The way we do business is changing, which means the way customers buy products is evolving, too. For small and medium-sized businesses especially, merchant services are essential to keep their operations running, their people safe and cash flow stable. Bodunrin Jawando, a product lead at Clover, has become an expert in the field based on his extensive experience working in financial technology for almost a decade. He is implementing new tech strategies for the point of sale platform to meet companies’ and customers’ needs.
The road to success in his role wasn’t easy, but his professional journey has made it possible for him to quickly adapt to the drastic changes caused by COVID-19. Now he’s dropping gems on how aspiring FinTechies can thrive. Jawando spoke with AfroTech to share his insights and thoughts on how being an immigrant, an HBCU alumnus and an intern shaped his professional career.
The Journey: From the Beginning to Now
Nigerian immigrant Jawando studied electrical engineering at Howard University from 2007 to 2011. As a freshman, he landed a summer internship at Goldman Sachs that exposed him to the world of technology infrastructure. Jawando had always been passionate about technology, though he didn’t originally plan to pursue it as a career. The experience sparked his interest and helped him gain more insight into the skills he would need to apply to top tech companies after graduation.
“As you can imagine, as a freshman, [your background] is basically wiped, but I had done some extracurricular activities that made me more prepared for the role,” Jawando says. “A lot of the things that I was asked during the interviews weren’t being taught to freshmen, but there were things that I caught on [to] by doing some extracurricular activities.”
His internship experience taught him about company culture, how teams function and how to grow in a professional setting. He applied this knowledge and the lessons learned to his undergraduate program.
“It helped me paint a clearer picture of what this professional journey is all about, because what tends to happen is you go through four years of college, you learn all of these things, but how much do you actually get to use in the real world?” Jawando says. “Outside of having internships, I think it’s hard for you to tie those two things together. There are things that you learn in academia and there are [real-world skills] that you need to leverage and work towards. I think the latter was key in helping to identify what I really liked and what I wanted to focus my growth on.”
Jawando acquired a strong background in electrical engineering, but he gained his management skills at his full-time role at Goldman Sachs. As a people-oriented person, he found the ideal niche: working with product and product management. He says it was the perfect intersection between technology and people.
“I’m really passionate about products,” Jawando says. “Each time I stumble on something new, I dig deeper to understand how people arrive at their solutions. I question features that have launched on apps and websites. It has become more natural for me to explore products that way.”
After working for Goldman Sachs for five years, the product lead looked for opportunities to grow in the field and use his expertise to focus on the revenue-generating side of the business. He submitted his resume on Hired.com, and Clover, along with a number of other companies, reached out to him for an interview. He took a coding challenge test, underwent a series of interviews and flew out to meet Clover executives in Sunnyvale, California. He’s been with the company since June 2016.
“What piqued my interest at Clover was the space [it] was creating and aiming to disrupt,” Jawando says. “It looked like there was a lot of potential for all of the things I wanted to do. The Clover proposition sounded interesting to me [because] it’s not a 100-year-old company that has figured everything out. It’s a young startup where you can provide more in terms of building up a company culture.”
On Being a Minority in FinTech
As a minority, Jawando has had many different experiences while working in FinTech. He shares his top three tips on how Black professionals should prepare for an interview and how he has been able to navigate the industry.
Study industry trends.
“Understand the competitive landscape,” Jawando says. “In my current role, I have interviewed folks who want to join my team and who just want to join the company in general. One of the questions that weigh heavy for us is your understanding of what Clover does and how we compete in the [FinTech] space.”
Make sure you over-prepare.
“In the tech industry, you walk in the room and you know you are the minority,” Jawando says. “You want to make sure that you’re the go-to person for information. People can rely on you to always provide the right level of analysis and the right level of professionalism when it comes to the work you’re doing.”
Work on things that you’re passionate about or find the right blend.
“I work in product,” Jawando says. “It would be hard for me to be great at my job if I wasn’t also passionate about what Clover does [as a company]. I think the quality of suggestions, the quality of the insights and the additional work that I end up doing all make it a lot easier because it’s an area that I’m naturally interested in.”
Overall, Jawando believes that in order to have a successful career in FinTech, Black employees should know everything about the business but also understand the bigger picture.
How Attending an HBCU Shaped Bodunrin’s Worldview
Jawando also shares his take on how race and learning about the Black American experience shaped his views on being a minority in FinTech and working in professional spaces.
“As a Nigerian, I wasn’t fully educated about the Black American experience when I came to this country,” Jawando says. “Attending Howard University was like a firsthand, crash course all about the African American experience. It was key in shaping my understanding of how to exist in this society. Getting a good foundation of direct interaction with African Americans at Howard, a mecca of Black culture and experience, helped paint a clearer picture of being Black in America.”
Since he hails from a country that is 100 percent Black, race was never really a “thing” for Jawando. As a result, he grew up with a “level playing field” mindset. Still, he acknowledges that there is a lack of representation for Black techies in the workspace, making it harder to network with someone who has a similar background and can help them “move up the ranks.” It’s a reality many have to face, which causes Black techies to work a little harder to get in the door. Although they might not always be present, he believes seeking mentors and sponsors can help bridge that gap.
Words of Wisdom
Through a series of trial and error, Jawando has acquired wisdom that he wants to share with Black techies about the importance of building connections and staying focused, as well as how their craft can positively impact the tech industry.
“I’m very big on making sure that I have a good personal connection with people I work with,” Jawando says. “My journey at Clover has been a rewarding experience mainly as a result of the people I’ve been working with. There are certain opportunities or projects that I’ve gotten as a result of the relationships I have with people. I have a deep connection with the people I work with. We can talk about pretty much anything, and I think building those strong relationships helps you not just professionally but also personally.”
Jawando is an advocate of Black tech professionals having mentors and sponsors who are a part of their tribe to learn from and gain experience. Guidance from upper-level employees makes it easier for newbies to navigate the FinTech workforce.
“I’ve had a number of mentors and influencers throughout my career and still do,” Jawando says. “I think one key benefit is sometimes you’re very engrossed in the smaller-picture job or role that you’ve been asked to perform. Mentors or sponsors [have a larger view] on the work you’re doing, and they always ask questions that [allow you to] explore a line of thinking that you may not have explored if you hadn’t had conversations with them.”
On top of what we’re facing now, Jawando knows there are many setbacks and disappointments Black tech professionals face, but he encourages them to stay the course. Industries have proven that when they invest in diversity, they have more rewarding products — and more profit.
“I think navigating through professional spaces isn’t easy, so people shouldn’t be too hard on themselves when they don’t initially see the results that they’re looking for,” Jawando says. “It’s actually a valid business case to diversify your workspace. The ideas, the experiences and skill sets of our Black community out there are definitely needed in tech.”
Jawando is the perfect example of how focus, perseverance, and drive can take you far, and how important it is to have a supportive company and tribe to help you achieve your goals. If you’re looking for a place to grow your career in FinTech, Clover may be the right place for you. Want to know more about their job opportunities? Visit the website here.
This editorial is brought to you in partnership with Clover.