Making a Career Switch to Tech

Interview with Scotty Jacobs

Interview with Scotty Jacobs

Long term future planning is really challenging for lots of reasons.

1) The world is changing quickly. What is important to the economy is rapidly evolving.

2) You change quickly! You like different things. You learn different things. You change.

Because of both of these factors, you never really know where you are going to end up 5, 10 years down the road. Change can come at anytime. As you learn in this interview with Scotty, you can do your best & work hard without worrying too much about your future — things generally work out.

Here it is:

Hey Scotty!

Introduce yourself! Tell us about where you went to school, what you have done since graduation, and what you are up to nowadays.

I am Scotty Jacobs, and went to Washington University in St. Louis and graduated in 2016. Right after school, I was hired by the University to implement plans I had proposed to University leadership during my senior year as the Undergraduate Representative on the school’s Board of Trustees. I was working in the Provost’s Office, launching what is now known as the Office for Student Success.

In March of 2017, I was contacted by a friend at Pinterest who recruited me into my current role as the Recruiting Programs Specialist. In this role, I work on our recruiting strategy and operations.

What did you study in school? Have any classes been helpful in the real world? If not, where did you learn what has been most helpful at work?

I studied history and political science, so definitely a true liberal arts education. I can’t say that any single class was especially useful, but there were a lot of skills that both of these majors helped me develop, including analyzing and making meaning out of large data sets, thinking holistically about problems, and distilling abstract concepts into tangible and digestible pieces. I think it’s sort of unfortunate that college students are increasingly slotting into pre-professional programs (largely driven by pressures companies are putting on universities and college students to pursue these avenues), because there are so many intangible, highly translatable, and dare I say, more valuable skills that are intrinsic to a liberal arts education. I was lucky to find my way into an extremely competitive tech company in spite of my liberal arts background, but I think it is this very background that made me a compelling candidate.

What was the process behind getting a job as an administrator at WashU right after graduation?

It was pretty cut-and-dry. I had another job offer on the table that I was ready to sign (to be a high school history teacher), and I got a phone call from the Provost on a Saturday. He said that, even though I wouldn’t make a final proposal to the University’s Board of Trustees for another month or so, he wanted to hire me to implement my proposal. There was a little negotiating, and before I knew it, I was signing a contract!

What was the type of work that you did during the job and what did you like & dislike compared to what you expected?

Everything you’d imagine and more. One day, I’d be strategizing with the Admissions Office on our recruitment tactics, the next I’d be soliciting a major donor for a multi-million dollar gift, and another I’d be meeting with faculty members on how to create more inclusive classrooms. And, of course, there was plenty of non-sexy number crunching.

It was an incredible learning experience to not just work in higher education, but also in an office that many people spend the majority of their career reaching. I had a seat at a table that, to be honest, I was probably even a bit too young to fully appreciate.

Nothing more fulfilling than working in such a mission-minded environment

If I had to distill the experience down to likes and dislikes, I would say that there is nothing more fulfilling than working in such a mission-minded environment, and specifically, on a part of the mission that truly resonates with oneself; for me, that aspect of the mission was socioeconomic inclusivity. I knew that not only was my work high-stakes, high-impact, and highly visible, but it was also changing lives. I did learn, though, that large bureaucracies are not my ideal work environment; I like to move swift and act decisively, and at times it felt like progress was hard to come by.

Overall, what are you thoughts on the state of higher education and what would you tell people that want to learn more and maybe get involved?

The greatest sociological problem of this century in America will lay in combatting socioeocnomic siloization. What I mean by this is that, more than perhaps any other identifier or indicator, America has a really huge class issue. It’s reflected in who is able to attend the best Universities to who lives in America’s metropoles to the outcome of the 2016 election. I believe that the greatest issue in higher education today is how we prevent — or in many cases, work against the present reality — the idea that elite universities are playgrounds for only the affluent. Elite as in selective and elite as in wealthy are two totally different definitions, and unless we actively work to make American higher education more inclusive at the top levels (read: the schools at the top of the US News and World report), we will end up with self-perpetuating, class-based echo chambers.

