The NoDegree Podcast – No Degree Success Stories for Job Searching, Careers, and Entrepreneurship

E30 | From Office Assistant to Mentor and SalesForce Technical Product Director—Jae Taylor

Episode Summary

Jae Taylor was interested in technology from a young age. He dropped out of community college when he became a father and worked two jobs. He worked as an office assistant for some time but that didn’t stop him from learning all he could about the tech available to him at the time. Despite being encouraged to go back to school, it never happened. Listen in as he tells Jonaed how he eventually stopped trying to prove that he didn’t need a Bachelor’s Degree to get the job done.

Episode Notes

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Episode Transcription


Jonaed:           Welcome to the 30th episode of the No Degree podcast. This is your host tonight, Jonaed Iqbal and today's guest is Jae Taylor. Jae is currently a technical product director at Salesforce. He started his career as an office assistant. One thing he made sure to do was to always take ownership of technology wherever he worked. He did this for seven years and caught a lucky break. He never stopped learning and even founded his own company. He has worked at Expedia and Microsoft also. Learn what Jae did to set himself apart. Subscribe to our Every contribution is appreciated. This show is impossible without you. Let's get this show started. 

Jae:                  I just want to say that everything that I say in this interview is my personal opinion, and it doesn't reflect the opinion of anybody that I currently work for or used to work for.

Jonaed:           Today, I have a technical director. I think I messed up, right? What is your exact title?

Jae:                  Technical Product Director.

Jonaed:           Technical Product Director from Salesforce. So, what does a technical product director do? Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Jae:                  Sure, sure. Let me back up. So, product management in general really is about working with customers and helping them to not only understand your product, but then also understanding what they need from you as a company. Technical just means that I work on maybe the technical portions of the project. And so for me, it's about infrastructure. I talked to customers about the way that our infrastructure is set up and I helped them understand so that they can have more confidence in using our product. 

Jonaed:           Wow. Okay. That's pretty interesting. What other things you do at your job? Obviously, you do the technical, what other things are really related to your job?

Jae:                  I think there's kind of two parts. One, there's the working with customers, understanding what they want. But a lot of that though, the purpose of doing that is to make sure that the products that we create are meeting their needs. After we get that information we learned from our customers, we work with the engineering teams to help them potentially modify their roadmap if they need to change something or just so they can keep in mind what customers are saying, because sometimes what you perceive that your customers want is not the same thing as what they actually want. It's always a really good idea to kind of go and validate that with our customers. 

Jonaed:           Okay. So, let's take it back. What was life like in high school? What did you want to be? 

Jae:                  Well, you know what? I was fortunate enough to be really interested in technology at a pretty young age. When I was about, I don't know, maybe about 15, 16 in high school, I decided that I wanted to do something in technology. At the time when I thought about technology, I thought programmer. So I started trying to learn how to program back in high school and I did this business co-op thing where you could go work for, at the time government agencies, because I worked in Olympia. Olympia is the capital of Washington State so most of the jobs in the area were government jobs. That's kind of what I did there. But I kind of knew at a young age that I wanted to do something in technology because I figured there was no ceiling when it came to money. It was super-hot in the industry.

Obviously, Microsoft was super-hot, it felt a lot more flexible too. Like a lot of jobs, you have to be in a certain location, but I figured, you know, with technology, you could code anywhere. So that was kind of interesting to me. But yes, I was fortunate enough to kind of choose, I think the right trend back then, and this was back in the mid-90s.

Jonaed:           Now you graduated high school. What was the first thing you did? 

Jae:                  I started to go to community college and I was working. I got married kind of early. I was 20 years old when I got married and I became a father at 21. Quickly, like my goals were no longer necessarily around school because I didn't have time anymore. I actually had to get two jobs. I was working to support my family. 

Jonaed:           What jobs did you have?

Jae:                  In the Olympia area, the job to have was to work for government because everybody worked for government. I was fortunate enough to land an office assistant job when I was pretty young, I was probably 18. At the time I was making my triple minimum wage. 

Jonaed:           What was minimum wage back then? I remember it used to be like $3-$4. 

Jae:                  Almost. So when I was doing minimum wage, it was like $5. So I was making like $15 an hour. So to translate today…

Jonaed:           $18 is a good amount. At $18.15 is a good amount.

