My guest for this episode is Whitney Griffith. Whitney originally had plans to get into medicine, but her path took a different turn in which she discovered Computer Science at Howard University. She was amazed at the problems that can be solved with technology and eventually became obsessed with it. She now works at Microsoft as a Software Engineer in the healthcare sector and is the founder of social entrepreneurial ventures such as Seamless Money and SUPLS.
In this episode she shares her founder experiences and advice for those looking to grow in tech and as a whole. The key lessons to take away from her story and previous guest stories is that certain opportunities will happen when they are meant to, as much as we think we have set paths for ourselves, we can never really expect the unexpected. We have to take things as they come and react to them in the best ways that we can.
What Got Her Interested in Science, Technology and STEM in General [01:10]
Did She Regret Her Decision of Not Going to Med School [08:50]
Her Experience as an Intern and a Full Time Software Engineer at Microsoft [13:33]
How She Experienced Burnout and How She Got Out of It [20:39]
Why She Decided to Stay with Microsoft for Four Years [26:43]
Some of the Things She Did as an Intern to Secure a Full Time Return Offer [31:20]
Her Founder Experience with Shield Us Personalized Learning School [37:40]
What Was Seamless Money and Why She Stopped Working on It [44:30]
First Three Things She Would Do If She Had to Start from Scratch to Become a Software Engineer [53:27]
Technology or Product Type That Will Blow Up Within the Next Ten Years [56:27]
What Investments Would She Make If She Had $100,000 [57:39]
Twitter: @impactwhit: https://twitter.com/impactwhit
Instagram: impactwhit https://www.instagram.com/impactwhit/
Note: Black Enterprise Network transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human transcription. They may contain errors, although we do our best to avoid them. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting a transcript in print. Questions? Errors found in a transcript? Email us!
Kimmiko James 0:00
In this episode, I'm joined by Whitney Griffith. Whitney originally had plans to get into medicine. But her path took a different turn in which she discovered Computer Science at Howard University. She was amazed at the problems that could be solved with technology and eventually became obsessed with it. She now works at Microsoft as a software engineer in the healthcare sector. And in this episode of the podcast, she shares her founder experiences and advice for those looking to grow in tech and as a whole, what are the key lessons to take away from her story and previous guest stories is that certain opportunities will happen when they're meant to as much as we think we have set paths for ourselves, we can never really expect the unexpected, have to take things as they come and react to them in the best ways that we can. Let's get into it.
small percentage of black people are currently represented in the tech industry and entrepreneurial spaces. This includes engineers, startup founders, investors, especially those that hold leadership. I want to share their stories. Firstly, thanks for joining me, because again, it's been a long time since we caught up. But yeah, I kind of just wanted to know how well not how but what first got you interested in science and technology and stem in general?
Whitney Griffith 1:12
Yeah, it's so great to be on this podcast, I'm, what got me interested is, ironically, I'm from Trinidad and Tobago, and back home, my entire, like career drive since I was like 18 years was to be a doctor. And then when I started watching Grey's Anatomy, I was able to flesh that out beyond. So I used to go around saying, I'm going to be a trauma surgeon and specialize in prenatal care. Like I was really on track to go to medical school and do the entire medicine life. And when it got to the point of applying to college, I was applying to medical schools in the Caribbean, as well as in Europe. But the best scholarship came from the US, which was at Howard where I got a full ride. And I decided to apply to Howard because they had that combined bachelor's medical degree program where you could have done it in six years versus like the ATF batch traditional. And time is like super important.
Um, I when I got the best scholarship offer from Howard, I decided, Okay, I can potentially pivot into America, to the medical school there for six years. And when I got to Howard, I found that I didn't get into medical school. So I was pretty depressed. That actually was like my first like blue. In terms of hitting my goals. Usually, it's, it was a really smooth right before, like, I was always a student, I was always like getting what I set my mind to get. And when I got this denial for medical school, it took me a while to really like wallow in my depression. And then we sat from a perspective of Okay, I'm here at Howard. I have a scholarship for bachelors for four years. And I definitely did not want to do the whole medical school journey in terms of ETS when I could have done it for five years in Europe or the Caribbean. So I started looking at it from like, okay, we just dropped out of school and reapply to medical schools that are five years, or the alternative will be chill for four years. And when I explored the alternative, because how it is pretty fun. Like there was a lot of like freedom on like just girls happening at the Howard campus. And I was like, I don't mind spending four years at Howard in DC away from my parents, right. And it was a full ride. So I didn't really, I wasn't coming out of pocket much. So once I decided, Okay, I could actually potentially stay here and do this bachelor's, I started shopping for something that I wanted to do it. And so at that time, my major was sports medicine, but like I'm pretty pragmatic from a standpoint of like, okay, let's see, I spent four years doing this major. I graduated, it takes me a while to get to medical school. Can I actually like, do something with that major? Get I actually get paid? Could I get to a point of like saving to actually pay for medical school because I had no way to pay for medical school as well. So I started like shopping, there are a lot of my other Caribbean friends. They were doing chemical engineer. And they wanted me to like switch into chemical engineering, but I knew my relationship with organic Chem. So I was really like exploring alternative routes. At that point. I was pretty technologically savvy from a perspective of the user, like I use wax up every day, like I use Instagram Gmail as well. But at that point, my mind never reached out to who is making this, like, what is that? Oh, they even call those persons like I didn't know what to call them. Alright. And on the engineering website, I saw computer science as a potential major. And that was the only thing that in terms of like syllabus that made sense from a perspective of not too painful classes.
