Meet the First Class of Aha! Fellows
"To make a difference as a product manager and a member in my community." This is how one applicant to the Aha! fellowship program described their career goal. This answer deeply resonated with me. My career has been anchored in product management. And my co-founder Dr. Chris Waters and I always wanted Aha! to have a lasting and positive impact on customers, our team, and the communities we all live in. From the beginning, we committed to building a different kind of high-growth software company — one that was profitable and put people first.
We believe that now, more than ever, businesses have a moral responsibility to reject hate and actively promote kindness.
Let me share a bit more about how this fellowship program came to be. In 2018, we launched Aha! Cares, a corporate philanthropy program with three pillars — food, safety, and shelter for people in need. So far we have given more than $250,000 to organizations located where our teammates live and volunteered in dozens of communities. We felt proud of what we were able to do as a relatively young company.
But 2020 has been a year of heartache. In addition to a global pandemic, the breadth and depth of hatred and brutality in the United States was laid bare. So we responded by expanding the program to address issues of social justice. We added a fourth pillar for opportunity.
We must fill a void that other institutions have left vacant — by becoming sustainable forces for hope, opportunity, and advancement.
Adding opportunity to Aha! Cares made space for a program like the Aha! fellowship. Our goal is to provide training and enhance the diversity of people in software, including those from historically underrepresented racial, ethnic, and disadvantaged groups. We are grateful to be able to provide fellows a monthly stipend of $4200 so they can dedicate eight weeks to immersive learning.
When we opened up fellowship applications in August, we hoped people would want to participate. We were humbled by the response — nearly 500 deserving people applied. It confirmed that programs like this are desperately needed to increase equity and inclusion.
Today the entire team and I are filled with pride to welcome the first class of Aha! fellows.
These 11 talented fellows join us from across seven states with backgrounds in product management, computer science, nonprofits, and education. Now that our inaugural class of fellows is here, we want to give you the chance to meet each of them too:
Angela Le — San Jose, CA
Currently reading: Loserthink: How Untrained Brains Are Ruining America by Scott Adams
"I am shamelessly inquisitive and proactive in seeking help. From learning CAD software from scratch to learning front-end coding to revamp a company webpage — taking initiative to solve problems is my norm. Through the Aha! fellowship program, I hope that I will be able to contribute to a product that users will notice and appreciate. My career goal is to drive innovation as a product manager across diverse applications in software, fintech, or health tech."
Busola Adeniran — Dallas, TX
Hidden talent: Improvising on-the-fly to entertain my four year old
"I am a big fan of Serena Williams — I admire how much work and hacks top athletes apply in every aspect of their lives to get to the top. When I came dead last in a 20-mile trail run, it made me realize how gritty and determined I am. My career goal is to be an entrepreneur and build technology for areas that I am passionate about — improving the well-being of low-income households, especially in developing countries and the special needs community."
Clinton Tyler-Martin — Atlanta, GA
Hidden talent: DJ-ing
"I am proud that I am unafraid of being professionally uncomfortable — I am in the midst of executing a complete career change and it is thrilling. To have the nerve and audacity to believe that I can do something different and actually leave my comfort zone to pursue it is something I am totally stoked about. I draw inspiration from my aunt, who is the woman who raised me. Watching her progress in her career as an anesthesiologist and woman of color was fascinating! Her approach to her trade, which rubbed off on me, is to never stop learning and reinventing yourself, work from the viewpoint of 'You are helped by helping others,' and to always do more than what is expected."
Cynthia Gabriella Colas — Tallahassee, FL
Currently reading: Decode and Conquer by Lewis Lin
"Earlier this year, I completed a project management internship at Tesla. I was surrounded and trained by individuals who have degrees from Ivy League schools — I graduated from a state university and was one of very few people of color to work there. To me, it served as a strong sign that I am capable of doing great things in my life. And landing such an opportunity also proved that others who have a similar background are capable as well."
Danish Tharvani — Euless, TX
Currently reading: Creative Quest by Questlove
"Three years ago, I co-founded the Social Entrepreneurship Learning Lab (SELL) to change the way people think about solving social issues they care about. To date, we have helped more than 125 students launch their own social enterprises. I want to focus my professional journey on helping teams leverage technology to build and scale socially impactful products. Being in the Aha! fellowship program is a step in that direction."
Eddie Harmon — New York City, NY
Hidden talent: Writing poetry
"I am really proud of graduating from a 10-month, intensive, software development bootcamp — I took a leap of faith to leave my job and follow my dream to enter the tech industry. I accomplished what — at many times — felt impossible. My career goal is to be a product manager within the tech industry where I can influence innovation and work with teams that do amazing things for the world."
Maria Paz Zuniga — San Francisco, CA
Currently reading: Agent Running in the Field by John le Carré
"I want to become a product leader who supports other women and minorities in the field. One of my professors from Oxford, Catherine Walter, has had a great influence on me. She showed me how to persevere in a professional environment that can sometimes be against you. She has inspired me to be relentless, aim high, and maintain focus. Outside of work, I enjoy volunteering in my community."
Milleigh Vo — Seattle, WA
Currently reading: Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez
"I decided to join the Aha! fellowship program to strengthen the product management foundation I have built for myself through self-education. I want to build a network of technical professionals I can learn from and grow with. And I see myself continuing to work at the intersection of social impact and technology, though in a more technical role than before. I would like to see more companies embrace approaches to product management that incorporate social justice, inclusion, and anti-racism frameworks."
Natikia Robinson — Mobile, AL
Hidden talent: Google sleuthing
"Professionally, my biggest accomplishment has been bringing new life to a failing product. As a product manager, I was assigned a product that was outgrowing its usefulness. I was able to think of this product in a different way and reposition it to gain more customers. Personally, my biggest accomplishment is my nine-year-old daughter. I enjoy volunteering at her school and helping with creative projects."
Rommy Shehadeh — Orlando, FL
Currently reading: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
"When I first heard about the Aha! fellowship program, I wanted to know more about the company values. The values really resonated with me because I believe a growth mindset is what got me to where I am today. I believe in a culture that promotes transparency and putting customers first. I am excited to scratch the surface of the software industry and start learning with Aha!"
Tyler Benjamin — New York City, NY
Currently reading: Becoming by Michelle Obama
"My mother's work ethic has been a huge influence on me — she provided for 10 kids as a single mother. I was the first in my family to graduate from college — this was a huge milestone for my family. I am passionate about using technology and business to reform systems of economic and racial injustice. My friend and I created a platform called Lesson Check-In that helps under-resourced families adjust to distance learning."
This is just the beginning that we hope will help accelerate the change so many of us desire — as I recently told the fellows, we will grow and learn together.
We plan to open up fellowship classes once or twice a year to start. So if you are interested in applying to the 2021 Aha! fellowship program, check back at the Aha! blog to see when the next round of applications opens.
And if you are not eligible or able to apply, please share the program in professional groups or with your own company. If you are thinking about building your own program, contact us so we can share what we have done and learned. We want this program to be sustainable and inspire other organizations to actively be a force for greater opportunity for all.