There’s a ton of great reading about socioeconomic diversity at American universities, but the best thing anyone currently in college can do is to engage with how they can promote a more inclusive socioeconomic environment; regardless of your own class, you can put pressure on your institution to not just have a more representative student body, but also facilitate inclusion.

These people are asked to do a million different things by a thousand different people every single day; make sure you have data, information, broad buy-in, and a plan

Most students are surprised that the very administrators it takes to instigate serious institutional change are at their very fingertips! It doesn’t take a chancellor making a decision, but rather establishing consensus with a variety of leaders who can advocate for a particular change to the organizational leader, whether that be a University president, chancellor, or provost. Take classes taught by these leaders, schedule meetings with them, and most importantly, know your stuff before you go on a crusade. There’s nothing worse than a student meeting with a high-powered administrator about an important cause, but doing so with a half-baked idea. These people are asked to do a million different things by a thousand different people every single day; make sure you have data, information, broad buy-in, and a plan. You may be surprised by how accessible and receptive leaders are to well-informed, reasonable students.

Can you tell us how you ended up leaving WashU and getting a job at Pinterest in San Francisco?

It was super serendipitous, and literally happened on a phone call (see above). I will say, the person who recruited me (and is now my boss) is someone I met when I was thirteen years old; she was the admissions director at a school I was thinking about attending. The recruiting process moved extremely quick, and I will say that referrals or knowing someone inside can truly make a huge difference; I had two sets of interviews, and like that, I was hired! That’s not how every — even most — hiring processes go, but when lightning strikes, it strikes hot! It just goes to show — never burn bridges!

What have the first few months looked like at Pinterest? How have they differed from your expectations?

Pinterest is growing crazy fast, and growth only occurs when you have the team in place to promote that growth — so I, along with the recruiting team, are extremely busy recruiting the right people to take Pinterest to new heights.

The tech industry moves at lightning speed; I actually think I probably went from the slowest to the fastest-moving industry, so it’s a bit of a whirlwind. But the people are so smart, so driven, and amazing team players…and the perks working in tech are pretty great, too.

You’re working in HR at Pinterest. Can you talk a little bit about the HR space, why you’re passionate about it and what you think people who might be interested in HR should be thinking about?

Sometimes people say, “Oh, Recruiting, that’s HR, right?” And technically, they’re right. But HR at a tech company is not how you’d normally imagine HR. I always thought of Human Resources as being this very drab, stale, fluorescent-lit DMV-like room kept away from the rest of the organization, but I’ve been really pleasantly surprised by how much innovation happens in the HR space.

For example, with the talent market so tight in tech, my colleagues in Total Rewards are constantly rolling out new benefits aimed to retain talent; one such example are the recent surrogacy and adoption benefits Pinterest announced. Now, Pinterest will offer up to $20,000 in reimbursements to any couple that chooses surrogacy as a way to grow their family. Not only does this foster greater inclusivity for our LGBT Pinployees, but it also enables prospective mothers who would otherwise have to choose between motherhood and a career to work while also growing their family.

With the competition between companies to attract and retain talent fiercer than ever before, the areas of the organization traditionally thought of as HR functions play a vital role in maintaining and improving the organizational health, from literally the first-touch interaction with a candidate all the way through to leveling someone up, and everywhere in between.

What did you wish you focused more on during school and before getting this job that would have helped you prepare?

Despite thinking you’re on a certain path, life can throw curveballs at any moment.

I don’t have any regrets from school, but I think it’s important to remember that, despite thinking you’re on a certain path, life can throw curveballs at any moment. None of my friends, nor myself, would have said that less than two years after graduation I’d be working in tech.

You’re still pretty new at Pinterest, but the type of work you’re doing and your lifestyle has changed super drastically between WashU and Pinterest. What would you say you’ve learned about what to look for in a job and about the education vs. tech realms?

Ultimately, different parts of different jobs will make you happy. And, you can’t control how life will change the path you’re supposed to go down — all we can do is by hyper-aware of when doors open for ourselves, and then think hard and long about whether we’re going to walk through them. The big things to ask yourself: will I be happy in this job? Do I find the work interesting? Do I think I’ll enjoy who I’d work with?

Where can people find you and what opportunities are you looking for? (Twitter, linkedin, personal site, medium, etc).

Originally Posted on Student Hustle