Building Career Success – Ep.52

Living On Purpose – Ep.51
May 12, 2022
Owning Your Career Path – Ep.53
June 8, 2022

Gregory Fobbs Jr. discusses the benefits of building strong work relationships, shares his best practices for responding to microaggressions, and managing career success in technology.

Melyssa Barrett:  Welcome to The Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around diversity, inclusion, and equity. Each week I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share, or is actively part of building solutions in this space. Let’s get started.

All right. So this week I’m excited to talk to Gregory E. Fobbs Jr., and one of the things I always talk about is, having a podcast, I have an opportunity to meet a lot of people that I’ve never met before. I cannot say that about Gregory E. Fobbs Jr. because I think I’ve known you almost all of your life anyway.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  So having grown up with you myself in many aspects, it is such a pleasure to have you on today.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Thank you. I appreciate it, Melyssa.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. I’m excited. I have had the pleasure of not only knowing you for most of your life, but also really just watching you as you thrive, all the kind of ups and downs, and all of your maneuvering. You even had a brief consulting stint, I think, at Visa while I was there, which was awesome. You have been navigating these rivers for a long time.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett: Before I get to the professional aspects of your career, why don’t you give us a little bit about who you are, and how you got to be where you are today?

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Definitely. Well, thanks, Melyssa. It’s a pleasure being on your podcast today. Like you mentioned, it’s been a long journey. Just to start, I have a 13 year old, three year old, been married seven years to a lovely, beautiful wife, Sandra. Prior to making the move to tech, I worked in education for about 10 years or so. That was very rewarding. Had the opportunity to work with at risk youth, as well as children with autism, and also coach boy’s basketball, and run a small… I was an athletic director at a small charter school in Hayward. These type of experiences really, I feel, helped shape me throughout my tech career now, but I feel like a lot of it has been taking risk, taking risk, building a network. You’ve helped me in that. I remember, I’ll speak to Visa real quick, taking the shuttle from San Jose, California, all the way to Foster City, and you and Cynthia Mundy taking me out to lunch. Seeing you there really inspired me. I decided to make that change because I felt like I had, and I was driven towards the tech world.

So really keeping that connection with college folks, fraternity connects, really pushed me to get in on that lower end, lower level, as a case analyst making about $16 an hour, but just learning the business, and working with accounts, and learning the software as a service business. Yeah, so that’s how I got started. My journey started in around 2011 where I did start working at this tech company. From there it just really, really increased. I was in school online finishing my last two years of my BA while working full time, so that was a challenge in itself, and having a one year old at that time. It definitely hasn’t been an easy road, I would say. It’s been hard work, dedication, many ups and downs, but throughout those years I feel like I’ve really managed relationships very well. Every place that I’ve been, I’ve left a positive influence. Really, it’s all about team building. It’s all about building relationships and learning. This is a journey.

Melyssa Barrett:  Absolutely. Well, and you’ve done so well at it in terms of just the recruitment process, because I know even when you go to a particular position, a lot of times there’s not necessarily a community that’s waiting for you to embrace you and give you the network that you need. So have there been lessons that you’ve learned at different companies based on going into those companies and just trying to figure out how to move?

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yes. Yes. LinkedIn has been huge, I would say, for me throughout my career. I think I started using LinkedIn back in 2008. I mean, my profile really tells the full story. I built up my connections to about 2,700, working on hitting the 3,000, but that’s helped me along the way because it really shows a story. It’s a picture of your whole journey, right? That number one, I would say. Resume building, cover letters have helped, really getting a lot of insight from other folks, getting their view of my materials. That has helped. I would say also connecting within my community as well. Finding resources within even my church, that’s helped with connecting with you, with connecting with Cynthia, Chris Brinkley, all of the individuals, Darren Albert, Anika Albert.