In terms of organic game, but also potentially, it could be a good challenge for the intern. So I decided to go explore what does it mean to switch into computer science? And first of all, what does computer science taste do? Right? And I went to the Dean of computer science at that time, Dr. birge. And I was like, Hey, this is my transcript. I'm contemplating switching into computer science, but I still have no understanding what it does, or what it is. Could you elaborate on that further? And he was like, Yeah, like, based on your transcript you already have, like all the mods and all the different sciences needed, you can definitely switch into the and if you want to know for it all on like what it's about, you can go to this, like all female hackathon that was happening two weekends in the future. And I'm like, Okay, cool. I don't know what a hackathon is. But it's a free trip. It was in North Carolina. So I couldn't say no to that. And I honestly don't know what my state of mind was then. But I believe in the universe and like, opportunities just arise and based on what you need. And at the very minimum, even though I was like, wasn't conscious of in terms of like doing research on computer science, and at what is a hacker plan, and like, what are these things I was at least showing up and going along with it? So that's what I did, like I showed up because I was still that the bus is picking us up in front of the yard at this time. I honestly thought it was the day's events. I didn't bring any like toiletries or any like change of clothing. Oh, no. Oh, that this happens in it to get to it was like seven hours, drive, and then was the entire weekend event. And I was caught up in this. And when I got to UNC Chapel Hill, it was amazing from a perspective of this auditorium was filled with a bunch of woman hackers, right. And once they kicked over, like it's an event, they were like, hey, these are the different topics you could potentially aim for on the prizes, and have fun, like join a group. And I was literally sitting there lost, like, I don't know, I didn't know what to do. And the other Howard persons with me, they were This was also there for a second soon. So I didn't join a group. I didn't like, actively try to do anything at that point. And for the first two days of that hackathon, I walked around, like, enjoying Chapel Hill, as well as like just looking at the different groups that will form and like speaking with them saying, hey, what what are you up to? Like, what are your building, and they will talk to me about that idea. And then show me like a demo. I like just doing that. And having those conversations like each time, I was not necessarily inspired. But I was in complete awe of the fact that these females, I have no idea how old they were. But they were like pretty much thinking of like, really solid problems that they face, whether it's like safety at night on their campus, or some other like, great, great mission that they wanted to tackle. And they were able to create solutions for that in less than 72 hours and demo it and it was to a point where they could actually go deployed into the world and have impact. And that in itself was what got me truly intrigued with technology, that whole power dynamic of like, Hey, I have an idea, I see a problem, I see a pain point. And I'm inspired myself without having to ask permission from anyone else to try my hand at solving this. And to solve this, I mean, pretty much entails me sitting in front of a laptop, being focused and dedicated to the task and easy immediate results. And that was amazing to me. Because at that point, I was facing a lot of like, knows in the medical space, and then like just society and like everything I have to ask permission for and technology science, I saw it as a tool that really unlocked my potential from a perspective of like, impact as well as I can do this. You know, I can do anything that I avoid.
Kimmiko James 8:57
Yeah, yeah, that's awesome. Start to it. I have heard a lot of similar horror stories, I guess, are more so depressing stories about getting into med school, and just all the rejections even if you go to the same school, and then you apply to the med school and get rejected. So sorry about that. But it looks as though it's worked out, honestly. So you didn't feel any regrets about not trying to get into med school again? Or was it just I found something that I really like and enjoy? There's no need to stress out about med school. Or maybe at that point, you're just like, maybe I'm not as passionate about med school.
Whitney Griffith 9:34
Yeah, I think once again, it all happened like gradually for me. So when this occurred was like my spring semester freshman year. So my switch into computer science was only going to be official my sophomore year. What was that full semester, right? So once I came back from the hackathon, I was like, Okay, I'm switching to computer science. All of this time. I was still on track to do my pre med prereqs. And that was my plan. Like I pretty much fleshed out like my recipe of the time with how to hit my computer science classes as well as my pre med prerequisites. But then something happened where I just became completely, like obsessed with it. So I'm competitive by nature. And I'm not sure if you know, the HBCU HyperX, on diversity and inclusion at these tech companies. But what that equates to is we always have like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, all of these other companies on campus recruiting interns from my freshman year. So like I was late to the game, all of my friends on the people that I knew who was in my year, they already had their big internship at a big tech company. So I knew immediately that I needed an internship, right if I wanted to do computer science, right, so that entire summer between like me decided to switch and actually be in officially switched into computer science. I spent the time like building a bar coding application for research lab. And I even took on like a consulting gig to build an app for a client. And in Dude, that was like my main revenue stream. And I just got really deep in it, I was just like building and building. And the next semester came, I enrolled in like my physics or whatever else I needed for pre med. And what really happened with my physics class was like five credits. And it entailed me being in class for an hour plus Monday to Thursday at 7pm. And it was so draining from a perspective of like, especially coming back from like learning to code. It's all about like, googling and finding great tutorials. I'm interactive. And then I'm in this classroom with this physics instructor. And they like just going on and on and on about Terry's and so abstract stuff that I can't even pay attention to. That entire life period was very frustrating. So by the time I had to see like my classes for next year, I was Wazoo like physics two, I decided, Okay, let me put a pause on these pre med prerequisites. And if I truly want to go to medical school after this journey, I will come back to it. So over time, I will say that I have never had any regrets in terms of not pursuing medicine. In fact, it freed up my time to really create ecosystems and be immersed in, like, the persons that are thinking of what what is our world gonna look like 10 to 15 years from now. And that in itself is super powerful to me. And to bring it full circle. I'm now on a team at Microsoft, where I'm working in the healthcare industry. So I'm once again back in my original passion, which was like healthcare and saving lives, where we are now using technology. And it's like, greater multiplier impact.
Kimmiko James 12:59
Oh, it's come full circle.
Whitney Griffith 13:02
I tried to do a lot of reflection, and they sent him some like, I'm really on my like, purpose driven path. And what I try, what I get out of it is the fact that when I was dreaming to be adopted, it always was like a timeline of like, practice medicine for five years, but I go back home and optimize like the healthcare system there. So it always was about optimization, removing inefficiencies, and I think I, I was guided into the right path by the universe. Yeah.
