Jamaal Davis will be speaking at Udacity Festival 2018 about learning new skills, crafting your own journey, and advancing your career—subjects he knows a great deal about!
Jamaal Davis has always been driven by a strong desire to help others. He has worked on community outreach projects with disadvantaged communities, and taken on the challenge of teaching coding to teenagers. Now, after graduating from Udacity’s Digital Marketing Nanodegree program, he has landed an exciting opportunity to put his skills to positive use yet again—working as a Digital Coordinator for Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
We spoke with Jamaal to hear about his passion for social change, and how it has inspired his career journey.
A recurring theme in your career story is your drive to find jobs focused on positive social change. Straight out of college, you started a role working with disadvantaged communities. Can you tell us about what that involved?
I graduated with a degree in Philosophy, then got a job at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, working on community outreach projects. I worked there about two years and got to experience some really cool projects—with partners like food banks, a juvenile detention center, even a county jail.
As part of your role, you got offered the opportunity to teach teenagers how to use HTML. How did that experience come about, and what motivated you to take on the challenge?
My supervisor was trying to launch these eight-week programs for teenagers interested in different things—so we had students taking data, some doing Java, that kind of thing. He suggested I could teach the HTML program. I didn’t really have any background in it— I’d done HTML a little at school, but hadn’t taken it all that seriously. Still, I said “yes” because I liked the idea of helping kids to learn something. I had maybe six weeks to learn everything I could before I started teaching the class!
It’s one thing to learn new skills, but it’s another thing altogether to get proficient enough to where you can actually teach those skills. How did you get ready in such a short time?
It was actually then that I found Udacity. I started going through all the free courses, on everything from basic HTML to building apps! I wanted the class I taught to be worth the students’ time, so I needed to learn as much as possible so I could teach effectively. I’d always had a good understanding of programming and computers growing up, but it was only then that I really fell in love with tech and wanted to share what I knew.
Was it this love for technology that inspired you to return to Udacity and enroll in the Digital Marketing Nanodegree program?
I’d always liked the idea of digital marketing, but more than anything, I just knew that I really wanted to work in tech. Learning HTML was part of that. But I’d seen from early on in my career—especially as I graduated—that almost every job seemed to be moving towards tech and computer skills. Technology was everything for so many jobs, so I thought I needed to have some kind of advanced tech skills for whatever career I was going to have. Digital marketing was one route into that.
Did digital marketing also represent another way to develop new skills to help others?
I really like the idea that marketing can be used as a way to solve people’s problems—targeting people who have particular issues and concerns, and connecting them with information and services they need. When I started the program, I really wasn’t aware of how precise you could be with things like Facebook ads—looking at specific markets and targeting your ideal customers. Learning that was really mind-blowing for me.
I understand you’ve worked with a nonprofit that has engineers working on sustainability challenges. Can you tell us how that came about, and what that experience was like?
After graduating the Nanodegree program, I connected with someone on LinkedIn from a nonprofit called Engineers for a Sustainable World. They wanted someone to work remotely, helping them run email and social media campaigns. I ended up as their development professional, doing all kinds of digital marketing campaigns to help them raise funds. I did that for about a year, gaining experience and developing my skills, all while still working at the library.
That’s great to hear that your career got a boost so soon after graduating!
The careers support was actually one of my favorite parts of studying with Udacity. I learned the value of having a good LinkedIn presence with connections who know about your work—that helped me land my nonprofit opportunity. And I learned how actually getting out there and interacting with as many connections as possible can lead to job opportunities. That’s how the opportunity with Goodwill came about.
You were invited to apply, right?
Through my work at the library, I got the chance to do a presentation on business skills training for Goodwill. Afterwards, I got talking to the people there, spoke a lot about my Udacity studies, and was invited to apply for a Digital Coordinator role they had. I applied immediately.
How did your application fare?
I think with all the skills and experience I’d got on my resume, the recruiters could see I was able to really use my skills at a high level. It meant it was a little more difficult to ignore my application when they shortlisted applicants.
“When I was invited to interview, I felt really well-prepared to explain all the projects I’d worked on, and was confident I could answer any questions.”
And what happened after you interviewed?
I was offered the job! I now work as the Digital Coordinator for Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania. I oversee online marketing, email marketing, social media, lots of cool things I learned on the program. And I help manage a partnership Goodwill has with Google.
That sounds like an incredible opportunity. How are you enjoying the role?
I love what I do—I’m helping people, and I’m using the skills that I’ve learned along my journey. And I’m definitely enjoying all the opportunities to make connections with people from Google, and with people from all over Goodwill. It’s been an awesome journey.
You also recently became a Grow with Google scholar as well, didn’t you?
I did! I saw the Grow with Google scholarship opportunity to learn mobile web development, and I thought it sounded really interesting as a different skill to build. I applied and got in. It’s been tough but fun. I like masterminding the design of apps, thinking about what will work for different people.
Do you think mobile web development can be another way for you to help people with your tech skills in the future?
I think so. I’ve really been focusing on reinforcing web accessibility. I was very unaware before of how you made an accessible website, so that people with disabilities can interact with the web. It’s been fascinating to learn about how to make that happen, and to understand how powerful the technology can be.
As a Udacity graduate who crafted his own career path, what advice would you give people just starting a Nanodegree program?
The biggest piece of advice I would tell anyone going through any program is this: be patient. I think that’s the biggest thing and I struggled with it a lot. Things take the time they take. You can’t rush building your skills or landing a job.
Also, I think a really important thing I took from studying digital marketing was the need to understand how to market yourself on the internet.
“Understanding how to raise your profile, and how to ensure people can find you online, that’s a talent that everyone really needs to know now. It’s a huge advantage in the job market.”
You’re a quintessential lifelong learner, so I have to ask—what’s next?
That’s a really good question! I think I’ll always be building my own apps and games. It’s definitely something that helps me cope with other stuff, and I really like having projects to work on in my spare time. Now, I’m excited to learn more about building mobile apps. I want to take all the things I’ve learned about digital marketing and everything else, and apply it to that field.
There are also a couple more Nanodegree programs I have my eye on. I’m really interested in the Blockchain Developer Nanodegree program. I might do that next, but perhaps after I’ve taken a month off first!
Jamaal may get that month off at some point, but not before he joins us for Udacity Festival 2018! Jamaal’s commitment to social good and lifelong learning has been such an inspiration that we’ve asked him to be a featured panelist at this weekend’s event. Udacity Festival is a two-day virtual celebration of community-powered learning and the power of education to affect positive change, and Jamaal’s presentation is sure to be one of the highlights.
Jamaal is going to be part of a panel discussing “What to Say When Making a Complete Career Change,” at 11 – 12pm PST, on Saturday, October 20. He and his fellow panelist will be talking about the best ways to communicate your value during the job application process, and explaining how to convince employers you’re the right candidate for a role. As you’ve just read, Jamaal has a great deal of valuable experience and knowledge to share!
Every current Udacity student and member of our alumni community is invited to join Jamaal at the talks, networking events, and presentations throughout October 20-21, 2018. You can get all the event details here.
Jamaal, from us all at Udacity, congratulations on all your success!