allow me to reintroduce myself.
My name is Dante and I’m from new orleans.
for most of my youth, i wanted to be an architect. i drew houses, invested my allowance in micro machines miniature city components, played sim city on my parent’s computer for fun, and played with dolls only because they lived in dollhouses. designing shelter was my thing. so naturally, at 17 years old, i chose architecture as my major and went to architecture school.
five years later, i graduated. it was the spring after hurricane katrina. there was a ton of work to be done in new orleans, and i went home with the intention to help. i got a job at a local architecture firm, making $32,500 a year. this was 2006.
i worked there for about 3 years when a couple of things happened that made me think deeply about what i wanted to do next. first, there was a change in management. when management changes, usually the vision changes, and sometimes, the requirements change. and most people balk at change. i didn’t exactly balk at the change, but i didn’t get the vision. secondly, i was getting paid more at this time, but it wasn’t enough for me. i still couldn’t afford to really live on my own. i was staying at home with my family, which was appreciated, but i felt stifled by my salary. more importantly, there was no one in that office that i wanted to be... i couldn’t see what i wanted to develop into. lastly, i wanted to study business. i’ve always been an admirer of great companies, and even while studying architecture i minored in business. i was the design student walking into the school of architecture with a copy of the wall street journal under my arm. the world of business was a realm i wanted to understand a bit better.
once things got to be a bit unbearable at work, i was committed to taking action. at that time, and without a mentor, the best solution i had was to enroll in university of phoenix’s online mba program. so that was the idea i wanted to work toward. i talked to a close friend about it, and she encouraged me to do like she had done and quit my job and move to new york. i thought this was silly. sure, i had a cousin in new york, and had spent 2 frigid days in the city celebrating new years eve the year prior, but new york was not on my goal list. certainly i hadn’t really thought about it, but it sounded silly. a couple weeks went by and she persisted. so i said fuck it. i’ll move to new york.
after making that decision, which wasn’t really a decision. it was more like, ‘yeah i’ll look into it.’ i looked into it. i found a grad program there that was akin to an mba for designers. the application did not require the gre, and applications were due in 2 weeks. i hustled. i wrote my essays, secured letters of recommendations from family friends, had a friend who had just got accepted into med school look over my essay and incorporated her edits and revisions. then i sent everything off overnight, ahead of the deadline.
in a few weeks, i received a request for an interview. the program i’d applied to was a two year executive business program in design management and the classes met on the weekends. i flew up on a friday night, with enough time to settle in for my interview on saturday afternoon. i booked a room at the w hotel, my favorite hotel at that time, thinking that the splurge on the room cost would ensure that i was comfortable enough to focus on nailing the interview. i traveled up to new york alone, got a cab to the hotel and hoped i’d be upgraded into a plush suite. i wasn’t. when i got to my room, i nearly cried. now this isn’t a diss to the w. it was then, and still is a good hotel experience. but this room was smaller than the rooms i had seen at the w in new orleans. and like that infamous apartment in coming to america, it literally had one window facing a brick wall. if this was a room in my favorite plush hotel, what would the rest of this city be like?
too afraid to venture outside for food, i ate a $40 chicken caesar salad I’d ordered from room service and went to bed. i got up the next day, very nervous. i prayed, played jay-z’s “u don’t know” on repeat and rapped along until i believed it - “i.will.not.lose.” and then i headed out the door to the interview. after about a two hour interview, i was accepted on the spot. whoa! after the interview, i called my mom, who has always been a loving supporter of my varied pursuits, and shared ‘i guess i’m moving to new york!” this was march 2009. i moved to new york that fall.
while in grad school, i was exhausted from doing architecture, and was just seeking inspiration. new york provided that for me. i picked up photography gigs, maintained a now-retired graffiti and design blog, and dabbled in doing digital project management work, including video production. after graduating, i wasn’t sure what my next step was. i stumbled through interviews with reputable strategic design companies. folks were unwilling to take a chance on a charismatic architect turned strategic designer digital project manager person. i also had interest in working for a real estate developer, since real estate was a good merging of my design and my newer business background, but all i could get were offers for internships. that wasn’t going to cut it.
i fumbled around for 6 months after graduating. i bounced between new orleans and houston, where i had friends, ultimately heading back to new york when a classmate let me know her company was hiring and she could get me on doing digital project management work.
i started this new job at an ad agency as an associate digital producer, making $50k in new york city. I couch dived with two separate friends for 6 months, 3 months at each place, until i could save enough money to get my own. i enjoyed the work, and it simply felt good to be working. and i thrived there. i was promoted within my first 9 months simply because i hustled, and also because i was overqualified. the role i accepted was the same job i would have qualified for fresh out of undergrad. and here i was, a well educated, master’s degree holder with experience in a junior role. i learned fast, built relationships and learned to weather the chaos that’s common in an ad agency.
during this time, i started to develop my story. who was i? what was i good at? why did i switch from architecture to digital production? was i excellent at this digital work yet? i interviewed with a string of reputable places. the nytimes. essence magazine. i received no offers.
so i went back to what i was naturally good at: strategizing. i found out about most of these roles on linkedin, the networking tool I’d only become aware of when i moved to new york. back home in new orleans, social circles were so small. there did not seem to be a need for a platform like linkedin. but here in new york, things were different.
during one snowy weekend, in my one bedroom walkup in flatbush, brooklyn, i spent my time rewriting my story and updating linkedin.
i felt like, at the root, i had a marketing problem. i had wins under my belt. the real world projects i’d completed during grad school were compelling enough. folks were curious about me when they read my resume, hence the interviews. i just wasn’t selling myself confidently in interviews. i realized that was because i felt my story didn’t make sense. i had spent the majority of my life focused on becoming an architect, and here i was trying to convincingly pivot to something else. i didn’t think people would buy it. and they didn’t. i was selling something i only partially believed in - myself.
so during this snowy weekend, i pulled apart my story. i drafted what felt real to me: i love design. i am a designer. i love tech. i’m also a budding technologist. architecture is a blend of both, so there’s continuity between those physical design experiences and these newer, digital design experiences.
once i felt good about my story, i focused on understanding my target, which at that time, was a job with google. i read how they described themselves. i noted the words they used. the tone in which it was written. how i felt reading it. i drafted my story as if i was writing to them, as one of them. as if they were my peers. i reread it, felt good about it, and published the updates to my profile.
months went by. i kept working at the ad agency and had a couple more salary increases. i negotiated a counter offer situation. i contributed to a few significant product launches. i won awards. i had social capital and the trust of leadership. but I was growing restless, and was nearing burnout. agency business models can be tough for employees and i had grown tired of the long nights during product launches. i wanted a change but wasn’t sure what. then opportunity came knocking.
a vp at google reached out to me via linkedin to invite me to interview for an opening she’d just created. google’s internal media agency was hiring and they reached out to me. to me. wtf. i screamed. in shock, i told one of my friends on gchat about it. he was shocked too. a few of my friends shared in my surprise.
this shit really worked.
i helped those friends position themselves for roles they wanted to target. when they got results, they told their friends. then their friends actually paid me. and that’s how KICKINTHADOOR was born. i’ve been consulting with people since 2014 about different facets of their careers - from the foundational things like branding and positioning via a resume and linkedin, to meatier topics like negotiating offers and counteroffers and transitioning careers. it’s been thrilling for me to see people move from being hopeless and frustrated to confident a.f. every time.
as for google, i didn’t wind up working there. another opportunity, equally dope, came up and moved faster than the google gig. i took a job at the metropolitan museum of art instead.
and that’s my story. well the first half :)
Have a question for me? Ask me here.