Last spring I received a text from a good friend from my undergraduate days at Butler University. Joe Perin, community content manager with TechPoint, told me about an open position and he wanted to know if I (or somebody I knew) would be interested in it. Joe and I have known each other for more than a decade, but it had been nearly six years since I’d seen him. At most, we would communicate via Snapchat, but nothing more than that. Random would be an understatement to describe this out-of-the-blue message.

Covid was putting up 1990’s Michael Jordan numbers around the world at the time, so we decided a video call was best for us to connect. He told me about an unfamiliar organization with roles and careers I didn’t know how to get into and programs with purposes I couldn’t understand. 

I thought, “What is a TechPoint?”

After the call, I realized I still had little clue about what he had explained to me or what I would be doing in this position. We met again and after that I had enough information to envision myself being in this role.

Recognizing opportunities when they come knocking

Here’s what Joe didn’t realize when he texted me that day: it was a horrible time in my life, and the day he reachout out was one of the worst days I had in a long time at my then-job. At that time in my life, I was stressed every single day. Between personal issues and knowing I wanted to change careers, my mental health was in the dumps. I was smiling at work, but suffering on the inside. My negative days at work were starting to outweigh the positive ones, and I realized I had to leave. But how?

At that point I had changed my career multiple times. I wasn’t in the field my degree was in. I was so tired of trying something new and challenging for my career path and ending up at the same destination: disappointed, lost and depressed. What hurt the most is I was actively trying to get into the tech industry and failing miserably. I had applied for jobs with no call backs. I had used my network for opportunities with no success. Recruiters thought I was “joking” when I was applying for positions, due to my resume of various industries unrelated to tech. It was gut punch after gut punch to my confidence and self esteem during these times.

Most people outside my closest friends and family did not know this, due to me being a pretty reserved person about my real personal life. I never wanted to show others my vulnerability and flaws. Asking for help felt like an icepick through my chest. It was uncomfortable for me every time. In hindsight, that mentality hurt more than helped my journey, but when you are in that tunnel, sometimes the light doesn’t reach that far. It looks dim and distant. Everything else is so dark that it’s easy to succumb to that way of thinking. But here’s the thing to remember: The light, however dim, was still shining on the path out of the darkness.

After I stopped procrastinating, I took another leap of faith and tried again to change careers. I applied for a position on TechPoint’s talent team and went through the interview process. Merillat Flowers, TechPoint’s vice president and chief of staff, offered me the job  and put me on a career path that I hadn’t even known I wanted. A path that was unique for me. A field that maximizes all my strengths and coaches me through my weaknesses. A position that gave me the work-life balance I needed. A position that could finally let me be the best Moe Simmons I could possibly be.

A good fit benefits you and your employer

A year has gone by and I’m still at TechPoint, so I must have done something right. (Insert a smile inside and out.)  This opportunity has literally changed my life for the better. Between my mental health recovering, my work-life balance improving and imagining a future in this career, life could not be better for me right now. As I am writing this piece, I am a talent Program operations coordinator, which makes me the main communicator for participants in our programs like Xtern and The Pitch. This position has shown me more sides of tech than I could have ever imagined. I have learned so much from the entire staff at TechPoint. Being here has made me a better person.

Moe Simmons speaking at Xtern Farewell 2022

Don’t get me wrong: I have made mistakes in the past 365 days. I have dropped the ball, goofed up an assignment, and once, I flat-out forgot to execute on a task. It’s never good when these things happen, but the lessons I learned as a result made me wiser and better in my position. I’m pleased to report that I haven’t repeated the same mistakes. 

My team coaches me when things get hard, and they’re honest if I am not pulling my weight. At the same time, they are never quiet when I accomplish tasks and finish projects. They are my biggest cheerleaders and positively reassure me that I am more than capable of doing this job. I can’t ask for a better support system than I’ve found at TechPoint. My personal life has even improved.

