Work Friends is our interview series that digs into the complicated realities of people with interesting jobs.
After a few superhero jokes, Jermaine “The Jobfather” Murray gets serious with me about when he realized being recruiter could make a real difference. “We closed this client and I remember he came into the office and he was skipping. He almost hit his head on the door, the way he was skipping.”
In 2018, while working at a recruitment agency, Jermaine helped the man leave the instability of contract work and land a $130,000 Java developer role that would change his life. “He was like, 'You guys got me a job that's going to enable me to work remotely and walk my son to daycare every day. And I'll never miss another moment.' He was telling me how he missed his son's first steps, his son's first words because of those contracts. And it was a powerful moment. In that moment I said to myself, I love this. This is amazing. God, I wish he was Black.”
The reason for this was twofold. Firstly, Jermaine, who is Black, learned that even with the low representation of Black tech workers in Canada (just over 4% according to the Brookfield Institute) and the lowest salary of all visible minorities at that time, the average salary of a Black tech worker was still nearly $30,000 higher than Black workers in non-tech roles. Jermaine knew how this huge salary bump alone could radically change the lives of people in his own community. But the second reason was much more personal.
Just a year prior, in 2017, Jermaine graduated from university and his parents divorced. At the same time his father lost his business and struggled to find new work. Jermaine says it was this period of time that tore his family apart. Fast forward to that day at the recruitment agency and finding someone else’s father a great job brought up deep-rooted feelings in Jermaine.
“I remember going to my desk and thinking about what would happen if my dad had an opportunity like that? Would we be on speaking terms? I haven't seen my dad in like seven years and we barely talk. And it's because he had to work at shitty jobs that ruined him as a person, and made him bitter against the world.”
While he knows can’t change his own father’s situation, Jermaine has committed to using his role to make an impact for others. When he’s not working his day job as a Technical Recruiter at Wealthsimple, Jermaine is running his own career coaching practice called JupiterHR. It’s through JupiterHR that Jermaine has committed to using his skills and network to meet an audacious goal: get 500 Black people hired in tech. As of our interview in early May, he was at 320. Read on for more.
Sydney Allen-Ash, Co-Editor, Early: I know you've talked about how you have the degree in broadcasting, and how you really like public speaking and that communication is a strong skillset for you. So that all makes sense why recruiting fits professionally. But personally, why do you think it fits with your personality and your values and your experience? Why do you think this role connects with you so well?
Jermaine Murray: I think because I've been there. It was a very tough time when I graduated school and I couldn't get work. My parents divorced. My dad ended up losing his job, his business, which was traumatic. And he was having a hard time getting a job. Got a job at a factory at Oakville and like three months into it, they had massive layoffs and they shut the place down.
Syd: Oh man.
Jermaine: It soured our relationship. Up until my dad lost his business, I had a beautiful relationship with him. He was my idol. That man was the best man I ever knew. And that version of him is still the best person I've ever known.
This guy came from the gutter. He used to sleep under trees in Jamaica and he came up, built his own business, sent his kids off to school. He didn't have a high school diploma. He worked with his hands. It seemed like how a lack of options, plus pride, kind of ripped my family apart. And we ended up having to sell our house prior to this crazy housing boom with the intention of getting back into it.
I didn't find recruiting until three months after the dust had settled. And if I had just found my first recruitment job, even six months earlier, I sometimes think that my family would still be together.
I go to therapy and my therapist is like, "Yo, that's not on you." You know how they talk about how kids of divorce always somehow internalize it? I think it's one of those things. Nothing sucks more to be so desperate to find an opportunity and you're just powerless to actually do it. And the shitty thing about feeling powerless, powerlessness feels like it only comes when there's so much at stake.
Syd: Yeah. Totally.
Jermaine: So I kind of follow a philosophy of like, in order to deal with my hurt, I help other people. So on a meta level, that's kind of what's driving it. And like I said, when I dissect the connections in my relationship with my parents, you recognize that some things are systemic. But it's just funny how much a job could change all of that.
I have a very complex relationship with my father. And a lot of my friends have complex relationships with their fathers or parent. And I see one of the most common elements in all of these complex situations is either time or money, right? Parents didn't spend enough time with their kids, then kids got in a whole bunch of mess. Parents didn't get to spend time because parents didn't have the option because parents didn't make enough money to have the choice.
Syd: Yes, of course.
