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Christina Wallace

Entrepreneur & Advocate

New York, NY

What is so incredibly rewarding is seeing people in a situation so similar to mine – struggling, stymied, frustrated – find a fresh start in innovative, high-growth, cutting-edge companies.

I often describe myself as fluent in math, music and English, though I can stumble through enough French to be a tourist in Paris and enough HTML and Javascript to cobble together a website. I started studying math and music both around age five and can’t remember a time in my life without either of them.

Math took me down the road of Around the World champion (a popular elementary school flashcard game to learn times tables), high school mathlete and a major in college. Music dominated my childhood with private lessons in piano, cello and voice and classes in music theory, ear training, and composition along with performances in choral and orchestral ensembles. I loved both equally and had a natural ability that took me far.

But by the time it came to graduate and find a profession, I was struggling; I was no mathematical genius like John Nash, nor was I musical prodigy like Van Cliburn. Late one night after yet another emotional analysis of my future I stumbled onto an idea: what if I combined my fluency in math and music and built a career translating between them? What if I was the musician who understood budgets and business deals, and the manager who could communicate with creatives?

I decided to move to New York and get a job at the Metropolitan Opera, arguably the most prestigious performing arts institution in the country. With $1800 in my bank account and an off-the-books sublet in Brooklyn I applied for the only job they had open, one for which I was not nearly qualified. The hiring manager called me a few days later, almost amused at my gumption. He said they had filled that role internally, but would I consider the role that opened up from that promotion? They had never hired someone as young as me in that position, but perhaps my unique background would be just the ticket.

By the time I made it through four rounds of interviews I was so elated to be offered the job I didn’t care what conditions they placed on it, including the proviso that I wouldn’t try to change a thing in my first year there. The Met is a storied institution with an established way of doing things -- and all of my references mentioned my proclivity for shaking things up. They made me promise I wouldn’t ask to to make changes for twelve months. It never occurred to me that that might be a problem.

A year later it became was clear in a meeting that the no-changes policy was, in fact, there to stay. That night I went home and began my applications to business school. I had made it to my “dream job” but I couldn’t sit still. It was the first time I understood that company culture and growth opportunities mattered as much in my career trajectory as industry and company prestige. I had to lean in and try something unknown if I wanted to have the impact I dreamed of.

During my two years at business school I discovered the world of technology, innovation and lean startups. I found a sector that prized moving faster, doing things smarter, and always striving to be better. And moreover, I found a community that sat at the intersection of analytical and creative. My ability to translate would be valuable here.

Today I am the Director of Startup Institute New York, a workforce training program helping recent grads and young professionals make the leap into the world of startups. We teach them to translate their corporate, nonprofit or academic experience into skills and frameworks that will help them succeed in a tech startup. What is so incredibly rewarding is seeing people in a situation so similar to mine – struggling, stymied, frustrated – find a fresh start in innovative, high-growth, cutting-edge companies.

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