Kimmiko James 13:33
Yeah. Yeah, it seems like it. But thanks for sharing that. So we can let's get into software engineering, your software engineering experience, actually. So you've interned at Microsoft twice. Even though you say you were late to the game? I don't think you were late getting an internship at Microsoft, but okay. And now you currently work there full time. So could you just kind of briefly describe your day to day as a suite and share some of the things you've worked on? Of course, following NDA guidelines.
Whitney Griffith 14:02
Okay. Yeah, definitely. So my day to day is never the same. I but I will start with Yes. I've been at Microsoft for the past, probably four years, in terms of summers, like working full time. And the biggest takeaway in terms of like, what does it look like to be a software engineer in your day to day is it comes down to yourself and like your own reason for doing this. So for me every day, I wake up and I'm like, today, I like I live by the group mindset, which is pretty much around the fact that everyday we should be evolving into a better version of ourselves. And we be unafraid of like criticism, and we actually desire constructive feedback so that you can produce better and better and better. So I start my day where I am like, I am going to do the best But I can, every second that I can. And a big part of it is also reminding yourself who you're doing it for. So in your engineering team, you're probably associated to a product or a target user. So in my team, specifically, our target user changes a lot. I'm not on a traditional product team, for instance, I'm not working on Facebook, the app itself, I'm just working on that only. Our team is more similar to like consultant, where we are like the internal resources that Microsoft deploy into their top 500 customers. So these folks are like governments of different countries bouts, big healthcare organizations, manufacturing companies, retailers, and so on. And they are the ones that are locked into million dollar contracts with Microsoft to use their cloud, which is Azure. And the cloud, pretty much if you don't know, it's like Microsoft, Amazon, and Google and a couple others, what they did was they created a warehouse, they bought a lot of computers, they hooked it up to the Internet, and they were like, let me rent your space.
Kimmiko James 16:07
So it's a good way of describing it.
Whitney Griffith 16:09
Yeah, so our cloud is Azure. And because these big companies are locked into these multi dollar contract, it's Microsoft interests, to always unlock their customers to get the best value out of it. So that's where my team come in, where I'm on a team of like five devs, I have an engineering manager who also dive alongside us, I have a tech lead, who is usually on top of the overall like solution that we are working on. And I have two other senior engineers on myself. And then I have a technical program manager attached to our team on the TPM serves as that in between between the customer and ourselves. Because as devs, we don't want to get caught up in customer politics. So the TPM acts as the good on the bad guy, where it's like, Hey, you, we have a contract, let's make sure we all meet in that contract from like if the customers deliver something for us to be able to do what we need to do. But long story short, once one of all customers make a request. So for instance, one of the projects I've worked on was in Japan, where if you are unfamiliar with the Japanese landscape, there is like over 2000, taxi providers, bus providers, train providers, right? It's crazy like that. The industry is so fragmented and privatized that if you as a tourist, so you as a Japanese person wants to get to from point A to point B, you have to go to a bunch of different ticket offices and have like different cards. So in DC, you know, we have like the metro card, right? And you can swipe that up any bus or train, because we have different private companies, you don't have that luxury in Japan. So the government realized that and was like, transport industry, figure out your shit, I will buy goods like like, I'm sorry. So that remember who your target users, which is the tourists, or the Japanese person just wanting to get from point A to point B. And that's how it is does not care who has given them that service, they just wanted to get to get from point A to point B. So my team was called in for us to create this centralized, unified platform where all the stakeholders whether it's like come taxi company, a train Company B, bus company C and whatever the provider who has a stake in this came together, where they brought their own business processes, like the things that are important to them, like they're what they owned. And we discussed in a collaborative way, how do we create this unified unified platform, so that I can just go to this apple web app and say, I'm trying to get from point A to point B, pay for my ticket, get my ticket, and I could use that one ticket and scan it at every entrance. And the backend handles the distribution of who does money goes to who this portion of money goes through and so on. So that was one of the projects that I worked on. And I mentioned back end, so for persons who don't know back end, that's pretty much Nikes business logic, or just logic statements like code boils down to like plain English, where you're like, if a customer wants to get to point a, therefore, they have to use Company A because Company A services point A. So that's just like the back end.
Kimmiko James 19:28
Yeah, yeah. Computer Science. It usually is logic, which makes it very interesting. I guess the way to make it sound less scary is it's just like solving a puzzle.
Whitney Griffith 19:41
Yeah, and I feel like I'm talking a lot but the long story short is like based on the project, oh, we work on like a treatment cycle. So It usually starts with us meeting the client and really trying to figure out what exactly they are trying to solve, as well as like what they already have made on what they what they truly need from And then from there, we create like a game plan of like industry months, this is what we're going to deliver for production. And these are the different milestones. And from there, we work in an agile model, where it's like, every week, it's a sprint. So every week, you're assigned a task that you know you need to be to complete, so that you will input the projected race. So every day, I'm pretty much waking up at that point, looking at my user story and ensuring that I'm completing that user story. And if I'm realizing I'm blocked for over certain, like, let's say, three hours, I've been working on this, I need to reach out for help from the relevant persons so that we can keep the train moving.
Kimmiko James 20:39
I don't think I've asked this question on this podcast yet. But for people, when they hear the job of a software engineer, it does sound like a lot. You're working with all these different people and stakeholders, you're working with your manager, you have to work with customers, occasionally, you're learning on the job and coding on the job quite a bit. You're problem solving, you're doing all these things. And that can be so overwhelming. Like it was overwhelming for me over the summer. But things will probably get better anyways. But my question for you after saying all that is just how have you avoided burnout? And if you have experienced burnout, how did you get out of that?
