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How This Program Manager Pivoted From Education to Tech

Estimated reading time ~ 12 min
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On a sunny Friday afternoon, Travarus and I are scheduled to have a chat about his job and experience at LinkedIn. That Friday, every LinkedIn employee had the day off—something they call a “wellness day.” How does the leading career technology platform have the ability to give every one of its employees a day off like that? It’s because of its people-centric nature. Not only is LinkedIn a platform dedicated to the career advancement of its community and building professional relationships at scale, but this networking platform—for job seekers—also has a keen mission to support its staff as well.

Travarus Fauntleroy is the Sr. Program Manager of Campus Recruiting at LinkedIn. In his day-to-day, he manages LinkedIn’s intern cohorts throughout the entire year, from onboarding to preparing them for their permanent teams. “It’s a lot of emails, meetings, and problem-solving—heavy on the problem-solving,” says Travarus.

LinkedIn facilitates a super dynamic internship program where students are set up to leave with tangible projects that they can add to their portfolios. But the role is no easy feat when you care about the impact you are making, which is exactly why Travarus works as hard as he does.

“Going back to my days in higher education, I’ve always enjoyed working with students. My role at LinkedIn, as constructed, didn’t have much intern interaction. I made a way to talk to the interns. I figured, if I could help adults [with my skill set], I could definitely help some interns.”

As someone who has broken many barriers getting to where he is now, Travarus is passionate about using his privilege to speak up in rooms that seldom represent people like him. Since transitioning into the tech space, he has become a vessel—guiding early career talent into a path of success and survival in the tech industry.

The tech industry has become one of the most popular industries among professionals, especially in this new post-covid climate. So many companies have gone primarily digital and even some of the largest tech companies have gone completely remote—allowing their employees to work from home, full-time. LinkedIn, among other tech hubs, has changed the way we think about work, which is why everyone wants to work in the tech space. In hindsight, the job search has become even more competitive, but that shouldn’t discourage people from pivoting to the tech industry.

Research shows that STEM is among the most underrepresented industries in the US when it comes to the inclusion of Black and Latinx professionals. 67 percent of tech companies are made up of less than 10 percent of Black and Latinx employees. This racial disparity is pretty standard among most tech spaces, proving that this industry is both White and male-dominated. 94 percent of companies under-represent Latinx employees in leadership positions, 82 percent under-represent Black employees in leadership, and 91 percent under-represent Asian employees in leadership. Understanding these facts about the tech industry is proof that there are systemic issues that need to be addressed, which is why it’s important for people who are in positions of power to use their access to make changes. Travarus is implementing that change, starting with the internship program at LinkedIn.

Take a look at LinkedIn’s most recent Workforce Diversity Report.

Travarus pivoted his career from education to tech pre-covid, when he realized how important being student-centered was to him and there was a large gap that needed to be filled from an inclusive and equitable perspective. As a creator with a background in education, it wasn’t as seamless of a transition for Travarus to make into the tech world as he expected, but it wasn’t impossible. Originally from New Jersey, Travarus came to California about 6 years ago. In 2017, he went to graduate school while he was still working in higher education—thinking he was going to climb the Department of Education ladder. “Just like if you work in finance in New York, you’d be like, ‘I should be on Wall Street.’ I was in Silicon Valley, so I was like ‘I should be at a tech company,’ but I didn’t know how to figure out how to get there with the skills that I had,” says Travarus. That’s when he decided to explore tech opportunities in order to see how he could use his skills in the space. In his graduate program, he used his master thesis to study why Black people leave Silicon Valley, so he could pitch that as a reason to get inside—and it worked. His first role was at Meta (formerly Facebook) in diversity and inclusion. He was there for about 8 months and it was there that he was really able to see his theory in practice.

We can compare numbers all day about the racial disparities in the tech industry across the country, but the real change happens within companies. We spoke with Travarus about his journey to the tech space, how LinkedIn’s internship is changing the status quo for how student programs are facilitated, and why he keeps diversity and inclusion top of mind in his professional endeavors.

Jopwell: Tell me about your role at LinkedIn and what brought you to the company?

