Dipping my toes in Silicon Beach

Hauwau Sonia Bello
5 min readAug 18, 2019
Snapchat Design Academy

Last month I was fortunate enough to spend 11 days in Silicon Beach, the technology & startup hub of Los Angeles. Thanks to my University and Xuntos, I was able to travel with the nonprofit Color in Tech on their Immersion Program. Our ten-strong Immersion group visited fantastic companies such as Headspace and Snapchat Design Academy, while also visiting startups and venture capital firms.

Here is a snippet of what I learnt:

{4 things that resonated with me}

  • Be your Authentic Self!
  • Don’t believe your Imposter Syndrome!
  • Take Risks!
  • Expand your circle!

“Always be unapologetic and create your own space!”

— Lauryn (Head of Social Impact at Headspace)

Be your Authentic Self!

Hearing Lauryn Nwankpa’s long and complex journey from nonprofits to social action at Headspace, she made one thing clear to us; be your authentic self and not to settle for anything less.

Honestly, I felt uneasy after hearing the sentence, I started questioning myself immediately. In my short 3 years at a predominantly white university, have I subconsciously adjusted myself to fit in?

Too often I read about PoC in the workspaces being labelled as aggressive when they are simply trying to be heard, hence so many cases of Imposter Syndrome and code-switching etc. Hearing another WoC speaking so passionately on being her authentic self, I felt inspired to make changes within my own life; I will ensure my voice is heard!

I will be taking Lauryn’s invaluable advice with me into my future workspaces; I will create my own space where I will be heard, respected and unapologetic. Just like everyone else I have worked hard and therefore belong to be in that space. At the end of the day I can only me myself, nobody else can be me.

I can not be complacent with discomfort, I must shift the discourse.

The Headspace office.

Don’t believe the Imposter Syndrome!

I heard about Imposter Syndrome early last year and immediately had an epiphany moment — “ohhh so that’s what it’s called”. I have been visited countless times by the syndrome during my life; significantly in uni as I am a WoC studying computer science!

British culture is very different from American culture. While America is built on meritocratic liberalism and saturated with people who are constantly selling themselves and their achievements; British culture takes on the more reserved approach of underselling one’s achievements.

Our first day on the Immersion programme started with a powerful session from our leader Millie Zah. Millie had the difficult task of teaching us to unlearn our humble British ways. I learnt not to downplay my achievements and skills, be confident in myself, how to pitch myself and so much more.

“What do you want to achieve?”

— Millie Zah

This was the most important question I was asked on the trip. What do I want to gain? What do I want to learn? What do I want to showcase about myself? I applied this question throughout every visit and event, as I gained knowledge or made new contacts my imposter syndrome slowly disappeared. I started believing in my sauce more and more.

Take Risks!

The American tech scene surprised me — they take risks. As the saying goes, they really do go big or go home; after all, high risk brings in high reward. This got me thinking about a statistic I heard at Women Impact Tech;

“Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.”

— Tara Sophia Mohr — Harvard Business Review

Why as women, especially in STEM, do we not apply the same risk-taking tactics as America? I have been conditioned to thinking that I cannot fail and God-forbid if I do fail that means I’ve reached the end of the road. This mentality needs to change, failure is not the end — if anything its the start of a new strategy.

Taking risks opens the doors not visible beforehand. As a new grad, I aim to make taking risks second nature to me, as I navigate through the winding road of job applications.

The Broad Museum

Expand your circle!

Networking is important. Building a network will open so many opportunities for you, and even those around you! After all, I was told about this opportunity through Xuntos! If I did not network with the Xuntos founders within my university, I would have missed out on this valuable experience.

Here are the skills I learnt about building a strong network:

  • Invest in yourself!
  • Update your CV, build a strong LinkedIn account, learn new and relevant skills that can boost your CV. Build a strong social media presence, create a blog 🤪, pick up a new hobby, start YouTubing etc. Anything to enhance yourself!
  • Keep in the loop!
  • Read up on everything around your career area, follow the important people (and follow who they follow), watch the videos, go to the events and network at the events! Find companies your love and follow them on LinkedIn, network with people that work there.
  • Build relationships!
  • With all the networks you have, build effective relationships and help out people in your network — but at the same time ask for help. Set up coffee meetings, ask for introductions and find people willing to mentor you. Building effective relationships can be strenuous but it is worth it! Don’t give up!

Special S/O to:

All organisations are filled with thoughtful and talented people who contributed to my development during the trip! I’m so grateful to everyone.

Thank you for reading this long overdue post, until next time ✌🏾

Headspace Pod