Jae:                  Yeah, for sure. That's like making $30 an hour today. That's what I did. So I was fortunate enough to get a job in state. So that's what I was doing for a little while.

Jonaed:           Okay, cool. Now how did you move up? You're an office assistant and what did you learn from being an office assistant? How did you use those skills to go to the next leap?


Jae:                  I think a big part of business is working with people. I think that that was something that I learned, but I also learned a lot of things that kind of sent me in a different direction, too. You know, when you work for government, they're heavy into education and so everybody was saying, you need to get your degree. That's one of the reasons why I went and started going to school. The funny thing is I remember having a conversation with one of my bosses, and this is actually what turned me off to a formal education. He really wanted me to get my degree and I was telling him “Why?” You know, I'm smart enough to do the role.

There was a specific job I wanted to do. And his example, because I was trying to be a financial examiner at the time, so I worked for Department of Financial Institutions and we audit banks and credit unions and stuff. He said, “Well, what if you're talking to one of your banks you're examining and they're like, you know, they want to have a conversation with you about what college you went to. Like, what are you going to say?” I’m thinking to myself like, “This is the reason I should go to college so that I can have a random conversation with somebody I'm auditing. I would tell them to give me your financial books and let me do my job is what I would tell them.” But anyway, I remember him saying that and what I realized is a lot of times when it comes to formal education, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying there's no value, but it's almost like a rite of passage. People think of it, like I went to college, so you got to go to college and if you didn't go, then you're lesser than me. I found that to be pretty consistent when I talk to people. That kind of turned me off to formal education so I went a different route. 

Jonaed:           Yeah, I mean, you see it all the time that you really dig down and it's like, “Oh, I need someone who can finish something.” If someone stays at your job for two, three years, doesn't that count as finishing something, right? There are so many things and like you said, you're a father. You're at a different stage in your life and there literally is not enough time. It's like, you've got to sacrifice some aspects. So you're working as the examiner. Now how did you weave your way back into technology? Because this seems a little more on the financial side, what was the next step? 

Jae:                  I never actually made the financial examiner, but that's kind of what they were wanting me to aspire to and go to college for. But what I always did was no matter the role I was in, I would look for things that were technology related. Whether you are in tech or not, your company uses probably some type of technology. What I would do is I would go and I would look for projects that were even mildly, technically related. I would try to own updates to whatever software we're using because usually there was nobody in the team that knew how to do it. So I would go out and I would try to find projects and I would reach out and network within the company to try to find projects. I would look for mentorship. Although honestly, I never really found a good mentor in most of my career, which is a big reason why I spend a lot of time mentoring today is cause I feel like it's one of the most important types of education, but it's really hard to get people's time.

So I would try to get these projects, but then eventually I got to the point whereby persevering and doing these side projects, my resume, even though my title would say something like office assistant, a lot of what I did was as technical as I can get. I was basically looking for someone to look past my title and look at what I did and make that count. I finally did find a leader within government that did. Super thankful for her. Her name is Maria. She gave me my first chance. That's what started my tech career. 

Jonaed:           How old were you around that time? 

Jae:                  This took me a while, so I was actually probably about 25 by the time I landed my first tech job. It's funny because now thinking about all the things that I did, I could probably have cut my -- I've been in tech for about 15 years. I could be where I am now, probably in half the time knowing what I know now. There's so many things I would do differently. Things that I tried, like even the fact that it took me until I was 25, because remember I was looking since I was 18. It might look like, you know, did it take me seven years?

Well that's because what I did was, I kept trying to prove to people that wanted me to have a bachelor's degree that I didn't need one. That's what I was doing. When you try to persuade people who don't want to be persuaded, it takes a long time. What I didn't realize is just don't work for those people. There's a lot of companies and now the top companies that don't look at just your formal education, it's not even a part of the discussion anymore for me. But I didn't realize that, that there were so many other employers that, they didn't care. They looked at other things and had I known that I would've started my search elsewhere, you know, way sooner. 

Jonaed:           Okay. I mean, it makes sense. I think we're always in that boat of, hey, I could have been here so much quicker, but that's life. That's why we mentor people. So now what you did was you basically forced yourself to be the IT guy at every role and that really picked up a lot of skills. You obviously learned a lot. You got your first tech job now, what was it? Now it was like my time to shine. So what did you do? 


