May 2, 2023

Origins of CITI: Small Actions Lead to Big Change

The history of CITI!

The Preclude

I am Zachary Novak, Founder of Careers In Technology and Innovation (“CITI”). I want to share a bit of a story of how I started CITI, how we evolved and what it is today!

About 5 years ago, I was in a completely different place then I am today. I was an Investment Banker working for the Bank of Montreal. I knew I wanted to get out of the rat race from Investment Banking and switch into a career that was more sustainable. My pivot from banking into corporate - that was the beginning.

I quickly learned that I didn’t love corporate, but it did gave me one thing I didn’t have at the bank, time. Instead of working 80-90 hours a week, I worked 40-50 hour weeks, which was a blessing – time to think! With that time I started to self-reflect and decide what I want out of a career. I knew quickly I wanted to do something more entrepreneurial and in startups.

I started looking at startups and noticed that everything had to do with technology. Problem was, I was not a “techie”. I reluctantly started to go to tech meetups and read more about tech. Slowly but surely I realized it really wasn’t about the tech, but how the tech empowered people. That was my first big lesson - the realization that tech is all about people. Problem was there still wasn’t a lot of tech in Calgary. I remember telling my wife that I thought I would have to move cities. Then out of nowhere the EvolveU software development bootcamp program was starting their inaugural cohort, and that was enough to latch onto, I quit my job and began my journey into tech.

During my time at bootcamp I got fixated on two main problems:
1. How do we get people to enjoy work?
2. How do we get the right people to speak to the right person at the right time?

That was lesson two – learning the problems I love versus the solutions. My whole career since has been focused on these two problems. Looking back one thing I wished I knew more when in coding bootcamp was the tech landscape, the roles, the companies, the opportunities – a seed for CITI. I eventually landed a job as a contract designer at an organizational behaviour change startup.

This eventually led to a product management job, then Director or Product role. It was a great role, I learned agile, how to build software and work with teams. But even more striking I joined a company with an amazing user group community. My first observation of a tech community.

That was the third gift, understanding the power of community. After some research I learned that community was a bonafide career path and was looking to
pivot my career, yet again, into Community. Landing my first community manager role, and at the same time starting a side project CITI.

CITI’s Origin

CITI started off a LinkedIn post. I was sharing my story, talking about tech, and encouraging others to join. I asked if anyone was looking for help to reach out and I would help them. Over 100 people messaged me.

I then did 18 back-to-back meetings on December 23, 2020 trying to help people, and soon realized this wasn’t sustainable. Instead, we decided to build, you guess what, a community! So in February 2021, we launched! We got a group of “Advisors” that were in tech to join many members. We started with our Purpose and Values, and started meeting on Wednesday nights, every Wednesday for almost a year and half. We had a Slack channel.

Our purpose was to help mid-career professionals find and grow fulfilling careers in technology. It was incredible people were connecting, supporting one another and landing jobs. In that first year we had over 50 people land roles in tech, a tremendous accomplishment.

The Birth of CITI 2.0

In the fall of 2022, we decided to pivot CITI into a premium subscription offering. This meant a lot more then a Wednesday night event and a Slack channel. We migrated to Circle, a true community software versus Slack and expanded our offering.

Today we provide our members:
- Over 20 events a month
- Over 50 advisors
- A robust discussion forum
- A resource library with over 200 resources
- Weekly 1:1 coffee chats
- A job board with direct links to hiring managers
- A project studio – with our first app being built!
- A career direction toolkit program
- An accountability program
- Industry news and events

We also have done our large event series: The Talent Impact Series. With over 500 people and 30 companies in attendance. To date, we have helped over 125 professionals land jobs in tech!

This includes roles across technology, from Customer Success to Software Development to IT Business Analysts. In tech companies and companies that are enabled by tech.

We help the newcomers and outsiders, giving them a place of support so they can have the courage and confidence to chase their biggest career ambitions and live a life full of impact.

Overall, we are truly, a community. Every activity is in service of connection among the members, an interconnected web of relationships. Our values are sharing, warmth and doing what is right. Which is all about finding a place to be our true authentic selves, embracing each other’s individuality and uniqueness, and making decisions that will lead to fulfilling career instead of just the next job.

CITI’s Future

Today we are focused on expanding across the country, developing leaders in tech, and building deeper relationships with the ecosystem.
A shining example of this is our new partnership with SAIT. Through SAIT’s excellent bootcamp programming and CITI’s community, SAIT students will have access to both programs in order to excel in their careers. All SAIT’s students will be members of CITI, and CITI will be providing programming for SAIT members. This is the beginning of hopefully many more partnerships.

We are also creating a community generated blog and podcast. We are building an ambassador program for leaders in new cities. Securing discounts for services for our members. We are also building a talent database for our hiring partners to access our talent. Our goal is to not just help 1,000 people land jobs in tech, but build 1,000 leaders, then beyond.

We are doing this by building a supportive community of amazing CITI-zens who are helping each other find and grow fulfilling careers.

Excited for the future of CITI and where we will go from here!

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