2020Shift’s More Than Code series highlights technology and digital media professionals that are rising in ranks in the space…but not necessarily hacking or coding away on the daily. These techies are excelling in today’s top hybrid, or “non-technical,” roles.
Often times, dreams can be fleeting and seemingly impossible. For Jonathan Jackson, LinkedIn program manager of consumer content and Blavity founding member, this is not the case. This impressive professional can often be found as the youngest one in a room, full of authenticity and bright ideas. From helping his mom complete college to adapting to new work challenges, the writer and editor goes to great lengths to not only reach his goals, but help others achieve their dreams, too.
What does a typical day at LinkedIn entail?
It depends on what my specific priorities are for the day, and how I structure my time. Usually it’s a mix between external and internal things -- last week I chatted with a CMO (chief marketing officer), discussed editorial initiatives and gave insight to a social team on what types of content they could be working on to drive more engagement. I could be offsite speaking at a client event as well.
How did you find out about your position? Why did you choose to work for LinkedIn?
One of my mentors in college moved back to the Bay area to work at LinkedIn. I was looking for a job at the time, and he called me and told me that they were hiring, and I should apply. At the time, I really thought that LinkedIn was Jeff Weiner and a bunch of engineers doing stuff... I had no idea they hired marketers, sales people, copywriters, or even designers.
I was pretty risk averse, so moving to California, working at a tech company and building a network from scratch were all things I needed to do. Separate from that, I wanted to own what I do.
I started in a rotational program, which exposed me to recruiting and customer operations where I worked in advertising operations. About a year ago, my mentor had the job I currently have now, and was looking to move on to a new one. He asked if I’d be interested, knew how much I loved writing, and I am where I am now. Relationships are everything.
How does LinkedIn challenge you daily?
Everything is always changing. On Monday, there could be one workflow or process, and by Wednesday morning there might be a better way to do something. Tech is an amorphous thing with tons of opportunity. I’m never really comfortable because I have new things to tackle. Difficult meetings, new challenges and uncharted territory are things I’m fortunate to engage with. It’s all making me better.
What's the best part about working for LinkedIn?
The access. I'm in rooms with people I used to ask myself how I could get close to. Now they ask me questions and seek my insight. I am growing and expanding every day.
Effective leadership is key in any organization. How do you serve as a leader in your current role?
I look to be a force multiplier. Those are factors that enable systems or groups to become exponentially more effective because of it. If we talk, I want to add value from the beginning. I’m always the youngest in most rooms, but I think I have the biggest heart. That’s my competitive advantage.
Your voice is louder than your words -- as a writer, that can be tough because I'm focused on prose and making sure I'm not distracting people. But being in these rooms, talking in these meetings, and being candid has not only helped me open doors for other people, it's inadvertently given me the respect of people who constantly hear ‘yes’ from everyone else around them. You can't pay for authenticity.
How do you stay creative, innovative and focused while you work?
I look for ways to be myself, even when it's hard. I'm naturally curious, so I ask questions to understand and engage with confusing or difficult things routinely.
The worst thing I can do right now is be someone I'm not. I'm young, black and talented. So are my friends. I'm working on embracing that more fully and celebrating it. When you start doing the things you only dreamed about, you start to move differently. Julian Mitchell, an instructor and multimedia producer who has worked with Mediabistro and Forbes, talks about ‘getting paid to be yourself’ and that should be everyone’s aim right now. I don’t believe we are here randomly, or to just exist.
How do you balance your full-time position and your other ventures?
They inform and compliment each other. Overseeing the Influencer Program at LinkedIn is a part of my life. Leading Corporate Strategy & Branding at Blavity is a part of my life. Being a loving son, a caring brother, and a thoughtful mentor is a part of my life. I don't see a separation there. I didn't get a chance to be a kid in the traditional sense growing up, so I am trying to have fun with what I'm doing, and explore new avenues and opportunities.
How do you recharge from a demanding workweek?
I let myself play. Whether it's coloring, writing down random thoughts, or wrestling with my dog, I give myself permission to exhale and enjoy the space I'm in. It doesn't matter if it's my brother and I debating the latest Scandal episode, or texting emojis back and forth with my mom. I've started a habit of handwriting letters to close friends, as the act of taking pen to paper forces me to think slowly and deeply. I also think typography and stationary is dope.
When in doubt, some oxtail from Jacob's on 141st and Frederick Douglass always brings me back to life.
What has been your biggest career lesson to date?
Execution trumps planning. I can have the best ideas in the world, the cleanest spreadsheet and the best competitive analysis, but if I'm not delivering, it doesn't matter. That's not just about work, but in creative things I want to do as well.
What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?
Titles aren't all they appear to be.
Show people you love them before you say you do.
Your biggest competition will always be how much you limit yourself.
People will celebrate you in private and demean you in public. Focus on your vision for you, not theirs.
Relax. Have several seats, and stop trying to rush towards things you aren’t even ready for.
Write now. Edit after.
Ask yourself what you're afraid of, then run towards that.
You don't need a title to leave a legacy.