Jae:                  In this role, I was kind of a data analytics role/software engineering role. I was doing infectious disease analysis for the Department of Health. It was a great role, team was great. I love those people. I still keep in contact with them. So I did a lot of analysis of data sets and there's a couple of web applications that I maintain. Again, like Maria, she was great. I got promoted. I think twice in 18 months. I was working as hard as I could apply in myself. But then I got to a point where I kind of hit a ceiling and I kind of noticed that. I don't know if this is true of every organization or government itself, but at least in my experience in government, they really wanted you not only to have a degree, but also be older. When you're young and ambitious, they still want you to kind of do your time and I got to this place where I want to move faster.

I want to go harder. I want to try more things and I was kind of stuck at this level. So I wanted to go outside of government and I was like, okay, government was fine at the beginning, but I want to try something more. This is where I kind of ran into the same problem. I kept interviewing at places and they would ask me for a degree or look and realize that, although I had some college credits I didn't finish and they kind of talk about that a lot. I had a hard time getting hired again. And I'm just like, man, what is happening? Why is it this way? So I said, forget it. If you're not going to hire me, then I'm going to hire me. So I started my own consulting company. I just started my own. I created a website, started to put some ads on Craigslist. I don't know if people still use Craigslist. And I got a ton of jobs. I just started doing the jobs. I started getting experience. I started networking. I was fortunate enough to land a relationship with the guy who is just starting a new startup that ended up doing great. Like we won awards at national conferences, and I helped build some of his engineering team.

We got like $35 million in venture capital funding. I found them on Craigslist. But then what I learned was when working with all these clients, is that I was surprised at a lot of people and clients anyway, they don't judge you on your credentials. They judge you on your ability to deliver whatever it is you said you’re going to deliver. I would have these client calls. They wouldn't be like, you know, where did you go to school? They didn't care where I went to school. They have a project. They wanted to see if I understood the project. Could I deliver? I felt like it was very fair. I was paid and judged based on my work and that was real business.

So I was doing that. Again, I did the startup, learned a ton about that. I also learned the downfall. If you give the VCs too much control, they start to take over. So that was kind of an interesting experience too. But then, after I did that, I've done consulting for a few years, and this is when the financial crisis started to happen 2008, 2009, 2010. So I figured, okay, maybe now is the time to try like a big tech company. That's when I landed my first role at Expedia. 

Jonaed:           Okay, cool. So now you want to do the tech company. How did they look at your background now? Because now it's a totally different background. You had the work experience, you have tech. Now you had   your own tech now, how was it getting the job?

Jae:                  Here's where I think it got really interesting and I learned even more. Now, not only have I done some tech things in my background, I was president and founder of my own company and was also a software engineering director for a very successful startup. Now my resume is different. Again, just a few years prior to this, I had just been an office assistant, right? But I kind of took my own career in my own hands and kind of went and did this. What I found was when I applied at Expedia, most people that work for these big companies have never been an entrepreneur.

They maybe went the traditional route where they went to college and they did internships. Then they got these roles, but they've only worked for a company. They don't know what it's like to slave as an entrepreneur. When I had this interview, I didn't have to prepare for interviewing. Like a lot of people do take that approach. They will prepare and study up on how to interview, and I’m very, I wouldn't say against that, but I think there's a different way. When I interviewed, I just talked about what I knew. I talked about my experiences. I talked about things that I failed at, things that succeeded for me, what worked, what didn't work, the way I interacted with clients, the problems that I helped solve.

I just talked about what I knew and that was it. Initially as kind of a temporary role, it was like a temporal. I think it was only supposed to be like three months, but again, and I tell people this too, even taking a temporal, totally worth it, because one of the most important things you have to do is network and meet people. So even if it's just for three months or it's short term, do it because now you have exposure to other people in the company and now's your opportunity to work hard. That's what I did. I had a 3-month role and I'm busted hard. My job was to build some analytics for some desktop encryption stuff they were doing.


Some of the stuff I'd never done before. So I just studied and I learned as quick as I could and I was out there. I was networking. I was meeting people. I was also coming up with my own ideas, because again, this is where the entrepreneurial background comes in. Nobody's going to give you a list of Do A, B and C. Your job is to figure it out and you'll find that a lot in tech careers is most of what you do, some of it has never been done before. So nobody's going to give you a manual. You got to be really good at being very entrepreneurial and kind of think of this stuff on your own. That's what I did. I kind of started talking to people about ideas while delivering what I said I was going to deliver. Within about two months in, they offered me a full time job. But what was really cool about it is that they told me that I could write my own job description. That’s the best. They were like, “What do you want to do?”

