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Black in Tech: Uzemoya Peters, Senior Product Manager at Smartbear

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Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Uzemoya Peters - Senior Product Manager at Smartbear shares his story.

Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work? 

I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, West Africa. It is the busiest city in Africa with the largest economy and population. As a kid, I was pretty inquisitive and super athletic. I pretty much played every sport available to me, from track to soccer and rugby. I think it’s fair to say that I was the most outgoing and adventurous son out of six boys in my family, though I’m sure my brothers will beg to differ.

My dad is a retired Colonel in the Nigerian Army. Currently, he's an entrepreneur, philanthropist and financier with investments in telecommunications, smart city and industry park developments, fisheries, power generation and distribution, and mining. My mom is the managing director of a telecommunications company that she and my dad co-founded. So, working in tech is in my blood, and I come from an entrepreneurial family. 

Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating? 

I got my bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Guelph on an athletic scholarship for football and track and field. After that, I worked in the telecommunications industry. I worked for a company called Alpha Technologies, working on designing voice-over-internet protocol applications for the Nigerian telecommunications ecosystem. 

Subsequently, I worked in investment banking with Merrill Lynch on their over-the-counter fixed income trade securities. I also worked with an ad tech company on building B2B advertising widgets within their consumers’ APIs.  

Then, I got my master's degree from Harvard in management and social policy. Subsequently, I co-founded my own startup named NIFI Communications, Ltd, which is a wireless communication/telecommunications provider in Lagos, Nigeria. 

What inspired you to get into the tech industry?

I would say my parents inspired me to get into the tech industry and really assisted with my career development. They have continued to guide me through my technology upstarts, and educated me on how to deploy tech to impact the lives of a magnitude of people in a positive way. 

They guided me throughout the process of my entrepreneurial endeavors. They are a lynchpin in my career decisions as well. They were definitely a crucial, integral part of building my confidence, education and career aspirations.

What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining Smartbear? 

Prior to SmartBear, I had the bulk of my skill sets in product management. I've worked in multiple work streams in the product development lifecycle,  from conceptualization to working on feasibility studies with management consulting firms to deploying and managing products and companies. I have successfully driven major product initiatives on digital fixed income securities products in Investment Banking with Merrill Lynch, as well as managing the development and go-to-market for VOIP APIs in telecommunications. Prior to SmartBear, I co-founded a startup in Lagos, Nigeria called NIFI Communications, Ltd. I was the CEO of the company. 

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Senior Product Manager at Smartbear?

As a senior product manager at SmartBear, I am currently responsible for defining product vision in collaboration with the Director of Swaggerhub. I am also responsible for managing and driving our product development and enhancement initiatives on our roadmap.

Additionally, my role is focused on refining the user onboarding process for the SwaggerHub API design and collaboration platform. My objectives are to build mechanisms to drive product-led growth, while bolstering our sales enablement programs, to drive product growth and expansion. 

My goals for the year are to drive improved conversion and retention rates within the product. I am excited about driving users to our key features within the product, by making them more accessible, more discoverable, and more usable for end users. Essentially, making new users super users of our product. Additionally, my mission, in line with our global product initiative at SwaggerHub is to improve the efficacy of our users within the product by building in-app guides and tools that guide users to their first aha moment. We will continue to deploy various methods to enable them to engage with the product and ultimately convert them into long-term, high value customers.  

What has attributed to your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional? 

I would like to bifurcate my answer. One of them is a cultural barrier of moving from Nigeria to the U.S. where the way of life is entirely different. Even spoken language is different. I mean, Nigeria’s first language is British-English. However, there are some nuances to grammar. There are differences in the way we enunciate words that are easily misunderstood in the US. The way we contextualize and frame our sentences, syntax, all that is very different from the U.S.  

On the other hand, Socializing in the U.S in a professional context was initially pretty difficult for me. You have to deal with a lot of language barriers as well as cultural barriers.  