Whitney Griffith 21:13
Yeah, I feel like I experienced burnout every other cycle as well. When I originally experienced burnout, it was based on like, my own doubts around myself in terms of like, could I truly could get I truly execute. So for that that burnout probably lasted, it was when I first started at Microsoft, and also when I just closed out my startup. So I was going through the whole like, funeral phase of like, wow, I killed something in a new company. Am I really meeting the standards of like a solid developer, and I was in that funk for a couple months, I'm the way that I got out of it was like, identifying why I'm feeling this way, which was based on the fact that I thought I couldn't execute. And then I started implementing small measures that will give me that, like, reward or like that feeling of Yeah, I did it like I made it. So I started really small, like chunk bites, and then that that boosted my confidence again. But since then, what I've noticed, especially as I transition into, like, what does it mean, to be an adult, the biggest thing that I'm realizing is that you need to create your balance on your boundaries, especially during COVID, where it's like everyone's online. And honestly, it's crazy, because it seems like we're doing way more work because we at home, one thing that I practice is like creating a imaginary baby of myself. So like all of my other co workers, they have their family members, and so on. So they have interruptions that will truly make sure that they turned off at the given time, or they have to say that I can't do this right now because I have to deal with that. But for me, especially like young adults who are now entering the space, we don't really have those type of like dependents. So therefore, we have to figure out a way to create the balance that we deserve. So for me, I need spirituality in my life. So I spend like an hour every day before even like checking my phone, in terms of like meditation on like praying and devoting. And the days that I don't do that, I feel it like it's like a big struggle to make it through the day because things are coming from all directions. And I'm not in control. And other thing that I enjoy, in terms of balance is like your health, your fitness, what you're eating, and then also really being in tune with what brings you joy. So if you really like you get reset every day based on like just laying down in the sun for an hour, you need to figure out a way to incorporate that frequently in your life so that you wouldn't build up a bunch of toxicity, where you just flat out bread all the time. There's no coming back from there. But when you do burnouts, the best way to come back is once again, trying to figure out what exactly made that burnout. Because if you don't identify, there's no way to make sure it doesn't happen again. And once you do, you can probably figure out like create new solutions. They'll try and get yourself out of that funk based on what caused it as well as ensure that it will never be caused again. Because it all comes back to us activating our voice in the workplace and pushing back. Because when we don't push back corporate America will like literally take our life.
Kimmiko James 24:27
Yeah, yeah, they still are. But
Whitney Griffith 24:30
Kimmiko James 24:31
yeah, thank you for catching up upon that, because it's something I've thought about quite a bit since the summer started. Because I'm I'm graduating 2022 but I have a lot of new grad friends that have entered the industry for the very first time. And they're just so overwhelmed. Yeah, and like you said they don't have family time, set family time for them to stop. They don't have an extra spouse to help maintain bills or whatever. They're just overwhelmed by all stuff going on, especially if they're alone in their apartment by themselves. So it's hard I wish Well, I mean, I hope companies have something set in place for, I guess, and turns out new grads in the future of remote work because it was it was hard this summer, especially as an intern, I didn't know what the hell to do. And I was on the same team. And yeah, that was kind of just thrown out of the window. I just thought I have to work as hard as my team members are. And some team members, they worked until late into the night I was like, I guess I should do the same.
Whitney Griffith 25:33
Yeah. Being on it's so easy to fall in that trap. And what I'm realizing more and more is that you can't compare yourself to anyone play at all, we don't even try because and this relates so dynamic. It's like, I can have some skills, but you can have a bunch of other skills only complement each other. There's no like better than they shouldn't be any better than right. And based on what you know, your limits. And you know, when you're putting out your best work, so use that as the context and nothing else because we can become like robots at MIT a short lifespan? And that's fine at all. Yeah.
Kimmiko James 26:16
Yeah, I agree. I, yeah, I burned myself from code, well burned myself out from code maybe twice. And it's not a fun experience. If you combine imposter syndrome, plus burnout plus warranty. It's not a fun mixture. So if you are listening to this podcast episode, please take care of yourself.
Whitney Griffith 26:35
Insane. And work shouldn't be work, you know?
Unknown Speaker 26:40
Kimmiko James 26:43
But I wanted to ask this question, because the people that I know that work for Microsoft, they're pretty happy. Or if they left Microsoft, they were pretty happy, and they left pretty happy. Why did you decide to stay with Microsoft for four years and 10. Now, even though you could work at other companies,
Whitney Griffith 27:00
I asked myself this a lot too. But long story short, is that, for me, in terms of the work that I do, if I don't find meaning behind it, it's like I struggled to get the bed. And with that in mind, Microsoft mission, I like the culture that I encountered as an intern, it really sparked to what I'm going for as well, where I'm all around, like, collectively impacting others to be greater than themselves with like, like really just pushing them to tap into what they believe in themselves and tap into what they truly want. And Microsoft does the same in the sense that our mission is to empower others to be great. Like we do whatever we can to ensure that others win. Microsoft is not like the customer facing stuff, where you'll see it branded everywhere. But I'm pretty sure a lot of their products on things he use is powered by Microsoft under the hood. And that's like, how we operate across the board in the sense that we are completely customer obsessed. We are impact driven. And they're in really was a great culture. Like I was super spoiled as an intern. But also, I will say that I have a lot of blind spots, because I've been into a lot of places. But what made me come back was the fact that I was happy with the culture that I was in, I was happy with the mission. Like I felt like, yeah, I can associate My name to Microsoft. And then I found the right team in Microsoft, for me, like I didn't just come back to any random product team that they placed me on like for since my first internship, I started aggressively networking across what exists in Microsoft. And a lot of people do not realize that these companies are so gigantic, like they are trillion dollar companies, they have a bunch of different teams doing a bunch of different things. And if you just shoot for Facebook or shoot for Microsoft, and you don't get specific beyond like, what exactly you want to do that you can get lost and stuck in like the weeds. So I spent a good bit of my internship, probably half of it, like just having a 10 minute chat with folks in terms of like, What team and they are, what they do, and so on. Based on doing that. In my first internship, I knew the team I wanted to be on which was my current team. And at that point, they were technical evangelist, where they were all about exploring innovative technology and finding the best way to share it back with the community raged at conferences, blog posts, and so on. And since then, we have evolved to engineering excellence and ensuring our top customers are able to really leverage Azure the way they should, but also we do it from a perspective where it's not Microsoft, everything. It's like, what is the best solution for your use case? You know, and if that means using something completely, that's not Microsoft, thank Great. So long story short mission. I found the alignment in terms of like team, as well as the culture overall is really good and we have a great work life balance, at least before covered and we work in terms of like really trying to enforce that like out what is really mean to work remotely? On on what we had a great work life balance. And if you talk to others in the industry people see Microsoft as the granddaddy company that you go to, to retire. But that's cool. Because when you look at Amazon and Facebook and my friends at Apple, they are working like five, six days a week, over 12 hours. And I'm not about that life. Yeah.
