that they ever talked to, one of the very few people from Compton. Maybe the only person from Compton that they’ll ever meet, and that they’re forming ideas about who I am and about what I represent. And so, I was aware of that burden and I was deeply impacted by that.

Anthony D. Mays:
So when recruiters would reach out the next year and the year after that, I think three times total, after I had failed the interview, I was very confused. I was like, “Y’all know I’m a Black man, right?” Right? Everybody says they’re going to call you back if a position is available. No one ever does. And these recruiters called me back, I think, three times. And my last recruiter understood that I was very hesitant to reengage with the process.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Anthony D. Mays:
It kind of babied me, kind of coddled me in the conversation. And I kind of walked away from that thinking, “She thinks I’m a punk.” She’s calling me a… That’s really what’s going on here. She’s calling me a punk. I can’t go out like that.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Anthony D. Mays:
And so, after talking to my wife and getting her support, I realized that I wanted to try again. And so, I picked up Cracking the Coding Interview by Gayle Laakmann McDowell, bought a whiteboard and some markers, really committed myself to studying the right information this time. And as a result of a month and a half of studying for, I don’t know, three or four hours a day, except for Sundays because I’m closed on Sundays, I was able to go through the interview process and get the job.

Anthony D. Mays:
And you would think that after that, everything is happily ever after, like, “Yay, you did it. You accomplished this amazing feat. Now you can rest and ride off into the sunset.” Well, as soon as I got to Google, I felt uncomfortable. And it wasn’t because of anything specific that people were doing. It’s that I just… I couldn’t sit in my seat. I was unnerved and restless. I would sit in this cafe surrounded by free food, free snacks, free beverages, by games and pool tables and really smart people, and my attention would be directed to the basketball court on the first floor as I’m watching these dudes duke it out on the basketball court.

Anthony D. Mays:
And I’m like, I understand that part. I understand basketball. I understand that struggle. I understand that life. I don’t understand this. I don’t understand tech, this new privilege. And there’s this culture shock. I’m forced to dress different than I had ever dressed before. I start off my career in a bank, suit and tie, and everybody’s now wearing jeans and a T-shirt. The whole thing is jarring. My bosses… My co-workers are telling me that I’m doing a good job, and I don’t believe them because I know I’m the diversity hire. Right?

Anthony D. Mays:
You ain’t got to lie to kick it. I’m the diversity hire. You hired me because you don’t have that many Black folks and you just want to make sure that your numbers look good. So I knew all those things, even though it wasn’t necessarily true. And it wasn’t until 2014 when Google released their diversity numbers that I realized what I was dealing with. It wasn’t just impostor syndrome. It was this awareness that I’m this underrepresented person put in this culture that wasn’t built for me.

Anthony D. Mays:
And I felt like, at the time when Google released their numbers, if they were making a commitment to bring visibility and light to this problem, I needed to take a role in helping to solve that problem and using every means at my disposal to bring positive change to the industry using my own experience and journey. And so, I started to write about my journey and experience and share interview tips and talk about things that I did well and things I didn’t do well. I tried to be very public about the failure that I had during the first interview and the successes during the second one, and just be open and honest about the struggles and all that. And as I did that, people would reward me with recognition and with support and encouragement.

Anthony D. Mays:
And I thank God that, at Google, I had the opportunity to start off as an engineer, just heads down writing code, but then eventually become this DEI advocate, this speaker, this consultant within the company, and even outside the company, talking about this experience in recruiting and what it means to be an underrepresented person in tech. And so, I really enjoyed the fact that not only did my boss support me in that work, but my boss’s boss and my boss’s boss’s boss, they all said, “Listen, you do your thing. Keep speaking, keep writing, keep supporting, keep providing value to the tech community, and we’ll make sure that your performance reviews reflect those contributions positively.”

