Learn how professionals in the tech
industry got to where they are today 
and what a day in the life looks like.

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Career Path: Christopher Collins, Account Manager at SmartBear banner image

Career Path: Christopher Collins, Account Manager at SmartBear

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What do the career path and day-in-the-life look like for an Account Manager at SmartBear?

We connected with Christopher Collins to find out!

Also, SmartBear is hiring! Click here to see all of the company's openings!


Where did you grow up?  What did your parents do for work?  

I was born in West Roxbury, MA and grew up in a small town in Western Massachusetts. My parents are consultants in the engineering and software industries.

Where did you go to college?  What did you study and what were some of your initial jobs out of school?

I went to Saint Anselm College, where I studied Economics and Public Policy. Upon graduation, I wanted to take the time to explore different opportunities. I worked at the Department of Commerce, a small marketing firm, and coached lacrosse. Through coaching, I expanded my network and had the opportunity to meet with sales leadership at SmartBear. I left the meeting excited and inspired by this growing company and knew I had to get involved.

What has attributed to your success thus far and has helped propel you to the position you have now?

They say curiosity kills the cat, but I would argue otherwise. If I had to boil my success down to one word it would be curiosity. This attribute has led me to challenge the status quo, continuously learn, and take risks.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have grown significantly in the year I’ve been at SmartBear and I attribute that success to the environment here. I am surrounded by intelligent, driven people. Coworkers in any department are always available to discuss ideas or questions I might have. Starting in business development taught me about the challenges our customers face, and how we can help improve their everyday lives. My manager gave me a great foundation in software sales which I was then able to build upon.

Due to the growth of our organization, I was asked to become a team lead, managing 10 other team members on the US Sales Development Team. And more recently, I have been promoted to Account Manager. Though each role has been demanding, I work with a great team that ensures success.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Account Manager at Smartbear?

I work with customers in highly regulated industries, such as aerospace and defense, banking, and aviation, to improve their software development process. This requires finding and connecting with the proper stakeholders to understand the issues they face and develop a possible solution.

Any tips for someone considering a career in your field?

This is a high paced environment. Be constantly curious and try to learn as much as you possibly can. Once you think you've learned enough, be prepared to adapt quickly. What works today, might not work tomorrow.  


Day in the Life


Coffee, tea, or nothing?

Coffee. Probably too much coffee.

What time do you get into the office?

8:15 AM



What are three things that motivate you in your role?

I’m motivated by the will to succeed, the desire to continue to learn, and seeing those I mentor succeed.

Every day is different, but can you outline what a typical day looks like for you?

Before I leave work, I make a list of everything I want to accomplish the next day.  When I arrive in the morning, I prioritize that list based upon any new emails or notifications I may have received and I hit the ground running!

What time do you head out of the office?

5:30

Do you log back in at night or do you shut it down completely?  

Will this be published? Then I am always available.

Any productivity hacks?

Butter in said coffee.

What are the 3 apps that you can’t live without?

News, Lyft, and Calculator

What professional accomplishment are you proudest of?

I most proud of my growth at SmartBear over the past year. I have been trusted with the responsibility of leading a team, and then earned the opportunity to contribute to one of the most profitable products.

Who do you admire or call upon for professional advice?

Both of my managers have been great resources. Each started where I was, and have established themselves as trusted voices at the company. I have yet to encounter a situation where I couldn't go to them and have an honest dialogue.


Colin Barry is the Content Manager to VentureFizz. Follow him on Twitter @ColinKrash.

Images courtesy of Christopher Collins

About the
Company

Smartbear's tools are built to streamline your DevOps processes while seamlessly working with the products you use – and will use

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Career Path: Celia Courtright, Software Manager at Chewy banner image

Career Path: Celia Courtright, Software Manager at Chewy

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What do the career path and day-in-the-life look like for a Software Manager at Chewy?

We connected with Celia Courtright to find out.

Also, Chewy is hiring! Click here for all of the company's job openings.


Where did you grow up? What did your parents do for work?  

I grew up in a suburb of Milwaukee. My parents were professors of Biology and Political Science. They were big proponents of learning math.

Where did you go to college? What did you study and what were some of your initial jobs out of school?

