18
Thu, Jul

TEC Leimert Spotlight: Diana Simmons

Tech

A Leimert Park native, Simmons is a sales executive for Microsoft, overseeing a team of technical sellers in a $65 million sales territory.

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By Terry Hart

Diana Simmons is a true daughter of Leimert Park.  As a matter of fact, her grandparents, who came to Los Angeles from New Orleans after World War II, were one of the first Black families to break the color barrier in Leimert. 

Founded in 1927, Leimert Park holds the distinction as Los Angeles’ first planned community, but had a strict policy of no Blacks allowed.  ‘A permanent plan of beneficial restrictions absolutely insures the security of your investment’ an early advertisement declares.  But by 1953 things were changing, and Simmons’ grandparents were able to find a White family willing to sell to them and they became one the first Black families in Leimert.  This became the house Simmons would grow up in, a house of pioneers and public school educators who would instill in her a growth mindset, and a love of culture and learning which form the roots of who she is today.  

Simmons is a sales executive for Microsoft, overseeing a team of technical sellers in a $65 million sales territory where she supports all education customers in the state of California, helping them buy and leverage Microsoft products.  On top of that, she’s a wife and mother. 
Her first exposure to tech came around age 15, through an internship through a county program where she was able to shadow the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of the LA Department of Water and Power, who was a woman at that time. 

“I remember being so in awe of the work she was doing,” Simmons said.  “It seemed so complex, technical, and amazing, and growing up around so much change, with the first computers, the internet, and we started seeing cell phones, and I remember thinking how am I going to make a path for myself?  What is my career going to be?  This is where exposure and programs like these are so critical. They enable you to see yourself in those roles.” 

Upon graduation from Hamilton High School, Diana attended Boston University where she received her B.S. in Business with a concentration in Management Information Systems.  Despite winning a scholarship, Simmons had to work through college to support herself and found herself selling computers at Best Buy which led to a pivotal experience.  Working close to the medical center of Boston, she remembers her manager explaining to her, “Look, you’re going to have brain surgeons come in here who save lives, who have studied for years in school but they can’t tell you what RAM is, or understand hard drive size, they won’t have any knowledge or skill set in tech and it’s your job to help them,” Simmons said.  “And that’s how I see my job over the years, it’s really breaking things down that seem complex and making it relatable and understandable to people who are not in tech.”

Another formative moment for Simmons in college was finding a mentor who saw her potential and helped point her in the right direction. 

“I had the one Black professor at BU pull me aside,” she said.  “He said, ‘Diana, I want to mentor you as there are barely any black women in technology, and I think you should study computer science and MIS (Management Information Systems).  It’s going to be hard but I’m going to help you, you can have a great career in tech and more importantly we can start changing the narrative of what people think you have to look like in tech.’

This appealed to Simmons, being an agent of change in an industry she was enamored with, and it didn’t hurt when he showed her the starting salaries for tech companies versus other industries.   

Right after college Simmons had multiple offers from various tech companies, eventually choosing Microsoft.  Her first role there was customer facing and pretty technical, as she was flying to different companies around the country and helping them implement various tech solutions.  It was challenging, but provided the basis for where she is now. 

“You have to get your hands dirty,” she said.  “When it comes to your career, you have to put in the work. I had to take those coding classes, I had to get different certifications, I had to put in my time for a few years, hands on keyboard configuring technology.”

It wasn’t her strong suit, but she learned and after four years she started thinking about what she really wanted to do. 

“I remember a mentor telling me to think about what my strengths are,” she said.  “A lot of times I feel like we tell people to address your weaknesses.  Yes, but to be really successful you should find a role that is focused on your strengths.  Some technical people love being behind a keyboard and coding, and we need people like that.  But for me I love to engage and talk to people, interact with people, organize and activate people.  So, I made the switch to the sales side, and I like to think that I help create these moments of joy and magic by facilitating people getting their hands on the technology.” 

Simmons believes it’s important for someone interested in entering the tech field to invest in the basics and then stay on top of the changes. 

“You have to have the skills,” she said.  “Kind of like having your high school diploma, there’s certain credentials you have to get.  Then you have to stay current with your certifications.  I just recently got another certification, and I’m 10 years in.” 

Figuring out what you want to specialize in is important also, as it will help guide you on what certifications can help you achieve what you want. 

“You can be a cloud specialist, a securities specialist, devices specialist, now there’s artificial intelligence expert, data expert, there are so many different types of technology paths,” she said.

Working in technology has been a rewarding career for Simmons, but she says there’s still a way to go to create a diverse and inclusive environment.  Despite advances, she is often the only woman on a team, and definitely the only Black woman. 

“It’s getting better,” she said.  “There’s the system, then there’s getting the people to get rid of their biases.  It comes down to people.  I’m really passionate about giving back and bringing awareness, and being a connector for my community if they want to come into roles like mine.  It’s important to have people at the table doing the hiring, [who come] from the neighborhood and look like us so we can keep pulling each other in.

“My best days are spent talking to the community and getting folks excited about the technology and careers in technology, and getting their hands on the technology because it gives us so much access.  The disadvantages get diminished because of technology.  Like, now you can go on-line and take your certifications, it’s not about what schools you have access to.

“There’s disruption, innovation, then there’s transformation.  When I look at my path and what I want to see others do is first disrupt. Let’s change the narrative of what it looks like and means to work in tech.  Then we innovate together, and then we transform.  Let’s transform this industry, let’s transform our communities with technology.  There’s so much power and purpose with tech and with our communities that we can leverage to help change the world. We have to help each other, give back to each other, and support each other.  That’s critical.” 


Follow Simmons on LinkedIn or on Instagram.  Visit her blog ‘More than a Mom’ at www.diana-simmons.com.
TEC Leimert is a non-profit community organization dedicated to bringing urban professionals, business owners, and students together with entertainment industry experts and technology entrepreneurs to bridge the digital divide, close the wealth gap, and create social capital.

 

TEC Leimert is a non-profit community organization dedicated to bringing urban professionals, business owners, and students together with entertainment industry experts and technology entrepreneurs to bridge the digital divide, close the wealth gap, and create social capital. Learn more at www.tecleimert.com.