In this episode of Delivering, host Jason Rodriguez interviews Kisha Robinson—a Senior Email Marketing Associate at Udemy—about her self-taught path to professional email development and how her own experiences motivate her to work with and support women of color and underrepresented groups just entering the tech industry.
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Jason Rodriguez: Welcome to Delivering, a podcast about the email industry from strategy to design, code to leadership, and everything in between. I’m your host, Jason Rodriguez. Delivering is brought to you by Litmus, the only platform trusted by professionals to help you send email with confidence every time. Over 600,000 marketing professionals use Litmus’ tools to build, test, and analyze better email campaigns faster.
Head over to litmus.com to start your free 7-day trial of Litmus, and start sending better emails today.
Today, I’m talking with Kisha Robinson, who’s a web and email marketing developer. Like a lot of people, including myself in the industry, Kisha’s path to email marketing is one with a few twists and turns. While Kisha studied both social science and business administration during school, she taught herself development, both web and email, with largely free online resources, like FreeCodeCamp, Udemy, Coursera, and YouTube before digging into email development. Her motivation and hard work has paid off though, as she’s now a Senior Email Marketing Associate at Udemy, where she helps Udemy students take advantage of over a hundred thousand online courses by developing Udemy’s email marketing campaigns, building out automation, and guiding overall email marketing strategy.
On top of that, Kisha is building an email agency tailored to real estate professionals and volunteers with organizations like Philly Tech Sistas to help women of color learn, grow, and thrive in the tech industry.
So welcome to delivering Kisha. I’m glad to have you here.
Kisha Robinson: Thank you happy to be here.
Jason Rodriguez: So I, I love this kind of story of where you started and how you largely taught yourself how to handle all these technical problems and learn all of these technical skills and how that’s led you to where you are right now.
So I’d love to hear directly from you what your history looks like and how you first got started in the industry and got to where you are right now.
Kisha Robinson: Sure. So, I mean, I had, you know, studied lots of random things in school, which didn’t feel random at the time, but looking back they’re pretty random and kind of got into a job basically, or position or industry that had got pretty boring at some point. So after a decade there, I kind of was, it was a slow night at work and I Googled, “Careers for introverts” and I stumbled upon web development. And, I’m like, I sometimes say, a chronic Googler, because sometimes it can be a problem, but in my chosen career field, now it has definitely benefited me.
So, anyways, I Googled things and I got into this rabbit hole of web development and how to learn and all of that. And I came up with some great resources and that night I basically started learning things, you know, online with, like you said, FreeCodeCamp, Udemy, YouTube, and kind of just dove in for, I mean, I’m still learning. So over two years now,
Kisha Robinson: Yeah. So, because I was focused on web development initially, definitely learned HTML and CSS first through a course on Coursera, as well as courses on Udemy and definitely some YouTube. And then I found FreeCodeCamp where I started going through their front end track and completed that within a few months and started freelancing and then worked my way into a full time position at a marketing agency in Philadelphia.
Jason Rodriguez: Nice. Yeah. So while you’re going through that, which obviously takes a huge amount of motivation, hard work, just, kind of, tenacity to go through that stuff and hold yourself accountable for finishing this and doing what you set out. But I can imagine there are some challenges involved with that, too. What were some of the major challenges that you faced when you were going through that learning process and kind of first getting your foot in the door with that kind of career?
Kisha Robinson: I think I would say the major challenge would, would definitely be what a lot of people experience, especially in tech is, imposter syndrome.
So kind of, you know, I love learning, so I’ve never been afraid to learn and try a new skill, try learning a new skill. But when it came to actually convincing people that I know this skill to either take on a freelance project or to, you know, apply for a full time job, really believing that I could do it and making that mindset shift into, you know, just to basically a new realm, a new industry, that was the most difficult part for me.
Jason Rodriguez: Were there, was there, I guess, any resources or anything you kind of told yourself to try to get over that imposter syndrome. Cause that is so hard for so many people. I feel like everybody kind of feels that.