I went to Yale University for undergrad, where I majored in history. I also took a substantial number of CS courses, but Yale doesn’t give minors. My first job was in consulting as an analyst. I quickly switched from being the analyst to writing code.

After that, I went to a startup followed by some government work when I was in D.C. I also got an MBA from the University of Maryland, where I concentrated in IT and finance.

What has attributed to your success thus far and has helped propel you to the position you have now?

I love solving problems and building solutions. From working in a lot of industries and roles – analyst, UI engineer, full stack engineer, QA engineer, data engineer, system architect – I can approach a lot of problems from all these perspectives and ensure my team is building something that is maintainable, testable, and reliable.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Software Manager at Chewy?

I put the building blocks for what we need to build in the proper execution order, keeping in mind technical dependencies and time to execute. I ensure “planned work” is broken down to levels that engineers can actually execute. I keep engineers in check to deliver projects by our committed dates. I work with the engineers reporting to me to grow their technical and business skills and advance their careers.

Any tips for someone considering a career in Software Management?

Work on different types of systems, in different languages, in different roles. There is something to learn in each of them and make it easier to understand why various elements are important.

Your role is to remove other people’s problems: conflicts with other people, problems with tools, and so forth.


Day in the Life


Coffee, tea, or nothing?

Mostly tea. Some soda, but I keep working on cutting down.

What time do you get into the office?

I’m in “early” just after 8 a.m.

What are three things that motivate you in your role?

  • Building a system that makes users’ happier.

  • Having a clear, actionable road map that I can dig into.

  • Work camaraderie.

Every day is different, but can you outline what a typical day looks like for you?

My day starts before I’m in the office. I’m checking emails by 6 AM and leave the house at 7 AM to catch the train. Then I’ll spend my commute getting my calendar and to-do list in order and sending emails as needed.  

In the office, I spend time meeting with users or product managers on clarifying requirements and priorities. Then I’ll meet with engineers about technical decisions and project break down. I usually run scrum. I’ll have a couple “scrum of scrum” type meetings where we go over cross-team technical dependencies. If it’s my one-on-one day, I’ll spend a lot of time talking to my engineers about how they are progressing in their goals and any issues they have.

The remainder of the time is spent fixing any issues that come up, so the engineers can code unhindered, or a project can be unblocked. A lot of this is Jira management: creating, updating, documenting tickets. I’m rarely writing code or executing proofs-of-concept, but I will direct others in how to do these. Other times it’s writing up documentation or presentations of the work being proposed or being completed. It all depends where in the lifecycle various projects are.

When I leave the office, I have my off-line time until later, when I’ll finish up a couple tasks that I can do out of the office.

What time do you head out of the office?

Most days I leave about 4:30 PM.

Do you log back in at night or do you shut it down completely?  

I usually work 1-2 hours at night. The paperwork doesn’t usually get done while I’m in the office, so I spend the evening filing tickets of various sorts and reviewing others’ work.

Any productivity hacks?

Block time on your calendar for any task you need to do that will take more than five minutes. And delete or file all email that isn’t immediately needed. I almost never get to “inbox zero” but I’m happiest under “inbox 10”.

What are the 3 apps that you can’t live without?

  • Fantastical. It has all my calendars (10!) combined and the natural language for entering new events is really useful.

  • Evernote. My notes go everywhere on every device, so it’s easy to review even without my computer.

  • Spotify

What professional accomplishment are you proudest of?

I mentored an off-shore (not contractor) team at a large multi-national corporation that had few coding skills at the outset, to executing a total rewrite of the BI reporting system. We integrated six completely different ERP systems from four countries into a cohesive interface that did not have 10,000 fields and everyone defining a different “truth”. It was the old way of doing things.

The end result was a fast, responsive, clear system everyone loved. It was hard work, as many on the business side had their reasons why field #5003 needed to be included, and why field #23 which was virtually identical could not be used. But, I eventually got them all to agree on the critical few requirements.

Along the way, the development team learned several programming languages, how to use source control, how to do code reviews, how to deploy code, and even some aspects of writing unit and integration tests.​
Who do you admire or call upon for professional advice?

