A Serial Entrepreneur on Career, COVID, and the Future of Work

Written by Shay Waajid

Left: Shay Waajid | Right: Janeya Griffin

Janeya Griffin is a NASA Technology Transfer Engineer Contractor and entrepreneur. Her work fuels innovation by creating opportunities for inventions to go from concept to market. She also cares deeply about making a positive social impact and goes out of her way to provide second chances to people who need one.

Shay Waajid, Women Who Code’s Senior Volunteer Operations Manager, sits down with Janeya to talk about working a nine-to-five job while managing two companies, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the future of work.

How has the pandemic affected your life?

I found out that social distancing is normal for me! Don’t get me wrong, I loved flying around the world, going to different conferences, and networking with people. I’m extroverted in that way. However, it was only me when I came home. I didn’t feel the need to go out all the time. Many of my friends live out of state anyway, so I was accustomed to talking with them over FaceTime.

What I struggled with the most during the pandemic was not being able to go out and be that extrovert who enjoyed connecting with people. I like to have a healthy mix of interaction and alone time. Quarantine forced me to learn how to balance becoming a workaholic with self-care because I love my job, so it’s easy for me to fall into a pattern of constantly working and not making time to so much as go outside and look at the sky. I felt like I always needed to be doing something.

I recognized that wasn’t normal, so I decided to take a couple of days off. My next challenge was figuring out how to do nothing. It took me a while to get there, but once I was able to sit still, I struggled to return to my regular routine. Flipping the switch was overwhelming. I run two companies alongside my nine-to-five, so I had very little time left for self-care. I had to be deliberate about carving time for myself and remembering to leave my devices in the office, turn on Netflix, connect with my family, and enjoy resting.

How did your career change in 2020?

My companies operate remotely — we have people on both coasts and everywhere in between — so we were accustomed to working from home. However, my nine-to-five was not already remote, but being forced to become so made us more efficient than before. No one was spending time commuting, and we could make our own schedules as long as we got our work done. Our newfound flexibility meant no one felt compelled to drift off or mess around until the day was over, so everyone was able to focus better.

What do you think about remote and flexible hours being the future of work, even after COVID?

Remote work is becoming increasingly common because people are starting to request it. No business will say they want you to work remotely. However, as the culture of the broader work environment shifts, the talent that comes into that environment changes, so companies need to adapt. Human beings comprise these companies and organizations, which means those companies need to be inclusive in their missions and values.

It’s also essential to consider the kind of work environment best suited for a variety of people, such as working moms and single parents. We have to create a space for those people to actually succeed because it only works as a win-win situation.

You mentioned that you own two businesses on top of your nine-to-five job. What do you do, and what does your day look like?

My day job is working as a NASA contractor in technology transfer. The government spends $150 billion each year on research and development, and I work with attorneys to acquire patents for said technological developments. We then go out and license the rights to these inventions to commercial companies that create products. Examples of such products are things we use every day, including memory foam mattresses, Siri, the iPhone, GPS, and even baby formula. All of these things stemmed from federal government research.

What do your other businesses do?

One of my companies is called The Commercializer LLC, which derives from a self-given moniker: I am Janeya Griffin, and I commercialize things! Multiple people inquired if I did consulting, which isn’t something I was advertising, but I would help them when they asked. I built a hybrid business model around both concepts and discovered many people who could use my services. I focused on independent inventors, HBCUs, and people or institutions that wanted to figure out how to monetize. Now, I am transitioning my firm into a SaaS company that will provide software to the HBCU community alongside our consulting services.

I’m also the Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of ConCreates. We’re a creative agency that is powered by the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated. This isn’t something we do just to feel good; we genuinely accomplish amazing things because people who are or were incarcerated can be brilliant. Unfortunately, their voices often go unheard — specifically, when we are talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Over 70 million people have criminal records. That doesn’t make them bad people. It doesn’t dictate who they are and who they will become. It only means that they have a different kind of story to tell. Our mission is to change the stigma and the narrative associated with how society views people with criminal histories and how people with criminal histories view themselves.

Our mission is close to my heart because both of my parents were formerly incarcerated. I had to take care of my mother and younger brother when I was 16. I didn’t have a life when I graduated high school, a room, or even a bed. I lived out of my suitcase for over a year. The things our family went through were unimaginable, and I don’t want anyone else to endure what we did.

Do you have any advice for women in tech-based on your experiences?

I have been blessed to not have dealt with many things that women in heavily male-populated industries endure. I was asked to come and speak to high schools in my local area when the film Hidden Figures came out, and I couldn’t believe it. I’d never experienced anything like what Katherine Johnson went through, so I felt intense impostor syndrome.

Everyone’s point of view is vital. As long as we have multiple perspectives generating ideas and contributing to solutions, the world will be better for it. Though I said I haven’t gone through anything as extreme as Katherine Johnson, that doesn’t change the fact that we are living in a White, male-dominated society where women’s voices often go unheard. It’s imperative to pay attention to everyone’s opinions and ensure our own voices are being listened to. As a Black woman, I have two voices that I need to speak up for, which is especially difficult because Black women face unique challenges.

We have to make sure that the world evolves with Black people and Black women in mind. Specifically, I’m thinking about what our next economy will look like. We have a real opportunity to build a new one, and if Black people are not part of the conversation, then we’re left out of its development. That is my advice: continue pushing for genuine inclusion.

Many people face issues with impostor syndrome and work-life balance, but Janeya has pushed past them to become a leader in her industry and a force for good in the world. With a great deal of hard work, compassion, creativity, and entrepreneurship, she is working to make her vision for the future a reality.

We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring women to excel in technology careers. https://www.womenwhocode.com/