Anthony D. Mays:
I felt like it was a unique time, a unique team, and a great time for me to be involved in the work and growing. And I credit the influence and the things that make me who I am today in part to Google and the people that I had the opportunity to work with. So I think because of that, I know that a lot of people are doing the work. I don’t know that many companies are doing it better than Google is at least in some respects.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, it sounds like you really found yourself there, not only as a professional but, in a way, almost as a person. You had these early times of impostor syndrome and self-doubt, and you were able to overcome that through your time there.

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there was so much self-discovery for me, partly because of all the bags that I brought through in my life and the time that I was a kid. I mean, I really had to confront my whole life in that whole journey when I got to Google. And I don’t know why it was that it took me getting to Google to do that, but I really went through a crisis when I got to Google.

Anthony D. Mays:
There’s this thing called survivor’s guilt where, when you feel like you’ve survived trauma, you feel guilty and ask questions like, “Why is it that I wasn’t shot and killed when I was 19 like some of my early friends had been? Why is it that I wasn’t being funeralized? Why is it that even though I saw other people who were working harder than me and who I thought were smarter than me, why did I make it to this level and they didn’t?” And I really had to grapple with that. And it took me to some very dark places personally.

Anthony D. Mays:
My wife, my family can tell you that I really found it difficult to bear with that stress. And I told my boss, I said, “Listen, have you ever managed someone who’s a physical and sexual abuse survivor to the best of your knowledge?” Said, “No.” I said, “Well, have you ever managed someone who’s a foster kid from the hood?” “No.” I said, “Okay. So we’re both new at this. We’re both going to figure this out. But my commitment to you is that I’m going to work as hard as I possibly can to contribute to this team, to do excellent work, and to pay attention to my craft. That’s my commitment to you, and we’ll figure the rest out.” And I believe that my manager was very great and understanding in coming alongside with me for that journey and just being open and honest. So I appreciate that to this day.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see diversity in tech now, from your perspective?

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah. It’s still… I feel like it’s still burgeoning. We’re still in the early stages in many respects. I can remember when… Even just a few years ago, we were still struggling to figure out terminology, and that’s one of the frustrating things about working in DEI, is it seems like the glossary’s changing every single year. New words to use, new things to add to the language.

Maurice Cherry:
BIPOC.

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah, exactly. I think, a month ago, I was like, “What’s that?” And I had to ask somebody, “What’s a URM stand for?” because I forgot what it was. Even when I joined Google, I was just like, “Do I call myself Black or African American?”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Anthony D. Mays:
I was asking myself that. And so, there’s still a lot of newness in this space. And part of… I think there’s also a conflict between the academic understanding of DEI and things like critical race theory and all that stuff, thought leaders who are on that level. But then you have people who are just trying… who are experiencing what it’s like being in the workplace rubbing up against people that you may not understand, who have experiences that you may not be familiar with and just trying to figure it out on an emotional level.

Anthony D. Mays:
I think those two perspectives sometimes come into conflict and companies are trying to figure out what to do in the middle of all of that. A decade ago, maybe even five years ago, you wouldn’t hear about love being talked about in the workplace, unless you’re talking about workplace romances. But there’s this notion that tech companies are trying to figure out how to love their employees, which is really weird even when I say that now. But I’ve had to expose more of my life in big tech in the past several years than I ever had to before, and that’s because tech, I think pre-2013, 2014, was very much color-blind. We don’t see race, we don’t see gender, all those other kinds of things.

Anthony D. Mays:
There was this big emphasis on an extreme side of the spectrum where you just pretended to ignore these differentiations between people of different backgrounds and whatnot, then tried to typecast everybody as this one thing. And that was harmful, I think. I don’t think that was helpful. To a certain extent, you want to make sure that you have a culture where everybody feels like they’re working on the same mission and going in the same direction. I don’t want to negate that, but there’s also disservice when you are pretending to be color-blind.

Anthony D. Mays:
Last time I checked, color blindness is considered a disorder or a disability or whatever the right word is for that. It’s not something helpful. And so, I think we’re starting to open our eyes and see color for the first time and see some of these other things for the first time and are still figuring it out. And like I said, there’s a lot of things that are happening both at the big tech company and at the small tech company level to correct and chart a new path forward. But it’s messy work.