I got a lot of ideas. I started writing what I thought I wanted to do for the company, but it ended up being a great experience. I was at Expedia for about three years. During that time, I was able to build three different software engineering teams. Got to know a lot of great people, great contacts, people that I still stay in contact with today. It was a pretty great experience.

Jonaed:           When you created your own role, how did it feel? Because that's a very unique position that you can only get that through networking, right? Networking, delivering and performing during your time there.

Jae:                  Again, I was fortunate enough to have a great boss, her name's Suzanne. She's great. She had a lot of faith in me and again, like having a really good manager, that is the key to whether or not you like or hate your job sometimes. She was great and I think I was able to give her a pretty good impression. I was young and ambitious still. So, you know, maybe a little bit too much of excitement, but I think that there was a lot of people that could see past that, that I meant well, but yeah, I mean, she was great. I think showing your potential, being excited about the work that you're doing, doing the right thing, no matter what, like those kinds of things start to matter a lot. And people pick up on that. Actually she was the manager that hired me. The initial guy that hired me for the temporal, his name is Mike, also a great guy.

I keep in contact with all these guys. He was great too. I mean, he gave me the opportunity to flex a little bit. There are things that he wanted me to do, but he was cool with me trying other things and experimenting. I think when you have a leadership that lets you do that, that's when people do their best work.

Jonaed:           What would you say is your -- like something that really stood out when you were at the Expedia group?

Jae:                  Super innovative. Like they had some really, really good leaders, good people. That's a lot of fun. It was a really fun company. It's funny because some of the most innovative things that I worked on, even this was back in 2013 to 2015 are still more advanced than some of the things I do now, which is kind of funny because I feel like some of the best things that I worked on were at Expedia, super innovative. It was an open culture depending on the group. I think when you have a big company, different groups have different cultures, but yeah, I had a really good experience at Expedia. 

Jonaed:           Now why did you leave Expedia? What was your next step? I mean, your next step was pretty big. 

Jae:                  I think I kind of outgrew Expedia. I think it kind of goes back to what I was saying, even when I was in government, like I always wanted to push myself and go harder. I remember even back when I was in government, my dad told me, he's like, “Hey, you should go work for Microsoft.” And I remember thinking, no, no, no, no. You know, Microsoft, those guys are like the smartest people in the world. There's no way, there's no way. But lo and behold, after Expedia, I was able to land a job at Microsoft and that was pretty significant, I think in my career. It's interesting how, like, once you get jobs at some of these bigger tech companies, you're somehow like on the map, Now, everybody wants you. It's funny how that works because as soon as I got my role at Microsoft, everybody started to hit me up.

I was getting recruited regularly by Amazon, Facebook and Google and all the time. It's still now. But, yeah, so I was able to go to Microsoft because I wanted to try something a little bit bigger. Expedia at the time I think was like a $10 billion dollar company and then Microsoft is like trillions. So the scale is a lot different. I wanted to see what that was like and Microsoft, it was a great experience, but it was very different. I think that's just because they've been around for a long time, you know, 20 plus years. So the culture was different and the way that they communicated was different, the tools they used was different. It was a very different experience, but all in all, Microsoft is a lot of fun too. Met a lot of good people. 

Jonaed:           Now, what were you doing at Microsoft? You're a senior engineering product manager, what does the senior engineering product manager do? 


Jae:                  What I did at first, when I played kind of a consultative role within Microsoft, and maybe that was because that kind of matched my experience pretty well -- I would actually work within Microsoft to help them learn how to use Power BI, which was a pretty major analytics tool that they used. But then eventually, because of some of the work that I did teaching people about Power BI, the Power BI team within Microsoft was interested in me. I went over to that team and I owned a lot of the business websites. So this is when I got kind of exposed to marketing working with product teams and working with engineering teams and kind of being able to bring all of that together into a cohesive product. That's kind of what I did at Microsoft.

Jonaed:           Before we kind of go to the current role. You had a lot of achievements, what were some of the failures or the mistakes?

