hen it’s all said and done, 2018 will go down as the year where the light bulb flickered on for me.
That year, I decided to go to a business school, Rotterdam School of Management, outside of the United States because I wanted an uncommon experience that was going to challenge my perspectives in a multitude of unique ways.
What I didn’t expect along the way was that I’d be exposed to such a wide range of varying backgrounds and interests - opening me up to a much broader range of career possibilities.
For example: consulting, data science, and digital marketing were fields that I had previously heard about in passing, however, I was only intrigued by them once I had the opportunity to speak with my fellow classmates who had experience in those fields.
Even more critical than the career exposure was my exposure to the mindfulness practices that my school placed an emphasis on across several dedicated sessions.
As I get further removed from those sessions with each passing year, I recognize their importance.
They were largely meant as mental tools to help keep us centered, perceptive, and calm in the face of uncertainty and discord in our personal and professional lives.
Admittedly, I initially wrote them off as a joke like most people do with things that challenge them to do something uncomfortable and awkward.
However, the more I practiced mindfulness in my own time and committed to reading deeper into the habits of high-level performers, the more self-aware, in-control, and cerebral I became regardless of what’s in front of me.
While I’ve always been someone who’s even-keeled, the enhanced level of control and balance I’ve attained ever since my introduction to mindfulness has made me a better listener, more empathetic, and a much more effective strategist.
Among other things I learned as part of my MBA program, these were the type of EQ-focused lessons that stuck with me the most and laid the foundation for the refined lens through which I now view effective management.
My Post-MBA Journey
Once I graduated from Rotterdam School of Management in early 2019, I returned to New York with a much greater understanding of what makes companies successful over the long-term.
I knew that excellent management was fundamentally critical towards a team’s sustainable retention and success, but more importantly, I graduated knowing what actually goes into being that critical cog.
Furthermore, I gained a much greater appreciation for the type of management that I experienced at Brookfield Asset Management because, in hindsight, it was done about as well as one could ask for.
The culture that was created there within my former team came from the Senior Vice President, who was empathetic, consistently fair, extremely bright, highly-organized, optimistic, positive, and he never finger-pointed during times of distress.
He also sought to put the team in the best position to succeed by first ensuring that we were equipped with the tools and knowledge necessary to succeed, he made sure timelines for deliverables were realistic and clearly understood, and he held everyone within the team accountable.
Consequently, we felt empowered and highly motivated every day to go above and beyond what was asked from us - the way all great coaches make their players feel.
Once I understood the science behind what goes into galvanizing a group of individuals to move as a consistently cohesive and productive unit, I made it my mission to either create a company that lives by sound management principles, or to only work long-term with companies that prioritized solid management fundamentals.
The “Lost Months”
I didn’t have it in me to approach 2019 like most of my graduating peers did.
After everything I learned in 2018 in the Netherlands, from leadership training, to mindfulness, to understanding the nuances behind why successful companies do what they do, I couldn’t go back to a traditional office setting without trying to see if my skills would allow me to create a revenue-generating company myself.
I found myself with the newfound confidence to make it happen, but I had no idea where to start - especially since I knew I wanted to get into the tech industry but needed to develop some tech skills first.
So naturally, I started with what was within reach.
While I was mapping out how to simultaneously get into tech and create my own business, I figured it was in my best interest to supplement my journey with something to do everyday that would allow me to see consistent progress to balance the good and the bad days to come.
I chose to take 3 months worth of in-person French classes as my supplementary activity and spent at least a couple hours every morning learning and steadily improving my foreign language skills.
When I wasn’t studying French, my primary activities consisted of reading books on entrepreneurship and finance, exploring various “how to make money online” sites (which proved to be more trouble than it was worth), and retail arbitrage through eBay.
My attempts to make money online didn’t lead to much success, largely due to my reluctance to invest a large time commitment into it in lieu of the time I was spending improving my French, learning how to run a successful business, and understanding high-level finance.
By the end of March 2019 I was ready to scrap my online money-making efforts and move on to the next phase of my 2019 plans.
I wanted to use the next 3 months immersing myself into a tech-based hard skill, but my money had already dried up - I hadn’t worked a full-time job since December 2017 by this point.
Knowing I was full of ideas and skills but devoid of money, I decided to start by walking around my neighborhood at the time (Jamaica, Queens, NY) and pound the pavement to see what was out there in the form of help.
This is when I stumbled upon several government-funded resources, those that our hard-earned American tax dollars pay for, that are sorely overlooked and available for nearly everyone to use.
For example, this is where I learned that the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is available in many cities within the United States, for free, for anyone with aspirations of starting a small business, and it allows you to work with the resources of the Small Business Administration (the only cabinet-level federal agency fully dedicated to small businesses) to either develop a new business idea or expand upon an existing one.
I also went to my local library at the time and learned about the myriad classes, professional development events, and other resources beyond books that are offered to anyone for free.
While the SBDC and local library were great finds, it was actually my visit to the Department of Labor that would prove to be the turning point I was looking for.
I walked into the Department of Labor and met with a workforce placement representative to explain to them what I was trying to accomplish.
I told them that I was low on funds, so I wanted help finding either a job that would help me advance the tech skills I was looking to learn, a low-stress job that would allot the free time necessary for me to learn them during my downtime at work, or a software development bootcamp catering to underemployed individuals that I can try to sign up for.
