Three years ago, Sasha Green wasn’t expecting to get an email that changed her life, but she sure did need it. “I had hit a low point and desperately needed for something to change,” says Green, who at 39, recently had lost her job and her home. It seemed unbelievable, but suddenly she, her husband, and their two teenage children were homeless. Even though she had just gotten an MBA, Green wasn’t finding the kind of well-paid position she expected would provide her a secure future. Just to get by, Green was working three jobs: driving for Uber, delivering Postmates, and teaching at an elementary after-school program.
Then came a life-changing email. A newly launched mission-driven startup called SV Academy was inviting Green to apply to their tech job-training program. If accepted, she would go through their intensive training that includes mentorship and career support to launch a people-focused career in the tech industry. No coding required.
An offer that’s too good to be true?
The offer sounded so good, almost too good. “I was worried it could be some kind of shady program,” says Green. What’s more, she wondered how a woman of color in her late thirties would fit into the tech industry which, to say the least, hasn’t been known for its racial or gender diversity. “Although I have pride being a black woman, in corporate America I didn’t think I could be my authentic self.” Despite her doubts, she took a leap of faith and applied. After all, says Green, “at that point, faith was all I had.”
In the months that followed, she went through SV Academy’s program with flying colors. After landing a position in Business Development, she was later promoted to Customer Success, one of tech’s fastest-growing careers. She discovered that it was a perfect match for her warm, outgoing personality and talent for problem-solving and creating long-term relationships.
“The fellowship was phenomenal,” says Green, who, like all SV Academy graduates, was provided with a career coach who she regularly met with throughout the first year in her new role. Green says she had honest conversations with her mentor about how to find her place as a woman of color in a work environment that may have few people who look like her. With all of the support, Green said she was ready and excited by the challenge. “My SV Academy teacher named me ‘Sasha Sunshine,’ because I bring the sunshine with me to any workplace. I decided to embrace that moniker. Yes, they teach tech skills, but they also teach human skills. SV Academy showed me how to find my voice and be my true self and succeed at work because of who I am.”
This is exactly the kind of enthusiastic feedback Rahim Fazal, SV Academy’s Co-Founder and CEO, loves to hear. “We are all about giving people the complete set of tools they need to succeed,” says Fazal, who notes that it’s also about finding the right kind of person who brings with them people-focused skills that the software and technology industry desperately needs.”
“Customer Success associates need skills like empathetic listening, conflict resolution, and self-awareness,” says Fazal. Ideal candidates are often those with experience in the retail and education sectors. Teachers, front desk hotel employees, restaurant workers, and others in people-centric jobs have the customer service experience, skills, and outgoing personalities that are in high demand given that Customer Success is one of the industries fastest-growing career paths.
Far beyond traditional customer service workers who often fix short-term problems, Customer Success Associates work to cultivate ongoing relationships with a company’s customers. “Retaining customers is as important if not more important than obtaining new customers,” says Fazal.
The strategy to pair a talented workforce with this quickly growing profession is creating a win-win for the companies that hire from SV Academy and for the graduates who find not just a new job, but secure a future-proof career.
A civil rights movement inspired the tech world to change
Fast forward three years after SV Academy’s start in 2017 to 2020, a tumultuous year to say the least. Millions, particularly those in service-based industries like hotel and restaurant workers, became under- or unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s more, following the George Floyd tragedy, the country has been reeling through the greatest civil rights movement in decades.
But where there is a crisis, there is also an opportunity for change. So believes Nadav Shem-Tov of Gainsight, a Customer Success software
company that wanted to push for real change in the tech workforce. “Given that only about 8% of Customer Success Manager positions in the US today are held by Black and Latinx individuals, our goal is to create opportunities for an underrepresented population through Customer Success careers,” says Shem-Tov. “Diversity and inclusion have always been part of our mission, but we wanted to go beyond just adding more diverse talent to our company. Our impetus has been Black Lives Matter. We want to build something substantial and long-lasting and impactful, to open doors for underserved populations, whether they are people of color, those from a low-income bracket, immigrants, or the LGBTQ+ community. The idea is to have a more diverse workforce that brings their unique skills and talents that have been missing from the tech industry.”
Too many disenfranchised people, he says, don’t have the advantage of four-year college degrees, networking that opens up new jobs, and other opportunities so many in the tech field take for granted. Gainsight could give opportunities to a diverse and underserved population in a booming industry by partnering with SV Academy.
With an initial investment from Gainsight and from Insight Partners, a Gainsight Investor, the CS YOU program was born in partnership with SV Academy. The goal is to invite top-tier tech companies to sponsor one or more associates. So far, they’ve brought in more than 30 corporate partners like Athenahealth, Box, Boomi, Udemy, Refinitiv, Checkout.com, and Hootsuite to be CS YOU sponsors. Each student receives a $10,000 full-scholarship covering the month-long program and the opportunity to secure a two-month internship that pays $10,000 in one of these participating employers, and ideally leads to a permanent placement as a Customer Success Associate, an entry-level role.
A rare opportunity for free training and job placement
This November, the first group of 20 will start CS YOU, they’ll live the SV Academy experience just as Sasha did, except that they will access a first-of its kind program focused specifically on preparing individuals for the Customer Success role. CS YOU comes with the addition of full scholarships and the opportunity for an 8-week paid Customer Success internship at the end of the training. SV Academy’s award-winning curriculum is combined with new hands-on training specific to Customer Success and driven by Gainsight’s thought leadership in the area. It’s the first-ever apprenticeship program designed to help underrepresented job-seekers land a job in the #6 fastest-growing career track, according to LinkedIn. CS YOU is now accepting applications (that you can find here).
By partnering with Udemy, all CS YOU participants will have access to over 7,000 courses from Udemy for Business—a curated list of the most in-demand skills taught by real-world experts and practitioners on Udemy. These skills will help each participate build a successful and long-lasting career in Customer Success and include: functional Customer Success training, DEI, leadership, and other soft skills such as communication, time management, and more. To help ensure managers at all participating organizations are equipped to create a safe and inclusive work environment, Udemy will sponsor access to Dr. Victoria Mattingly’s course, “AllyUp: Using Allyship to Advance Diversity and Inclusion,” for all hiring managers in the program.
“We are proud to sponsor the CS YOU program and provide all program participants with access to the most in-demand skills via Udemy for Business,” said Stephanie Stapleton, Vice President of Customer Success at Udemy. “Our Customer Success team members are critical to helping Udemy cultivate effective relationships with our customers. We are thrilled to be part of CS YOU and to connect with underrepresented Customer Success candidates that reflect our diverse
global customer population.”
Like Green, CS YOU graduates will receive career coaching up to the first 12 months of their first job.
“With the benefit of our training and supportive community, our graduates can get on the fast-track to be of influence and move up the Customer Success career path, so they’ll be the ones hiring the next generation of Customer Success Managers, who will hopefully be more diverse, just like them,” says Shem-Tov. “That’s how we are going to create a more equal tech industry and world in the long term.”
Today, Green is such a fan of SV Academy that, after working in the high tech sector for a little more than a year, she returned to the organization that gave her a life-changing career opportunity when it seemed no one else would. “Today, I have the chance to bring my sunshine to those like me, to talk to and help people who are right where I was three years ago,” says Green. “They are looking for an opportunity, especially in the midst of this pandemic, wanting something to turn out right, hoping for someone to take a chance on them.”