I check in with some grad school colleagues from time to time.


Colin Barry is the Content Manager to VentureFizz. Follow him on Twitter @ColinKrash.

Images courtesy of Celia Courtright and Chewy

About the
Company

Chewy's mission is to be the most trusted and convenient online destination for pet parents everywhere. 

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Career Path: Jimmy Goddard, Software Engineer at Cogito banner image

Career Path: Jimmy Goddard, Software Engineer at Cogito

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What do the career path and day-in-the-life look for a Software Engineer at Cogito?

We connected with Jimmy Goddard to find out!

Also, Cogito is hiring! Click here for all of the company’s job openings!


Where did you grow up?  What did your parents do for work?  

I was born in Rahway, NJ.  For much of my boyhood, I lived on the Jersey Shore. I moved to Miami, FL in 8th grade and attended high school down there. After high school, I moved up to Boston to attend college.

My father was a French and German teacher for high schoolers and middle schoolers. My mother was a Postmaster for the US Post Office.

Where did you go to college?  What did you study and what were some of your initial jobs out of school?

I attended college briefly at Tufts University just out of high school and studied Physics and Chinese Language. I dropped out to learn more about myself and Boston midway through my sophomore year.

Shortly after dropping out I ended up working for Software, Tool & Die in Brookline, MA.  They were the first ISP to offer Internet access to the public. I worked as a technical support engineer for five years before the market burst and broadband changed the access landscape.  I found it difficult to find another job in the industry and went on to work for the White Horse Tavern in Allston, MA.

I worked nearly every job at the White Horse over 12 years -- food runner/busser, waiter, barback, bartender, shift manager, interim general manager, bar manager, you name it. I very much enjoyed the work for a long time, even once being featured as one of Boston’s most beloved bartenders in the Improper Bostonian magazine in 2009.

But I always yearned to return to the computer industry. Finally, in 2014 with a lot of support from my family and a great example from my twin brother, I returned to college to earn my undergraduate degree in Computer Science. A year after starting school back up I was hired by Cogito as a Software Engineer Co-op. I attended school at Boston University Metropolitan College at night and worked at Cogito full-time during the day. I finally graduated with top honors from BU in 2017. I am currently continuing this rigorous schedule pursuing my Master’s in Computer Science, also at BU Met. I will be graduating this coming May.

What has attributed to your success thus far and has helped propel you to the position you have now?

For sure, my perspective has been a great benefit to me.  It allows me to stay balanced and focus on the things I love to do: write software; learn challenging, new things; and work closely with other people. It doesn’t hurt that I enjoy academics, specifically math and science. And all of the skills that I learned through many years of service are quite useful even though they were honed outside of the tech industry.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as a Software Engineer at Cogito?

My team and I are responsible for the main application sold by Cogito -- Dialog.  We are responsible for taking the ideas and specifications given to use by the Product department and turning them into the beautiful, cutting edge applications that we sell to enterprise customers to make people’s lives better.

Any tips for someone considering a career in Engineering?

If you’re interested and have a passion for it, go for it!  Especially if you have a unique way of thinking about solving problems.  Software Engineering is a very broad field and requires a variety of different skills.  Of course, a strong foundation in software design and languages is required. But you also need to be creative, be able to think abstractly and be capable of producing concrete results.

Jimmy Goddard with Cogito Engineering Team
Jimmy (white shirt) with other members of Cogito's engineering team.

Day in the Life
 

Coffee, tea, or nothing?

I go for tea and decaf coffee.

What time do you get into the office?

Whenever my earliest meeting is scheduled, otherwise 10 AM.

What are three things that motivate you in your role?

  • I love solving problems.

  • I love writing software.

  • I love interacting with people smarter than I am.

Every day is different, but can you outline what a typical day looks like for you?

After logging in in the morning and checking mail, I begin the day with some team meetings.  In the middle of the day, I spend as much time as I can at my desk coding and discussing technical stuff (that’s the technical term) with colleagues or video chat meetings.  Later in the day, I might present at or attend architectural meetings to more broadly discuss concepts related to the work I’m doing.

What time do you head out of the office?

School days I have to be out with enough time to get to class, so about 5 PM.