Anthony D. Mays:
And even that, it’s refreshing to be able to admit that nowadays because back in the days, DEI was a bunch of people who look different, holding hands, singing Kumbaya, sitting in the middle of a park, high-fiving each other. That was kind of the ideal some years ago, and I think we’re realizing that that’s not what the work looks like. The work is grimy, it’s messy, it’s hard, it’s difficult. There’s a lot of disagreement. There’s agreeing to disagree.

Anthony D. Mays:
But at the end of the day, the hope is that all of these different perspectives will inform a culture that fosters innovation and creativity and new ways of thinking about old problems. And so, there’s clearly business opportunity here. I think the research bears that out, and I think companies are understanding that there’s a lot of money to be made by having these discussions and thinking through these things. And that’s not bad.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s something that perhaps not many people understand about you? I mean, I feel like you’ve put so much of your life story out there, not just with the work that you do, but also at the places where you’ve worked.

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s something you think people still don’t get about you?

Anthony D. Mays:
My faith, absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
Mmm.

Anthony D. Mays:
Hands down. It’s the fact that I think about all the things that I think about from the lens of someone who’s a Christian and is saturated in the Christian Bible and in the scriptures. I’ve told people countless times, “If you ever want to figure me out, go read that Bible, then you’ll have me dead to rights.” That’s it. I mean, I do what I do because my hero, my Savior, Christ Jesus, was someone who gave himself up for the world. That style of servant leadership, that sacrificing for other people is very core to what I do.

Anthony D. Mays:
Also, just in terms of my work ethic and how I engage, I want to make sure that I’m a good reflection of Christ. I want to make sure that I’m moving in wisdom. Proverbs, I grew up on the Book of Proverbs when I was growing up and learning about everything from how to manage money wisely, to how to have conversations with people that are going to be positive and good, to how to win friends, and how to avoid the traps of street life.

Anthony D. Mays:
A lot of that I learned from the Bible, from Proverbs, and from looking at these exemplary figures, these historical figures, who have to overcome a variety of different circumstances and challenges and trials with their faith rested on God. And that’s how I move today. So much of what I do is also gospel-focused too. I think one of the things that helps me to be a DEI practitioner, talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion, is my faith. Seeing people as made in the image of God.

Anthony D. Mays:
For me, it’s not about just helping Black people or just helping brown people or just helping women, whatever that is. It’s about helping anybody in the space that wants to be successful. And then there’s this other aspect of like, “I know how evil I am in my own heart because the Bible teaches me that.” And so, I can have a conversation with someone who maybe is an overt racist and talk about their viewpoints and talk about why I might disagree with them and call them to have hope in Christ and to see that their thinking is evil.

Anthony D. Mays:
But I also know that I’m a bad dude. I have done things over my own career and over my own life that I’m certainly not proud of because they were wrong, and that means that I can have compassion towards other people who I disagree with and have those calm conversations. One of the things that I tell people all the time is, “You can ask me about anything with regards to race, gender, my life, whatever. I don’t care. My promise is that I’m not going to get angry with you. You’re going to get nothing from me but love and compassion as we talk through very difficult things,” because that’s the way my Savior moves. That drives so much of what I do and how I think about the things that I think about.

Anthony D. Mays:
I’m glad that I’m able to reflect the goodness of God, reflect the grace of Christ in what I do. And hopefully, people see that. Hopefully, people perceive that. And hopefully, people are curious about what drives me to do the things that I do with the level of excellence that I try to pour into those things.

Maurice Cherry:
What are you excited about at the moment?

Anthony D. Mays:
So I’m very excited about the work that I’m doing with my client, Karat, as the newly signed technical advisor, senior advisor, with the Brilliant Black Minds program. I love the Brilliant Black Minds program because what they’re attempting to do is provide free interview practice to HBCU students. If you know anything about interview prep in these days and times, it can be very expensive. There are some companies and organizations out there that are just charging obscene amounts of money to provide candidates… to kind of prey on the hopes and dreams of candidates who are looking to crack FAANG companies.