Really connecting with folks who have been there through the journey as well, seeing from their example and where they’re at now, that has shaped me. That has helped me along the way. It’s a combination of LinkedIn, taking denial. Denials are okay. I used to get denials along the way and still do up to this day, but really taking that opportunity as a growth opportunity, and learning experience, and not putting yourself down, and having the utmost confidence in yourself, because ultimately it’s not what I felt. It’s the companies. It’s their loss if they don’t really want to hire you, and you’ve gone through that amount of experience. That’s a few things that have helped really shape me throughout this journey.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s fantastic. So then now you have this journey that has included some level of diversity and inclusion. I know at your last company I think we’ve talked a little bit about your employee resource group and some of the things that they’re doing. What are some of the great things you’ve seen from an employee resource group perspective? Maybe you can-

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yeah. Yeah, so at Black at Now in ServiceNow, there’s a lot of opportunities, outreach, things of that nature, going to HBCUs as well. Having, for example, hackathons, right, and then bringing some of those resources in as interns, and then hiring them on after an internship with ServiceNow. That was awesome to see. For me while being in the group, I kind of take a step further, and go on to LinkedIn, and put the Service name out there. For example, I’ll hashtag diversity and inclusion, or I’ll hashtag black in tech. From that, a lot of connects start reaching out to me because they see ServiceNow, and then they see black in tech, and then they see my story on LinkedIn. From there we talk about various skills.

What are you interested in? Do you have any certifications, things of that nature. Now, I don’t have to necessarily have known the person or have worked with the person, but just like you and I are doing right now with a conversation, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll jump on a call with some of these prospects, if you will, and I’ll refer them. Based on my conversation with them and having them send over their resume, I’ll go in and I’ve referred, I would say, close to about 10, about 10 prospects to ServiceNow. Now I’m not going to say… none of them have gotten hired, none of our prospects, but it’s the fact that I actually took that step to go in, engage with them, and give them that opportunity to at least interview.

So that has helped, I would say, as far as being a part of the group. ServiceNow also did a great job of having a lot of discussions, so around the George Floyd, when that happened. Most recently, I’m not there any longer, but I’m sure they’re going to have one on the recent Buffalo mass shooting. So I do credit the CEO and the company for really stepping up in that way and addressing these issues. That helped me get through those two plus years while I was there, because I still had to show up to work. I still had to jump on Zoom. I still had to engage internally with folks and clients as well. Yeah, those are some of the things that have really helped in within Black at Now, or the group at ServiceNow specifically.

Melyssa Barrett:  I mean, and you talk a lot about relationships and the importance of relationships, which is absolutely true I think. Especially, I remember when I was at Visa and George Floyd was happening. There was a lot of just challenges, and you talk about just having to show up. So having gone through some of that trauma with George Floyd and really seeing companies create the space for conversation, what’s it been like for you in terms of even microaggressions or other things that may have happened to you along the way? I mean, your journey has not been necessarily a straight one. What have you learned along the way in terms of just being able to navigate?

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yeah, definitely. I will say I haven’t always handled the stress, and the microaggressions, and everything in the proper way, but I will say that taking care of mental health and counseling… I was really fortunate that ServiceNow provided a Lyra Health source. So throughout all of those times, I literally had sessions every week. Peloton, working out, Lyra Health sessions, you name it, those have all helped me be able to stay focused on getting the job done and being productive. It also helps having a family. I have in-laws that I’m taking care of, two children, and a wife making sure that I stay grounded and sane has helped as well. Things that used to bother me I would say in the past, or little microaggressions, or things of that nature, not anymore. It’s one of those things where… and I think maybe remote has helped a little bit as well.

So working in the closed office space of my closet instead of having to go into the office, and be around, and interact, and hear side talk or anything of that nature, has helped tremendously. I used to travel as well when I was at VeloCloud, which was acquired by VMware, traveled to about 15 cities across the US. It was definitely a challenge when going to the tech events, data connectors, and tech summits, and being in Salt Lake City and being the only, I would say, African American in the whole conference. That was a challenge, but it helped me. It gave me a confidence that I knew I deserved to be there. I brought value to the company, and ultimately that’s what matters. At the end of the day, you’re doing a great job. You’re productive.