Kisha Robinson: Yeah. So I am big on biographies, especially autobiographies. So I read stories of people who came from tough backgrounds, either as tough as mine or worse. And you know, just looking into what they did, you know, trying to think of a few names, Like Tony Robbins, for instance, like his story always, always sticks out to me. Les Brown, people like that who have had tough, tough upbringings and, you know, made the best of it and are great people today that we wouldn’t imagine have gone through some of the things that they’ve gone through. People like David Goggins and stuff like that. So kind of looking for people who can kind of be role models or mentors from a distance is definitely what has helped me a lot.
Jason Rodriguez: That’s awesome. Yeah. I feel like that’s a great way to, kind of, connect with people and learn from them, even if you don’t have, you know, direct relationships with them.
I like to think that the email industry in particular and in the tech world, I feel like the tech world at large can be—as much as we talk about accessibility and inclusion and diversity—a lot of times isn’t really all of those things, especially for people of color, for women, there can be a lot of hurdles in the way, and it doesn’t necessarily feel like a welcoming community, but I feel like the email world kind of does. I like to think that we’re all pretty open and honest and welcoming, and there’s a lot of people out there just willing to chat and learn from each other. But that’s my experience. I’m curious if you’ve had a similar experience coming into the email world, or just, how have you gone about making connections and, kind of, forming those groups within the industry?
Kisha Robinson: Yeah, I definitely have had a similar experience. So, the email world largely for me, has definitely been a welcoming and, you know, cause I feel like it’s one of those things where, it’s kind of like, everyone knows about email, obviously, but people don’t know that there’s a whole industry behind email. So when you find someone who’s in email, it’s kinda like, you know, like, well, I can’t think of a word for it, but like…
Jason Rodriguez: It’s like this brotherhood or sisterhood that you never knew these people were out there until you find them. And you’re like, Oh shit. You know, you’re just like me.
Kisha Robinson: It’s like, if you went from a small town and you, and you found someone from that small town. I mean, every experience that I’ve had obviously has not been great, but for the most part, I really can’t complain, you know, coming into a new industry and, you know, being a person of color, being a woman, being, you know, checking all those boxes, you know, whereas some places would be harder to, kind of, I don’t like to say fit in, but to be comfortable and to take up space in.
Email really hasn’t been the most difficult that I’ve experienced. That doesn’t sound great, but it has been a positive experience overall. I mean, it’s been a couple of years now and I’m still here and I’m still enjoying it. And, you know, working at Udemy at this point, is very, very, very, it’s a very, very, very welcoming environment, even in the way that we are now, as far as everyone working remotely, still, almost feels like I go into the office every day with the way that, that, you know, it was really, team-oriented and inclusive. Like it’s been a very good experience for me.
Jason Rodriguez: That’s awesome. I’m definitely glad to hear that. I feel like it might come from the fact that like, we chatted very briefly before we hopped on to record, this and you say that your path to email is very random and studied random school stuff in school.
And I had the exact same experience where I didn’t know exactly what to study. And it was a bunch of, a series of kind of random things, never got a degree and somehow just ended up in email marketing. And I feel like that’s a lot of people’s, like the majority of people’s, path to email is a very random one.
And that might be why it’s so welcoming is that we don’t have these kind of like an institutionalized, you know, methods to getting into your role. Or there’s not really a lot of email marketing courses in school. And, it’s everybody that just kind of lands there tends to really enjoy it and enjoy what they do and that industry.
So it kind of brings together welcoming, kind of, good people, which is good. I’m glad to hear that other people are experiencing that too. So you mentioned, I mean, now you guys are fully remote across the company but you’re in Philly, right?
Kisha Robinson: Yep.
Jason Rodriguez: So were you remote before? I’m not sure where the company’s based out of or what that kind of set up before the pandemic happened, but I’m curious how it’s changed over the last few months, as everybody’s scrambling to figure out how to work these days.
