Every once in a while, we’ll chat with an alum about what they do and how they got there. Today, we’re talking with Dennis Williams II ’14, American studies, a writer, content marketer, and startup founder based in New York city. He’s also one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices of 2016, and with a story like his, it’s not hard to see why…
Name: Dennis Williams II
Grad Year: 2014
Major: American Studies
Job Title: Content Manager at Augment
You were named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices of 2016 for sharing your story of how you went from homelessness to, as you put it, working with Madison Square Garden in your backyard. What inspired you to tell your story, and what kind of reactions have you received since publishing it to LinkedIn? I definitely wanted to [tell] all the students who come from underprivileged circumstances, or those who don’t have the opportunity, that there’s information out there that they can go get and really build into their portfolio, into their resume, to make them better candidates and change their career path. It was a tough decision at first, but I realized that there were others who had been in similar situations…[who] could take some kind of direction from my story and implement it into their everyday lives, to hopefully get around the obstacles facing them and plaguing them. [The] reception I got was great. I believe it did [25,000 to 30,000] views on LinkedIn, but even outside of that, [I had so many conversations with people who told me] “You’re strong for sharing your story,” [and talked] about their own […] narratives. It definitely started a lot of conversations, both in Maryland and out here [in New York]. It’s introduced me […] to a lot of people I wouldn’t have met before. LinkedIn kind of pushed me to write that story. I [spoke] to them in private about my background and how I wanted to touch a certain audience, and they were like, “Yeah, you should really write that,” and I was like, “Yeah, okay, that’s an interesting idea, but I don’t really think I’m open to being that open,” you know? They explained all the positives that could come from it, and they said they’d help me craft it anyway. So yeah, [LinkedIn was] definitely a catalyst behind this story.
How did it feel to be recognized? It felt great! It was a lot of hard work. I started writing for Funny or Die in 2013, while I was interning [there], […] and I’ve been trying to break my way in for a little while. It feels good to be recognized for holding a different point of view. The thought leadership content that I’m putting out…really does depict me and my professional values, so it felt good to put good, organic, original content out there and get recognized for it. I definitely didn’t expect it by the end of the year, either.
You now work as a content marketing director for Augment. Could you tell us a bit more about what you do in that role, and what the company does? Augment…[helps] businesses use augmented reality to better sell their products. We have clients like Coca-Cola, L’Oreal, Boeing, a lot of different [companies] that use augmented reality to help their customers see the products before they want to buy them. So I manage the content marketing department, [and] what this entails is creating content […] both on the branding side, and then to drive business as well. [It’s for] inbound leads to bring in those prospects that eventually turn into clients. Augment’s based in Paris, but we have an Orlando office and a New York office, and I work out of the New York office. So I do this both domestically and internationally. [I also run a startup called Bando, which is] a mobile platform for urban news. [It’s] growing at a rate of 20 percent month-to-month, and we support all news that pertains to the urban culture. It’s everything from video to written copy, articles, things like that, and we really want to grow an audience. [It’s] positive news-sharing for those that want to digest this on a day-to-day basis. [It reflects] the culture that I come from, and I wanted to build something that my background and those that I know can resonate with.
What is your favorite thing about the work you do? I think it’s seeing all the new technology before anyone else knows about it! There’s so much that I see on a daily basis that people may not find out [about] for one to two years, and I’ve seen it happen, whether it be artificial intelligence, robots, augmented reality, [or] virtual reality. [… ]I’m also a [content] fellow at Oculus in San Francisco…so seeing all of these emerging technologies before anyone really knows about them is definitely the coolest thing about my job.
Is there any particular aspect of your UMBC experience – a class, a professor, an internship – that’s affected your career path? I would have to say Kimberly Moffitt…she [really helped] me stay on course and manage all of the different aspects I had to deal with, both as a student and as an individual at UMBC. [All] of her direction throughout that last year and a half was a huge help to me. And even on the personal side, [she helped] me stay focused on school and on my larger professional goals, and keeping the endgame in sight. […] Just overall, the different administrations at UMBC [offer] a high level of education, encouraging you to think at a higher level [and] to push forward in that aspect[.] I think they were all an aid to helping any student be successful, so it was a huge help.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give an incoming UMBC student? That’s a good question. I would say “don’t ever limit yourself.” It may sound cliche, but in today’s age there’s an abundance of information, and you have access [to it], whether it’s through your computer or through your networks, your friends, sitting down with your professors. I was in a theater class for two years, and I would [talk to my professor] about screenwriting and developing on the theater stage. Never limit yourself, both mentally and in action. Going to get that information through those different portals is important, because there’s so many more opportunities out here that aren’t directly in front of you and aren’t explicit. I just want people to know that thinking outside of the bubble, and thinking outside of the box, can really open some doors for you.