You’re being that example because someone else that looks like you later on is going to have an easier path because you’re showing that you can show up. That has helped me. Having the support from my family. As you know as well, because we’ve known each other for quite some time, there’s been a lot of tragic events and just tragedy in my family. Losing a sister at the age 11, just about less than a year ago, losing a sister before her 50th birthday. Losing a brother from cancer at his 50th birthday. I mean, I’ve lost three siblings. There’s four of us now, all while having to work, and showing up, and in addition to racial and just social unrest in our country.

It’s like all of these things compiled on top of each other, and it’s like, you’re still supposed to show up to work. You still have to have a smile on your face. You still have to produce at the end of the day because you need your job. So for me, my faith, church, having other family, friends, and close loved ones live near me has helped because it’s like I can just pick up the phone if I’m having a bad day. We’ll talk it out, or I’ll go to the gym, and I’ll lift it out. Just managing that stress in a productive way, and then just continuing to have that growth mindset. I would say that trauma and issues in the world are going to continue to happen, but staying strong and just keeping your eye on the prize is what really matters.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. Now I know you just got another promotion. Congratulations to you.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Thank you. Thank you.

Melyssa Barrett:  You’re going to be working at Eltropy?

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  Tell us a little bit about that process in terms of how did they even find you, or you find them? What does that look like?

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  So this is interesting. I actually referred… her name is Aza, and I referred her to ServiceNow to be a customer success manager. Throughout the process, it was long, but she ended up deciding to go to Eltropy. So a few months back, she reached out, and she said, “Hey, Greg, we’re growing rapidly. The team is small. The manager is in Fremont, California, office in Milpitas. That’s near you.” She’s in South Carolina. I’ve never met Aza. We were introduced over LinkedIn from a previous colleague of mine, so that goes back to the networking. I’ve made a good impression on this previous colleague and, “Oh, Greg, he would be great for the job. He’s awesome to work with.” So she referred me. We had a conversation. I sent my resume over to her. During the one on one with her manager, she presented my resume. Next thing you know, about two days later, I’m getting an email from the manager saying, “Hey Greg, are you interested?” It wasn’t an easy process. I did have to go through eight rounds of interviews.

Melyssa Barrett:  Wow.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  The first round was with the manager, and it included a tech assessment. That was interesting, but it gave me a lot of insight on how their platform works. So I was able to, based on experience from the past with various platforms and software as a service products, I was able to go in and really understand the questions he was asking me, and do what was asked, and go through the whole exercise successfully. That was awesome. After that I had a panel interview. I believe it was with, at that time, the director of customer success, and then also two current customer success managers, one on the east coast and one based in India. That was about an hour long panel. I mean, obviously drilling questions. Why do you want to leave such a great company like ServiceNow? Just a variety of questions. For me, it ultimately came down to room for growth, rapid growth.

I have 11 years plus of experience in tech. I want to move rapidly at this point. I’m not getting any younger. It was one of those things where I saw the opportunity to really help shape their team and their company. That’s what really drove me. The opportunity to work in the office with the co-founder, with the CEO, with the VP of CS, that’s huge for me. I will be going in three days a week. I don’t have to. It is a remote opportunity, however I want to show face. So to kind of keep it short, I had to interview also with the co-founder, the VP of employee development, and the CEO. They wanted to make sure they’re hiring the right candidate, the right fit, and they were all over video, so that was interesting. Obviously it was nerve wracking, but I got through that experience, and about a week and a half later I received the offer. Had to give-

Melyssa Barrett:  Awesome.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yeah, thank you. Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  Awesome, yeah. Yeah. No, I mean, and I’m looking forward to hearing all about it, and what that experience brings. Because it sounds like what a unique opportunity, but in some ways I look at the opportunity you just talked about, and it’s almost like that’s got to be the new norm, right?

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  It’s like you have a network of people. You may not have ever met them in person before, but you have created a relationship, and not only socially but professionally people are… they know you enough to be able to understand what you can do, what your strengths and impact are. But also, to be able to influence… you as an employee being able to influence your circle now that you have this position or in other positions, being able to bring that positive energy to the company in a productive way.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Definitely.

Melyssa Barrett:  Which is awesome.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yes. Yes, definitely.