Kisha Robinson: Sure. So the company is headquartered in San Francisco, with a few offices worldwide. I actually, I’m pretty new to the company. I just started, June 1st, so I’ve never been to the office. I’ve actually never been to San Francisco. but I’ll be moving there next month and very excited about that.
So the only thing that I know of the company is, you know, the remote situation. So I don’t really have anything to compare it to. But comparing it to previous companies and positions that I worked at, it’s definitely refreshing, even being remote was definitely very welcoming. I felt very included.
And June 1st was a heck of a time to start anything new, as far as everything that was going on in the world and in our country. And, you know, at Udemy, I really felt seen and included and supported, and I couldn’t have picked a better time to fill out an application and, you know, come on board a great company.
Jason Rodriguez: That’s awesome. I can’t even imagine that at that time, making that transition and then moving in a month, which is still pretty wild in my mind with everything that’s going on. But I can imagine it’s pretty exciting too. San Francisco’s lovely. I’m sure you’ll love it there. So I guess walk me through, I’m curious about your work at Udemy.
I guess, walk me through the kind of team structure and your process and just kind of what you do every day when you’re working on the email program there.
Kisha Robinson: Yeah. So, we have a team that, you know, everyone kind of handles certain parts of our process. Some people handle the lifecycle portion of our email strategy, some of us focus more so on the actual promotions that we send out.
And, you know, so what I, what I really like about the company is that we all get to contribute to the actual strategy, and not just kind of hammering away at our keyboards, coding emails. So I really like that portion of it. Everyone has some input. You know, it’s a diverse team over there and it’s really enjoyable on a daily basis.
So what I pretty much do is I am involved in some strategy teams, of course, so several meetings throughout the week. And, and then also I have the time where I work individually on the particular campaigns that I’m working on.
But we’re very team oriented. So if anyone needs help, and especially me as a new person, you know, I’m able to reach out to anyone really, and ask questions, ask for help, you know, meet people, just randomly. So, yeah, I have a great experience on a regular basis.
Jason Rodriguez: That’s awesome. One thing I’m kind of personally really interested in and like asking people about is the tooling and the process of those team structures and, you know, how teams kind of document knowledge, how you document decision making processes, how everybody communicates, and like tracks, you know, work—both over the short term, like with, to do lists and Asana tasks and Jira or whatever you’re using, but then how you kind of strategize into the future and think about longer term goals.
So I’m curious if, if the team over at Udemy, if any of you have a, if you’re using specific tools to kind of document everything and work through things in a really collaborative environment, and what those tools actually are.
Kisha Robinson: Yeah. we do work with Asana as far as project management goes. We communicate through Slack, it’s very heavily Slack-oriented versus email. And we jump on Zoom calls whenever we need to actually speak to someone face to face. And sometimes, sometimes we might just jump on a Slack call, something quick, And then as far as kind of documentation, I, I really think the way that things are documented at Udemy, are it’s really great. It’s a great process. as far as how, how you can kind of search the database and find anything that you need. So there’s a, a pretty large knowledge base that we have access to and that’s updated on a regular basis, that, you know, we can access as far as previous testing that we’ve done, processes.
Especially a new as a new person coming in, I’ve been able to consult the knowledge base to know exactly how a process works, within, you know, the company to kind of use company best practices and not come in doing my own thing. So those things have definitely been valuable. So things are definitely documented well and easily accessible.
And if anything is unclear, like I said, we have a very team-oriented environment. So I’m able to reach out to someone and say, Hey, you know, can you clarify this? And, you know, things are easily updated. So if something does need to be clarified in documentation or anything like that, you can pop in and update that.
You know, so as far as the tools that we use and, and the communication, I think it’s, it’s been a great experience so far. and I’m definitely excited to see what else there is within the company. Like I said, I’m pretty new. So, I’m still learning everything, the ins and outs, but, you know, that’s pretty much what I’ve seen so far.
Jason Rodriguez: That’s awesome. Is that knowledge base, is that kind of built on top of something like in Confluence, as a collection of Google Docs? I’m curious.
