We at Watch The Yard recently connected with Brandon A. Smith, a Spring 2011 initiate of the Kappa Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., at The Ohio State University who works as an Account Manager for Facebook in Austin, TX. In the interview we did with him, he gives some very insightful advice on landing jobs in the tech industry at companies like Facebook, the power of mentorship and the importance of networking.
Check out the interview below.
Tell us quickly about your job at Facebook and what it entails?
I consult global travel brands such as Hyatt, Four Seasons, and Amtrak on their digital marketing strategy. My role focuses on creating an annual digital marketing strategy, setting benchmarks for success, and identifing the right mix of Facebook and Instagram ad solutions to drive meaningful success for my clients (ex. Product Sales, Website Traffic, App Downloads).
How did you land your job at Facebook?
I have strong passions for Brand Marketing, Product, and Consulting. These three passions came from very specific experiences. My professional career actually began in undergrad at The Ohio State University in 2009. As an intern at Nike and Ohio State Athletics, I got to see brand marketing in real-time. After graduating from Ohio State in 2011, I would spend the next 5 years working in product management and retail sales at American Greetings and Abbott Nutrition – building product lines, studying consumer behavior and market trends, and consulting buyers at Walmart, Target, Kroger, and Amazon on how to grow their categories.
My wife and I got married and moved to Texas in 2016, which gave me a chance to pivot and start something new. My passions for brand marketing, product, and consulting were transferable to my current role, which I found online, so I decided to apply. Until that point I had no major experience in tech. However, I was fearless in applying to Facebook because I knew I had what it took to learn and provide value. That last piece of choosing courage over fear is really important because we often think we don’t have what it takes – whether because of affiliation, money, or even self-doubt. I chose to ignore all of that and focus on what I did know and I got the job!
What drew you to Alpha Phi Alpha? How do you think being involved with greekdom as a college student helped prepare you for what you do now?
I wanted to be a part of a fraternity that amplified who I already was and would surround me by like-minded men of excellence. I started my research on Alpha in high school and I learned that Alpha Phi Alpha was not only African-American history – it was American history. Some of the greatest leaders of our time were Alpha Men (ex. Jesse Owens, Paul Robeson, Thurgood Marshall, Dick Gregory). My two high school band directors and section leader were also Alphas, and I knew that trend wasn’t an accident. All the Alpha Men mentioned commanded excellence in everything they did and I really gravitated towards that. I also admired the style of Alpha. All the men I mentioned didn’t need to brandish the fraternity on a shirt or needed to scream to the world that they were Alphas – you saw Alpha in their work. Their style showed me that their impact and their obligation as Alphas was more important than their affiliation to the fraternity alone.
Greekdom has been my greatest teacher of selflessness. I joined Alpha Phi Alpha with 11 men who would become my best friends. Along the journey, your reason for wanting to join an organization becomes less about “I” and more about “we.” The new mission becomes learning the strengths and perspectives of those around you to reach a collective end goal. I’ve come to learn that selflessness is a foundational trait of leadership. I has become a working tool I use daily that guides me to have empathy with my clients, empower the unique skills of my teammates, and never leave a teammate behind in times of struggle.
As someone who works at Facebook, what are some skills you think people who are undergrads or recent grads should pick up in order to make themselves more employable?
First, the definition of “valuable skills” varies by industry and position. Thus, I recommend to study the valuable skills required for the job you want and double down on finding ways to add them to your toolkit. Reach out to people who are doing what you want to do and be an observer. It will quickly show you what you need, what you like, and what you don’t like.
More importantly, as I look back on my career across sports, consumer-packaged goods (CPG), and tech, I’ve learned that mastering the qualitative skills necessary to grow a career is more important than simply learning the technical skills to get a job. Here are 4 of my favorite universal career skills that all undergrads and recent grads should be ready to demonstrate:
Great leaders are able to see the difference between the forest and the trees. Vision is critical because it requires you to be in tune with the now, but act and provide thought leadership in preparation for the future.
The ability to continuously audit and enhance yourself is also an extremely valuable trait. Are you aware of the things holding you back? Are you willing to take honest inventory of your weaknesses and evolve to show your commitment to success?
Accountability is a super valuable, and often overlooked, skill. Leaders love when you can own your job and win, while also own when you fall short and know what to adjust to win next time.
- Work Ethic
My last, and personal favorite, is work ethic. I believe many people are successful not because of an abundance of competence or resources, but rather because of a willingness to dig deeper and stretch beyond comfort and convenience. How bad do you want your goal? What are you willing to fight through to reach the top?
How has mentorship had an impact on your career over time? Who are some mentors who have helped you get where you are at today and what did they teach you that stood out?
Being a mentee is like being a rough, imperfect stone. A mentor shapes the stone’s corners and smooths out the imperfections to evolve the stone for greater purpose. Mentors have helped me see beyond myself and have kept me honest to my areas of growth. By sharing their own successes and shortcomings, they also help remind me of who I am, what I’m capable of, and where I’m going.
One of my favorite mentors talks to me a lot about integrity and always being willing to do the right thing. The challenge about integrity is that it often intangible. But it is truly a major differentiator between those who are successful and those who are not. For example, let’s say it is 3pm on Friday and an assignment is due to your manager by 5PM. Suddenly, your computer breaks down. Will you give up and make an excuse? Or find a way to get it done by the due date? Or let’s say your teammate is having a hard time with analyzing a report and data analysis is your strength. Will you let them struggle for your own convenience/satisfaction? Or will you step up and help them without the expectation of public praise?
Mentorship has also taught me the importance of giving back. In 2014, I created the Smith+Patton Study Abroad Scholarship with one of my best friends and fraternity brothers, Howard Patton, to provide study abroad funding to underrepresented students at The Ohio State University. To date, we’ve raised $15,000, sent 12 students around the word, and have become the youngest living alumni in OSU history with an active, self-named scholarship.
What can Black greeks who are established in tech related careers do to help the next generation?
First, black greeks must continue to deliver exceptional results in their current roles to set the bar for the next generation to follow. Second, they must keep a direct line to their undergraduate chapter and share what they’ve learned to prepare the next generation. Third, black greeks must find ways to become active in their local alumni chapters – whether financially or through service – to continue the mission of their respective organizations. Joining committees within your alumni chapter that align to your personal purpose can have a compounding effect. After graduating from Ohio State, I immediately joined my alumni chapter in Cleveland, OH (Delta Alpha Lambda), and later chaired our Alpha ESQuire Youth Development Program. This leadership role allowed me to learn a new dimension of Alpha at the alumni level, gain over 30 African-American male mentees, acquire extra transferable skills (ex. project management, leadership, collaboration), and gain a new branch of family and friends. Lastly, black greeks must build relationships in fraternities and sororities outside of their own to share resources and build a greater collective network.