This Howard Grad Skipped Law School and Landed Roles at Google and Pinterest

December 21, 2016 HBCU Alumni, HBCUMade

Corinne Dixon randomly happened into the tech industry. A political science major at Howard, she worked as a paralegal full time at a San Francisco law firm while taking what she thought was going to be a year off before going to law school. Despite having stellar LSAT scores and recommendations, working long hours and on cases she didn’t find interesting changed her mind about going to law school. “I couldn’t write my essay…I very quickly felt less than motivated to apply to law school because all the lawyers around me were miserable” she recalls.

Dixon started looking for jobs at other companies, including Google. Responses came slow or not at all, so she decided to make a complete career shift. “I quit my job, much to my mother’s chagrin, sold all of my belongings and decided to move to Paris” said Dixon. She was planning on studying lingerie design in Paris when she finally heard back from Google. “I was living this bohemian lifestyle ready to have a different experience when Google called…I didn’t realize they averaged 6 months to get back to you when I applied.”

At Google, she became a contracts manager, a job that doesn’t really exist outside of silicon valley. “It’s a non-lawyer’s lawyer. Someone who negotiates deals and writes templates the way that a lawyer would without a having JD.” In this role, Dixon found interesting and enjoyable work. “Had that been my experience of what working in the legal industry was like I would have gone to law school.”

Kismet led Dixon to Google. She applied because one morning in 2004, the news happened to be spotlighting Google and their impending IPO. “It looked like a fun environment, and I also knew it was a really innovative company, and I thought that could be interesting. I didn’t know much about startups and tech so it was really just that company being cool to me.” She worked at Google for 8 years on wide variety of products, even getting the opportunity to work in Google UK’s London office for 3 years.

In 2015, Dixon was gearing up for a month long vacation, when Pinterest reached out via LinkedIn. “On Linkedin you get those general reach-outs from time to time and I would always say no thanks, I’m happy” she said. But this time the timing was right, and this time she took the call. Speaking with them, Pinterest felt right, like home. “I said during my interview that I was so happy at Google that I always thought I would never leave until I found another place that felt as much like home as Google feels, and Pinterest definitely felt like that.”

For Dixon, home is a feeling. “I’m quite a shy person by nature, and it takes me a while to warm up to people and the environment…but when I came into the Pinterest office I felt relaxed which isn’t normal for me. I felt I could be myself.”

Dixon is also passionate about increasing and retaining diversity in her workplace. At Google she did a lot of work for the black Googlers network, as well as outreach to HBCUs. “Before I came to Pinterest I looked at their diversity report…and the numbers were not great.” She wanted to continue her diversity efforts at Pinterest. “I wasn’t sure I could bring that up in the interview…but I thought if this is a place that is going to be my home, then I want to be able to be myself, say the things that are difficult to say, and challenge them.” She brought it up in the interview and asked if there would be room in her job to work on those efforts. Pinterest agreed. “That really sealed the deal and made me feel like this will be my home.“

At Pinterest, Dixon has taken the lead on diversity initiatives. Along with speaking to students, she designed an internship programs for black and brown student engineers. It differs from traditional programs in that it’s geared towards first year students. “We thought if we could catch black and brown engineering students in their first year, and give them a chance and a big name like Pinterest on their resume, they would be less likely to drop out of their engineering program, and it would leg up for another internship.” Dixon also got Pinterest to expand their unconscious bias training from executives to the whole company, and has recently been certified to lead the training. She also helped to launch blackboard, an internal employee resource group.

Dixon advises that HBCU students do as much homework and research as possible on companies they want to go. “I had not been aware of the programs that existed for college students and recent grads in the tech industry, and there are tons of them”. She says bay area students should take advantage of the tech companies that host talks and events. “That’s a great way of networking and meeting leaders and hiring managers from those companies.”

Even outside the bay, she says students and anyone should reach out to people at these companies. “It makes me feel comfortable and happy to work with students who are just starting to build their careers…I feel like I stumbled into where I am now but where I am has a lot of opportunities. That’s the benefit of being here already.”

She also encourages professionals to give back. Her uncle ran an Upward Bound program, and she’s brought the students from the program to Google in the past. “Anyone can do it, so I would advise anyone working at companies like Pinterest and Google to look for opportunities to connect with youth around them.”