Anthony D. Mays:
But Karat wants to provide free interviews to Black HBCU students and to help them level up in their careers. And I love that because I remember how difficult it was for me to connect to good and reliable resources, and I think this is such a wonderful opportunity for our students to finally get feedback and support that they may have been lacking before. And so, I’m really excited about that program. I’m really excited to see it grow and expand.

Anthony D. Mays:
I think that this is one of those things that if we get this right, it will really take off and be a substantive force in the industry. So that’s what I’m excited about, and I’m really excited to continue to partner with them to grow and expand the impact of that program so that, though we may be focused on supporting Black engineers today, that this is something that will be opened up for everybody in the near future. Yeah. That’s what I’m looking forward to.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look back at your career and you even look now to where you’re at with your firm and with your family and everything, what does success look like for you now?

Anthony D. Mays:
For me, the measure of success has remained constant. It’s how well do I reflect Christ in my life, is really what it comes down to. And I think that being able to continue to support for my family and take care of their needs while also providing transformative impact on the industry in which I’ve grown up and become accustomed and have grown in, that’s key for me. And so, I want to continue to amplify and multiply the impact that I’ve had in tech to help more people get in and succeed.

Anthony D. Mays:
My hope is that, by doing that, I can leave a good example and legacy for the generation that’s following after me, because I’m not just an observer of Black history. I’m a participant in it. And I’m continuing that legacy so that future generations will benefit.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What do you want the next chapter in the Anthony D. Mays story to look like?

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah. That’s a really tough question. That’s been on my to-do list to answer that one. I haven’t quite gotten around to it in the two months that I’ve been a full-time entrepreneur. But I think just real quickly, I hope that in five years, I’ll be reading a news article about how my efforts has transformationally changed the tech interviewing landscape, that I want to be able to, in five years, read that article, that I want it to be said that, through the work that I did, I was able to help this industry almost leapfrog in terms of how we deal with and grow and develop underrepresented talent in the business. So that hopefully will be my contribution, but we’ll see.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your work, about your firm? Where can they find that online?

Anthony D. Mays:
Yeah, absolutely. So I’ll make it easy for all of your listeners. Anthony D. Mays, D as in diversity. Anthony D. Mays, M-A-Y-S, on all the things, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn. Feel free to connect with me. I’m also at anthonydmays.com and that’s a great place to find articles that I’ve written about tech interviewing, working in tech, being underrepresented.

Anthony D. Mays:
If you want to book me for speaking, I’m also there. Yeah. You can also connect with Morgan Latimer Consulting right through that page. So it’s all there. Just visit anthonydmays.com and connect with me. I’d love to chat with you and figure out how I might be able to help you in your journey and your career.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, Anthony D. Mays, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I mean, I had a sense, from doing my research, how the interview would go in terms of your story and what you’ve put out there. But I guess I didn’t realize how similar in a way we were in terms of how we got into technology, growing up in, like I said, these dubious towns and things.

Maurice Cherry:
I hope that people will listen to this interview and not only, I think, seek out your services, but see just where and how far passion can take you. It was very clear to me from listening to your story that you have this passion for technology that would not quit, and to the point where it not only got you to working at one of the top tech companies in the world, but that it also, in a way, started a journey of self-introspection to get you to where you are today to be just a stronger and better person. So thank you so much for coming on the show, man. I really appreciate it.

Anthony D. Mays:
Well, thank you so much, Maurice. This has been quite a pleasure.

Sponsored by Hover

Hover

Building your online brand has never been more important and that begins with your domain name. Show the online community who you are and what you’re passionate about with Hover. With over 400+ domain name extensions to choose from, including all the classics and fun niche extensions, Hover is the only domain provider we use and trust.

Ready to get your own domain name? Go to hover.com/revisionpath and get 10% off your first purchase.