By Dan Sytman
Dan Sytman is a strategic communications professional who works in the technology industry. He also serves on the Club Advisory Board for the Mercer Island Boys & Girls Club.
Special To The Seattle Medium
When the University of Washington graduate Delannah Collins-Wright started her new job as a Microsoft contractor last month, it was the culmination of years of hard work. In fact, when the longtime Rainier Valley resident approached the tech giant last winter, she presented the kind of resume rarely seen by those fresh out of college. It showcased an apprenticeship at Microsoft, an internship at Google, a long-term position at a Microsoft store, where she worked through college, and a contract job at Amazon.
How did a young woman from humble circumstances amass a stunning level of experience at global companies by the age of 23? The answer is partly revealed by Collins-Wright’s advice to students in the Rainier Valley: “Invest in yourself.” The early investments she made in herself included tapping into learning and development resources in the community, especially at the Smilow Boys & Girls Club, which was central to her education and career success.
As an eighth-grader, Collins-Wright’s grades slipped after her family sustained a series of personal setbacks. Her mother sent her to Smilow to help turn things around. When Collins-Wright asked Club staff for help in one especially difficult course, they found her a tutor. Soon she was on the honor roll, and it wasn’t much longer until she was tutoring younger students. In 2013, Collins-Wright was selected as “Youth of the Year” by Boys & Girls Clubs of King County.
“The Boys & Girls Club saw potential in me before I saw it in myself,” Collins-Wright explains. “It’s a large reason for my successes.”
Collins-Wright says that one of the Club’s senior program directors at the time, Denise Lewis, made a special impact. Lewis observed Collins-Wright’s fear of public speaking and encouraged her to present to the Club’s board. Collins-Wright provided updates on the Keystone Club, which allows young adults to develop in academic success, career preparation, and community service.
“I was so nervous at that moment, but teens are much more capable than they think,” Collins-Wright reflects. She adds that being able to present confidently is a skill that anyone who wants to work at a global corporation needs in order to get in the door. While competing in the county and state “Youth of the Year” competitions, she ultimately had to present in front of hundreds of people at a time.
Another way the Club provided assistance was through YouthForce, a career, development, and education program. Through YouthForce, Collins-Wright landed an apprenticeship at Microsoft. She eagerly took two buses to get there each day.
“As one of the youngest apprentices, I quickly learned maturity and professionalism, and was able to further refine my public-speaking skills,” Collins-Wright said. “I fell in love with the culture and work that I was contributing to and started to think about pursuing a career at Microsoft.”
During that time, Collins-Wright used another skill she learned at the Boys & Girls Club – networking – which led to a job during college at the Microsoft Store in the University District.
In her brand-new job at Microsoft, Collins-Wright works with the Microsoft 365 Security and Compliance Team as a User Experience Researcher. User Experience, or UX, is the process of creating simple, useful, and even joy-spurring interactions between people and technology.
“I have always been grateful for the consistent involvement and investment that Microsoft has had for Boys & Girls Club kids,” Collins-Wright said. “I am so happy to finally contribute to a company that values community and empowerment.”
Her final advice to students from her community who might struggle with school and other challenges is to connect with the Boys & Girls Club and other nonprofits eager to help them cultivate the skills they might not even know they have.
“No matter your age or circumstance, you are never too young to start working toward your future,” said Collins-Wright.