On non-school days, often 6:30 PM but sometimes later

Do you log back in at night or do you shut it down completely?  

I tend to shut it down completely unless there’s an extremely important issue that needs immediate attention and can’t be handled by someone else. I may still do some reading about or experimenting with some technology that I’m interested in, but tend to like to partition my work from my home life.  It’s important to me to keep a good balance (mostly through playing some video games).

Any productivity hacks?

Get to the point where your development environment is like an extension of your body.  I used Emacs for some 20 years and am heavily keyboard dependent. An interactive command-line is my second home. Both have served me well for a long time. Recently I’ve also found that I need to be deft with the mouse. Modern IDE’s are incredibly powerful pieces of software that can really boost your output.

What are the 3 apps that you can’t live without?

Slack, Gmail, and IntelliJ.

What professional accomplishment are you proudest of?

It still has to be finishing a really complex implementation of an audio visualization algorithm for our old Java desktop client a number of years ago.  I fell flat on my face and spent nearly 12 hours for each of two days straight in the office working with the CTO to get it fixed so it could be delivered to customers.  The experience taught me a lot about myself and about software development in general. And it was a damn good looking visualization that I got to port to our web application when we transitioned away from the Java client.

Who do you admire or call upon for professional advice?

I both admire and ask for professional advice from my teammates, my immediate manager, and family for sure.


Colin Barry is an Editor & Staff Writer to VentureFizz. Follow him on Twitter @ColinKrash

Images courtesy of Cogito and Jimmy Goddard

About the
Company

Through behavioral science & AI, Cogito provides human aware technology to help professionals elevate their performance. 

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Career Path: Danielle Oaks, Senior Clinical Progams Manager at Wellframe banner image

Career Path: Danielle Oaks, Senior Clinical Progams Manager at Wellframe

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What do the career path and day-in-the-life look like for a Clinical Programs Manager at Wellframe?

We connected with Danielle Oaks to find out!

Also, Wellframe is hiring! Click here for all of the company's job openings.


Where did you grow up?

I grew up in coastal southern Rhode Island.

Where did you go to college? What did you study and where did you end up after school?

University of Rhode Island to get my BA in Communication Studies. I also have a Master's in Public Administration (MPA). My first job after graduate school was with the Boston Public Health Commission's HIV/AIDS Services Division. I had a very diverse team of colleagues in terms of backgrounds and skill sets; I learned so much from them in that first role in the professional world.

What led you to your current role?

Within my role with the Boston Public Health Commission, I worked with a social services agency that served deaf consumers. It was my first time learning about that population, which is typically underserved and underresourced, especially when it comes to healthcare.

I eventually went back to school to become a sign language interpreter, and ended up working as a freelance medical interpreter. Sitting in doctor's offices and hospitals with patients, I saw the intersection of patients with low health literacy and clinicians juggling competing demands throughout the day. I wanted to work on creating and disseminating accessible, plain language health education so patients could be more empowered to take their health into their hands.

I saw an opportunity at Wellframe to be able to "say" to a larger patient population what I've wanted to say to the patients I've worked with: "Ask lots of questions. Write things down. Managing your healthcare can be so overwhelming." Because Wellframe creates a strong link between patients and their care team via the app's chat function, patients can begin growing in those self-advocating practices right in the app.

What has attributed to your success thus far and has helped propel you to the position you have now?

Somewhere along the way, I learned to not worry so much about having a traditional career path. I have pursued opportunities based on my passion and curiosity. I also believe that my professional life is one way I live out my personal value of altruism, so I have followed that non-traditional path to places where I've seen a need for more equity in our healthcare system.

At 29, I left my job to travel around the world for a year. Though I knew it was a key time for me to continue advancing in my career, I also knew that I wouldn't have many opportunities for an adventure like that again. That year challenged and stretched me in myriad ways I apply to my daily work. So while I thought I was "taking a break" from my career, I was actually having experiences that would support and empower my future self.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Clinical Programs Manager at Wellframe?

Overall, I ensure that our condition-based clinical programs for use in the Wellframe app are delivered on-time and in-scope to our clients.

I supervise the development and maintenance of our programs and the project management processes that keep our team on track.

