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Coffee With: Software Project Manager Anjuan Simmons

Estimated reading time ~ 3 min
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Anjuan Simmons
Location: Houston, TX
Job: Agile Project Manager, Assemble Systems
Education: Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, University of Texas at Austin; MBA, Texas A&M University
Twitter: @anjuan

What was your first “real” job? How did you get it?

I was a proctor in the computer labs my freshman year of college. I had applied to the position after seeing it posted in one of the labs. The role taught me the value of attention to technical excellence, along with the importance of providing amazing customer service – both of which I still apply to my work today.

Before graduating, I attended a career fair where Accenture, a leading tech company, had a large presence. I went over to their booth, handed them my résumé, had a few rounds of interviews, and got hired.

How do you describe your job now?

I am a software project manager, which means I help teams deliver quality software on time and on budget. We develop enterprise software, which you use at the office, as opposed to consumer software for personal use, like on your smartphone.

What is one tip you would have given yourself on day one of your career, knowing what you know now?

Start growing your personal and professional networks immediately. It's impossible to advance in the technology sector without a strong network of people who can guide you and position you for new opportunities. It's not who you know. It's who knows you and the competitive advantages you offer to organizations. Your network is your career.

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In your book Minority Tech you recount your personal experience navigating the tech world. What’s the most problematic professional hurdle you’ve experienced or observed as an underrepresented ethnic minority in tech?

Not being given the benefit of the doubt. When a White male walks in to to meet a group for the first time, I feel there is an automatic assumption of competence. If you are a woman or a Black person, you don’t have that. In fact, I’ve found that there is often the assumption that you are incompetent – that you are hired to fill a quota or so the company doesn’t get sued.

I’ve been in situations where I’m the team lead, and the client will say, “Let’s wait until the team lead gets here.” People assume minorities are part of the security team or janitorial staff. To combat that, I work on being super prepared and making sure any deliverable I’m responsible for is top-notch.

What are some other ways to combat and disprove these assumptions and stereotypes?

I am passionate about getting underrepresented groups to speak at technology conferences. I believe that if we want the technology sector to be more inclusive, we need to make marginalized groups more visible. As astronaut Sally Ride famously said, "You can't be what you can't see."

What have you recently read that you’d recommend to others?

Corporate Tribalism by Thomas Kochman is a great book about the realities of how diversity plays out in corporate settings. I highly recommend it for people who are interested in the diversity space.

What’s your advice to new graduates looking to land full-time jobs?

Structure your experiences around a central theme. Don’t go wide – go deep. Show what you did and how it increased your competency. Being able to trace your progress from the first internship to the second internship and to where you are today is also important. Explain how you provided value and continually grew as a professional.

What motivates you professionally?

I'm motivated by my past as well as my future. I was the first person in my family to earn an engineering degree. So, my past motivated me to be a trailblazer and go somewhere almost no one in my family was able to go. My three kids are my motivation for the future. My career has been very successful, but I have experienced my share of setbacks. I let my kids see my setbacks and how I overcome them. If they know that Dad made it through challenges, then they can overcome, too.


Images courtesy of Anjuan Simmons

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