VentureFizz: Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work?
Herve Charles: I was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts but spent most of my childhood in Malden, Massachusetts. My parents wanted a better life for us and worked hard to take us from the Cambridge housing projects to living in a 4 bedroom house. My parents worked tirelessly and I learned by example, especially following my mother's relentless work ethic. My dad worked as part of the cleaning crew at Delta Airlines and my mother was a Licensed Practical Nurse.
As a child, I loved reading, watching & drawing cartoons. I loved Superhero cartoons the most. Oddly enough, I idolized Lex Luthor from the Classic 90’s Superman cartoons. I mistakenly thought Lex was a person of color due to how he was animated and I admired his relentlessness, business acumen and most importantly his conviction. I have always wanted to be a businessman and wear 3-piece suits just like Lex. I was also always fascinated by technology and working or funding my own tech company like Luthor, a goal that is still very much alive today. I created my life plan for what kind of man I wanted to be, what lifestyle I wanted, and what job I wanted as a child. I have surprisingly stuck to that plan with many minor adjustments along the way.
VF: Where did you go to college? What did you study and what were some of your initial jobs after graduation?
HV: I went to college at Johnson & Wales University, in Rhode Island. One of the major life plan adjustments I made was pivoting from science to strictly business. I studied Business with a Degree in Marketing, with minors in Psychology & Literature. I initially wanted to get into Advertising one day so I thought understanding literature and combining basic concepts of Psychology would help bolster my skill set.
My first job out of college was first selling Verizon Fios, door-to-door. I did that job for about 3 weeks but the summer heat, and lack of sales in a 100% commission based role wasn’t appealing. I found a job selling custom blinds which gave me my first real taste of reality working in the “real world”. When your lifetime hero is a fictional arrogant super villain, little things like self-awareness are not things you think about. I learned quickly I wasn’t as brilliant as I thought, or as motivated, or even humble. I was verbally eviscerated by the company CEO about my selfishness, arrogance, and close minded nature. I am so thankful for that experience because it forced me to change my thought process, and realign my values as a person.
Having left a seemingly unshakeable bad first impression, I left determined to be a better colleague, and person at a new company. I worked doing cold-calling for a magazine and met some great people who further taught me more valuable life lessons. I struggled in that role and left and did some soul searching, goal setting, and heavy research and found my way to Mimecast where I’ve been for 4 and a half years now.
VF: What inspired you to get into the tech industry?
HV: I’ve always wanted to work in the tech industry due to being a huge Lex Luthor fan as a child. In High School I had an idea for an app but didn’t act on it which part of me still regrets. What got me into the cybersecurity industry and Mimecast, was luck and research. I was one of the thousands of victims of the Target breach in 2013 and when I looked at what Mimecast did, I knew it was the place and the industry I wanted to be in. I looked at the market, I looked at the cyber threats and what solutions were out there and I knew I could grow in this company and industry if given the opportunity. Luck got me an interview at Mimecast, and research helped me solidify it as my top choice and do excel in my interviews.
VF: What has your career path looked like since joining Mimecast?
HV: Since joining Mimecast, I have had a few roles that have greatly helped shape my overall understanding of our business. I started off as a Business Development Representative, or BDR for short. I learned about our technology and the value proposition and benefits it presented to our prospects. I then quickly learned that the quota bearing lifestyle wasn’t something I was cut out for and transitioned into Licensing & Renewals.
Licensing & Renewals was a great role for me because it helped further my understanding of sales, customer retention, and gave me a host of new skills and relationships across the company. Now I understood how to retain our customers and coupled that BDR knowledge to help add value and think more strategically when it came to customer and revenue retention. Having spent the 3 years I had allotted myself in that role, I worked to find a new opportunity internally that would allow me to leverage everything that I had learned to date.
The Traffic Manager position was the ideal role because it allowed me to transition into Marketing which had been the plan dating back to college. I work with many different areas within Marketing and I have learned an immeasurable amount of information in the 6 months that I have been in this role.
VF: What has attributed to your success thus far and has helped propel you to the position you have now?
HV: I believe that having great mentors, an open mind, and a willingness to put in the work has helped me to get to where I am now. Before even graduating from college, I had put in thousands of hours of improving my speech, my vocabulary, and my appearance. Working hard, harder than those around me, and getting in early, and working late has been something that has helped me as well. My best work has been done at the times of 6:30pm - 9pm.
Another major factor has been the willingness to accept and seek out feedback. The feedback I received from the Blinds CEO still echoes in my mind today. It has made me someone who is open to constructive criticism and harsh conversations. When you are open to hearing and receiving feedback, it makes you more honest with people and yourself. I have had many great colleagues and mentors that have shown me the ropes along the way. Without those great folks, I am not sure where I would be today.
VF: What has been your experience as a Black Professional, working in tech?
HV: My experience has had many Ups and Downs working in tech. The issues of representation and a lack of diversity are well documented in this industry. The impact of that lack of diversity comes in the form of feeling as though you do not belong. There are several instances where I was the only Black professional on my team or in my department. One might say to keep your head down and produce good work and you will be fine. In theory, that sounds like the obvious strategy but it doesn’t address the feeling that you do not belong.
I have been called names, and had people ask me about all sorts of racial stereotypes growing up. Those stereotypes and more importantly the fear of being the Black Professional to validate/confirm the validity of those stereotypes are terrifying. It is like having a laser aimed at your head waiting for you to make a mistake, or embarrass yourself. When you do lift your head up, you start to feel as though everyone is watching you, waiting to see if you will validate their preconceived notions of your incompetence. It creates a form of perpetual pessimism towards your own abilities.
What has helped combat those feelings for me has been goal setting. I have set goals for myself that I will accomplish regardless of what the environment is around me. By setting realistic goals, it gives me confidence and gives these aspirations tangibility. From there I made a goal to be a better colleague and that means creating a better environment for my colleagues. I decided to then join Mimecast’s Diversity & Inclusion Employee Resource group, for people of color. Creating a work environment where everyone can have a sense of belonging is incredibly important to me because no one should have to feel isolated in their work environment.
VF: What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry?
HV: The advice that I would give is to first do your research and find an aspect of the tech industry that truly appeals to you and your current skills. Make sure it is something you have room to grow in as well. Secondly, I would say to be open-minded and hungry for feedback. It is the only way to improve and helps create relationships. Next, I would say is to take a leap and try to introduce yourself to as many people as you can. What also helped me was connecting with people because many of those people I ended up working for or with later on. When you have a foundational connection with someone, they become invested in your success and want to see you win. Another piece of advice I would give is to pay attention to the details and take pride in everything that you do. Plan out your moves and plan with purpose. Tech can be difficult to get into but becomes so much easier when you have built connections with folks.
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?
HV: I think it starts with companies making a commitment to improving the diversity then peeling back the layers of their organization and looking at the raw data. The data often tells the story and can serve as a starting point. It will then allow companies to set goals and put initiatives in place that will drive those goals realistically.
As employees, what we can do is to partner with management and create safe spaces to have open and honest discussions. We want to be able to educate one another to create a better work environment together. Training around unconscious bias, racism, sexism, and empathy are important in today’s climate. Understanding each other’s unique perspectives together help us forge stronger connections, and create a better organizational ecosystem.