Learning more about the tech community has been eye-opening. TechPoint as an initiative is innovative and key to the future success of Indiana’s tech ecosystem. The tech sector is an incredible place with plenty of job opportunities for people to work toward change for the better. 

Doing my part to improve diversity equity and inclusion

Who are the people landing these opportunities? What are they doing with opportunities? What doors are being opened for others by people in power at these companies? All these questions are being answered for me through my work, whether I liked the answers or not.

It is no secret that the tech ecosystem is suffering from a lack of diversity, equity and inclusion, especially in places like Indiana. As a Black man, it is very common for me to be in a room at a tech conference or on a video call and see only a couple of others who look like me. This can take a toll after creating doorways in brick walls without the right tools, the right materials or instructions. 

You can be put in the position of a trailblazer where all you really wanted to be was another worker who does their job well. These issues can be frustrating for many underrepresented tech employees across the state and the country, specifically due to race, ethnicity, gender, etc. This affects whether people want to stay in this field or move to a different region just so they can enjoy their career without the microaggressions or the constant need to go above and beyond to make sure their job is secure, compared to their peers. The tech industry has no choice but to adapt and improve the culture if it is to be a welcoming place for people of color and in underrepresented groups.

TechPoint is a starting foundation to overcome these issues. From recruiting at colleges, to looking for career changers, to changing the rhetoric used by companies for recruiting talent, this organization is leading the change in order for the rest of Indiana to follow. 

It’s not enough, though. 

Progress has been made and more is needed

To make these cultural shifts, everyone needs to be involved—on all levels—and it starts all the way back to grade school. Give underrepresented communities access to technology then so they can be comfortable with it by the time they are graduating high school and looking at college or vocational school. Companies have to create inclusive cultures so their employees feel safe and want to stay there. Employers need to focus on transferable skills and past knowledge rather than just a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree to show if a career changer can do the job. Small changes in foundations and cultures can change the mindset of the job market for future generations of people going into the tech industry.

I want to be part of that change.

Seeing the process of TechPoint talent program participants go from trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives to being prepared for their future careers is one of the most rewarding feelings I’ve experienced in my first year on this team. Witnessing the growth of others, and knowing I had an impact on them is the main reason why working with this initiative doesn’t feel like a job. I enjoy every single conversation I have with people learning about their backgrounds and why they want to go into tech. I love being able to plan programs that show there are more opportunities to get into tech aside from coding. I am always grateful to provide opportunities for people who are looking to change their careers and learning how to get into them. These aspects make me feel like this job is worth more than just a nine-to-five drudge. I am helping people change their futures one conversation at a time. 

The right career can impact your personal life too

After a year in this field, I am confident that this is where I am meant to be now. This is how I can use my strengths: Helping to build a culture that passes opportunities onto the next class of participants who want to apply for TechPoint programs. Nothing brings me more joy than hearing a participant say, “I am so grateful for you and TechPoint for changing my life,” after completing one of our programs.  

Am I happier than I’ve ever been in this career field? Absolutely! Am I satisfied with where TechPoint and the Indiana tech community is? No, not even close. There is more work to be done to welcome everyone who wants to be here—whether they even know it right now or not—into the tech community. 

Employees need companies where they can be celebrated, not tolerated. We need pathways for people to get into the tech industry without plunging their future into student loan debt just to get a piece of paper to “prove” they are qualified. We need more panels of tech experts where someone in the audience can see someone on stage who looks like them and a future they can see themselves in. All these changes are possible, and they are all affected by what I do today, tomorrow and the foreseeable future.

I understand what it’s like to feel stuck. I know what it’s like to not be represented or heard at your company. I experienced the difficulty of failing to switch careers after years of trying to go down a different path. All the roadblocks, failures and mistakes I’ve experienced have made me the person I am today. Now is the perfect time to use that hard-won knowledge and empathetically help pave a way for others who seek new opportunities. 

My first year is in the books. It’s time to start coding my next chapter.