I Am Merkle is a series of interviews that showcase the individuals who make Merkle a unique and diverse place to work. This month, learn more about our featured employees from the UK DEI team, Dinah Musisi and Ryan Skeet.
1. Tell us about yourself; where did you grow up? Where do you live now?
Dinah: I grew up in South London. While I have travelled and lived in other parts of the UK, I have always gravitated back to South London. This part of London has always been close to my heart because of the rich culture and diversity of the area. I was born in London, but my parents came over to the UK forty-five years ago from Uganda to escape Idi Amin; they were both in hiding with my older sister for six months before they left the country. My dad is Ugandan / Kenyan, and mum is Ugandan/ Pakistani which was quite unique when they were growing up. This helped shape my unique upbringing. I can still make great pilau rice, the best curries, and questionable samosas. I have three nephews and one niece who keep me on my toes, entertain me, and give some of the best cuddles around!
Ryan: I was born in a small town called Redditch, near Birmingham; which (contrary to popular opinion, perhaps – a lot of people think Manchester) is the UK’s second city! I also studied there; so, apart from a year living in Tokyo, it’s the only place I’d lived until I moved to London to join Merkle.
2. What drew you to your current career?
Dinah: When I finished school, I initially thought I wanted to be a fine art painter and I was accepted into one of the best art colleges in London. I was obsessed with the impressionists, Frieda Khalo and Georgia O’Keefe. I was never sure what I wanted to do, so I decided to postpone starting college to earn my art degree and, instead, travelled the UK as a salesperson. I was lucky enough to help set up offices across the UK. When I came back to London, I decided not to start working towards my art degree. I was too scared of being a struggling artist. So, I decided to study English and American literature while working. I have always enjoyed creating and having constant change, so being in facilities you get to experience variety. The offices help to build culture, and while we are shifting to a “new normal”, being able to create the spaces people enjoy and thrive in has always been my passion.
Ryan: I actually sort of “fell into” PPC. You’ve heard the Avenue Q song “What do you Do with a B.A. in English?” (if not, check it out – a bit crude but funny). I took a meeting with a career advisor, who walked me through three questions: What will make you happy in life? What level of income do you need to achieve those things? What job can you do that provides that income and matches your skillset? A few graduate job board searches later, and I’d applied for (then) Periscopix – and the rest is history!
3a. What inspired you to become a part of DEI?
The past 18 months has been a rollercoaster and I have learned a lot about myself. I have always been aware of my wonderful heritage but never really shared it with people; I tended to shy away. The past year has sparked conversations about race and identity. I found myself having open conversations with friends and colleagues about their lived experiences and my own lived experiences, which created camaraderie and real appreciation about their unique identities. People are beginning to become more confident when it comes to addressing ethnicity, and I think it is important to celebrate, support and amplify the unique cultures and ethnicities the people we work with have.
Ryan: Merkle is the first company where I’ve felt safe being open about certain aspects of my identity (namely that I’m queer and a huge nerd). I’ve found that, by being open and sharing these aspects of myself, I’m inspiring others to be more authentic at work too. There are some ways in which equality has taken positive steps over recent years, but other ways in which inclusion has really been halted or even taken reverse steps (restrictions on access to life affirming healthcare for trans people; anti LGBT zones; racially motivated hate on social media) and we have a responsibility to our colleagues and the wider community to ensure that Merkle is a safe-haven against this sort of hate.
3b. What part of your new position are you most excited about?
Dinah: As I have grown over the past few months, I want to help ethnically diverse colleagues make a change by building confidence while being able to support and amplify each other. I’m most excited to help build and shape the Ethnicity pillar. I enjoy being in a constant state of movement and am looking forward to driving the goals we have to create a truly inclusive culture. I’m looking forward to bringing people on the journey and seeing them (and the pillar) flourish.
Ryan: Having been able to contribute so strongly to achieving progress in LGBTQ+ endeavours at the company, I’m excited to be taking on a wider remit in pulling together all DEI efforts for Merkle in the UK. Intersectionality is a fundamental part of existence which cannot be ignored. My experience growing up as a queer person of colour, has been significantly different than the experiences of my white colleagues. These intersections need to be recognized in the nuances of what we do here.