Jae:                  Well, I probably can't talk in detail, but what I'll say is when you own production services and you make a mistake, you have to learn from them, right? So a big part of I think that the education that comes with work experience is how you handle those big mistakes and making sure that you don't make the same ones again. Everybody makes mistakes, but if you make the same one over and over again, I think that's where you start to get into trouble. 

There were some times I will say throughout my career where I own some kind of production service, production as being it's life, right? There were precautions that maybe should have been taken that I didn't take, or I would assume certain things were done that weren't actually done. I learned this phrase from another leader at Expedia. Trust, but verify. You trust people are doing the right thing, but you know, it's okay to just double check. People might get a little bit annoyed, but if they understand that you're checking because you care about the success of the project, they're okay with it.

Jonaed:           What were some other skills that you really picked up? It seemed like you were very good at networking and you're very good at presenting yourself and just being an overall person that communicates well, how did you get good at that?

Jae:                  I think I'm naturally probably a talker, probably. Anyone that knows me will say yes, definitely. I think though, you hear the phrase that to separate business and personal. I don't think that that's right, because business is personal. Even social media I think is teaching us this a little bit, but people want connection, like real connection. You just have to actually care about people and what's going on in their lives. You build relationships that way. Let's just be a good person. When you connect with people, care about how their day is going. When you hear that, maybe they're going through something, you know, just see how they're doing. And I think if you take an active interest in people, people take that same interest back in you because at the end of the day, especially in tech, a lot of us within, especially big tech companies, we change jobs a lot.

And so yes, there's an amount of loyalty that you have to have to your company. But you've got to have loyalty to people. You're building relationships that will hopefully last your entire career. I make it a point to stay in contact with people that I used to work with five, 10 years ago to see how they're doing. It's good because it makes work more fun because it's way more fun to work with people that you like. At the same time, you can help each other out in the future. herTe might be times where you need help finding a role and maybe they'll refer you to a role. That's happened a few times.

So really, I think networking is about just being a good person and just trying to make friends. Care about what people are doing and that's definitely how you build it. I would say, nobody likes to be just like sold something like, “Hey, how are you doing? Why don't you buy this product?” Nobody likes that. But if you get to know someone. Then if you give them, sell them a product, hopefully it's because you know that they need it. It's not like you're selling them, you're actually helping them. That's what it'll feel like, because that's what it should be versus just trying to, you know, like a cold call or something.

Jonaed:           You hit it right on the money. Whereas there's some people who I know and I don't care that they charge a premium. I want them. They sort of know what I need. They know my company, they know what my goals are and it really makes a big difference. You hit a great point where it's like a lot of people don't even network with the people that they used to work with. It's like, once you leave the job, it's like, okay, cool. Maybe I'll hear from you. Maybe not. And you lose a lot. 

Jae:                  It's interesting even because of my years at Expedia, a lot of people have kind of moved on because it's been awhile. But because of that, because I've kind of stayed in contact with them, I know people from Nordstrom, Amazon, Google and Facebook, and these are all people that I used to work with at Expedia but I just keep in contact with. So if I ever want to change roles or I'm thinking about a company, I can just go talk to that person and say, “Hey. What's culture like at that company, what do you think? What do you think about it?” You know, now I don't have to Google it. I can just ask somebody because I know people that work there. 


Jonaed:           Yeah. And insight info is always so much better because you don't know the person who's leaving the review. You don't know what department they work at. Culture is different based on the company, based on who the role is, which office, and that's very important to know. 

Jae:                  Absolutely. Yeah.

Jonaed:           How has the tech industry changed over time? You've been in it for some time and obviously now, let me know if I'm wrong, not having a degree is like really accepted compared to like, before.

Jae:                  You know, it's funny because I think big corporate companies, it used to be very like suit and tie and you have to have an MBA. But I think the tech world, and maybe it's just young people in general have kind of changed it, like the whole Mark Zuckerberg and the hoodie era started. It's almost the opposite effects. Like when you go to these tech interviews,  you actually shouldn't wear a jacket and a tie, like they used to be, that that's what you're supposed to do. But tech companies don't really like that and I think that's kind of interesting. But at the same time, it's more about your skill level and your ability versus your degree. 

I think maybe it's because of software engineering, because a lot of the best coders in the world, most of them are self-taught even if they have some credential, they learned on their own. So obviously their skill didn't come from whatever college they attended. They were coding at night when they got done with school, they were coding on the weekends. They loved it and they became really good at it. I know, especially me, when I would hire engineers, I didn't care so much about their credentials. I cared about their passion for what they did because if they were super into it, they were probably really good. And they probably spent a lot of time to learn a lot of lessons and got a lot of skill more than somebody that it is a part of a curriculum because they wanted to get a degree.

