Behind The Click: Ayori Selassie Came From Humble Beginnings to Work for Forbes’ Most Innovative Company

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December 20, 2012 ‐ By Lauren DeLisa Coleman

Ayori Se

So here we are!  Our last “Behind The Click” profile for 2012.  (Don’t worry… there’s a special year-end piece in the next few days as well as much more to come in 2013).

Ayori Selassie is helping us wrap up this year with a bang. Not only is she a product manager at SalesForce.com (voted most innovative company by Forbes magazine), but she also has some very special involvement with a particular part of the U.S. State Department (of which I’m a huge fan).  Read on to find out about this very busy and talented member of the technorati!

Current Occupation: Product Manager, SalesForce.com

Favorite website: Mashable. “Great resource for tech, startup and innovative stuff in general.”

Favorite read: Women Who Run With The Wolves by Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes. “The fables, folk tales and stories in this book (less so the analysis of the stories) helped me recover from a failed marriage engagement and learn to trust my gut. I still refer to these stories for personal experiences and when giving advice to other women.

Recent read:  Rebuild the Dream by Van Jones. “He is one of my role models.”

2012′s ultimate goal: Taking my daughter to see our nation’s capital. I did that in October and will be doing it again for her birthday with a very special surprise visit to a very important place. I’ll have to let you wonder about that!

Quote Governing Your Mission:
First choice:
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  Theodore Roosevelt

Second choice:
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Twitter handle: @iayori

LdC:  So, let’s always start with the basics.  Give me a bit about your background.

AS: I was born and raised in Oakland, CA.  My mother was born in Charleston, MS and my father was born in Los Angeles. I am the seventh of eight children and my mom raised us on her own. Growing up in Oakland wasn’t easy; we were rice-and-beans poor. I’ll put it this way, the family with eight children never gets any gifts, so rather than Barbie dolls I cut out paper dolls.
My mother made sure we knew that education was of critical importance and that the future was in technology when many people of her era were still afraid of it. She also instilled a strong faith in God within us which I have everything to give thanks to. I went to a community college named Laney College and transferred to San Francisco State University. I held a full-time job throughout my time in college to support my mom, younger sister, and my niece. It felt then as if I were always working, and I still feel that way today. I started working in technology on day one, generally doing Web development or some variety of consulting and system implementation.
LdC:  How did it come about that you become a “self-taught”developer ?
AS: I was home-schooled as a child and when I was 11 years old my mom gave me a book on Basic programming and had me go through the lessons one by one, starting with simple calculator algorithms and advancing from there. When I was 14, my brother showed me the basics of HTML. Since then I found every resource online that I could learn from. I loved the Internet and the online development communities and forums. Boy, I was a stone cold geek girl.
At any rate I became an enthusiast from there on and learned everything I could about programming, from Visual Basic, to C, to Javascript. I went as far as learning to hack installers and registry keys which eventually landed me a job offer at Adobe doing Quality Engineering on the CS suite installers. I believe that my homeschooling foundation made me comfortable learning anything on my own AND making teachers out of everyone around me.
LdC:  So given all this experience, what then led you to your current position at SalesForce?
AS: I put my resume on dice.com and a headhunter contacted me. As it turned out, I was a perfect fit for a unique customer facing senior business analyst role at the time. As a product manager now a typical day for me is checking my email on my iPad before I walk out the door. I officially start the day with a daily stand-up meeting with my development team, which is a mix of local and remote employees who dial in.
After that I check Chatter which is basically a Facebook community for corporate. I use Chatter more than Facebook (believe it or not) to stay abreast of trends, thought leaders in the company, and experts who I follow. I have tea several times a week with colleagues in different departments and roles. I’ll usually get stopped in the hall to answer questions by teammates on the way to more meetings with business stakeholders and I’ll execute some specialized tasks as part of our project work. Some of the work I do can be tedious, [but] it counts for a lot on a team with monthly release deliverables.
AS: I launched my first startup at 16 so there are always ideas brewing in my head. My interest in startups brought me to a conference in LA in the summer of 2011. During the pitch sessions the organizers strayed from the agenda and allowed people in the audience to come up and give one-minute pitches.  I pitched an e-reading platform concept and one of the judges was Bitcasa founder/CEO Tony Gauda. He ripped me a new one for trying to do way too much, although he applauded my tenacity. What I learned that day is that you’re only as good as the company you keep. Up until that day everyone told me my ideas were great, but experienced startup folks like Gauda know that execution is much harder. I sought him out toward the end to thank him for the feedback because it was a pivotal experience for me. That is why I started Pitch Mixer, to give entrepreneurs in under-served and ignored communities like Oakland, CA a startup ecosystem where they can pitch, learn, and connect with other entrepreneurs.
The biggest success to date was an all-female pitch event where five  incredible women got on stage to pitch their dreams to an all-female panel of venture capitalists, angel investors, advisors and a packed audience of 300-plus attendees. That is when I knew we’d uncovered a special community.
LdC: Now, let’s move on to Black Women in Computing (BWiC).  Explain a bit about your involvement here.
AS: The women leaders at Salesforce selected a group of women to attend the 2011 Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing, I was very fortunate to be selected. Attending this conference was a game changer for me because it was the first time I was surrounded by women who were in technology who were also technical like me!
I started BWiC with four other women after we attended a networking session and out of this session we decided that we needed a way to continue efforts in encouraging women of color to study STEM fields and pursue careers in technology post-graduation. I took on the social media component of the team and it just went from there. BWiC is part of the Anita Borg Institute’s community groups for women in technology. Through this group I’ve had opportunities to profile and connect with incredible sistas in technology. My biggest success has been the opportunity to talk with young girls of color about my career. It sounds small but these early conversations and exposure are critical conversations for young women and girls who are just starting out.

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