GEICO IT Director says mentors have shaped his life
CHEVY CHASE, Md., Feb. 19, 2020 – It took a village—one filled with faith, family and encouragement—to make Justin Buford the emerging IT leader that he is, but it took just one woman to convince him that GEICO was the right place for him.
"When I applied to GEICO's Emerging Leaders Program, I already had five job offers, including one from NASA," Buford recalled. "During my second-round interview, I met Ms. Thea (Management Development/Diversity Director Theameta Jenkins). Because of her, I walked out of that interview knowing that GEICO would be my new home away from home."
Thirteen years and many promotions later, Justin is settling into his newest role as Director of Software Engineering. He says a key reason for his success is that he's never let pride or ego prevent him for seeking help or guidance.
"I've never been afraid to seek out amazing mentors and learn from the experiences of other people," he said.
One of those people is GEICO Vice Chairman (and former President and CEO) Bill Roberts, who spoke at an Emerging Leaders conference Justin attended soon after joining the company.
"He said he had an open-door policy, and I took him up on that offer. I had several one-on-ones with him when I was less than a year out of college," said Justin, who says that what he's learned from Roberts is invaluable.
A high school internship at an engineering firm convinced Justin he was destined for a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). As a native of Warner Robins, Georgia, he thought Georgia Tech was the university that would make his career dreams a reality. He was set to attend the school when two of his mentors asked him to consider Morehouse, the eminent historically black college in Atlanta whose alumni include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Spike Lee and Maynard Jackson.
"A Morehouse graduate and a Spelman (College) graduate sat me down at the kitchen table and told me attending Morehouse would be more than just going to college; they said it would forever change my life by teaching me how to navigate in the real world as an African American man," Justin said.
With a full-scholarship offer, Justin became a "Morehouse Man," a decision he calls one of the best he's ever made. Justin—who majored in computer science, minored in math and graduated Phi Beta Kappa—is now often looked to as a mentor, and it's a role he doesn't shy away from.
"CGI in films is done by people who work in STEM; playing video games and creating TikTok videos are possible because of STEM," Justin said. "I want young people to realize they don't have to just be consumers of these things; they can be the creators and designers."
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