Name: Russell Isaiah Clemons
Hometown: Huntsville, Alabama (but born in Heilbronn, Germany)
Current City: San Francisco, Ca
Undergraduate Major and institution: Chemical Engineering, University of Alabama
Graduate School major and institution (if applicable): NA (although I am currently applying to MBA schools)
Take me back a decade, what did you want to be when you grew up? In Kindergarten, I wanted to be an airplane pilot. I fell in love with them when we took a field trip to an airport and got to see inside the cockpit. Then, when I started playing sports, I wanted to be an NBA player (what little boy doesn't). That dream quickly dissipated by high school when the skill level between the varsity teams and myself quickly increased. High school is when I seriously began considering my career. My parents and mentors suggested engineering since I was a top student. I specifically chose chemical engineering because I loved 10th grade chemistry. Thinking back, even as a child, I would often mix random liquids (be it detergent or hot sauce), irritating my mom because of the mess I made.
What do you do now? I'm a consultant for an IT/Management consulting firm. The work is project based with the length of each project ranging from a couple months to a couple years. The actual work also varies. I could be working as a help desk analyst or creating process maps for the client's operations.
What challenges have you faced achieving your career goals? The biggest challenge without a doubt has been just determining what I want to do. Even though my degree is engineering, I always loved business more - economics, finance, and even marketing. I knew back in college I would get an MBA to help direct my career towards the C-suite. Still, even as I am applying for MBA programs, I still don't know what I want to focus in, if anything. (Some schools urge you to pick a concentration.) Sometimes, I miss the fast paced manufacturing world which provides a lot more opportunity for 'real' engineering. All in all, simply the endless paths in life available present the biggest challenge. I like the idea of being a renaissance man or a jack of all trades. It's just a matter of me picking something. I do think I have found a home in consulting just because it allows me to experience so many types of work.
What led to the move to San Francisco? I had been working in Huntsville [Alabama] and just started getting bored of that job and the city. I wanted to live in a big city, so I applied to Accenture in San Francisco and got the job. I specifically chose Accenture, because I remembered learning about them in college (they are a big supporter of National Society of Black Engineers). However, I never even landed an interview when I applied in college.
What was the biggest adjustment moving from the South to the West coast? What do you love and what do you miss? Of course making new friends was the biggest challenge, but I am lucky that I've met some great people out here. The biggest change of course was the cost of living. Even though you typically get paid more out here, housing/rent specifically in the Bay Area is just absurdly expensive. Also, it is very congested. Few people have yards and traffic is unbearable during rush hour. Even on weekends, traffic jams are common because of people driving to/from the City (SF) or just any number of big events occurring. Finally, and this is specifically SF Bay Area, while it is extremely diverse, there are not that many black people. I love being able to hop on the bus and see different cultures and hear different languages, but it is definitely an adjustment not seeing black people as often as you do in the South. I think the positive about that is many of the young black professionals out here try to look out for one another - whether it's professional networking or social events. What I miss the most is easily the space though - bigger apartments and plentiful parking. Oh yeah and Zaxby's!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In five years (2020), I will have completed my MBA. At the latest I plan to enroll by Fall 2017 and graduate Spring 2019. My plan is to leverage the MBA to gain a manager position (combined with my previous work experience) for a top consultant firm. I'll then continue to develop my expertise and move up the ranks to a partner/managing director level.
What advice would you give to someone who aspires to your career? First, education is important. I am a firm believer that education is the most efficient way to gain economic success. (The military is awesome to because you can either use the GI Bill for school or make a career out of the military. But even in the military, the more formal education/skills you acquire the better off you can be.) While in school, grades absolutely matter. I hate when people bring up stories about Bill Gates being a dropout or a story of the one guy they know who had a 4.0 but can't find a job in his career. Those are outliers. Many of the top companies have strict GPA requirements that they do not budge on. Also, whatever major you choose, get involved in the student professional organization. National Society of Black Engineers was extremely instrumental and a major part of my success in college. It provided internship opportunities, leadership development, professional development, and community outreach.
Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself and your career path? It's okay to fail. There have been times in my various jobs where I failed miserably at certain tasks. It hurts and is damaging to the ego but at the end of the day, (assuming your mistake doesn't impact someone's life) then it's no big deal. The sun will rise again. I had to tweak the timeline of my goals (pursuing my MBA for example), but I never lost sight of them. So basically, stay focused and never give up.