Jermaine: So then I realized, I got some really good privilege as a recruiter. I'm in a position where I literally have people coming to me saying, "Yo, I'm trying to hire people. Do you know anybody that's looking for a job?"
In December of 2018, that was when I said to myself. "My New Year's resolution is [that] I'm going to try and help as many Black people get a job in tech as I can." At the turn of 2019, I just went crazy. At first I was sending clients at the recruitment agency just Black candidates. I was in a relationship with a girl from a Nigerian community, so she really plugged me into all their community events. And I got to actually network. I ended up meeting enough software developers that I started making WhatsApp groups where I was like, "We'll foster community in here. We'll share job resources."
And I always just tell people, Black people too if I'm recruiting them, I'd be like, "Yo, if you have a job coming up, even if it's not with one of my clients, hit me up and I'll interview prep you." So I'd be coaching them and people were getting jobs. Either I was placing them or I wrote their resume or I interview prep them. And I was like, "I'm going to start keeping track."
And then I brought it to Twitter and I joined the #BlackTechTwitter hashtag put on by Parris [Athena] and kind of found a little community of Black tech professionals, people that look like us in these spaces. I was able to add my own little community from the WhatsApp group to that and vice versa. And I just realized that, again, I had a lot of resources at hand, so I started making posts. I wanted to give people information because I feel like with Black people, the thing that stands in front of our way when it comes to these tech opportunities is transparency, right?
I found a report put on by the Brookfield Institute in collaboration with Ryerson called, “Who Are Canada's Tech Workers”. I say that report radicalized me because it showed that Black people in tech were represented less than 4% of the industry and we averaged the least amount of salary. That's an old outdated report from 2019 but the median wage in Canada is like $53,000, $54,000. And even though Black people were getting paid the lowest, they were getting an average salary of $65,000. And everyone else was averaging a salary of $70,000 or $75,000.
It made me want things to be as transparent as possible. I started sharing as many resources as I can. One of my most favorite threads that I made was a breakdown of how LinkedIn works, from a recruiter.
Syd: Super helpful.
Jermaine: It basically showed what recruiters see from the recruiter's screen on LinkedIn. And I used the logic to explain how people can use their profile set up in a certain way to have it posted and pop up. Also, just to make a good ass LinkedIn!
Jermaine: Because that's what recruiters are looking for.
Syd: Yes, totally.
Jermaine: It was my first thread that went viral. But in that first year, I didn't get to 100 [Black people hired in tech]. 100 wasn't my goal at the time. I got to 67.
Syd: Still a lot.
Jermaine: It was. It was crazy and I was exhausted. I used to go like four networking events a week before COVID. All that, and I ended up with 67 people and I was like, all right, bet. I want to see if we can do 100. And then 2020 rolls around and I think we were at 50 by the time the pandemic hit, and things kind of slowed down. No one was hiring. I wasn't even sure if I was going to have a job after the pandemic. So it was kind of rough. And then towards the end of 2020, things started to pick up steam again. And we ended off the year with 85 people.
Jermaine: I was cheesed though. I'm a petty dude.
Syd: You were on a roll and you wanted to hit this number and you were 15 people off?
Jermaine: Yeah. And I was like, "All right, fuck it. I've been doing this kind of privately." So I made a public declaration. “I've been afraid to hold myself accountable. But this year, 2021, I'm helping 100 Black people get jobs in tech.” And I said, by any means necessary.
Like, if somebody came up to me and they told me that one of my resources or my posts helped them for their interview or helped them get a job, that counted. If I did somebody's resume and they used it and that got them a job, it counted. If I interview prep somebody and I made them feel good going into the role, it counted. If I referred somebody to an employer or another recruiter in my network and they got a job, they counted. If I hired somebody, it counted, right? Any means necessary.
I posted every single person that we helped out that year on my Twitter. And that helped because it got visibility and it got me connected with other people at other companies that were about it. So it helped me make a couple pipelines where three, four people were getting hired from one company. It was going bananas. We hit 100 in September.
Jermaine: You know what I'm saying? Yeah, yeah. It was a great thing. My partner was annoyed with me because she asked me what I was going to do to celebrate and I told her that, "Imma Photoshop my head on Wilt Chamberlain's head and Imma post that." And then she was like, "That's it?" I was like, "Yeah, that's it. That's my Wilt number." I'm like-
Syd: You're like, "I'm good. What? I need more?"