I also develop, document, and ensure the consistent use of our Wellframe style, voice, formatting, and health literacy/plain language conventions across our app content.

Any tips for someone considering a career in Project Management?

Listen to your colleagues. They can share valuable information on what they need to be successful so that you can iterate upon project management processes in ways that work for the team across the board. A project manager's role within a team is truly symbiotic: When everyone has what they need to do their job well, the project manager has succeeded!


Day in the Life

Coffee, tea, or nothing?

Creme de la Earl Grey tea. Black and strong.

What time do you get into the office?

Between 8 and 9 AM.

What are three things that motivate you in your role?

  • My colleagues! They are a multidisciplinary team of brilliant, committed, all-stars.

  • Our app users. When our services team shares quotes from them about how they're using Wellframe to reach their health goals, I melt.

  • The mantra "health literacy for health equity". One of the things I love most about my role is my responsibility to ensure our content is accessible to everyone. Many populations experience gross health disparities in our country, and through providing plain language content at low reading levels, we can do our part to even out the playing field.

Every day is different, but can you outline what a typical day looks like for you?

Our team works at a fast pace, so a fair bit of my day is responding quickly to project updates, questions, or emails in order to keep things moving. On a typical day, my chunks of work may include: reviewing or editing new program articles, writing requirements for improvements to our Content Management System, outlining and prioritizing work for our remote medical writers, or planning out and whiteboarding our next month of projects and deadlines as a team.

What time do you head out of the office?

Somewhere between 5:00 and 7:00.

Do you log back in at night or do you shut it down completely?  

I typically shut work off completely when I'm home, unless there's a non-negotiable deadline.

Any productivity hacks?

When I'm having a productivity slump, I use the Pomodoro technique. I use the Tomato One app to time my work intervals and short breaks. Typically 25 min of focused work followed by a 5 min get-up-from-my-desk break.

I'm also not above bribing myself with the thought of an afternoon iced coffee break if I meet my productivity goals.

What are the three apps that you can’t live without?

  • Wunderlist. I'm a big believer in the power of checklists.

  • Flour Bakery. Ordering online and counter pick-up on the way into the office is a game-changer.

  • Weather. I'm a bike commuter.

What professional accomplishment are you proudest of?

Coming to Wellframe in the early days (25 employees) and advocating from day one that we need to have a solid health communications strategy to ensure equitable access to health education across all our populations. Now we have a comprehensive style guide, a team of medical writers trained in our approach to plain language and design principles, and we begin talking about health literacy early in the process with prospective clients.

Who do you admire or call upon for professional advice?

I have some dear friends who are knocking it out of the park in their respective careers. I've worked with them all at one point or another, whether professionally or in volunteer work, and I don't hesitate to call them for advice or commiseration when faced with a work challenge.


Colin Barry is an Editor & Staff Writer to VentureFizz. Follow him on Twitter @ColinKrash

Images courtesy of Danielle Oaks

About the
Company

Wellframe strategically partners with health plans nationwide to reimagine the relationship between plans and members.

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Career Path: Ryan Fournier, Lead Software Engineer at HeathcareSource banner image

Career Path: Ryan Fournier, Lead Software Engineer at HeathcareSource

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What do the career path and day-in-the-life look for a Lead Software Engineer at HealthcareSource look like?

We connected with Ryan Fournier to find out!

Also, HealthcareSource is hiring! Click here for all of the company's job openings.


Where did you grow up?  What did your parents do for work?

I grew up in the small town of Pepperell, Massachusetts. My mother is a systems analyst, and my father is a driver for a natural gas company.

Where did you go to college?  What did you study and what were some of your initial jobs out of school?

I went to the University of Massachusetts Lowell. I studied information technology with a focus in computer science-related courses. I also received a minor in business during my time there. Initially, during and right after college, I was doing freelance Web Development for small businesses and shortly after that, I began working at HealthcareSource as a Web Developer.

What has attributed to your success thus far and has helped propel you to the position you have now?