Jonaed:           Let’s go back. What do you wear to a tech interview? I'm used to like the finance interview, you show up with a suit and tie, what do you wear because if you do that in a tech interview, it's just like, all right, this guy doesn’t know what goes on. 

Jae:                  Yeah. So some of it is also what I've seen other people wear to my interviews. Now I don't think you should go like super casual. Like I've had people absolutely show up in a tee shirt and shorts. Personally, I feel like no, I think that's a little almost disrespectful because it makes it look like this is a pitstop versus a serious career decision for you. I usually wear jeans because to me, that's my casual and I'll wear like a sweater with a buttoned up shirt under it. It's in the middle where it's kind of dressy, but it's still casual. Like I'm not going to wear like a… 

Jonaed:           Cardigan, polo. Okay. 

Jae:                  I try to hit it in the middle because usually I feel like that's kind of a good place to be because you're not overly formal. Sometimes too, I've noticed that companies that want that type of formality have a very rigid culture. Like old school culture. So if they're all dressed up in suits and they dress like that in tech anyway, to me, that's not a good sign because I think the tech industry by nature is a little bit more casual.

Jonaed:           Now, you got the job at Salesforce. Where did you start off and where are you today at Salesforce? 

Jae:                  I used to be part of the data governance team and so if you think about all of the systems that you use, anybody uses, all that information is tracked somewhere. Businesses use that information for insights as far as to how their own systems run or how their users are using their platform and they use this information to make decisions. When you have a ton of data like that, you need mechanisms to help govern it so that the data stays clean. Otherwise the data can become kind of messy and they can produce a lot of noise. It may look like it's implying something that it's not and so there's a lot of things that you can do to help kind of regulate and govern the way that people process data.

That's kind of how I started. I was a product manager for our data catalog. I was just helping people within the company organize the data that we had. Now I changed teams and I'm kind of working a lot more with customers. A lot of my role now is about educating our customers on our infrastructure, ultimately, because it's about trust. You have a lot of people that they’re used to running their own tech systems and when you start relying on another company to run those systems for you, because you're running on their software now, there's an element of trust because you lose a little bit of control. Part of my job is to help customers feel comfortable that we're taking the precautions necessary to make sure all of their data is safe and then they can rely on us. A lot of it about is technical because I have to understand the architecture myself, but then also be able to explain it in a way where customers can relate and hopefully gain confidence. 


Jonaed:           You also do a lot of stuff outside of work because you mentor kids. Can you talk more about that?

Jae:                  You know, I mentioned earlier in my career, it took me like seven years to land my first tech job and even staying in government too long and just a lot of decisions that I made, I just would do differently. The number one hardest thing that I've found is getting a mentor because to me, it makes the most sense to learn from somebody who has the job that you want. You know, my daughter goes to a local college here and I have to remind her because she's doing mind game development and I would tell her, “Just remember, take everything your instructor say with a grain of salt, because most of them likely have never even had the job that they're trying to equip you for.”

I think there's a fundamental disconnect there. The best people that are qualified to train someone on a job are the people that have those jobs. So I found it's very difficult in my career to find mentors because people are busy. I think people are just busy and it's hard to get time so I've just made it a priority for me to anyone that approaches me on LinkedIn or any social media platform and they're like, “Hey Jae, I want to learn more about how you got there.” I, 100% always say, yes. That's how I've met a lot of my mentees because there's so much that I can tell them that would help just save time. Like they might try to go certain routes that I just don't think work. It's more than people that don't have degrees. A lot of the folks that I work with have degrees, but they come across the same problem. Like they go to this college and now they're like, “Jae, I can't find a job.”

It's because employers, aren't looking for people that are educated necessarily, right? What they're looking for are people that are skilled and being skilled is more than just education. Education is definitely part of that, but it's education plus experience, plus other factors make someone skilled. The real question is how do I become skilled so that I can get a job? I have a path. I'm somebody that used to be an office assistant that was able to progressively get into some of the top tech companies in the world. I have a path that I think works. It worked well for me and I try to share that with people because I really wish somebody would have shared it with me. I think I would have saved a lot of time and a lot of anguish. 