Kisha Robinson: Confluence.
Jason Rodriguez: That’s one of those things that we’re kind of perennially grappling with is how we document everything we’ve done in the past and expose it to everybody. So, that’s kinda, I feel like a lot of companies are kind of doing that Asana and Confluence combo for a lot of things.
One of the things you, I read a little bit about, is that you, have tried to give back to,other people that are kind of going through and starting that journey that you’ve gone through, specifically locally with organizations like Philly Tech Sistas.
I’d love to hear about that and your motivations and some of the work you’ve done there to try to encourage people to—especially women of color—to join the tech industry and grow their skills and kind of thrive in that industry.
Kisha Robinson: Definitely. So, kind of introducing people to something like tech or basically anything that they’re passionate about has always been a passion of mine.
And now that I’ve worked my way into tech, that has basically just compounded that passion or maybe kind of focused it in a little bit. So I know for me, from my own personal experience, I didn’t think, you know… I knew that I was, I love learning and, you know, I was pretty smart growing up, but for some reason I didn’t believe that I was smart enough to work with computers and work in tech.
And so now that I’ve, as an adult a little bit later found that, okay, I can do this and it’s wonderful, I just have like this burning passion to introduce it to as many people as possible that want it or have wondered about it. So I’ve definitely looked for organizations that I could work with to kind of help that and, you know, align with organizations that kind of have that same mission.
So Philly Tech Sistas is one that I’ve found. I think it was through Meetup.com, if I’m not mistaken. And so what Philly Tech Sistas does is, they hold courses for, in like workshops for, women of color, specifically, to learn different aspects of tech.
So it might be career-focused. It might be skill-focused. My first experience was, they call it mentoring. So it’s kind of like you’re a teacher’s assistant in an introductory HTML/CSS class. So basically there was a lead instructor who taught the class how to build a webpage. And then there were a few of us as mentors or teaching assistants who helped one-on-one. Cause there were about 30 or 40 people in the class. so that was my first experience. And I was, you know, imposter syndrome I would say almost crippled me, almost kept me from going, but I was like, this is something that I’m really passionate about. I’m going to go.
And I loved it. Like it was probably top 10 and experiences of my life, honestly.
So I’ve been working with them since. Most recently I did a mother’s day collaboration that we did with another organization called Tech Girls, where we did like a mother/daughter class. And it was virtual because we were in the midst of the pandemic and everyone was being sheltered in place. So we kind of all hopped on Zoom and I taught a class of, of middle-aged, middle age girls cause that’s who Tech Girls focuses on. But with Philly Tech Sistas we kind of, you know, had their moms there as well. So it could be like a mother’s day activity for them. And that was really fun as well. Yeah.
Most recently with Tech Girls, anyone can volunteer to teach a course with Tech Girls, and being as though we’re in this pandemic right now, everything is online. So anyone from anywhere basically can volunteer. With Philly Tech Sistas it’s local. So, when you want to, anyone in Philadelphia looking for a volunteer experience would be able to, kind of reach out to Philly Tech Sistas and see what they have happening.
And then Tech Girls has a women in tech summit coming up as well. That starts next week. I’ll actually be speaking at and speaking about volunteering there. So both great organizations to be involved with.
Jason Rodriguez: That’s awesome. I love hearing stories like that and just people, anybody giving back and, you know, trying to get more people involved in your industry and kind of show them the ropes and guide them along that path is, is fantastic to see.
I’m kind of curious, you, you mentioned earlier, kind of at the beginning of that story, how when you were growing up, you felt like you weren’t smart enough to work with computers or like learn the tech side of things. Do you think there’s like a root cause as to why you felt that way? Was that kind of like a representation thing in the tech world, you didn’t see anybody that, you know, look or spoke like you or whatever that happens to be or was it an access problem? You didn’t have access to those kinds of tools or, you know, there weren’t those classes as you were growing up, going through school. Why, what, what do you think was the root cause of that? And do you have any tips for how we can try to overcome that as a community?
