A few months ago, Tia and I decided that our scholarship fund, ColorCode, would sponsor one promising individual with a full range of leadership presence courses from Magnetic Speaking. Applications poured in and we spent our holiday reading through a small electronic mountain of letters from people of color hoping to advance their careers in tech.
Narrowing down a winner was difficult (more on that later) but ultimately, we settled on one person whose unique story of breaking into Silicon Valley stood out for its hustle and ambition. That winner is Daniel Burke an Engineering Manager at HandShake and facilitator for /dev/color!
Daniel was kind enough to do a short interview with me over the holiday, enjoy!
How did you make your way to a Silicon Valley tech career?
As an FSU pre-law student in 2001, my father asked me to build a basic website for a business idea he had. I spent some time building it. Then I improved it. Eventually I realized that I was spending most of my free time on it. I changed my major and never looked back to law.
Still, I never finished at Florida State. I took a long and winding path away from tech into sales, the ministry, owning a small business in construction, and eventually fatherhood. It was at this point that I realized I needed to finish school and build a career.
I traded sleep and vacation time for classes and code. What I learned in class wasn’t enough, so I built more shelved software than some companies ship, to help fill the gaps. I bought a whiteboard and taught myself how to play the Silicon Valley Interview game. Having graduated from a small, relatively unknown school, I had to build a portfolio of work that spoke to what I could do.
Along the way, there were key people who taught, guided, listened, or otherwise helped me get to where I am.
To date, I’ve built teams and shipped software to millions of people. I’ve spoken to adults at tech conferences and led workshops for kids around the country.
My path wasn’t traditional, but here I am.
What do you hope to learn from Magnetic Speaking?
I’ve been speaking at 4–5 events of varying size per year. I’d like to begin taking on larger speaking engagements more often. I’ve been doing this work for quite a while and I believe I should be sharing what I’ve learned with a larger audience.
To that end, I hope this training will help me craft and prepare my talks in a more effective manner. I believe I’ll also benefit from having someone point out my flaws.
Any advice for readers?
You have to start somewhere. I began teaching and speaking publicly long before I really felt confident that what I had to say would be of much value. I did it for the practice. I did it for the feedback. Still, every time I spoke, people would tell me how much they valued what I said.
Everyone has value to share. If it was important to you, it’s possible it will be important to someone else.
Congratulations Daniel! And thanks to all of the 2017 ColorCode applicants, your stories were amazing, and we wish we could share them all. Tia and I have learned from this experience and ColorCode’s next award for 2018 will be announced soon!
Nick and Tia Caldwell