AJ Okereke (’14): Choosing the Entrepreneurial Path

“What are you going to do after you graduate?” Any college senior will tell you that they get this question at least once a day. Professors, parents, and other well-meaning adults are eager to give their two cents on grad school, large vs. small companies, and the key to success. In search of a new perspective about approaching the job hunt, E@D asked recent Dyson alum AJ Okereke to weigh in on his process of choosing a career.

AJ graduated cum laude from the Dyson School in 2014 and currently works for Graphiq (formerly FindTheBest), a data aggregation and visualization startup that turns complicated data into contextually-rich presentations of the world’s knowledge. For consumers, Graphiq operates a number of trusted vertical search engines, spanning tech gadgets (specout.com) and real estate (findthehome.com), to education (startclass.com) and government (insidegov.com). For publishers, the company offers several solutions for improving audience engagement with embeddable, contextually-rich visualizations. 

In contrast to his current interests, AJ explained that the first half of his Cornell career was actually focused on finance. Interning at a larger corporation  allowed him to identify what he did not want to do. He realized that he wanted to be constantly engaged and working on innovative ideas—a passion that led him to an interest in startups. 

In approaching the job search at the beginning of his senior year, AJ applied to a variety of firms including consulting, venture capital and startups with game-changing ideas. When it came down to choosing a job, he was faced with the tradeoff between taking the traditional path of working for an established company, or taking more of a risk and joining a fast-paced startup. AJ explained that the tradeoff is completely personal and depends on an individual’s preferences—in his case, he chose the autonomy, responsibility and sense of ownership of working at a startup in exchange for the stability of a different career path. Despite outside pressure to follow a more traditional route, AJ looked to his entrepreneurially minded peers to help him stay true to his career aspirations.

As someone in the midst of the job hunt, talking to AJ made me realize that when choosing a career, you have to follow your own passions rather than someone else’s idea of what you should be doing. Any job experience is valuable—especially if it helps you realize what you don’t want to do. The key to making these decisions is being honest about what environments you thrive in and what kind of work excites you.

To learn more about AJ’s role at Graphiq and his other thoughts on entrepreneurship, check out the full interview here.