Kisha Robinson: Yeah. My answer is going to be D all of the above!
I didn’t have access to computers really. I, you know, I didn’t know anybody who had a tech career, all of that. There weren’t courses. I mean, we learned how to type and use the computer actually from kindergarten. I do remember having those kind of the, the, those old Apple machines that were like a color in the back, and you can see through it and..
Jason Rodriguez: Like bright blue and yellow? I forgot what they called them.
Kisha Robinson: Right. But it was, it was very limited. So, I mean, I’m fortunate enough to have had that access, but it was still very limited. So there was kind of, you know, I don’t know, you’re in kindergarten or first grade, you’re probably working, you know, typing and playing a game for like 20 minutes or something like that.
I didn’t have a computer at my house until I was 13. And I actually had a teacher, my English teacher, who gave me like this old boxy computer that I don’t remember what it was. Cause again, I wasn’t into computers at the time. So I don’t know what it was, but I know that I couldn’t access the internet with it, but, you know, I was able to write my papers for that English class.
So I’m definitely grateful for that, to that teacher for that. And then we finally got a computer that we were able to access the internet with and stuff like that when I was 17, I believe in my house. so as I was on my way out. I didn’t really have access in my home to, to kind of work on things and learn about programming or about computer hardware or anything like that.
And it really didn’t even like cross my mind to find things like that, you know, so yeah, it was pretty much an access issue. And then also, you know, the computer courses in school weren’t like mandatory where I went to school and stuff like that. I think we had a typing course in like high school or something like that.
So it, kind of, wasn’t something that even presented itself to be an option to me.
Jason Rodriguez: So, do you have any kind of practical tips for people that, you know, they—I feel like if they’re listening to this podcast then they have access to that kind of stuff and are already in the tech industry—but maybe they might be part of a community that doesn’t have those kinds of resources, that kind of representation. Any tips from your point of view as to how we can kind of collectively try to solve problems like that?
Kisha Robinson: Yeah, definitely. I mean, there’s some great organizations out here now that we can, you know, those of us who are a little more fortunate to be able to, give back at this point can contribute to, you know, like Tech Girls, like Philly Tech Sistas, if you’re local to Philadelphia, like Black Girls Code who has, you know, chapters throughout the country.
Basically a quick Google search of organizations helping, you know, underrepresented kids or people access tech or, you know, people who maybe just don’t have the resources, to access computers and things like that. Or to even know what’s out there for them that they can reach towards. So getting involved with an organization is a great start.
Adding to the organizations that are out here and creating a new organization would also be a great thing to do. You know, so basically just getting involved and in things that are already out here, like there’s a lot of ways that we can contribute to great organizations that people have already created. Just those few to name a few, but a quick Google search will bring a lot of those up.
Jason Rodriguez: It all comes back to effectively searching via Google and the main skill is, is knowing what to look for and how to look for it! So, I know we’re getting close on time here for, you know, keeping people hooked on the podcast. I don’t like going too much over like half an hour or so but I do have just a few more quick questions and then we can wrap up.
The first one: I’d love to hear about just your favorite tools for designing and development for email campaigns.
Kisha Robinson: Sure. So in my own time, I like to use the Adobe Creative Suite, of course. And, at work, everything, I mean, you know, I mean, it’s a pretty, pretty large and pretty, you know, like growing quickly right now company. So everything that we do is pretty automated. So I would, I would definitely say, I have a huge interest in automation at this point. So anyone who hasn’t looked into different ways of automating things, definitely do that, I would say. But yeah, I mean, any code editor, of your choice? My favorite is VS Code. At work, we use Sublime. There’s so many.
Jason Rodriguez: Yeah. Earlier today, before we were recording this, we had a webinar on the Litmus side about our favorite tools and stuff. And one of the conclusions we kinda came to was that it doesn’t really matter so much what tools you pick because they’re all getting really, really good. So it’s just kind of finding one that you enjoy using and, you know, it was affordable and has, you know, can be extended how you want it to be., and just kind of learn that well, so I like that.
