How Ameer Brown pivoted into tech through the Adobe Digital Academy
Breaking into the tech industry is not an equal experience for everyone. For some, the window of opportunity is presented early, while others enter through other paths like online courses and self-taught skills. But the Adobe Digital Academy, an alternative and accelerated pathway into tech careers, is providing access and bridging the gap for nontraditional candidates.
The Digital Academy, launched in March of 2016, is part of Adobe’s commitment to fostering a diverse workforce by reaching nontraditional candidates and giving them the education, tools and opportunity they need to work and succeed in the tech industry. So far, the program has led to 20 full-time hires, 47 internships, and 59 scholarships. That equates to an 80 percent success rate of scholarships converting into internships.
One of the Adobe Digital Academy graduates, Ameer Brown, was introduced to the opportunity when he applied for a scholarship through the Adobe Digital Academy. To his surprise, he was accepted and was awarded a full scholarship and living stipend to attend General Assembly’s web development bootcamp. Finally, he’d have the resources and support to pivot his career into technology. Since his time in the program, he’s secured a full-time role, zeroed in on his life’s purpose and has been able to reflect on the growth and success he worked so hard for with the help of Adobe. We sat down with Ameer to hear his story:
AfroTech: When did you first become interested in tech? Was it something you were always interested in or did it spark your interest later in life?
Ameer Brown: It was kind of a serendipitous thing. I didn’t get into technology until three years ago, but I’ve always been interested. It’s something I had a passion for before I had any knowledge or skills. I was talking to my mom the other day about when I was a kid and I had to do a science project at about 10 or 11 years old. She picked it for me and I had to basically diagram a motherboard of a computer, label all the parts, say what they did and give the basic understanding of how they processed. And that was one of my first real science projects and I think it was a bit of foresight into what my life would be like. But it didn’t lead me to go into technology.
Later in high school, in my honors economics class, I watched a documentary called Triumph of the Nerds. It was about the early beginnings of Silicon Valley, Apple, Xerox, Microsoft and everything like that. It was really interesting to me, and I ended up writing a paper on it. But I still didn’t get into technology after that.
I went to college for public relations and did marketing. But when I was in college, The Social Network came out and that’s the point when the bug really hit me, around 2011. I realized that for my generation, this is the new frontier. This is my generation’s gold rush. Everybody is trying to create some sort of generational wealth and you see this story of three kids basically who do this and become billionaires and that resounded with me. Not that I’m necessarily going to become a billionaire, but like, “Wow, this is the coolest thing you could ever do.” And still I didn’t get into technology.
These breadcrumbs throughout my life made my current journey serendipitous, like I said. But it wasn’t until 3 years ago when I finally made the leap.
Will you tell me a little bit about your role at Adobe now?
AB: I’m a Software Quality Engineer, and I work on our growth team focused on acquisition, activation and retention of our users within Adobe Spark. We work in two capacities, Black Box testing, which is the creation and execution of manual test plans for new code changes as well as regression test plans from the lens of our target users. To take our quality coverage a step further we do White Box testing, where we write code that tests the developer’s code based on the input and output expectation of their functions. There’s also a technology called Selenium which is a web driver and there are automated testing frameworks that leverage it, allowing us to write code that acts like a manual user making testing of regression a lot faster.
What I’ve been working on lately is adding standardized analytics tests into that automation regression stack, between a combination of unit testing and web driven automation tests. My tests go through the code base and user flows and make sure that our events are structurally sound and functional, but also ensuring the analytics that are supposed to be firing during critical user flows are being tracked. That way, when we pass stats on to our product managers and they pass it on to leadership, they can make accurate assessments on the health and growth of our product.
Why did you decide to apply for the Adobe Digital Academy?
AB: I was doing sales and marketing at the time and I knew I wanted to break into technology, so I had it in my heart that I was going to learn how to code, whether I took a course online or had an online tutor. I knew General Assembly already because I did their digital marketing certificate after I graduated college.
They let me know they accepted my application to the Adobe Digital Academy and they informed me that they would pay for the course, so I didn’t need to take out a loan anymore. They would pay my living stipend too, and then afterward I would have the opportunity to interview for an internship and out of that the opportunity to interview for a full-time role.