Kimmiko James 30:30
Yeah, that's where the tech industry gets a little bit sticky. It does pay well, there is work like balance for the most part, but it depends on your team. That is a very big thing. Because I've met people that have been happy at Facebook. But also I've met people that left Facebook to join Slack, because of the work life balance reason, or it just gets too competitive. And yeah, stuff like that. So it definitely varies by team. But I have heard way more positive things about Microsoft than I have heard about the other. So
Whitney Griffith 31:05
yeah, and that competitive nature is so key like an Amazon, it's all about like trying to help each other. Where at Microsoft, I feel very open and able to like ping someone and express my vulnerability in terms of like, I don't notice.
Kimmiko James 31:20
Yeah, that's that was me. That was me quite a bit over the last two summers. I don't get the competitive thing. But that's another story. But, but I would say this is more of like an advice thing, because I don't think I've asked this either. And I think it's pretty good. This could be good advice. So what were some of the things you did as an intern to secure a full time return offer because not every intern gets a return offer, even if Microsoft accepts 1000s of engineers?
Whitney Griffith 31:50
Yeah, at least in the Microsoft world, which if you want job security for your senior year, I definitely highly recommend into that Microsoft. They have a great recruiting an internship process and to satisfy the reason you have an internship is because they are hoping you come back to them full time once you graduate. Like literally they have their your spot open two years from now when your graduation date is because they want you that badly. And they're investing in you early on.
Kimmiko James 32:22
Hey, guys, Pardon the Interruption, but I just wanted to take a minute to talk about the new black enterprise network podcasts website. If you've ever been curious about what a guest looks like, or what their social media links are, then we have detailed guest profiles for each episode. And there's also detailed show notes with time markers in case you wanted to find a specific point or piece of advice without listening to the entire episode. There's also readable episode transcriptions. And also the website allows you to easily sing questions and feedback, if you want to get in contact with us. Just know that the website will be updated on a weekly basis. So if you don't see something done already, and it will be done soon, check it out at Black enterprise network.fm.
Whitney Griffith 33:05
So with that in mind, it's like you already know that they are going to do everything to ensure you win. Great. But what I see in Tim's usually fall short on is the fact that one, we probably you're not used to like these types of cultures in terms of like, either asking for help or communication, what does it mean to work in a business in terms of like carrying yourself around in a business model. And that's where we fall short. So in terms of what to do to secure internship, I always emphasize who exactly is going to sign off on the offer. That is most time your manager, great. Or maybe your manager assigns a mentor that you work very closely and they will report it but you got to figure out who is going to sign off on saying yes, you can return. Majority of times, it's your manager. So therefore the first thing you got to do, like in any relationship building timeline is set the priorities and gauge what your manager cares about. So when you have those one on ones, with your manager, your constant, it's your managers responsibility to ensure you win. But it's also your responsibility to understand firmly what your manager expects out of you. What is success for your manager, what your manager likes to see. So like some managers are pretty hands on versus hands off. Some managers want to have a daily update versus a weekly update. Like you really got to figure out how to stay closely aligned with you're the person who's going to see that you're going to get that return awful. And once that communication gets clear, it then becomes specific to the work at hand where you get assigned to a project. You have to constantly adopt a mindset of doing your best right but also timebox yourself in the sense that we don't expect you to know everything. And that is the senior engineers, we ask them for Help as well. So timebox yourself in terms of like really figuring out how to monitor your productivity with like, if you have a given task, you should tell yourself, okay, in four hours or two hours, if I haven't made any type of progress on this task, I need to raise my head and x will help, because asking for help is key.
Kimmiko James 35:21
Yeah, I would second that. Communication. Definitely. It sounds like an easy thing. Like people just dismiss this, these behavioral questions, these behavioral qualities, like it's nothing and then just go in being a tech master. But that's not everything. Because even the best quotation marks best computer science student can go in and still not get a return offer. When you have your first computer science internship or suite internship, they don't just throw you at the deep end and give you 1000 tests the first week, or even the first two weeks, they don't do that, like my first three to four weeks, because it's it was a 12 week program for me, or just was just spent getting used to the team, how test management works, getting more familiar with meetings, stuff like that. And you just really have to know who your main stakeholder holder is, which Witney touched upon is your manager and just see how you guys communicate together. Because for me, I am an introvert. So it's hard for me to sometimes speak up when something's going wrong. But I know if I don't speak up, then I'm gonna hurt myself. So just communicating that with my manager of like, Hey, I prefer talking about certain things and our one on ones versus in front of the entire team, because I'm shy, but I got I got over that after with time. But just stuff like that, like knowing your communication style with your manager, knowing what's expected of you, especially because again, they don't expect you to know Microsoft's and your team by heart. As soon as you go in you. It's a learning process. All of it is a very long learning process. But you don't have to be the smartest person on your intern
Whitney Griffith 37:04
class. Honestly, embrace the ignorance like that you're there for them to teach you. Yeah, or responsibility to make you better at engineering.