4. What is your biggest accomplishment?
Dinah: Paying for my education while studying. I worked during college so that I could pay for my tuition.
Ryan: Within my first year at Merkle, I had made a name for myself as someone unafraid to ask the tough questions. Periscopix had no parental leave policy and when it was being discussed and introduced, the language used was very focused on maternity. I raised the issue of adoption, shared leave, and same-sex parents. As a result, the policies created were more inclusive from the outset.
5. To date, what has been your biggest learning or teaching moment?
Dinah: I haven’t had one singular learning or teaching moment as they can all creep up on you when not expected. When it comes to the past two years, I think, personally, it has been about being able to believe in myself and my voice. I have been fortunate enough to be around people who have helped to build and support me and my growth. I hope that I will be able to do that for others too.
Ryan: I volunteer at an annual camping event for Japanese Culture enthusiasts (read: otaku festival), and one year I was supervising an activity where a bit of a scuffle broke out between two people. Looking at them, I made an assumption and called out “Ladies, ladies, please let’s calm down!”. The two people’s faces immediately fell and, as it transpired, I had misgendered them. I will never forget the impact that had on their experience at the event and I have always fought for proper gender recognition since. It taught me that, while mistakes happen, it’s our responsibility to treat others with respect.
6. What is a moment in your life that defined or shaped who you are today?
Dinah: Personally, it was when I realised my parents are people. Growing up in London, I didn’t realise the privileges I had until I was older. My parents sacrificed a lot for my siblings and me. They migrated to another country, put up with my siblings and me (we were terrors when we were growing up), worked full-time jobs and built a life away from what they knew. To me, they are the real powerhouses who shaped who I have become.
Ryan: As anyone who has spent even five minutes talking to me will be able to tell you, I lived in Japan working as an ESL teacher before coming to Merkle. After having lived quite inauthentically at university before that, and fearing negative treatment in a society which is known to have quite unwelcoming attitudes to LGBTQ+ people, I hid my orientation. The isolation and hard work of keeping such a secret weighed on me the whole time, and I came to the conclusion that I could only work in an environment where I could be myself after that experience.
7. What inspires you about your workplace culture?
Dinah: When I started with Periscopix, and now Merkle, it was the people and atmosphere that inspired me. You spend most of your time with your colleagues, so it is essential you enjoy the people you are around.
Ryan: One word: collaboration. In a lot of companies, competition is key, and people jealously guard their work to maintain an edge. This just isn’t the case at Merkle where we succeed together through sharing knowledge and ideas.
8. If you currently weren’t doing what you do today professional, what would you be doing? (dream job)
Dinah: A travel blogger so I can see the world. I enjoy exploring new places and can often be found in some remote location relaxing.
Ryan: Probably a professional travel reporter. Visiting beautiful places, seeing amazing sights, and eating wonderful food – and getting paid to sass it all?! Ideal 😉
9. What was the first concert you went to?
Dinah: I can’t remember the concert, but my first single was “Push-it” by Salt-N-Pepa
Ryan: I was around 15 when I first went to see Yellowcard in a nice cosy, intimate venue. I began a 10-year love affair with live music after that, which only ended when time and money became too scarce.
10. Rapid fire
a. Favorite food
Dinah: Pork Tortas - if you know, you know!
Ryan: A dish popular in Tokyo called abura soba (oil noodles). It’s FULL of flavour but mega high in calories!
b. Favorite TV show/movie
Dinah: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown – food and travel are my favourite things!
Ryan: Would have to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That’s a cult classic!
c. Favorite hobby/activity
Ryan: I probably sink at least six hours a week into Dungeons and Dragons between the two games I run for different groups and the three games I play in (on and off).
d. Favorite book
Dinah: Lord of the Rings
Ryan: Torn between “His Dark Materials” and “The Wheel of Time” (both are series, I realise, not individual books). If I had to choose just one, it’d be New Spring.
e. Guilty pleasure
Dinah: 90’s R&B / Hip-hop
Ryan: I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. Being a nerd is about unapologetically and passionately enjoying the things you love.
f. Best advice or mantra you live by (in your own words)
Dinah: If— BY RUDYARD KIPLING
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
Ryan: Everyone you will ever meet knows something that you don’t. Go into any new encounter expecting to learn and you won’t be disappointed.