By Hibaq Suleiman, Reporting Analyst at LinkedIn & Year Up Alum
MARCH 6, 2019 – Hello, my name is Hibaq Suleiman and I’m a Reporting Analyst for LinkedIn’s People Analytics team and I’m also a Somali Refugee. The path to my tech career may seem “untraditional” to some but I see it now as my competitive advantage in the workforce. I am able to provide different perspectives and fresh solutions and I have an undeniable drive to succeed and work hard because of everything that my family and I have been through. Many companies are filtering out talented young adults like myself in their hiring processes without knowing what they are missing out on. Using filters like requiring a 4-year degree can disproportionately exclude People of Color, immigrants, and refugees from career opportunities. I hope to share with you my story to encourage you to think twice about the filters that exist at your company.
My parents were born in Mogadishu, Somalia. In 1990, they escaped the Civil war in Somalia to find a new home in Dadaab, Kenya. I was born in the Dadaab refugee camp but as it became overcrowded, my family and I migrated to Uganda to a different refugee camp. One of the few things that I can remember about my time at the refugee camp is that I was a very happy kid. I got up early in the morning every day, to go outside and play with the kids in the neighborhood. I wasn’t able to attend school; the primary school was too far away but I did get to enroll in Arabic classes to learn the Quran and I loved going to school.
In 2002, I came to America with my family at the age of seven. Although I was young when I first came here, all my first memories in America are vivid ones. We lived in a shelter, but I felt like we were living in the American Dream; food in the fridge, my dad went to work, and my siblings and I went to school. There were many challenges to overcome at the beginning. Even though I was only 7 years old, I did not have a birth certificate, so I was placed in 5th grade — a full two grade levels more advanced. I had to learn English quickly, which has become my 5th language after Somali, Swahili, Arabic, and Luganda. It was even difficult to know where I fit in socially. I was raised in multiple states Maine and North Dakota and it was hard to know how to learn things about the culture of Somali-American kids as well as the other American kids.
When I got to high school, my favorite class was Chemistry. I never missed a day in that class. I was always the first to come in and last to leave. Until one day when I decided to talk to my counselor about taking AP Chemistry during my senior year. His response was, “Hibaq, I’m sorry I can’t register you for that class, it’ll be too hard for you.” I was shocked! How could he say that when my grades proved otherwise and they were sitting right in front of him? I not only passed, but I also got A’s both semesters and had a recommendation from my Chemistry teacher to take the AP class. I think about that day often — what made him say that? Did he have a bias against me? Or were there other factors impacting what he said? Nevertheless, I worked hard and graduated high school at the age of 16.
After High School, I looked for ways to help support my family and I began a job as a caretaker for a youth camp. After 6 years in the same position, different companies at the same pay, I grew restless in that job. I stayed in that role because I was able to help and care for people, which is a passion of mine. But after 6 years, I didn’t feel like I was challenging myself to the best of my ability. I wanted to do more, learn more, and most of all support my family with more. Seeing my peers find success in college, I began looking for a way to afford higher education myself.
2 years ago, I moved to California for a fresh start. I wasn’t able to enroll in college, but I was lucky enough to come across Year Up. A specialized tech-training program where not only did you get paid a stipend while learning but you also got connected to a 6-month internship with a top company.
This move was different from my last one because at Year Up I instantly connected with my peers. Not because they came from the same background as I did, but they understood what it was like to struggle. Our community was built on trust, respecting each other and working together as a team. Giving real feedback was also an important value for our community — in the middle of our business communications and tech classes, we would recognize each other’s strengths and growth areas every week.
After 6 months, I earned an internship at LinkedIn as a Data Analyst. I worked hard to get up to speed on my job tasks and took every opportunity to meet and network with folks from around the company.
Working in a professional setting for the first time can be difficult to get used to. But it is the best way to learn how to navigate the working world through real-life, hands-on experience. One of the most valuable skills I gained from my internship is the ability to speak with people in a professional setting and make sure my voice was heard.
By the end of my internship, I was clear on my goal. I wanted to work on a team that that challenged me to learn and grow. I was also very clear about the strengths that I could offer a team like being determined and staying hungry to learn each day.
Last June, I landed a job with LinkedIn’s People Analytics team as a Reporting Analyst. In my role, I create monthly Talent Summaries for each organization and help manage the People Analytics ticketing queue. I feel supported in my role and on my team. It’s hard to find a team or manager that’s willing to give you a chance to gain those entry-level skills or experiences. I’m glad to say that my manager, Becca White, and my colleagues on the Analytics team gave me the opportunity to gain that experience.
As you think about the talent at your companies, I’d like to encourage you to take a closer look at Opportunity Youth like myself who because of no fault of their own are out of work or underemployed. There are many factors that make it hard to afford and attain a 4 –year degree but there are a million reasons why someone could be an amazing addition to your team based on the hard and soft skills formed by other experiences.