The representative I was working with initially wasn’t much help with any of the 3 things I was seeking, however, another representative overheard my conversation and asked to speak to me after I was done.
I finished up my initial conversation and moved on to the other representative who overheard me, and she proceeded to tell me that she was aware of a software development bootcamp called Per Scholas, whose mission is to prepare underemployed individuals with the foundational tech skills necessary to compete for software engineering jobs.
I was never happier to have someone eavesdropping on my conversation than in that moment - I felt like I cracked the code!
A few days later, I proceeded to go to the Per Scholas Brooklyn location and laid out my situation to them.
Based on this information, I planned my April and May in anticipation of me beginning the bootcamp in June.
Thanks to my earlier findings at the local library, I was able to find a free 6-week Python class to enroll into, which met once a week, as a way to prepare myself and learn programming fundamentals ahead of my impending Per Scholas enrollment.
I still needed money to hold me over in the interim while I was awaiting the start of the bootcamp, but only enough to allow me to keep my head above water since I wanted to level up as soon as possible.
Consequently, I decided that it was a better use of my time to take up a grocery delivery job than to go back into the corporate world.
The thinking behind this, despite my qualifications to easily land a $100k+ accounting job, was as follows: the downtime I’d have in between deliveries (while still collecting my hourly wage on the clock) was significantly more valuable to me than what an accounting job would pay me because I would be able to utilize my downtime between deliveries to continue getting better at my programming lessons.
What also helped in my decision-making was the fact that I was able to receive monthly SNAP benefits thanks to my lack of income in 2018 while I was studying in Europe.
This benefit guaranteed that I would always have at least $200 to purchase food every month while I was prioritizing my preparation for Per Scholas.
As long as I could ensure food and housing was covered during this transition period, I was willing to continue putting in whatever work was necessary to keep developing my computer programming skill set.
Conversely, my time during working hours for the potential accounting job would never allow for “downtime” and would only allow me to focus on accounting, which was going to further delay me from my bigger goal.
I value time that much.
Before making a decision and committing to a direction, I actually did a calculation to compare the hourly wage breakdown from an accounting opportunity against the estimated hourly value of the delivery job’s hourly wage, tips, including the downtime where I’d be practicing my tech skills while on the clock.
When accounting for the value of the downtime in between deliveries, it wasn’t even close - choosing to do deliveries while up-skilling during my downtime was easily a better use of my time.
As much thought as I put into making this seemingly unstable decision in pursuit of changing my career at an expedited pace, the one thing I didn’t account for was the fact that the June Per Scholas program could get cut unexpectedly and completely derail my anticipated timelines.
Of course, that’s exactly what happened in May 2019 - I received an email from Per Scholas that informed me of their decision to cut the 5-month class, which was set to start in June 2019, due to budget cuts.
Once I received word from Per Scholas that the June class was no longer happening, all bets were off.
I could no longer justify doing grocery delivery since the prospect of the class was gone.
My tech pursuits needed to take a backseat, and not being broke anymore instantly became my top priority.
I used June to start applying to anywhere that needed an accountant and paid at least $100k+.
I showed I still had the Midas touch, as the interviews started coming in fast and furious like they normally do when I put my name out there.
I interviewed both on the phone and in-person all throughout the month - from Tiger Global, to Schroders, to Voya Financial, to the NBA, and a whole host of other institutions.
Admittedly, I was very rusty within my interviews given that I didn’t even attempt to interview with companies while in Europe, so it had been a couple years since I was asked to detail the impact I've made at other companies in the past.
I was consistently having a hard time convincing the people on the other side that I was the right fit for the job when I hadn’t even convinced myself yet.
Up to this point (basically since April 2019), I had spent a large chunk of my free time preparing for the programming fundamentals, knowing that the learning curve would be steep once I started with the Per Scholas curriculum.
My class was set with about 15 students who stuck through until the end, all taught by a highly distinguished instructor who had extensive professional and academic experience across many layers of computer science.
To get to class everyday, I was commuting to the Bronx from Jamaica, Queens, NY at the time.
My commute to the location was about 1.5 hours to go there, and another 1.5 hours to get back home everyday.
I made this 3 hour round trip commute for 5 months until the class’s conclusion in February 2020, with each class going from 9AM to 5AM everyday.
I was fully committed to soaking up everything being thrown my way, no matter how painful it was at times.
This type of intense instruction and subsequent application was exactly what I needed, because all the efforts I made to understand programming fundamentals prior to this class seemed to not be working.
This experience also convinced me that nothing can replicate the impact of in-person learning because the proximity of assistance I received, either from the instructor or from my peers, could not be replicated virtually at the same speed that I received it.
All the questions that took extensive time to get answers to, while I was learning on my own time, were getting answered and expanded upon within minutes while I was at Per Scholas.
This experience expedited my learning process.
Ultimately, that’s all I was looking for so that I could go into 2020 with the foundations necessary to pivot away from accounting and into something more expansive through tech.
Even though my class wasn’t set to end until February 2020, I headed into the new year confident that my 2019 sacrifices would prove to be fruitful towards my goal to either get into a tech career of my choosing, or to successfully start my own company.