Travarus: I was initially hired as a Global Program Manager of Campus Recruiting, even though I don’t recruit. Here, I do a little bit of everything. My primary role is to lead the undergraduate and graduate intern programs from end to end, which includes everything from managing stakeholders to leading communications strategy with leadership and working with our events team. That’s one part of it. The other part is, I help lead the intern experience when the interns arrive. I am the first face that they see because I lead their intern onboarding session, so when they join, I give them the rundown of everything they need to know, then they go off to their new hire orientation, then to their departments for a more team specific onboarding experience. I lead our “Belonging Pillar,” which is something that didn’t exist when I got here. I helped create it. In the Belonging Pillar, we have “connection circles,” specifically for our professional staff, where we divided into groups of 6 or 8 and talk about a mutual topic -- in hopes to increase empathy and understanding of each other, but also to provide alternative leadership opportunities to folks who otherwise wouldn’t have them. For our interns, I also helped create a program called “Concise Advice,” which gives interns the opportunity to speak about relevant topics in a safe space. I have been able to successfully scale that to Microsoft as well. Right now, “Concise Advice” consists of LinkedIn interns and Microsoft interns. You look to fill gaps wherever there is one and I’m willing to fill them to make sure we are always keeping students in mind, making sure to keep them and their needs at the center.

What is the “belonging pillar” and why did you create it?

When I got to LinkedIn, we had these environment surveys to see what’s missing and what can be added to make the workplace better. We saw that there was work to be done in our belonging category, although it didn’t feel that way in real-time. I knew that what the staff was feeling, the students had to be feeling as well. I was trying to fill a gap based on what the staff was feeling and I also was like well, the interns don’t have a space to express themselves either. Between bridging the gap for “Concise Advice” for interns, creating the “circles of connection” for our staff members, and then because of my experience hosting events—I was asked to host our “Executive speaker series” where I interview our Chief Diversity Officer every year as well. From those three aspects, we were able to streamline the ideas and create the belonging pillar. Now, we have certain metrics that we use to measure the success of these programs like “pulse surveys,” where interns share how they are feeling throughout the entire program. Right now we’re focused on advocacy because there are times where interns feel like they may not have all the tools necessary to speak up and we’re figuring out ways to manage that process to instill confidence.

Since implementing these programs, what changes have you seen? How would you compare the first cohort of interns that you’ve worked with, to the most recent cohort that you’ve worked with—that experienced the “belonging pillar” integration.

One that’s top of mind happened this week. I wasn’t going to do a “Concise Advice” session in the fall because our fall cohort is pretty small. But, as I mentioned, right now advocacy is top of mind. So, after a few conversations with my partners at Microsoft, we decided to host a “Concise Advice” session with two interns from Microsoft and one intern from LinkedIn. The topic during this session was Difficult and Constructive Conversations and I was blown away by the students’ transparency and maturity— & the fact that they know how to have these conversations at 20-years-old. The part that I want to speak to is that one of my colleagues stayed on and in a breakout room, there were about 8 students. They stayed for an hour after talking about ways to improve their ability to communicate with people who were senior to them and how they advocate for themselves. In one of the survey responses, one of the students said, “had it not been for this opportunity, I would’ve never known that there are people who feel the way I do, who aren’t really comfortable speaking up for themselves.” We go through the steps of acknowledging the issue, this issue is real, I should raise this issue, let me talk to this person and have this conversation, and what’s the debrief. They wouldn’t have had that framework if it wasn’t for the belonging pillar. They spent an hour talking about how this opportunity was so transformative. I know it won’t move the needle to get more interns in, but it will transform their experience when they get here.

You seem very passionate about your work. What gives you that light and inspires you to do this work here at LinkedIn?

I have been blessed. I come from a two-parent household, still poor, but I was showered with love. I’ve been the exception my whole life. People would say things like, “all guys are the same, but not you, Travarus.” In a way, I didn’t like that. I didn’t like standing out for reasons that were beyond me. As I got older, I realized that I liked inclusion. I don’t mind being the exception, as long as the things that I can teach are leveraged to help other people get to where preverbally, I am. For instance, being the teacher’s pet, I wanted to know why I was the teacher’s pet. How can I extract those ways that I’m special and teach somebody else how to be that? I always loved figuring out ways that I could help other people. I know I have a pretty big voice and I advocate for myself—how can I help other people do that? What are the skills you need to do that? I don’t want to be the only person who knows how to negotiate. I’m always asking myself, “how can I help other people get there too, specifically Black people?” That’s the reason why I’m passionate. The reason why I wanted to bring my passion to LinkedIn is that I feel that it’s particularly unique. To me, the ability to observe, identify and creatively execute on the gaps between what's happening now and the possibilities of what could be is pretty easy - and the culture at LinkedIn encouraged me to stay curious and explore those things I identified.

Do you feel like once you got into this rhythm of the experience you wanted to give each cohort, LinkedIn was more receptive to backing you?

