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Posted under: 21Ninety Habits Business Interviews Technology

Ariel Belgrave on aligning your career with your passions and interests

Ariel Belgrave is busy helping people take things to the next level. She's the programs director at /dev/color, a nonprofit startup working to advance the careers of black software engineers. /dev/color helps members network and gain knowledge and support that helps them to succeed in the industry.

Belgrave is also the Founder of Gym Hooky, a wellness brand that helps people to lead healthy lifestyles even with their busy schedules.

Before she started working at /dev/color, she spent more than 4 years at JPMorgan, where she developed and managed employee programs across 40+ countries, focusing on many different areas, including diversity, philanthropy and more.

We chatted about her daily routine, how she balances everything and how to transition from one career to another. Get to know Ariel further before she presents at AfroTech this November, and read our interview with her below:

Blavity: As the programs director at /dev/color and the founder of Gym Hooky, what does a typical day in the life look like for you?

Ariel Belgrave: My day starts with the beeping of my alarm clock at 7:50 a.m. After hitting the snooze button for 10 minutes, I hop out of bed to start my day. My morning routine is pretty consistent on weekdays (to ensure I prioritize my self-care time!). From 8:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m., I exercise in my living room for 20-25 min, listen to a 10 min Christian meditation, shower and get dressed. By 9:00 a.m. I'm ready to chow down on a healthy breakfast meal. I typically meal prep on Sundays so I have quick meal options during the weekdays. I pack my lunch and am out the door by 9:40 a.m. My 15-minute walk to work is Gym Hooky time. I publish a post (healthy living tip, fitness advice, or a recipe) on social. I also use this time to engage with followers who’ve commented on past posts or have messaged me with questions. I am in the office by 10 a.m. and get settled at my desk. I look at my calendar for the week, check upcoming tasks, write a to-do list for the day and answer emails. When 11 a.m. hits, my founder, Makinde Adeagbo, and I head to a conference room to follow-up on any takeaways from prior meetings and discuss the status of what we are working on in order to set priorities for the week. We then connect with the /dev/color team at 11:30 a.m. to check in on the major projects each team member is assigned for that month. We go around the room and provide a status of each of our projects. If there are any projects that are a concern, we help the team member brainstorm solutions, offer help, etc. From noon to 6 p.m., my day consists of meetings, drafting plans for our 2017 programming, connecting with companies hosting our Q4 and 2017 events, chatting with members, etc. At 6:30 p.m. I head home. Around 7-8 p.m., my fiance, Quinnton, and I cook dinner, recount our day, catch up on our favorite TV shows and get our fix of social media humor. We switch gears around 9:15 p.m. to work on personal projects and catch up on our personal emails. More recently, our evenings have been spent brainstorming and pinning for our wedding in 2017. I am a night owl, so lights are typically out by 12 a.m.

Blavity: As /dev/color works with more engineers and continues to build and see success, what do you think has been the most impactful moment for you working with black software engineers? Any specific moments that made the hard work you’ve put in all make sense?

Ariel Belgrave: As a small team, we spend a lot of our time behind our laptops making the magic happen — building partnerships, planning events, managing our program initiatives and supporting our members. What I look forward to the most are our monthly events, where we are in the presence of our members. I am moved every time I am in a room filled with our talented and driven black software engineers. Why? Well, this is a sight that is rare to see in the SF Bay Area. Simply knowing that our team’s efforts create moments like these are a constant reminder that the hard work we have put in to build this community is necessary.  Equally as important as seeing the members is hearing from them. Hearing that they’ve never have been in a room with THAT many black software engineers before. Hearing that being a part of /dev/color has brought meaningful change to the way they approach goal setting and career growth. Hearing that they are excited to hold one another accountable to achieve ambitious goals. And hearing that we have inspired them to help members of our community succeed.

Blavity: I read that you originally planned to be a doctor before pursuing your current career. How did you ultimately decide to make the change, and what advice would you have for someone who is afraid to take a leap in their career?

Ariel Belgrave: That is correct. I entered my first year at Boston College convinced that i wanted to be a doctor. I really enjoyed biology and learning about the human body. As an adolescent, I had romantic notions on the life of a doctor. The self-fulfillment and gratification that comes with being a healer appealed to me. I thought that this profession was filled with glory, prestige and honor. After my first semester in college, I had a change of heart. I was no longer passionate about pursuing a career in the medical field. I realized that my career decision was limited by what i knew of success to be — pursuing [a] profession that will make me money. I knew very little about aligning my career with my passion, my values and my interests. BC’s core classes and internships allowed me to explore the different disciplines and career options that I didn't know existed. By the end of my senior year, I knew that I belonged in the world of business.