Kimmiko James 37:16
Exactly. Like I didn't even finish my final intern project last summer, and I got the opportunity to come back. So that that kind of just tells you right there.
Unknown Speaker 37:26
Yeah, right now.
Kimmiko James 37:27
Yeah. So I don't know, if you listed all of your founder experiences on LinkedIn, I feel like he founded quite a bit, but I could be wrong, feel free to correct me. But on your LinkedIn, I saw that he founded seamless money. And then you also had a startup bus project, which I heard it started bus. It's pretty cool. Yeah. Am I missing anything else? Or is it only those two?
Whitney Griffith 37:47
Yeah, I have a bunch of random ones that I tried to read up on. But one that really came out of this covered period was in regards to like remote learning. in the Caribbean, like none of our school level education systems were prepared for going online. But we also have a bigger problem, which is like for decades, this standardized educational system is not working for everyone. Everyone learns differently. Everyone is curious about their friends things. So I launched a company called souplesse, which is like she does personalized learning school. It's geared around the fact that, like I said that everyone has different learning styles. But most importantly, everyone wants to learn at some point. And we find ways to reinforce that true, like the students really embracing their curiosity as well as us using a lot of data to really get a snapshot of what they know right now. What are their trouble spots? What have they mastered as they progress on damn journey to do an SCT? So in year, the national exams?
Kimmiko James 38:55
Yeah, that's actually an interesting problem, because I might actually might as an example of how it would work, because, like you said, everybody learns differently, especially in high school, like, the people that we assume don't know anything or don't try, they just might not work with that teachers preferred style of learning, because in high school, it's literally forced upon you, no matter what, you have to read these 10 books, you have to take these weird notes and this specific style and all this other stuff that students don't really react to. for me. My thing with certain English classes was acting out scenes from a book. So could you give me an example of like, how it works exactly of if a student prefers not to take notes versus one that does or something like that?
Whitney Griffith 39:47
Yeah, definitely. So right now we focus mainly on mathematics, language, arts and science. And based on that we have all like literally what you need from middle school to high school. cool to be able to have all around big liberal education as the world defines it, we got a data set that broke all of that down to concepts. So for instance, in mathematics, you have the category algebra, but then you need algebra where you have a bunch of different broken down concepts, and they all roll up to the mastery level. So you have like Ground Zero to like mastery, which will be like a smart score of 100, which is not a percentage score is more like how much do you really understand this? So based on that, what we do is in each topic with within each concept, right, and we create a skill, and what a skill those is, pretty much sand a bunch of questions to the individual user. And that individual user has to answer those questions. And based on how that is an answers those questions, were able to tell how much did they truly know. But before that, it's like, okay, based on this topic, if you have never seen this topic before, we go through multiple ways of understand getting taught from a perspective of like, first things first is you should watch a YouTube video. Right? After you watch the video, you try these questions, if you realize you're still getting around, then you want to click limit to example, theory. When you absorb the limits an example you try it and the questions again, if you realize you're still not getting it around, then you raise your hand for help from one of our teachers, where you're scheduled to teach him and it's cool, where we do a personalized whiteboarding session with you on this specific topic. And once we do that, we send you back to practice the skill. And most times at that point, they have mastered it. And they can just constantly practice that skill until they make it to a smart score of 100. And if they don't, they come back to us again. And we sit down and learn from their mistakes where we're able to see the correct answer the wrong answer on everything they answered on it's like, hey, do you see where you went wrong? You? Can you tell me that? Yeah. So that's how we do it. It's a mix of technology and data and psychology, where the biggest thing I realize is practice is teaching the students that there are multiple ways to go about understanding something, it could be either taught to you, it can be you Google in your cell phone, like finding the best video that can teach you this. But most importantly, you have to understand it's okay to get things wrong. And it's okay to ask for help. And your voices heard.
Kimmiko James 42:38
Those are three things that are not taught to people. Cuz I don't know, like middle school through high school. And I guess probably half of college freshmen through sophomore year, just feel so much pressure to be right all the time and not get anything wrong. That I don't know, you just make things worse for yourself. And I really appreciate the the platform you're building because for me with math, I don't I don't know, I guess I've had a lot of math teachers. But when I go on YouTube and watch the video, they just breaks it down more and more manageable parts. Were just like, Oh, I get it. Or if I go on check. I can say that now because I finished all the math classes. I don't care.
Unknown Speaker 43:20
I go on
Kimmiko James 43:23
and see how because all the problems are different matter what you do, like, I see the answers and see how they do it with explanations. I'm like, Oh, I get it versus a professor that just jots down all their messy answers. When they expect expects you to get it. So
Whitney Griffith 43:39
yeah, I spend those professors right, give you examples. But then the tests come with something completely different. It's like, like,
Kimmiko James 43:48
math was not my favorite thing to take in college. But But yeah, that's pretty cool. Especially the the values of just knowing how to ask for help, because that's it. Not a lot of people do it. I know, friends that especially skip office hours, because they think their questions are too dumb, or something like that. So
Whitney Griffith 44:09
yeah, honestly, like, my manager does this really well. It's like he enters the room. I'm pleased that ignorant, had any sense. And he's like, I'm the dumbest person here. So I'm going to ask as much questions as I can. And I feel that's something we should all adopt. Because you'll learn so much, even if you already know it, you know, based on someone else's response.
Kimmiko James 44:30
Yeah, I mean, I was gonna say there's no such thing as a dumb question. That's not true. There are dumb questions out there. But But if you genuinely need help, and you're stuck, it never hurts to ask and if that person if you get a bad response from that person, ask somebody else. Honestly. What was seamless money since you worked on it for about almost a year? And yeah, why did you stop working on it?
