This talented SurveyMonkey intern got to play sax with Solange

This talented SurveyMonkey intern got to play sax with SolangeEntertainment

This talented SurveyMonkey intern got to play sax with SolangeEntertainment

Jabari Lateef with his sax at SurveyMonkey HQ. (Photo: Eric Bannasch)

When accepting a new internship there’s no telling where it might lead, the possibilities are endless. It might be the key to getting you your first major job. It might be where you meet your lifelong friends, or even your future spouse.

For Jabari Lateef, an Auburn University senior, his tech internship with SurveyMonkey led him somewhere he never thought he’d be: on stage performing with Solange. Knowles.

It all started where many groundbreaking discoveries happen: in a Slack channel.

Solange was slated to perform at FYF Fest in Los Angeles in July, but was short a few musicians. A SurveyMonkey employee posted about the openings in the group’s Slack channel devoted to diversity and inclusion events, news and opportunities. (Slack is a team communication and collaboration tool used at many organizations.) Lateef jokingly posted a video of himself playing the saxophone, a passion he discovered at age eight through his dad’s love of jazz.

“It was merely just for people’s entertainment, just for those who were in that channel,” Lateef tells USA TODAY College. “But it just absolutely caught on fire — the channel was as live as it’s ever been.”

The video ended up in the hands of Solange’s manager. And Lateef was asked to go to L.A. to perform with her.

Lateef works as a quality assurance engineering intern at SurveyMonkey’s HQ in San Mateo, about 300 miles north of L.A., so the journey to the festival seemed daunting. But his work family rallied around in him in an incredible way.

“I started receiving donations from people that work at the San Mateo office, and those who work outside of the office. They all just came together in a big effort sending me to L.A.,” Lateef said. “I was in disbelief. My head was just absolutely spinning that whole time because this all happened within a few hours.”

SurveyMonkey employees from all over the world donated to cover Lateef’s flight and Airbnb so he could perform with one of his biggest inspirations, Solange.

He describes the star as “soft-spoken” and “sweet” in person. “[In rehearsal] we’ll have a dance that we’re doing, and she’ll nicely ask ‘OK, can you guys go back to that one part, please, if that’s OK’, and we’re like, ‘Of course it’s OK,’” he said.

While performing with her, he had to force himself to concentrate on playing the sax instead of watching. “She had so much energy and so much flavor, it was just astonishing,” he says. “I had to try to keep my focus. I wasn’t trying to look at her for too long while we were performing, but she was just on fire.”

When he looks back on it, the experience still seems unbelievable.

“It’s funny because I went from listening to one of her songs back in Alabama to actually performing that song. It was absolutely crazy,” he says.

Lateef originally entered college as a marketing major, but watching the 2013 movie The Internship, following the amusing journey of interns competing for jobs at Google, his love of computer science was born.

“I found intriguing the problems and technical jargon that was being used, although I had no idea what they were talking about,” Lateef wrote on his blog. “I became so interested in this aspect of the movie, I ended up switching my major to computer science.”

And that path took him, four years later, to his Silicon Valley internship at SurveyMonkey. He found the company on LinkedIn and used a one month free premium trial to contact SurveyMonkey’s Portland recruiter, not even expecting a response.

“I mean, who am I, anyway? I’m just some college student from a small suburb in Alabama,” Lateef wrote on his blog. “Boy, was I wrong.”

One phone screening and one interview later, Lateef had one more interview to go. Before and after his final interview he turned to his faith and Chance the Rapper’s song Blessings 2 for inspiration.

“[Before the interview] I went to the song for inspiration and encouragement, and I actually broke down into tears while listening to that song,” he says. “When I got the internship I went to that same song, but this time I was crying tears of joy.”

So far, his internship has given him much more than he’d expected. Lateef, who plans to become a data scientist and pursue his music on the side, has had the opportunity to be a part of a data science project at SurveyMonkey where his teammates value and listen to his feedback.

“It speaks to the culture at SurveyMonkey. Everyone listens to each other, whether you’re an intern or an executive,” he says. “It’s really special.”

After all of the kindness he was shown, Lateef planned a concert for the SurveyMonkey employees who helped him along his journey. On August 4 he played his saxophone in the San Mateo office and livestreamed the concert to SurveyMonkey offices all over the world.

If someone had told Lateef four years ago that he would end up pursing data science, scoring a Silicon Valley internship, and performing with Solange, he’d be in shock.

“Just the fact that all this has happened has shown me that I’m doing the right thing,” he says. “It’s been an amazing journey and I’m just walking in God’s footsteps.”

Kyler Sumter is a Boston University student and a USA TODAY College digital producer.

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