This article is sponsored by Atlassian as a part of our Companies That Care initiative.
For the past five years, Adam Saint-Prix has enjoyed a fulfilling career in Silicon Valley. You might expect him to have studied at Stanford before taking the role of his choice, but you’d be sorely mistaken. The real story is far more interesting.
Adam’s “unusual, non-traditional career path” begins—of all places—with the Spanish language. He had a fascination with it going into his college years and found out he could pursue it academically as an undergrad at Vassar College. This wouldn’t be the first or last decision Adam made that suited his curiosity: growing up in Staten Island, New York City, skateboarding was one of Adam’s hobbies. This led to an interest in snowboarding, a hobby that Adam is almost fanatical about to this day.
Adam parlayed his Hispanic Studies degree into a job in foreign relations on Wall Street with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The career served him for almost three years, when he decided that it wasn’t for him.
From Wall Street to Culinary Arts
Adam’s recurring career theme is to jump in feet first. From Wall Street, Adam decided he wanted to work as a chef. As he was wrapping up his culinary arts education, he and his classmates were tasked with finding an externship. The task proved to be a challenge, but Adam was undeterred. “The first place I ended up working, I went every day for a month and asked them if I could come and work for free.” Day after day, he was rejected by the restaurant but his persistence paid off. “After about a month, somebody didn’t show up and I took that person’s spot.” The break was all Adam needed. Five to six months out of financial services, he was working in two- and three-star restaurants.
While serving as a line cook and roundsman, something had caught Adam’s attention. “In that restaurant, every morning we would get deliveries and practically every box came from California. I needed to see what that was about.” With a few friends in California and a reason to visit, Adam traveled to the Bay Area and immediately felt at home.
When the tech sector imploded, Adam was unemployed and had to decide what was next. He made the decision to learn as much as he could about technology, so he spent the next year immersing himself in tech. Adam eventually landed a job at The Industry Standard, a tech business news website focused on the nascent “internet economy.” This provided Adam’s first opportunity to put his newfound knowledge to use, doing mobile research before mobile was a thing. In addition, he worked alongside web developers and did QA work, further sharpening his skills and preparing himself for future opportunities.
Adam’s Big Break
In his own words:
“When I first applied at Atlassian, I had a couple years experience using the tools and at the time the role that I was trying to get hired on for: they were very clear, they wanted people with Java development experience, which I didn’t have. I had everything else, but I did not have Java development experience.
So I’d have recruiters calling me saying, ‘Hey, we have this role it’s a great company—you should apply.’ And so I’d apply, and get rejected. I applied nine times before I got a phone interview, and the main reason is that I didn’t have the Java development experience they wanted.
Well, turns out that they changed the requirements of the position because they had some people come on board who didn’t have Java development experience but were extremely successful and they thought, ‘Well maybe we need to rethink what we’re looking for.'”
A phone interview resulted, but Adam was still met with trepidation. He decided to lean in: “At some point I said something to the effect of, ‘I’ve been working with your customers for years, I’m going to continue to work with your customers to help implement your tools, and I believe I’m a strong fit for the role. I’d love to come in and talk to you more about that.”
Adam received an offer to work at Atlassian.
Atlassian’s Secret Sauce: People
“The #1 reason why I’m here and why I love working here is the people. We have exceptional people that work at this company. They’re very smart, they’re very committed, and they’re accountable. If I’m working on a project with someone, I don’t worry about whether or not they’re going to hold up their end of the bargain. People are extremely accountable here and they care a lot, and everyone wants to do a good job. It’s just an exceptional group of people.”
Today, Adam is the team lead for a group focused on Atlassian’s largest customers—teams of more than a thousand users. This is the second of two stints at Atlassian, as Adam took a break to consult independently for a couple years, and then returned in 2012 to take a key role in the company’s then-nascent Enterprise Services group.
Discussing career advice for black folks in tech, Adam offered the following thoughts in closing:
“I think one of the things about being black in tech—and I think this is true of being in technology period—is you have to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
Because there are gonna be scenarios and situations where you feel like you don’t know everything you should know, or you’re not the smartest person in the room—the so-called ‘impostor syndrome’—and I think you have to get comfortable with the fact that you’re gonna be uncomfortable.
It is the ultimate exercise in being persistent and resilient. The answers don’t always come right away, they don’t always look how you would expect them to look, and it takes an incredible amount of persistence to get from A to B.”
Atlassian isn’t a large company, but they’ve decided to take a proactive steps to promote diversity and inclusion by sponsoring Abernathy. We’re thrilled to announce Atlassian as the latest sponsor of our Companies That Care initiative.
“Atlassian’s mission is to unleash the potential in every team–including our own. By focusing on diversity, we make our teams stronger by gaining access to a wide variety of perspectives. Our efforts to promote diversity and inclusion are centered around the concept of providing opportunities and positive visibility for people from all backgrounds.
“People from underrepresented groups, especially people of color, are often less likely to be presented with the opportunity for a career in technology or have their successes highlighted in the media,” says Aubrey Blanche, Atlassian’s global diversity programs lead. “That’s why we’re incredibly excited to join Abernathy for Companies That Care.
Together, we can be catalysts for change by showcasing the accomplishments of black business leaders and the opportunities that exist at some of today’s best workplaces. We look forward to closing the opportunity gap, one role and one article at a time.”