Melyssa Barrett:  Awesome.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  I’m excited. I’m looking forward to it, and I’ve already talked to, during the interview process, the VP of employee development about reaching out to the community. That was one thing that really stood out to them, “Hey, East Palo Alto or some of these communities, what can we do to serve them?” He mentioned that was one thing, philanthropy, that they really want to step up and hit that. Because it’s also like me interviewing them, right?

Melyssa Barrett:  Absolutely.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  I want to see what they’re about as well, if their mind’s around social change and doing good. So that’s awesome that they do have that mission. Yeah. Yeah, I just had the opportunity to talk with him even on the interview about that and different things that I want to be involved in with him.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, that’s fantastic. Well, and what an opportunity to be able to bring that influence in with all of your background and experience having been at different companies that are managing social impact and really wanting to make an impact in diversity and inclusion.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s awesome.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yeah. Thank you.

Melyssa Barrett:  Let’s pause for a moment. We’ll be right back. Tell me, so what else is there about you that you want to bring to the world? Because I think there’s so many… I think what’s so exciting to me about watching your journey is, first of all, I think in some ways I still think of you as in your 20s maybe at the most. The fact that you’re over 40 is kind of like, “Wait, how old am I?” But you have really been able to just navigate a myriad of traumatic events in your personal life, but also in how you’re managing your career. Now you just seem to have things falling into place, which has to feel good when you’ve been working at it for so long.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yes. Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  So what are some of the keys? I know you mentioned your faith, your church, relationships. Are there other things that have impacted your success in managing through all of those events?

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yeah, definitely. I would say my mother and father, first and foremost. They’re both strong individuals. I definitely have, like my dad mentioned, that DNA, if you will. That has helped, having strong parents, and them being there for support, willing to pick up the phone at any time and call me and vice versa. I would say that’s number one. Also, for me, it’s all about… for example, they have Udemy. There’s LinkedIn courses. There are different certifications out there. For me specifically, I love jumping on and learning. I love to learn. For example, taking on various projects at work. So even outside of my day to day, getting involved in those projects just to learn, for example, UAT testing, or QA testing, or being a part of various releases have helped, even though that’s outside maybe the scope of my job, but it helps me understand the systems more and interact with other team members.

I’ll have interactions with product, with engineering, with folks in various countries, Australia, India, and make an impact with those teams as well. So that has helped me as far as jumping on enablement sessions and being on the panel even though I don’t know all the answers. Right? But just being there, and hearing some of the questions that come in, and then seeing the product owners answer those questions, have helped me understand more. It’s not just about focusing on my day to day job. It’s about stepping out and learning even more. That’s what’s really helped me, I would say, throughout this journey.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, and how exciting. I mean, I think some people are not necessarily enjoying the fact that they have to go back into the office, but I love the fact that you have an opportunity to be hybrid, to really get in there, and learn from the leadership, and understand what their mission and objectives are so that you can in fact grow yourself in a company that is fast growing.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yes. Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  So that’s phenomenal. Phenomenal. So what’s next for Greg Fobbs?

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  So I’m looking forward to… I have a week off. I have this week off of work, but I’m going to start the new company, Eltropy, on the 23rd. I’m very excited about that. I would say what’s next as far as maybe the next five years or so, I would say that I would love to be maybe by that time a director of customer success, maybe a manager in a year or two of customer success, director. Not really sure about that VP level yet, but I think I may stop at that director so I can keep being able to keep spending time with my family and loved ones. I would love to at some point purchase land in Costa Rica and build an Airbnb business out there. My wife and I did have the opportunity to visit the Caribbean side of Costa Rica last October. It was amazing. We fell in love with it. There were a ton, a ton of folks who looked like us. In fact, they thought we spoke Spanish, so we have to learn some Spanish, but we had an amazing time.

