Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Jason Jones - Sr. Recruitment Marketing Specialist at DraftKings, shares his story.
VentureFizz: Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work?
Jason Jones: I was born and raised in Boston. I’m from Mattapan but was in the METCO program in the Belmont Public School system from kindergarten to my senior year of high school. I grew up living in two worlds; the suburbs by day, and the inner city by night. My older brother also attended Belmont public schools, and he’s the reason I got into sports. I grew up going to his soccer games and I basically started dribbling a soccer ball that was half the size of me on the sideline when I saw him dribbling in the game. As a child, I played a lot of sports, from soccer, basketball, baseball, to lacrosse. I loved playing with my older brother’s original Nintendo console and that sparked my passion for video games. If I wasn’t playing sports in real life, I was playing a digital version of them in my bedroom.
My dad was a janitor and my mom was a social worker. They worked their butts off to provide a normal childhood for me. My dad even worked at the post office during the holidays to be able to afford Christmas presents, so I’d have wrapped gifts to open.
VF: Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating?
JJ: I graduated from UMass Dartmouth with a degree in Marketing in 2010. This was during the economic recession where it was extremely hard to get a job, especially in marketing. My first job after school was in retail banking as a personal banker selling checking accounts and credit cards.
VF: What inspired you to get into the tech industry?
JJ: I fell into the tech industry by accident. While working as a Sourcing Team Manager at a Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) firm, I was contacted by a headhunting company specializing in placing HR people in HR roles. I joined a cloud security company and the rest is history. I’ve enjoyed working in tech because I’ve been lucky to be exposed to cutting-edge technology and products. I used to recruit for software engineers when IoT (Internet of Things) was just taking off, and recruiting individuals who were going to take IoT to the next level was inspiring and special. At DraftKings, I get to witness firsthand the technical complexities that go into producing responsible gaming products for our users to enjoy.
VF: What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining DraftKings?
JJ: My career in tech began in Talent Acquisition on a contract basis. I started as a Talent Sourcer tasked with uncovering passive talent in the market, pre-selling, and then passing them to my recruiting partner to sell the opportunity and company. At my previous company, which I found through VentureFizz, I joined on another contract but was converted to full-time after six months.
I was brought in a similar fashion to source passive talent across all roles, pre-sell, and then pass them to my Talent Acquisition partner to carry out the rest of the candidate lifecycle. I found I enjoyed working on the technical roles, and in order to continue, I would have to transition to a full-lifecycle tech recruiter. This scared me because I hated talking on the phone, but a few cold calls to candidates quickly got me over that fear. Along this journey, I struck up a good relationship with our PR and social media team. I organically would start taking photos at company events and sharing them on the company's Twitter and Instagram accounts to showcase the culture to prospective candidates.
After doing this for a bit, an Employer Branding Specialist role opened. I interviewed and got the job based on my passion for marketing and my existing relationships with key stakeholders. My Employer Branding journey began working to position the company as a top employer across the globe, driving top-of-funnel candidate activity for the Talent Acquisition team.
VF: Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Senior Recruitment Marketing Specialist at DraftKings?
JJ: My current role at DraftKings is to support key hiring initiatives through targeted marketing and converting candidates during their journey to an applicant. A big piece of my role is utilizing social media as a vehicle to showcase our people and culture. DraftKings has a strong consumer presence, but we're relatively unknown on the employer brand side. Representation matters and showcasing the people who make our products and company successful help to generate candidate awareness and activity. My role expands outside of the Talent Acquisition team. I partner with our in-house creative agency to design high-res assets for organic and paid acquisition campaigns, working closely with our PR team to position DraftKings as an employer of choice in key hiring markets, and with the business as a whole to make sure all content is authentic and representative of the DraftKings experience. My partnership with our Senior Program Manager, Inclusion, Equity, + Belonging is woven through all of this work.
VF: 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?
JJ: I’m always studying and learning from the best employees at a company and then working tirelessly to develop new skills. If you are persuasive in meetings, I’m going to learn by not just listening to your words but also how you deliver them and work hard to be better than you. If you are a great written communicator, I’m going to study your writing style, and put my own twist on how I write to make it my own. If you’re not learning and growing, especially as a Black professional, your chances of advancing at your company are slim. We continue to have to work 2x, if not 3x harder, than our white counterparts just to achieve marginal gains.
There’s a quote from Ian Spalter, Head of Instagram Japan at Instagram in the Netflix show, Abstract: The Art of Design. Ian said “..when you’re a Black person working in these environments, there can be both a high bar and low bar for you. You’re in situations where people don’t expect a lot from you, but at the same time, the price for failure seems very very high.” That has always resonated with me because I’ve been in meetings where individuals don’t expect much from me based on their own biases towards Black people, but I also have been in situations where if I don’t succeed, it’s all or nothing. As Black professionals, we carry the burden of systematic oppression and racism with us every single day, but we still have to show up and execute above expectations. Use that as fuel to give your best every day, even when you feel defeated. Just know you're not alone.
VF: What types of programs and initiatives does DraftKings have that support diversity, equity, and inclusion?
JJ: It’s nice to see corporate America act quickly to address the systemic problems People of Color and allies have been fighting for a very long time. I wish it didn’t take unarmed Black women and men dying to kickstart this overdue change, but I'm happy to see it in motion. At DraftKings, we have been focused on a “Hire and Empower” framework through what we call Inclusion, Equity + Belonging because we aren’t just hiring for demographics, rather creating an individual sense of belonging for our employees. This work started with an analytical view to give us a starting point. We can’t solve a problem if it’s not diagnosed. We use the same analytical rigor that we apply to our customers and products, and turn inward on our systems and processes to continue to make progress. DraftKings is working to create systems and processes to advance parity and not just looking at diversity as a number to put on our career site. Our internal efforts are just as important as our recruiting efforts, and this work does and should not entirely rest on the shoulders of recruiters to solve.
In 2020, we launched 3 Business Resource Groups (DK Shades, DK Pride, and DK Women) organically as part of a larger business long-term planning to carry this momentum forward to create change. Change is long-term, and this movement is rooted in analytics, systemic disruption, and employee/manager empowerment. From the top-down, leaders need to feel empowered to use their voice and position to open new doors, and employees need to be able to launch grassroots efforts to drive change without friction from the business.
DraftKings is a work in progress, but we’re excited to grow and expand upon our already established partnerships with organizations like She+ Geeks Out, Tech for Heroes, and attending Grace Hopper. We continue to rely on internal programs and succession planning to provide a meaningful employee lifecycle experience.
None of this work is possible without Vanessa Spatafora, Senior Program Manager, Inclusion, Equity, + Belonging.
VF: What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry?
JJ: This is advice for all Black professionals in tech or any industry. Find an unoccupied lane and become a subject matter expert. That can be project management, Excel, or even public speaking. By becoming an SME, you will stand out amongst your peers in a positive light and become indispensable.
Imposter syndrome is real, especially when you are the only Black person in a room. Embrace it and use it as fuel to be the best colleague that you can be. You deserve to be in the room, now let others know why through your thoughts, feedback, and ideas.
VF: 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?
JJ: Check your biases at the door. When hiring for roles, either tech or non-tech, consider candidates with unique backgrounds that have transferable skills. Not all candidates fit into your box of what you think you need based on a job description. Instead of complaining that candidates don't have the skills you need... instead, ask what are companies going to do to make sure the next generation of talent is prepared for the jobs of tomorrow? There's a wealth of Black talent for corporations to hire. I wouldn't be where I am if someone in a decision-making role didn't take a chance on me.
Images courtesy of Jason Jones.