There are also issues with immigration here as well, where you have to jump through several immigration hurdles here to get a job. There are many obstacles immigrating from Nigeria to the U.S. I was one of the lucky few to do it successfully because my parents were super proactive, and they made the right applications with guidance from their lawyers. 

I would say the biggest issue within corporate America is the lack of diversity and not having people who look like you, speak like you, and who share your same interests. These are key proponents to socialization and networking within corporate America.

As for the obstacles, I've overcome them. Like I said, I have a very strong support system around me, I have 5 brothers who have done this before me. So, they were able to elucidate the path to follow. I learn from their lessons, I don't make some mistakes they did. They’ve been instrumental to my career advancement.

As a wise person, Warren Buffet once said, it's good to learn from your mistakes, it’s better to learn from other’s mistakes. I pay really close attention to other people's experiences, and I try to leverage that to my advantage, to my learning, to my improvement. Moreover, coming from an entrepreneurial family, I've been brought up with a lot of forbearance, so I'd say I am highly resilient. I perform well under pressure. I'm super open-minded and like to learn new things. 

What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry? 

From a professional standpoint, take on risk. If there is a business or product idea you are passionate about, study it, learn the market, figure out how you can impact other people's lives positively, and figure out what problems people have and what solutions you can provide for them. Build the product, starting from zero and take it to market. 

Do not worry about the unknown focus on what you can control. Just go for it. Build your first product. Learn from it. Try to drive it to market. Fail, and learn from your mistakes. Always take stock. What you will learn is the more you build products in collaboration with others, the more sophisticated you become at people and product management. You will develop more people management skills, persuasion skills and leadership skills that are integral to drive product and get people aligned with your objectives and goals. And collaboration and leadership are fundamental to be successful as a product manager. Ultimately, when taking on new product ideas you try and fail a lot, but the lessons you learn are indelible and will ultimately culminate into success. 

You will imbibe them for life, and you will hopefully impart them on the second generation after you. So, to me, I think that's very important to understand from a professional perspective, because I do get that question a lot. How do I become a product manager? You have to collaborate with a team of people to build a product and take it to market, get market validation and iterate on it and try to drive as much value as you can to your target customer. Do that enough times and you will have the tools you need to take any product from zero to one.

Often, we practice negative self talk. We externalize success and internalize failure. You watch movies, and because humans are heavily influenced by what we see in the media. We see many executives in movies, making awe inspiring decisions in boardrooms with the overdramatized politics and aggrandizement. We see the stereotypical highflier CEOs, which may not match our persona and that affects our confidence or seems unattainable. One thing you should make a dictum of your life is this; no one can do it better than you can. Have faith and believe in yourself. If you are passionate about an idea, no one is going to drive it with as much exuberance, resourcefulness, and resilience as you can. With time, education, and practice you’ll develop the mastery to be effective.There are many shapes and sizes of leaders, not just the stereotypes you see on TV. You can be a leader too.

I don't want to be cliche but believe in yourself, that's one of the most important doctrines to follow. Make it a daily habit to practice positive self reinforcement. Outline all your goals for the day and try to achieve them. Overtime you will start to build confidence and develop self-efficacy. Everyone fails sometimes. Even the most famous CEOs of the world go through multiple failures throughout their careers. However, they are quick to learn from their mistakes, don’t dwell, and move on quickly.

While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken.  Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?

The most important thing to me is advocacy. I think we all have a voice within the organization. Once we realize the power of the voice we have, we should use it to its maximum capacity. Speak up. Be the arbiter of change you want to see. 

If you have new minority hires in your company, work with them to develop their skills to be the best they can be at their positions. Work with upper management to design training programs if they're deficient today. It's important to empower our community to not just be represented as an executive or as a leader, but to also develop the skill sets to be very successful at their positions. 

Ultimately, as much as we preach the idea of diversity, we want to make sure that we are successful in our roles and responsibilities. We have the capacity. We have the talent. We have the skills to prosper. We just need to build that community deliberately and not defer to others. Use your voice. 

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