Jarrod Jenkins left behind a stable job, family and the city he grew up in to move halfway across the country and pursue his dreams.
In early 2015, he packed his bags and drove to California, leaving behind a career as an attorney at a boutique law firm in Georgia in hopes of working for one of the world’s leading tech companies in Silicon Valley.
“I was fascinated,” he said. “There are so many companies out there that were dealing with 22nd-century issues, and they were all Silicon Valley companies.”
But the move didn’t come easy. He gave up a spacious apartment in Atlanta to live in cramped quarters with several roommates in San Francisco while broke, alone and unemployed.
After job hunting for months, he scored a gig at Airbnb working as a community organizer, pitching the company’s top policy issues. But as an independent contractor, he was making less than half of his previous salary.
“I loved working at Airbnb, but I was a contractor,” said Jenkins, 35. “I was in a substantially more expensive city getting paid substantially less.”
He started DuckFox a year later, a company helping social media influencers make money. But his newfound career was short-lived. After he blew through $40,000 of savings, Jenkins threw in the towel and moved back to Atlanta.
“I was completely out of money,” Jenkins said. “I failed. I struck out. I had to move back home.”
Penniless, Jenkins moved back in with his mom but struggled to find a job in Atlanta for months. He reunited with his fiancée, who he had been in a long distance relationship with while in California, to continue planning their wedding.
Less than two weeks before getting married, a recruiter he knew at Facebook scored him an interview.
He and his now-wife Kimberly headed back to California, where he now works at one of the world’s most prominent tech companies — ending a tumultuous two years of job hunting.
At Facebook, Jenkins develops policy for how the public and advertisers use the social media network, where his background in law and social media monetization strategies came back full circle, he said.
Today, Jenkins works on Facebook’s community standards, defining restrictions on nudity, hate speech, obscenity and terrorism and said he loves having a role where he feels he’s making a difference.
T.J. Abrams, who preceded Jenkins as chapter president of Alpha Phi Alpha in college, said he isn’t surprised Jenkins landed a job with the social media giant.
“When he is committed to whatever the mission is and whatever organization he is a part of, he always finds his way,” Abrams said. “He’s done well since he’s been at Facebook, but I’m not surprised because he did well when he was here in Atlanta. I’ve seen him operate in this manner for many years.”
Despite the challenges and financial hardships he faced, Jenkins said he wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.
“I never think to myself I shouldn’t have come out here because I know it’s definitely changed me as a person,” he said. “It has definitely made me more humble.”
He lives in San Jose with his wife Kimberly and their 8-month-old daughter Juliette.
But the battle isn’t over, Jenkins said, as living in Silicon Valley presents its own set of challenges. He still struggles to get by, paying thousands of dollars in childcare, rent and other bills each month while trying to climb the ladder to success as a person of color in a predominantly white, affluent tech community.
“One of the hardest things as a person of color is feeling as though I am the representative for all black people, which I’ve never felt in Atlanta,” he said.
Jenkins grew up in a predominantly black upper-middle-class suburb of Atlanta surrounded by high-power professionals, doctors and lawyers. But in San Jose, he is one of the few black people who live in his neighborhood.
“There’s still this notion that certain people deserve nice things,” he said, “and the reality is, we don’t live in a country where people think black people deserve nice things.”
Still, Jenkins is passionate about making his city a more vibrant place, serving on the San Jose Downtown Association’s Board of Directors and advocating on behalf of small businesses. He’s eager to build his career at Facebook and hopes to break racial stereotypes by owning a home one day.
“I want to defy expectations,” he said. “I don’t think people expect black people to be homeowners out here. There’s a sense of entitlement of who belongs. If just the three of us — me, my wife and my daughter — can even chip away at that stereotype, then it’s worth it.”
Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.