What are you doing when you’re not building emails?
Kisha Robinson: Learning better ways of building! I mean, that’s, that’s another reason why I chose to work at Udemy and very happy that they, you know, saw something in me and brought me on is because my mission is directly aligned with Udemy’s mission.
My mission is improving lives and learning and that’s exactly what I’m all about. Like, if my middle name could be like four words, it would be that.
So yeah, so definitely always learning something new. Having access to the Udemy courses is great. So, you know, to continue to learn something new. I would say outside of that, hobby-wise, I’m not doing much outside of the house these days because of, you know, the situation that we’re all in. But you know, finding ways to help out, you know, at some point I made a few masks for people and stuff like that. But then I actually gave away my sewing machine to someone else in my field. So, you know, so things like that, just kind of helping everyone along through what we’re going through right now.
And then my wife and I, we enjoy crime shows, so, we’re watching the new Unsolved Mysteries that’s on Netflix right now. So we’ve gotten through the first episode and that was… I kind of had nightmares after that. It was a little creepy. Because it’s unsolved! So it’s just like, Oh…
We watched like First 48 and stuff like that. We watched kind of the documentaries and the couple that are on Netflix about like Ted Bundy and the Zodiac Killer. I don’t know why we watch stuff like that, but it’s interesting.
Jason Rodriguez: Yeah. I mean, one of my favorite movies is Zodiac, the one from David Fincher, I think. And then he went on and did Mind Hunter, which is on Netflix, which is all about like the early days of the FBI’s kind of psychology/murder unit. And that was really, really interesting. My wife is a huge, I don’t know if you listen a lot of podcasts, but her favorite is My Favorite Murder, which is all about murders across the US and kind of around the world. But it has a kind of black comedy lean to it, and it’s two really funny women that are talking about their favorite murders. I listen to it kind of vicariously through her. She always has it on and it’s pretty damn entertaining. So if you are a kind of true crime buff, then it might be worth looking into
Kisha Robinson: I’ll have to, my wife is actually into it more than I am. So I’ll have to tell her about that one.
Jason Rodriguez: Nice, cool. Well, this has been great. Where can people find you if they want to learn more about, you know, the work you do, or just kind of follow you online and see what you’re up to or over, you know, your move to San Francisco and, all the amazing work of that I’m sure you’re gonna do at Udemy?
Kisha Robinson: Yeah, definitely. So my website is, Kishanadine.com. I can also be found on LinkedIn. So just my name, Kisha Robinson, or, LinkedIn dash I think it’s like slash in slash Kisha. I’m also on Instagram at Kisha_Codes.
I think that’s it. I don’t know why, but I’ve never gotten on Twitter
Jason Rodriguez: At this point it might be a net benefit for you to not be on Twitter. Cause it’s kind of a cesspool for the most part. The email community is really good on Twitter though. So if you do feel like hopping on then just kind of stick to like #EmailGeeks, #EmailMarketing. There’s a lot of good, good people on there too.
Kisha Robinson: Yeah. I can definitely be found in the email Slack channel as well.
Jason Rodriguez: That’s how we connected actually! So, yeah, I appreciate you kind of reaching out to me, wanting to chat with me on the podcast and I loved talking today.
Kisha Robinson: Yeah, it was a pleasure.
Jason Rodriguez: Awesome. Thanks, Kisha. Well hopefully, maybe we’ll have you back on as, as you kind of get further into your journey and then make that move to San Francisco and just kind of see, see where we are a little bit later on.
Kisha Robinson: Yeah, definitely. I’d be happy to do that.
Jason Rodriguez: Thanks so much.
All right, that’s going to do it for Delivering this week. Delivering is brought to you by Litmus. Litmus is the only platform trusted by professionals to help you send emails with confidence, every time. Over 600,000 marketing professionals use Litmus’ tools to build, test, and analyze better email campaigns faster.
And as always, head over to litmus.com to start your free 7-day trial of Litmus, and start sending better emails today.