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Coffee With: Microsoft Tech Evangelist Anthony Kelani

Estimated reading time ~ 4 min
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Anthony Kelani
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Job: Tech Evangelist, Microsoft
Education: B.S., Computer Engineering and Computer Science, University of Southern California
Twitter: @akelani

Tell us about your path into the tech world.

My career in technology began very early. My father was an IT systems admin for the University of California, and he regularly brought home different types of PCs. I’d hook them up and install software on them or figure out how to upgrade the parts. I was curious enough to break things and then figure out how to fix and improve them. I eventually graduated to building computers from scratch. I eventually joined YouthWorks, a program in Berkeley, CA that provides students with employment opportunities. Through that, I worked at a web development firm, creating web designs, maintaining the company’s computer network, and leading trainings on computer hardware and building computers. I worked alongside some really experienced people, and they were great mentors. Going to work wasn’t just a job – it was something I looked forward to every day.

You’ve founded and scaled several tech startups. Do you have any favorite moments from those experiences?

In 2014, I presented my company at the time, ShowKit, at TechCrunch’s international startup competition to an audience of thousands of people – including Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. ShowKit allowed a remote mobile or web user to view and control another mobile device using real-time video. It was a dream to be part of this event – let alone to be a finalist – and to present my creation to the world.

What’s one thing other people might not realize about your journey as a tech entrepreneur?

Despite the many successes of my startup, it took a lot of time, hard work, and rejection to get my first round of capital. It’s very difficult being a Black engineer and startup founder in this industry. But you can’t let anything stop you. Be resilient in the face of adversity and remember that others are out there to support you.

Now bring us up to the present. What does being a tech evangelist at Microsoft entail?

Every day is different and challenging, which is perfect for me. I’m in charge of Microsoft’s tech startup engagements in Los Angeles (the third-largest tech metro in the country). Some days, I’m advising local startups or attending demo days and tech events. Other days, I’m working on technical projects or hosting a hackathon. Microsoft has partnerships with the top two accelerators in the sea– Mucker Lab and Amplify.LA – so I work closely with their portfolio companies on anything from architecting their infrastructure on our enterprise-grade cloud computing platform, Azure, to creating a proof-of-concept mobile app.

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What do you like most about your job?

I get the opportunity to channel my experience into teaching startup founders while helping them leverage exciting new technology. I also spend a lot of time learning. I’m currently studying machine learning and using it to create intelligent chatbots, which is cool. My life’s purpose is helping the underdogs – the people who don’t necessarily have all of the resources and advantages but are brilliant and can create tech innovations and industry disruptions. I’m using my resources to make sure that happens in a major way.

What advice would you go back and give yourself on day one of your career?

Monetize your passions outside of your job. Growing up, I did a lot of technical side jobs for free. I helped everyone (and I mean anyone and everyone and everyone’s friends and family) with their technical issues. I was Geek Squad before it existed. I didn’t have an entrepreneurial mindset back then, but I had a passion for tech and for helping people. Looking back, there was a huge market for technical support. I could have monetized and scaled those skills into a business.

How do you stay productive and on top of important happenings in the tech world?

For organization, I rely on my Outlook calendar and the to-do list app Wunderlist. I also block hours for personal time each week, and I try not to schedule any meetings on Friday, so I have time to work on my personal development. I also love films, documentaries, and tech new

How have certain candidates stood out to you during the hiring process?

When hiring new team members at ShowKit, I was always surprised when candidates had never tried our product. Strive to be the candidate who has learned everything you can about the company before interviewing. Those people stood out to me as the ones who were passionate about joining our team and contributing to our success.

What have you read or listened to recently that you’d recommend (and why)?

Simon Sinek’s TEDx Talk: How Great Leaders Inspire Action. I watch the video regularly to keep myself aligned with my purpose and focus on my “why.”

Do you have a favorite motto or mantra?

I like this African proverb: “Worry is like a rocking chair. It swings you back and forth, and it takes you nowhere.” Stressing over things outside of my power is a waste of time and energy. I get through a lot of stressful situations by focusing on things I can control. Everything will usually work itself out.

Images by Drew Schwartz

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