If “The Future is female” as they say, and Black girls have magic, then Shavone Charles is undeniably leading the pack. She currently serves as the head of global music and youth culture communications at Instagram.
While most 20-somethings are struggling to find their professional footing after college, Charles already had her creative talents planted at dream companies like Google, BET Networks and Twitter, where she was the first-ever African American woman to be hired for the communications team.
She is a resolute advocate for increasing diversity and inclusion in the technology industry concretely for millennials of color. Charles aims not only to increase the African American presence in Silicon Valley but also inspire her generation to innovate and collaborate now. “Be intentional with your creativity,” she says.
The culture has recognized her undimmed passion for technology and now she’s set to disrupt the music and tech industries. Shavone Charles is definitely a name to watch for in 2018. Get to know her story here first.
How did you determine your career path so early on in music and tech?
Early on in high school and throughout college, I knew I wanted to work in a creative, fast-paced industry. As a creative and writer, I’ve always been passionate about music and developed a deeper interest in the tech industry immediately after my internship at Google. My passion for music runs really deep and that passion has been the mobilizing force behind my growing professional career and overall artistry. I’ve been a musician and artist my entire life and my direct connection to music officially started in the third grade with my first flute and piano lessons. From then on, I played the flute competitively throughout elementary school, middle school and high school, where I was the first chair in marching band! Toward the end of middle school and early high school, I picked up performing poetry and rapping. I used my passion and real-life experiences in music to help guide my professional career and lean into my skill sets. Throughout college, I worked extremely hard to stay proactive as a first-gen student of color and interned with Google, BET Networks, Capitol Hill, The Department of Justice and others.
After graduating from the University of California, Merced in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in literature, I took on a full-time role at Twitter in San Francisco, where I spearheaded the company’s global music and culture communications as the youngest person on my team and the first-ever African American woman to be hired onto the communications team. I dedicated my time off work to aid people of color in tech and helped found Blackbird, Twitter’s first-ever employee resource group for African American employees.
Have you ever had any instrumental mentors in your life? You mentor young people often, how can mentors be helpful for growth and development?
Absolutely. I have had a few really amazing mentors show up during different chapters of my life. I sought many of them out proactively, more so with having an outgoing proactive attitude and willingness to learn while I spent time in professional spaces (for instance, during my time at all of my internships and community service projects).
I think young people sometimes spend too much energy thinking about the idea of “networking” and finding mentors who can “show them the way.” Throughout my youth and life, I work to spend time being the leader and seeking out answers, vs proactively looking for answers and guidance in others. I’ve found that along your path of trying to be the best version of yourself, working hard and staying curious and hungry for knowledge, you will attract the right leaders into your life.
Where do you find creative inspiration? What are your creative outlets? How do you stay creative?
I have always been a visual thinker. My creativity is sparked by sounds and visuals, those are my native languages when it comes to communicating and understanding ideas. I love to create and curate mood boards. I’m constantly online to discover new information and research new things, whether it be words or images. I also enjoy writing and composing music with my flute and any new instrumentals that are inspiring me to create in the moment. Music is still my most-important outlet for self-expression and self-care. My most important creative outlet is my music. I’m working on a new project now that will include my rap artistry and musicianship. Very excited about it and can’t wait to share more when the time comes. Along with music, mentoring youth and reaching back into at-risk communities are both two important parts of the community work I want to continue to do with young people of color who need support and guidance.
What inspires you to show up at work every day? What inspires you to give back to your community?
Every day, I’m inspired by my family and young people in our communities who need to see someone like me show up in the industry spaces I currently work in. At a young age, I grew up inside of my mother and father’s own businesses, sweeping floors, answering phones, mentoring at-risk youth and establishing a 1:1 connection with the people in our surrounding communities. My mother and father worked against all odds to pursue entrepreneurism and disrupt their career fields with immigrant parents, without a formal education, as two young people of color growing up in southeast San Diego. By example, my parents showed me that I had to take initiative in my life and stay in tune with my community to actually drive positive impact and rise above personal circumstance or hardships.
Over the course of my rising career, I’ve intentionally worked to pave a lane for fellow creatives who refuse to be fenced into one box, working in spaces to trail blaze a path for young creatives of color who celebrate their differences and use those differences to create change and shift the culture. Showing up to work as my whole self is a must and music and community are two of the most important things in my life. Both have been the underlying forces that continue to power my dreams, career path and life journey.
What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
A most-memorable early business idea….one was saving up money for studio time, to one day package up and sell my music. In high school, my grandmother helped me acquire startup funds for me to pay for studio time and order my first batch of mastered and packaged mixtapes. In high school, physical CDs were a thing and I really attempted to “move units” with guerilla marketing tactics, as well as local radio coverage and local outreach to DJs in Southern California. When I started my first year in college, I managed to build a decent local buzz and went on to perform at Howard University’s homecoming to open for Talib Kweli in Washington, D.C. Back then I had no institutional knowledge of PR, marketing or the inner workings of the music business.
What did you learn from your biggest failure?
To succeed you have to be willing to fail more often. Work toward your goals with intention and not fear. Intention and positive energy will propel you in the direction you need to go in.
What advice would you give to young women of color looking to graduate from college and start a career in tech?
Stay intentional about how and where you spend your time. Stay intentional about who you spend your time with. Don’t sit and wait for opportunities to “happen” to you. Do your research on the skills you need to acquire to pursue the roles or career path that you want and be disciplined with your pursuits. Stay intentional about your direction and life.