Jermaine: Oh, God bless her. She got me custom donuts and balloons that said Jupiter 100.
Syd: That's amazing.
Jermaine: She asked me what the average salary was of the person that got a job. And it was like $88,000 and some change.
And then she's like, "When you take the $88,000, you add up the 100 people. That's like 10 mil in terms of economic impact in what people are getting." And she's like, "That's just today. We're not even talking about how that sets them up."
Syd: Year over year.
Jermaine: You know what I'm saying?
Jermaine: Or just how it affects their relationship with children. That part brought comfort to me because I hurt a lot with regards to my relationship with my dad. I don't think any child should hurt the way that I hurt. So we celebrated. She got me donut. She played Nipsey Hussle — that's my guy — and we still kept it going.
Syd: Amazing. Wow. So what number are you at now? I saw on your Twitter, the most recent number was 319.
Jermaine: 320 now, actually.
Syd: Wow. 320.
Jermaine: This morning. Yeah.
Syd: This morning! That's awesome.
Jermaine: It was great. One of my resumes and my coaching got somebody a talent acquisition job at one of these startup labs. So he's ecstatic.
Syd: Amazing. I'm curious about on your journey of getting 500 Black people hired in tech, what has been the kind of most surprising thing that you've learned in that experience? What is the most unexpected realizations that you've had?
Jermaine: How different, yet the same, the Black experience is when it comes to hiring. And I'll break it down like this, you hear people complain about Black people pulling the “race card” all the time. From the amount of conversations I've had with Black people, I'm confident in saying that the race card is literally the last thing a Black person wants to pull.
Syd: Yeah, yeah.
Jermaine: We don't want to pull it because part of us want to believe that the world is better than that. We will literally jump through hoops and do mental gymnastics trying to make sense of [the world] without seeing what it really is. So I guess I was surprised at how prevalent that was among a lot of the people and how that lack of transparency was making a lot of people internalize the racism and to find ways to blame themselves or to downplay their accomplishments while putting a magnifying glass over their fuckups and their limitations.
People have various degrees of confidence, but I always found that there was room for me to gas people up a little bit, right, because in some way they are not taking in the full scope of the work that they were doing. One of the things I told a client the other day was that like, "Yo, do you think your job's hiring you because they're nice people or because they're getting a return on investment on how much money they pay you?" Businesses strive to 5X their investments. So they pay you $100,000 because you're putting $500,000 in their pocket.
So I was just like, "Think about it. Is this really a master-servant relationship or is it a partnership?" Because if you walk away, that's $500,000 that's out the door, maybe six, seven, if you're a high performer. So what's the dynamic here, really? And then it also helps that the market's kind of crazy. So, I'm surprised at how much of my job is really just empowering people to really own their achievements.
Syd: Mm-hmm. Has anything in this process in meeting so many people, has any of it changed your own approach to you finding a job? Because in this process of finding now 320 people jobs, you've also gone through three different jobs, it sounds like, maybe four.
Jermaine: Yeah. I'm on my third job since the pandemic.
Syd: Your third job since the pandemic. So has this challenge been influencing how you are approaching getting jobs as well?
Jermaine: Yes, but it's given me a privilege. So that's something I have to always recognize is that because I'm so visible about this and because it synergizes really well with my recruitment career. I have that kind of privilege and confidence and that network. So, whenever I go into a working situation, I can be very picky about my working situations.
Syd: As you should be.
Jermaine: But this feeling is what I want every single person in my community to have. Being so vocal about getting 500 Black people a job, I've also challenged companies to help me with it. And as a result, it's helped grow the network. So I try to look for opportunities where I can refer people and put them in touch and get them a couple of interviews. And sometimes, that pans out well and they get a job, they get a new opportunity, a lot of times better than the last one. Other times, it just gives them momentum and confidence to just keep pushing out there.
But I think the main thing is just like, I always go back to the most dire need: that information. And that's what I want to make sure that people have. If they have questions about a company, they know someone they can go to that might have an idea of who to talk to get a real idea of what's going on in that company. If they want to get into a company, there's someone that can give them a referral. A lot of people come to me about, "Yo, do you know any Black people in X company?" "I do. What do you want to know?" "Can I just talk to them about what it's like? I've been in a toxic environment. I just want to know if it's worth applying there." Then you put them in touch on the down-low, right? And people appreciate that and it helps and it's that transparency, but also that safety net. It's a support network that we're trying to build up.