Jonaed:           So if you were 18 again today, what would you do in this current environment? Not going back in the past today, based on what you know about yourself, what areas would you go to? How would you go about doing it? 

Jae:                  To me, especially being 18, if you're young and you've got time and you've got energy, you got to do a startup. You got to build your own. That is 100% what I tell a lot of folks that I work with because the thing about owning your own company is that you don't have to like -- you could work another job that pays your bills and start something on your own at night. Learn, you know, education is free. This is why the education system in itself needs to change because anything you need to learn to become a good software engineer or doing anything in tech, again, I'm not a software engineer, it's all free and online. It used to be maybe 20 years ago, you had to go to college to get some certain types of education. But in the tech industry, that stuff is free. You can pay a little bit of money and get some curated courses that might help you but the reality is most of that stuff is free. 

So if I was 18 and I did this over again, I would 100% do a startup and here's why. It's not super important that that startup even succeed. It's okay that it fails. It's perfectly okay because I would argue that failure is a better teacher than success because once you've messed up, you have to refine your approach. You got to try something different. And when you're young at 18, you got the time, you know. You’re probably not married. You probably don't have kids yet. If that's your case and you got the time, go learn, go fail and keep learning and keep failing. Eventually you'll probably get a win and even if you don't get a win, that experience is one of the most valuable things that you can have. Because again like me, when you do go to these interviews, you don't have to prep for an interview.

Just talk about what you know. Talk about what you did. Talk about how you failed. Talk about when you failed, how you changed your approach, why you failed. All of those experiences by running your own company from the business portion, all the way through the technology stack and the ideation, talking to customers and making sure your idea is sound, that's the best experience you can do. There's a lot of books out there that I'll kind of recommend to people to learn some basic skills. It's super valuable because again, even when you enter the workforce, most of the people you work with have never been an entrepreneur. 


They don't necessarily know how to put a thing like that and because you've had that practice, it makes you stand out. The way that you think will be different because you're not just trying to finish this assignment to impress your boss. You don't even know what that means because you're trying to make a sale. You're trying to build a winning product. That's what you were doing and ultimately these big companies, that's what they want. They want people to come in and help them build products that customers love and the best way to do that is not to do whatever your boss says necessarily. It's to be innovative, to come to the table with ideas. You get that practice when you work for yourself, because it's all on you even with that startup. There's going to be people that you can find that maybe have no experience, just like you get together with them, do it together, learn it together, fail together. You know you're going to put up websites or whatever you're going to do and sometimes they're going to go offline and you're going to be up at midnight. You're going to be trying to figure out what's going on. 

Granted, you don't want that experience your whole life but having been through things like that, you never forget. Those things that you learn, you carry to the next job and it'll even help you in your interviews because you can talk about those experiences. Those people in the company, maybe they've experienced it and it resonates with them. Now you have something in common. You guys have both been through the pain of fixing a production system in the middle of the night and you can kind of talk about that. Absolutely, if you're young and have time, do a startup. That would be my advice to anybody trying to get into tech because doing a startup doesn't mean you have to work 40 hours a week on your startup. If all you have is five hours a week, then work five hours. That will still help you get there, you know, maybe a slower rate, but it still counts.

Jonaed:           Okay, cool. So what are the salary ranges for the roles that you had? Not necessarily your personal, but what's typical? 

Jae:                  I would say, and again, there's a lot of data on this. I would say program and product manager roles. they typically play a little bit less than maybe the equivalent software engineering role. 

Jonaed:           And what's a little bit less?

Jae:                  Like five to 10% less, I will say. 

Jonaed:           And this is six figures or higher?

Jae:                  Absolutely. Yeah. Like your entry level, and this again, I'm talking big tech here, definitely over six figures for entry level roles, for sure.

Jonaed:           Okay. Now, who are the type of people that you see in command of the higher salaries because even within the roles there's variations, right? How would you go about commanding the higher salary? 

Jae:                  To be honest, I think it's about where you work. So maybe you start at a smaller company that you work for their IT department. I think my personal goal that I would tell people is to try to get into the big tech organizations. The reason I say that is because the type of work that you're exposed to is work that other companies can't expose you to. The type of scale, the number of users, the size of applications that you deal with in big tech companies is not the same as working at something at a much smaller company. I think that that's why even within the big tech organizations, they try to get other people from other big tech companies because the type of scale that we work in is different because the problem changes when a system has a thousand users versus a million users. Your architecture changes, all your considerations change.