They basically handed me the golden ticket. I was like “Are you kidding me?” I couldn’t believe what was happening and I sent it to my mom and my family. I don’t know what happened in me but I knew that this was happening on purpose. I was floored, I cried, I ran outside. I got really focused after that. I started the course full steam ahead, I was committed to seeing where this journey would take me.
How has the Digital Academy changed your life?
AB: Outside of financially — a lot of people get into tech for the financial benefits, and that’s a lifesaver for me. I have the ability to create savings and build wealth. But just purpose-wise, I was in a position where I didn’t feel like I had purpose. I wanted that feeling. This gave me that sense of purpose where I had a skillset, a brain for it, I can apply it and the people I work for appreciate my effort and appreciate my raw thoughts.
To me, that provides a level of purpose and confidence in myself that I didn’t have before, regardless of potential or skillset or just raw talent. Fulfilling that that void for me is really what the program did. It gave me an opportunity to be a lifelong learner. I like learning new skills and getting better. It’s a fulfilling process when you have a challenge, you meet it and then you have another challenge.
After graduating from the program, why did you decide to stay at Adobe instead of looking at other companies?
AB: I’m from New York and I was raised in a family where when people do good by you, you want to be able to keep that good faith. This program changed my life and gave me skills I didn’t have to pay for and opportunity that other companies and other people didn’t give me. It was a little bit of loyalty to the process and to the people who helped me along the way. But a lot of it was that when I was here interning, the work environment was unbelievable. The work environment is like ‘You be you, make sure you’re an individual, make sure that your life is good, you’re happy, your family is good, and when that is all taken care of, you’re going to be a better employee and then all you’ll need to focus on is getting your job done.’ To me, that’s just priceless. My coworkers were great. I had a three-month internship that turned into a six-month internship. At the end of my three months, they didn’t have a job open, but they didn’t want to let me go. And I took that as investment in me. When the full-time position became available, it was a no-brainer.
In your opinion, what makes Adobe unique?
AB: I think about it like this. Adobe has a very strong hold on the creative tools market. It’s one of the oldest and most established brands in that space, and I think that has a uniqueness in itself. You can’t find any advertising agency or internal marketing team that doesn’t use an Adobe product. And as we move into the big data space, our Adobe analytics and our Adobe Experience Cloud team are having great success with B2B tools outside of the creative products.
There’s a richness in culture and an innovative feeling that flows around the building that infects you when you walk in. People here really want to see tech move forward. It’s a high-learning, high-velocity environment. It’s very open and welcoming. You’re not going to find one person who’s going to tell you ‘That was a dumb question.’ People want you to ask questions. It’s an open learning environment. The purpose here is to move things forward, they encourage you to get it done. That’s one thing that I think is very unique about a very large tech company like Adobe.
Why do you think it’s important for companies like Adobe to have programs like the Digital Academy?
AB: It’s so important because there are pipeline issues all throughout tech – both early in the funnel and late in the funnel. It’s inspiring to see a bigger company like Adobe step out and say ‘We don’t even need you to have a tech background, we want to find high potential candidates that come from diverse backgrounds in diverse fields and we can train you to become a technologist.’
You have a lot of black technologists who go to computer science school, come out and can’t get jobs, not because they didn’t have the exposure but because of imposter syndrome, thinking they didn’t go to a top tech school, so they won’t get a top tech job, so they have to start at the bottom of the totem pole. They’re discouraged before they even get a chance to open their wings, right out of college. You already have these industry standard limitations. This is an industry-wide problem.
I think that the fact that Adobe took a leap of faith on this program… its success is just a testament to what the industry can do at large if these types of programs continue to grow. And I feel like I’ve proven that you didn’t need to know about computer science or the tech industry, yet here I am at an enterprise company on one of the newest, biggest, most potential-having products, having an impact. And I know I’m not just super special. I’m intelligent and a hard worker but I’ve met so many smart people in my life where if they also were given the opportunity to focus on nothing but learning how to code and sharpening their skills and had the passion for it they would be doing it, too.
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