Absolutely, and on that note, I always think—is it me that’s opening this space, or are we ready to open the door to that space. My team was super receptive to my ideas and they were like “cool, operationalize it and run it.”

What has your experience at LinkedIn been like for you?

This sounds like jargon, but I’m on a fantastic team. Last year around this time, there were three of us running a 300+ global program—now we’ve scaled out. My experience has been dope because I’ve been afforded the autonomy to help in any way shape or form. I’ve been given the keys to creating things that I wanted to do. My experience here has been over the moon. I feel like the team is people-centric and they care about you, first. They feel like the work will always be there. I’ve been blessed to be a part of a team that empowers me to just do it.

What does your day-to-day entail?

Number one is having meetings with my team to make sure that the internship experience is right. This could be working with stakeholders, putting out fires, supporting our events team, and working with our leadership team to ensure that all operations are taken care of. There's a lot of “middle man-ing” between the interns and the organization and serving the needs of both while making sure that everyone is happy.

What is the internship experience like for interns?

Our program is global, so in the summer we have interns in Asia (APAC), Europe (EMEA), and North America (NAMER: US & Canada). The program is year-round, but in Fall and Winter, our program is NAMER specific and mostly for just engineering interns. Most of our internships are engineering and about 25 percent of internships fall under “business.” What we do is manage the internship experience outside of their specific teams. Each intern has a manager and a mentor that they meet with quite frequently - Managers check-in w/ their interns at least 3 times per week, with 2 needing to be virtual calls, and mentors check-in w/ their interns at least 5 times per week, with 3 of those needing to be virtual calls. The communication is very consistent throughout the program. At the end of the internship, they present their project to their manager and mentor. Everything that you work on within your internship, LinkedIn will use in some capacity. You’re not just working on random things. If you’re working on something on the front end or back end of the platform, it will be there. The learning environment is not the same anymore, so with our program here, we lead with empathy. Mentorships and internships work two ways.

They learn from us and we learn from the interns - because Gen-Z will rewrite the rules to everything you thought you knew. It’s better to be close to them than further away from them.

Do interns have to be in school? Does LinkedIn hire interns who are non-traditional?

As it stands now, interns do have to be in an undergraduate or graduate program. We do have non-traditional pathways for other programs. We have this program called REACH, which is an apprenticeship program at LinkedIn that creates opportunities for every individual with the passion, potential, and drive to either develop or restart their technical career and RAMP is a program from LinkedIn’s Talent Acquisition team for those with the passion and potential to help people find their dream jobs and make a career shift to recruiting, but those are not internship programs. We also partner with Year Up, a national 501(c)3 workforce development organization committed to ensuring equitable access to economic opportunity, education, and justice for all young adults—no matter their background, income, or zip code

For people who do not come from an educational background and may not be invested in DEI, what advice would you give to people who are trying to make that pivot into this type of field?

Be very particular about what you want to do and what impact you want to make. You want to make sure that you pinpoint those things because from there, you can identify the skill sets that you need in order to move forward. For folks interested in this field, I would say it’s important to look into learning and development, university relations, recruiting, and communications—outside of diversity and inclusion. It’s important to understand that job descriptions and leveling in your industry and in tech are different. You have to understand their language. For example - in education, a coordinator is second hand to the director - a pseudo-Assistant Director, in the world of technology, a “coordinator” isn’t a leadership role at all. You have to be aligned with the actual role that you want to be.

What advice do you have for students and recent graduates looking for internships?

Number 1, I would say, shoot your shot. Applications are free. With shooting your shot, make sure you check your ego. There might be a certain level of entitlement if you think that you are only on the FAANG caliber—which you might be—but understand that opportunities aren’t always linear. You can extract learnings from every opportunity. Experience is never wasted.

Number 2, networking is the most important thing you can do. Talk to everybody. Everyone who is in the field that you’re interested in, talk to them and talk to your peers. You never know who you’re sitting next to. Keeping in contact with people who you’ve worked with is paramount.

What advice do you have for people trying to join the LinkedIn team? Whether they are applying for an internship or full-time role.

Be patient, but be confident. It may take some time. The volume of applications that LinkedIn gets is out of this world. Don’t take it personally because the reason you may not have gotten the job isn’t because of your skillset. Do your research. Make sure you are finding the right role for you. Finally, highlight all of your amazing experience by rocking your LinkedIn profile! Here are a few tips and tricks to make sure your profile stands out from the crowd.

Jopwell helps America's leading companies connect with and recruit Black, Latinx, and Native American professionals and students at scale. Sign up to find your dream job.