Syd: I'm curious about what types of conversations that you have with people, especially right now, since it is kind of like the employee's market, right? Are you helping to coach people on like, "Oh, I know you got to offer from this place, but it's not good enough. Don't take it." Like-
Jermaine: Oh, all the time.
Syd: ... like, "No, don't take that job or you should leave this job because you could get X, Y, Z." Those things are happening too?
Jermaine: Oh, my God. Yeah. Sometimes I'll be on panels and I'll feel bad or ostracized because I'm on that, fuck you, pay me mentality. So I be telling people like, "Yo, I only ask two times. I ask for the raise the first time as a courtesy of the time that we work together. I'm asking you one time when no one else is at the table. The second time I ask you, somebody's already at the table. And the third time, is you trying to get me on a counter offer and I'm already gone.
Jermaine: Right? I leave for any reason if a job does not treat me right or I feel undervalued. So I be telling people, especially in this market, you got to let them sweat a little. This is the courting phase. You know what I'm saying? This is where they're supposed to show you their best. How bad do they want you? And I especially tell Black people, put a tax on your price. Put a tax. Everyone wants to hire Black people. If they want to hire them, they want pay them too. If you're going to make profit off of my labor, the least you could do is make me comfortable.
Syd: Mm-hmm. Yeah. I think people should leave jobs more frequently and should demand higher standards for jobs. But I think it comes back to what you said before about that transparency. When people don't have information, they don't have power. And it really does come down to that at the end of the day.
Jermaine: And I be telling people where to go to find this stuff too after they're done talking to me. I'm like, "Continue your research because there's a plethora of content out there that I don't even know." And I be telling people, that the best thing you can do is to build communities. And I'm a fan of what we got going on on Twitter with the #BlackTechTwitter hashtag. I'm a fan of Meetups. I'm a fan of Discord channels and servers. I'm a fan of Reddit forums and Fishbowl, which is this new thing. These are places that people are talking and having these honest conversations behind being anonymous. They telling the truth. Go and build up relationships with these people and really, really see what's going on.
Jermaine: So if you're in anime Discord, ask people in the Discord who works in tech. You'd probably be having a conversation about Goku versus Superman like 20 times with somebody. You're building up a rapport. No lie. I've had arguments with IT directors about like Inuyasha battles and shit, and they straight up are IT directors who are hiring. I was like, "Yo, what do you do? Let me get your gamer tag. Let me get your PSN," build a little rapport with them. And it's like, "Oh yo, are you on LinkedIn? I'm on LinkedIn too." It's just that. So build community where you can.
Syd: You just gave me one kind of key tip for Black people looking to transition into tech, which is about building community. I wonder if you can give you maybe two more. Two more go-to tips for people when they're about to transition or they're looking to transition into tech?
Jermaine: I would say the first thing you want to do is to make a list of companies that you would like to work at and use that as an idea to see what jobs would be applicable to you, but also gain an idea of what's going on in those particular industries. So if and when the time comes, you can have an informed conversation on how your skills are a good fit with the perspective of an industry itself. And the third one I would say would be to... If the salary you're asking for doesn't make you hesitate or uncomfortable, it's too low.
I'm not saying you need to expect to get the moon and everything, but you need to stretch yourself because the worst thing, the absolute worst thing is for them to ask you how much money you're targeting and for you to say a number and for them to say, "Okay, we'll do it." That is the worst thing because later on, you're like, "I could have asked for more money," because you always got like a Mulligan on the job offer. So make sure your number's uncomfortable or it's higher than what you really want because they'll negotiate you down and worst case scenario, they hit you with that, "Yeah, we'll just give you that." It happens.
Syd: Definitely. Okay. Amazing. We're just finished perfectly at time, which is great. Is there anything else that you want to tell me or anything else that you want to share?
Jermaine: The only thing I want to share is that Black people have a place in tech because we are the ones that drive the massive valuation and the massive[hype. We're not here because they're nice. We're here because they owe us and they know the value that we can bring them. So no Black people, no Black person, should feel nervous, irritated, agitated, or battling with imposter syndrome going in. They'd be lucky to have you.
Syd: Beautiful, a beautiful end note. Thank you so much. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me. I really appreciate it.
Jermaine: Sounds good. Thanks so much, Syd.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.