Whitney Griffith 44:58
Yeah, is like the bane of my existence. That's like a rag mentioned when I got to a place of like a funk because I thought I could execute, it was pretty much based on CMS money. So seamless money is still a problem to be solved today. And it started off in the fact that once again, I'm from Trinidad and Tobago, my entire family's there. So all of my money and cost of living and anything that I needed came from Trinidad and Tobago. And as of right now, what that entailed was my parents go into the local bank, standing up in a very long line deposits into my like, local bank account, they're sending me a picture, same ad posted it, and then I can go in and transfer the currency, which is TT dollars to the US dollar. But the tool in which I was using to transfer it had limits, like I can only transfer $100 a day, I can only withdraw X amount a month, but let's say I'm paying for my groceries like rent, that's not sustainable. And it always entail me leaving, it was so much friction to do, like everyone has to leave their their whatever they're doing to go to a physical location, I had to go to an ATM fee, the ATM fee, rejoice and then go and read deposited into my like us bank accounts. And this was this most seamless way to get money from the Caribbean. And it was the cheapest way and the fastest way as well. So other roads, as you may know is like MoneyGram, Western Union and so on. So in the limit that literally all of my college life, and up to the point where I started making money. I was also like dealing with the FinTech landscape insurance in the US, which is like Venmo cash app, PayPal, and you see how even Apple Pay, we have it so nice, right? No way, we can literally just send money to our friends based on a number or tag. And I'm like, why does not exist, you know, like across countries. So CMS money mission was to really make it seamless in terms of transferring money to and from a person, no matter where they are, like, you shouldn't care about what country the money is coming from or landing in. So we wanted to abstract that entire like money transfer process on the exchange the foreign exchange, and just make it as simple as three steps. Ideally, like you're typing in, the person's will number a tag, you enter how much you want to send, and you press Send. And that's it like you as the receiver or the sender, you really do not care about what's happened and what's happening to your money. You just want it right as quickly as possible. So I was talking to him that using blockchain. And for those who don't know, blockchain is one of those like novel technologies alongside like AI and so on. But blockchain in this regard served a really good purpose because it reimagined how the monetary system around the world is handled right now. So I'm not a finance expert. And I had to realize this during this journey. But long story short, right now, we started off using goal. And then we started with the dollar backed by gold. But then we got to the point where it's like, there's no gold backing our dollar, our treasuries will just print in dollars and dollars and dollars. And therefore there's no trust in that system like this, you need to know I have today could be worth 50 cents tomorrow based on the actions that the Fed, the Treasury takes, right. But the part that is completely crazy, is the fact that we entered into this digital world with money, but we have physical dollars dictating the digital dollars, that makes us money, right? It should be the reverse way. It's like, okay, country is Frinton note that printing country is creating 10,000 Digital dollars of their currency. And therefore from there, they will print out the physical ones if it's so needed, right? Because the digital can fluid Model S, but the physical, you literally need somebody to come pick this up. But it is on a boat or a plane and carry it to the other country. And that is happening ridiculous, like Goldman Sachs and like all these big money movers, they are literally paying people to physically pick up cash and move it across states and countries and so on. So blockchain was a great solution for that. And the reason so I worked on this for 12 months, it was actually my senior project as well. I like I said, I'm pretty competitive. I like to go all in. So I made it like a flowing Silicon Valley type startup. When I was doing my internship at Microsoft, I was also like, consistently pitching to VCs and so forth in San Francisco. And that entire journey is like, it propelled me to be such a great person in terms of like leadership. Like it really showed me what it meant to be a leader. And at that point, I wasn't a leader. And so that actually ties into one of my reasons that I I ended up closing the company because I didn't realize a what the core part of being a leader is really assembling a team that strong and is passionate and is able to execute without me micromanaging. And I realized that too late. And then secondly, it was the fact that we, I got caught up in the hype side of entrepreneurship. And when I say hype, I mean like the, the Brandon on the being present and everywhere, like in terms of all blockchain conferences, all like FinTech conferences, like in Silicon Valley, just being present, because you want to get your name out there as a founder and a startup and true that you build, like, personal relationships, I will get you funded, right. But what I then realize is the fact that I had to apply boundaries and doing that, because the more time I spend doing that, the less time the product is built. And it got to a point of six months, where it's like, Where's our product, and my other co founding was the CTO, but it was also a matter of like, Where's our product, great. And when we realized that, hey, I'll be we haven't made any incremental progress on our product, we have a lot of traction, we also have an old flow for investment and our company, but I knew realistically at that point, based on our execution velocity at that point, and with the money I'd had, it wouldn't have been enough to get us through that, like, risky period in the startup where it's like, Do or die. Yeah. So I decided to make the educated choice of closing the startup go into Microsoft full time, but also, realizing that I have a lot of growth to do around end to end product development, and leadership and so forth.
Kimmiko James 51:53
That's probably the most positive take to have buzz for newer ship, it is very, it's very easy to fall in love with the hype of it, you know, just like, in in magazines and stuff, pitching in front of VCs, getting money, none, not knowing what to do with it. I mean, I mean, obviously, you should know what to do that, but, but it's very easy to fall in love with the hype, especially of being a CEO or CTO just position of power of building something that's going to change the world. But you know, you fall in love with that stuff. And you do a lot more talking than you do doing or building. Everything fall short. I've been there. I've been there. It's not. It's not fun. But I'm glad you didn't give up. You're still doing your thing. Now you're currently doing something. With surplus.
Whitney Griffith 52:41
Kimmiko James 52:43
wanted to make sure because the website sounded different. So you're still continuing with surplus. And honestly, you're still young, I see starting something else in the coming future. So I'm glad.
