Eddie Washington refused to take no for an answer. Bouncing back and forth on the Chinatown bus from home in Boston to his desired workplace in New York City, he says he “begged” his way to a front desk gig at the Big Apple-based startup General Assembly. That startup has since exploded as a top-ranked training firm instructing hundreds of thousands of people on four continents in tech, business and design.
Washington said his experience with General Assembly also allowed him to learn untapped coding skills that he later leveraged into his current role elsewhere.
“So basically, the biggest lesson I learned about getting into the tech scene as a beginner is to stay persistent and ‘top of mind’ until the company you want wants you back due to happenstance,” Washington said in an interview.
That tenacity formula worked again as he sought work with another startup, Genius, a crowd-sourced annotation platform for music and culture. Based in Brooklyn, Genius annotates everything from musical lyrics to political news, adding an extra layer of context on top of the text. Washington, who is African-American, is their lead recruiter and a public speaker on improving diversity in STEM (Science, Technology, Education, and Math) careers.
“I was already friends with their sole recruiter, interviewed a year earlier and didn’t get the job, but a year later timing eventually came to work in my favor and I was given a second shot,” Washington explained.
Originally from Londonderry, New Hampshire, a forty-minute car ride north of Boston, Washington just hit his four-year mark of living in New York City after feeling drawn to the startup scene.
“Candidly, I thought startups looked pretty cool after seeing the Facebook movie and I know I’m not the only one,” he said.
Washington initially attended Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C., because his cousin went there and he wanted to be like him. After his freshman year, he transferred to Hampton University in Norfolk, Va., not because he disliked Howard, but because he wanted to play collegiate basketball and he was able to do that at Hampton rather than Howard.
“I was undeclared at Howard, so when I went to Hampton I enrolled into the business school because, honestly, it seemed like the right catch-all for a student that was as indecisive as I was,” Washington said. “The pivot into education and tech happened at the same time because I wanted to get into the tech scene and General Assembly was the perfect hub to sneak my way in and act like I belonged.”
While working at General Assembly, Washington began studying back-end web development, eventually becoming so proficient in coding and other technical skills that he could work fluently with them, enough to even teach them.
“I got into back-end web development because Ruby on Rails was completely blowing up in 2012, and this freelance engineer I knew who worked out of GA’s co-working space told me that she’d slap me in my face if I didn’t take advantage of the free classes GA employees get,” he said jokingly. “I knew nothing going in and spent most of my time turning those unknown unknowns into known unknowns; I would argue that’s the biggest takeaway from coding classes. After getting better, attending hackathons, and learning enough to teach beginners, I still don’t feel like I’m ‘well-versed’ but I do feel competent enough to speak about it intelligently as a tech recruiter and coding hobbyist.”
In his recruiting work at Genius, Washington spends time thinking on how to better integrate racial minorities in the technology industry, as they are currently underrepresented.
“I think racial minorities are underrepresented because we often lack the necessary exposure to the right circles,” he said. “Serendipity counts for a lot in the tech world, and often times we don’t have the right proximity to the chance encounters that end up sparking big things. To counteract that, the current community is going to have to make a conscious effort to fight against their unconscious biases and start including and recruiting more people of color.”
Washington advises aspiring tech workers “to do your best to get out, be active, and maximize your exposure to the tech scene and eventually the right chance encounter will happen.”
And his plans for the future?
“My short-term plan is to help Genius build a world-class team,” he said. “My longer-term plan is to sustain relevance and value in this constantly changing tech world.”
This was originally published Opportunity Lives, a Bold partner.
Carrie Sheffield is the founder of Bold. She is passionate about storytelling to empower and connect others. A founding POLITICO reporter, Carrie contributed on political economy at Forbes and wrote editorials for The Washington Times. After earning a master’s in public policy from Harvard University, she managed credit risk at Goldman Sachs and researched for Edward Conard, Bain Capital founding partner and American Enterprise Institute scholar. She earned a B.A. in communications at Brigham Young University and completed a Fulbright fellowship in Berlin.