We met a bunch of awesome people. I have a few folks there now who I can call my friend. So one day we’d love to purchase some land out there, build about three or four bungalows on that land, and run an Airbnb. Now we have the home here in California, but I would love to have this as maybe a vacation destination spot even for my family. Some of my family have never been out of, for example, Sacramento, California, Stockton Boulevard, Oak Park. So taking them to Costa Rica one day, I mean, I would just love that. Just having them see the blue water, and the culture, and the food, and just like it’s not all Sacramento. There’s other parts of the world. That would be amazing. I would say that that’s my dream, and that’s a plan that’s very doable. My wife’s on board. For me, it’s all about continuing to try to build that equity. I’m not trying to be rich or anything of that aspect. I’m trying to make a good living for my family.

Melyssa Barrett:  But that would be okay.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. That would be great. That would be awesome, but I do want to make sure my children are taken care of. That they don’t have to worry about, “Hey, if I want to go to University of Arizona, my dad could pay for that.” So I think that’s where I want to get to the point of our being very comfortable, but where we can enjoy those type of things in life and give back as well.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, absolutely. Being able to address that wealth gap is a significant challenge, I think, for many, so anything we can do. And I think you speaking that into existence, it’s like, okay, you’re going to look back and listen to this podcast, and you’re going to say, “Did I do all of these things that I said I was going to do?” I’m looking forward to my trip to Costa Rica-

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Oh yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  … to hang out with the Fobbs.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yes. Yes. Oh yes. Yeah, I think it-

Melyssa Barrett:  Awesome.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  … would be nice. Yeah, we loved it there.

Melyssa Barrett:  That is one place I have never been to, Costa Rica, so-

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  … would love to go.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yes, it’s an awesome experience. Real short, I tried to speak to my father about it, and even my mom, but it’s like a lot of my family, it’s going to take some convincing, I would say.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Leaving-

Melyssa Barrett:  They’re enjoying California.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Exactly.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. I mean, what’s nice about being able to go to other places is you do gain perspective that you don’t even know you’re missing.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  I think that’s what people miss if they don’t travel internationally, is you don’t really understand just all the history, the culture, the people. There’s just so much rich richness out there that we don’t know we’re missing-

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  … especially in the United States. I mean, obviously the United States is a wonderful place, but there are so many just things you can learn from history to understand how we interconnect, why we interconnect.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  So that when you’re talking to somebody, I think that’s one of the things that I love so much is being able to talk to people and really understand where they’re coming from, what their history looks like. What is their story? I feel like I’ve known… I mean, I think I’ve known your parents since I was maybe 17 years old or something. It’s surreal for me to be able to really connect with you as kind of the next generation. You’re like my kid’s age, a little older, but it’s just been a wonderful thing to watch you really manage your career, especially in a technical area, where you don’t see a lot of black men managing there. I mean, I’m excited, and I’m looking forward to seeing so much more and having you bring more with you as you go.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yes, yes. No, I appreciate it. Yeah. I mean, like I mentioned before, you being there just to really give me feedback and also seeing your example, has helped me along the way. Yeah. No, I’m definitely excited about what the future holds and looking forward to sharing this journey with, not just my family, friends, everyone. As you know, I post so much on Facebook and LinkedIn, but I mean, it’s literally like, I want my family to see this. I want people to be inspired. That’s huge. That’s huge for me. It’s not one of those things of showing off or anything of that effect. It’s like, “No,” like, “I’m a black man who is successful with a great family. I want to present that to the world.”

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  And I think that’s okay.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, and sometimes those stories, you don’t see them very often, right? So it’s great when you have that confidence to be able to put yourself out there and really show people that your life is fantastic. You all are doing great. I mean, I know we enjoy you all the time, so I’m so excited to see all of the things that you all are bringing to the world.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Thank you. I appreciate it, Melyssa.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. So anyway, thank you for being with us on The Jolly Podcast. As you know, it is a podcast all about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and guess what? Diversity, equity, and inclusion is infused in everything we do.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  I love talking to people about their own journey, some of the things that they’ve done, how you’re influencing and impacting the world. So thank you, Gregory E. Fobbs Jr., for what you’re doing in the world. We look forward to hearing more from you and Eltropy.

Gregory Fobbs Jr.:  Yes, definitely. Thanks, Melyssa. I appreciate your time.

Melyssa Barrett:  Thanks for joining me on The Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.