Whitney Griffith 52:56
Honestly, like everyone out there, even if you don't want to be entrepreneur, like all of this is about rinse and repeat. Like, you should never give up oil and become cereal at anything that you care about. Because the more times you do it, the easier it gets. And then you'll eventually get to the mastery and that big win. So that's how I viewed as like, each time I started a company and destroy it is me getting closer to my real 10 year commitment to a company that I believe, you know,
Kimmiko James 53:27
yeah, Spoken like a true entrepreneur. And, and also if it doesn't work out, and you figure like this isn't for me, and that's also fine. You don't have to be stuck in anything you don't want to be stuck in. So, so so. Cool. So lightning round. I don't know how long it takes people to answer lightning rounds. But we'll just say two to three minutes. So if you had to start from scratch to become a software engineer, what are the first three things you would do?
Whitney Griffith 53:56
The first three things I will do is, before deciding to become a software engineer, I will set a goal for myself to find 10 persons who are currently working as software engineers at different life stages, for instance, entry level first two years after college, five years and 10 years and even like the fun side of things, have conversations with them in terms of like, what do they enjoy about their job, what's most challenging, what keeps them going, and so on. So like, really just build my idea of what software engineering is because software engineer is huge, and you have to really find your niche. And the best way to do that is through conversations. The second thing I'll do is prioritize learning without any demands. And as a student Do you have a lot of time to do that, like classes is one thing but you have a lot of time on weekends, or will vacations where you can truly make incremental growth on on your own, and in at least one area. And to start with that, I will choose even just a simple language or a high level goal of becoming like a full stack web developer. So if you choose Python, let's say you just choose Python, like child learn as much about Python might literally level up in Python from like beginner to advanced, where you become the master of title. And based on that, because everything is chance, verbal, you will realize how much easier it is to adopt anything else, right? Because you're learning this concept in this one thing. And the two thing is, honestly, constantly introspecting about what you want, where you're heading, and ensuring that it's still aligned. And the best way to do that is by building your own personal peer group of person, so along the same path, and ideally, someone who's like one step ahead of you, or even immediately start giving back to someone who's one step behind you. And you have a lot of growth in doing so. And you realize how much your bubbles are popped, and how much how much like it's this entire thing is like a blood multiclient. And if you build that circle around you, you don't have to be in every room. You don't have to live everything, you know how people that you can rely on and they can rely on you and together your complement each other.
Kimmiko James 56:28
So what technology or product type do you think is going to blow up within the next two years? Um,
Whitney Griffith 56:36
I will say domains that will blow up is data. That generation of data and actual analyzing of data is super huge. And then that rolls into AI, artificial intelligence, which is pretty much grounded on like, what can I learn from data? So foundation data, and then we have blockchain as well, where blockchain I honestly think it could potentially be the answer to all of our corruptions that is innate to human beings. So I would also suggest blockchain as well. And let's see, yeah, those three things is super important in terms of like technology and the future. And the fourth thing I will say is, honestly invest in the learning process, because those three things that I mentioned, could completely be wiped out in next year, because something new came on ticket spot. So just really invest in that land in process, and build a muscle to constantly learn new technology.
Kimmiko James 57:39
Let's just say hypothetically, you're given a check for $100,000. What would you invest this money in? And this could be it doesn't have to be like stocks, bonds, or startups, what would you put that 100k into?
Whitney Griffith 57:51
Right now, based on the current climate? I will break that 100k up into purchasing multifamily homes actually. Yeah, because based on COVID, there's a lot of debt being introduced into like, the financial space, like, we have definitely gonna get a lot of inflation on our dollar. And as we know, land level depreciate. So out, invest in land, but most importantly, cash flow from the multi families. Yeah.
Kimmiko James 58:23
Nice. All great speed round answers. And lastly, I just want to know, if you had any socials, websites, online communities, people can follow and join, just if they want to get in touch with you or just see what you're up to.
Whitney Griffith 58:39
Yeah, definitely. So on all social media, you can find me as impact with that by impact I met wh it. So I'm mostly active on Instagram. But I'm hoping to get active on Twitter, because that's where a lot of founders and VCs out, and also LinkedIn. These days, my LinkedIn messages were like, completely drowned. So if you do want to reach out to me, I strongly suggest sending me a DM on Instagram. I love answering random questions. So even just jumping on a 20 minute call, just you just have to make that perspective. And I also support a community that's all around removing inefficiencies and get into a better self as an entrepreneur, or engineer, or just someone who knows how to execute, because what we need in the next five plus years and people who can do and who can do really well and do ethically unconsciously in terms of like, how does this impact others. So what I'm trying to do is assemble anyone who's like in a go getter, like they're passionate and they really do really care and bring them into a community. We are on slack right now. And what I hope is that in this community persons are able to explore their alliance interest rate companies mental each And so on.
Kimmiko James 1:00:02
I really appreciate you just coming on sharing how you got to see us, which is very I liked your story. It didn't exactly and the way you thought it was, but it worked out for the best and just sharing all this amazing advice. So thanks for coming on. Yeah, definitely.
Whitney Griffith 1:00:15
Thanks for having me here. I'm like just conversing you out. I'm excited again, in terms of like, we are here, you know, like, we, we are here and we we are here in numbers. And we are going to change the face of what technology is going to look like and like, the more the work that you do, and it's like reaching so much people, and I hope that that inspires others to like, tap in. And you don't have to tap into technology. As an engineer, you can tap in as a marketing person you can tap into as a business person, like, just get in technology. And the reason why because our world will be run on is currently run by technology. So you need to be involved somewhere do
Kimmiko James 1:00:59
exactly. Thanks, Whitney. Yeah, no problem. Thank you again for listening to this episode of The Black enterprise network podcasts. Join me in the next episode, which I'll be joined by fleet, current PhD student at MIT and CTO of haertel urgence. A black hair startup that offers high quality customization for wigs and extensions and is powered by computers. See you
Whitney can be best described as: Avid Learner. Tech Enthusiast. Social Entrepreneur. Pan African Angel Investor.
She's currently using technology to drive innovation and economic advancements in the developing world and among the underprivileged.