When taking a leap of faith to pursue a passion or a more fulfilling career, it’s normal to have doubts and hesitations. Your mind immediately thinks about all the potential risks involved with stepping into the world of the unknown. I typically challenge folks to replace their fear of the unknown with a sense of desire for what’s to come — a desire for their passion. Take 5-10 minutes every day and visualize it. What does it look like? What does it feel like? Who is around you? When they can stay in that beautiful energetic state that is desire, they are more likely to cultivate their passion with ease!

Blavity: What was your experience breaking into the tech space? When did it happen and how did you make it work?  

Ariel Belgrave: It was quite the journey, but I learned a ton during the process! Prior to /dev/color, I worked on Wall Street as the Global Head of People & Communications in the Finance sector. After 4.5 years, I was ready for a change. I longed to be in an environment where I was challenged to think outside the box, encouraged to build, and pushed to take risks. The tech industry was an environment that sparked my interest. I was amazed at the amount of creative energy bouncing around. I was inspired by the innovative solutions created by founders making an imprint in the tech industry.

However, I needed to figure out what I wanted to do next and how I was going to successfully seize the next opportunity. I started attending local meetups and events to build a presence in the tech industry and meet people who had similar career paths. I  researched non-technical roles to understand which ones best aligned with my work experience and skill sets. I lived lean to prepare for a potential pay cut. I asked myself key questions to ensure that my desire to leave the industry was a phase.

After a six month job search, I officially took the leap from Wall Street in February of this year, moved from New York to California, and began my journey as /dev/color’s first employee. It is a blessing to be a part of the efforts to move the needle in tech diversity! I recently published a blog post recounting my leap from Wall Street to join a tech startup in Silicon Valley. I share raw details about why I left Wall Street and how I officially transitioned. I hope for it to be a source of inspiration for readers in a career rut!

Blavity: With Gym Hooky you help women incorporate healthy habits into their already hectic lives. This is a feat that many people feel is impossible, so what advice do you have for someone who wants to incorporate more time taking care of themselves and their health but feels like they already have a jam-packed schedule?

Ariel Belgrave: Absolutely — sharing this type of advice is my forte! I know this challenge all too well. There are many ways that women can live a healthy, active lifestyle with a packed schedule. One bit of advice that I will give today is to:

Sneak exercise into your daily routine. Exercise is a key contributor to health and happiness. Moving more can lower the risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity and more. The good things is women can incorporate fitness into their life without having to change their routine.  Here are a few adjustments they can make to their everyday lifestyle that will double as exercise:

  • Take the stairs instead of elevators or escalators
  • Walk or jog instead of driving shorter distances
  • If you have kids, run around and play with them rather than just watching
  • Walk around the airport during your layover as opposed to just sitting
  • Ditch the conference rooms and have a walking meeting with your coworker
  • Squeeze in some sit ups or lunges in while watching T.V. (or during commercials if you can’t be distracted during your favorite show)


Blavity: What’s on the horizon with /dev/color? How about Gym Hooky? What can readers hope to see soon?

We are making exciting moves at /dev/color! We recently hosted our first conference for black software engineers, /dev/color in Motion. It was a full day of learning, sharing, and connecting with peers and leaders shaking up the tech industry. During the conference we announced our seven corporate sponsors, including Uber, Facebook, Pinterest, and Google. With this support, /dev/color will be expanding our A* Program to New York and inviting industry leaders to be members via our Boost Program. We are ecstatic about our 2017 plans for engineers and industry leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York. If you are a black software engineer in the industry, I encourage you to apply! Applications for our 2017 program will be open from October 13th - November 16th.

As far as Gym Hooky goes — I am excited to share that I am working on my first e-book Gym Hooky’s Beginner Guide to Home Workouts! As many subscribers know, I haven’t been to the gym in over 3 years, as I work out in the comfort of my own home. The flexibility of home workouts have allowed me to be in the best shape of my life! In my ebook I will be sharing all one needs to know about building their home gym and well as various exercises and workouts they can do at home. The ebook will be released in January 2017 (sign up on my website to get notified!)


For more from Ariel Belgrave and other game-changers, get your tickets to AfroTech! We'll see you there. 


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