So I would say definitely, if you work for the larger companies, they tend to pay more, but there's a lot of opinions about that. Like, I tend to be more of a generalist versus picking a very specific domain and being an expert, let's say, in security. I didn't do that. I did everything from infrastructure to data stuff to managing marketing websites, to data governance.  I'm kind of all over the board, but I kind of do that on purpose because I like variety. I feel like having a general skillset also makes you very employable. I think I can fit into a lot of roles really easily. Whereas if you're somebody who's only done security, then people will just say that you're a security guy and they won't as easily consider you for other kinds of roles, but there's pros and cons to that. But that's the route that I chose was to be more of a generalist and for me, I think it served me pretty well. 

Jonaed:           Have you ever felt insecure about not having a degree? 

Jae:                  Have I ever felt insecure?

Jonaed:           Or has it ever held you back? 

Jae:                  Well, maybe early on. Absolutely, because everybody was like degree, degree, degree. But what I found was that it actually only seems to matter when you first start out. After you've been in the industry and you've especially worked at the big tech companies, nobody ever brings it up. Ever. It never comes up. Because of that, I haven't been put in a position where I have felt insecure because it never comes up. They're more interested in what I've done and the types of roles that I've had. They don't ask about my degree. 


I feel like when you're first starting out, and if you're competing against a bunch of people that have degrees and you don't have any other differentiators, then I can understand being insecure.

But what I tell people is that sure, I don't have a degree, but I've built two different businesses from the ground up that were successful and that's not something a lot of people can say. So for that reason, I don't -- I kind of focused on that. When they say, “Well, how come you don't have a degree?” I said, “Well, I went the entrepreneurial route.” I built a business is what I did instead.

Jonaed:           Okay. Cool. So let's slowly start to wrap up. How would people get in contact with you? 

Jae:                  Definitely you can find me on LinkedIn, Jae Taylor. You can just search for that. There's not a whole lot of us in there, but absolutely connect with me on LinkedIn. If you're somebody that's interested in joining tech and getting into the tech field, I'm happy to chat, assuming I have time. I have a calendar where people can kind of sign up and I'll have time because I think this is important. I think that, especially now, people are home. A lot of people are getting laid off and they're thinking about what can I do to change my career? And getting a position in tech, it's a game changer. It changes everything. Like I don't have the same kind of worries that maybe a lot of people have right now. I feel very fortunate for that. But a lot of it comes with being in tech. I mean, one thing I tell people all the time is that every company, whether they think they are tech or not, they probably are.

And they have to be, especially now. Every company has to have an online presence. When you think about employability, even flexibility of a job, the amount of money that you can make, there's a million reasons to join tech and I'd love to help. So find me on LinkedIn. I'd love to connect. All right.

Jonaed:           All right. Thank you so much for your time, Jae. I know a lot of people will benefit from this episode. I'll have the links to his LinkedIn in the show notes. Thank you.

Another great episode. Thank you for listening. Hopefully this information was valuable and you learned a lot. Stay tuned for the next episode. This show is sponsored by you. No Degree wants to remain free from influence so that we can talk about the topics without bias. If you think the show’s worth a dollar or two, please check out our Patreon page.  Any amount is appreciated and will go towards making future episodes even better.  Follow us on Instagram or Snapchat at No Degree podcast.  On Facebook  If you want to personally reach out to me, connect or follow me on LinkedIn @JonaedIqbal, spelled J-O-N-A-E-D, last name, I-Q-B-A-L.  Until next time, no degree, no problem.


“Yeah. You got no degree. No problem. No problem. Any problem we can solve them, we got this. Linked Insomnia keeps us evolving. We’re growing in the knowing. The wisdom is flowing. If you did, you know, now you know where I’m going. If you did, , you know, now you know. Let’s sing that again everybody.”

“No degree, No problem. Any problem, we can solve them. Linked Insomnia keeps us evolving. We’re growing in the knowing. The wisdom is flowing. If you did, you know, now you know where I’m going. No Degree, no problem. Any problem we can solve them.”

“Linked Insomnia keeps us evolving. We’re growing in the knowing. The wisdom is flowing. If you did, you know, now you know where I’m going. Yeah”


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