I attribute most of my success to passion and flexibility. I have always wanted to develop software dating back to my early high school days, and I still love doing it today. For flexibility, I learned that when a challenge is presented, regardless of how hard the task may be, embracing it and completing it with a positive attitude will open more opportunities in the future. There will always be those assignments that nobody wants to do, but it’s essential to your managers, employees and beyond. In the end, it helps to drive others around you to do the same and has helped me become a better leader.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Lead Software Engineer at HealthcareSource?

My current position is half development and half management. I am fortunate to lead and architect/design multiple projects in parallel and contribute to the developing of those projects. In addition, I am involved with mentoring others on those projects and provide direction to help get their tasks completed.

Any tips for someone considering a career in Software Engineering?

Software engineering is full of opportunities. I believe anyone that has the passion for building software can do it with the correct training. You should never say to yourself "I am not a X type of person, so I don't think I could do it". There is no perfect "type" of attitude, personality, etc. to become a software engineer. If you can be passionate about becoming a software engineer, then one day you will!


Day in the Life

Coffee, tea, or nothing?

Both

What time do you get into the office?

I usually arrive between 7:30 and 9 AM. The time varies based on the day and my meeting schedule.

What are three things that motivate you in your role?

The first thing is the challenges that arise every day. In a typical day to day, something "unexpected" will happen large or small. This is not a negative thing, and it is just a challenge that I get to accept and work with my teams to solve.

The second thing is seeing growth. It is always exciting when you complete a tough task. It is even more exciting to help a direct report complete a task and see them get excited.

Lastly and most importantly client exposure. This can come in the form of face-to-face or simply word of mouth. Building software is a challenge, but in the end, there is no better feeling than seeing clients get excited to use things that I have built.

Every day is different, but can you outline what a typical day looks like for you?

A typical day to day starts with syncing up with my teams and the projects that we are working on. Afterward, I get the chance to help anyone directly who has questions or needs a hand with something. After that, I catch up on any code reviewing that needs to be completed. Once that is done, I work on my own development tasks. Staggered a crossed this typical day to day would be responding to emails, chat messages, and attending meetings. This, of course, is very flexible, and the order may vary based on meeting schedules.

What time do you head out of the office?

Typically, between 3:30 and 4:30 PM. This time also varies based on the day and my meeting schedule.

Do you log back in at night or do you shut it down completely?

I typically log in most nights of the week or at least have push notifications on my phone for my work emails and chats. This is however by choice as I have never been asked to work extra hours. I consider developing software also to be a hobby, not just a career.

Any productivity hacks?

Compiling some software solutions can take 30 seconds to 1 minute. Having two monitors is key. How long does it take you to read a typical email or respond to a quick chat? I bet there are some that take less than one minute. Multi-tasking can go a long way if it can be done without losing focus on your primary task. Also, as any Software Engineer will tell you, know and use your keyboard shortcuts!

What are the 3 apps that you can’t live without?

Amazon - As dangerous as "Buy with 1 click" might seem, it saves you a lot of time!

Marriott - I use this all the time to book hotels for traveling. The point system is great.

Uber - There is nothing better than staying inside warm until you can see your driver pulling up from the map!

What professional accomplishment are you proudest of?

I am most proud of my ability to grow professionally in a company. Over the last seven years it was not always easy, but it was always exciting. Going from doing small, simple tasks to architecting brand new software and enhancements to existing software is a huge step towards where I wanted to be. The tasks I was completing went from small client specific enhancements to large client specific enhancements. After that, I was working on small application enhancements which progressed towards larger enterprise-level enhancements. This eventually grew into building new large, enterprise level applications from the ground up, making architecture and design decisions while doing so. I have certainly had many different job titles, but the more important thing is I took the opportunities to grow professionally as they came which is something that is ultimately important not just to my company but to me personally as well.

Who do you admire or call upon for professional advice?

My mother has always been a great mentor to me. She understands the environment I work in and has also been through similar career advancements in the tech industry. Her encouragement has played a critical role in where I am today!


Keith Cline is the Founder of VentureFizz.  Follow him on Twitter: @kcline6.

Images courtesy of Ryan Fournier

About the
Company

HealthcareSource is the leading provider of talent management software for the healthcare industry.

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Career Path: Maggie Brenner, Product Manager at Ellevation banner image

Career Path: Maggie Brenner, Product Manager at Ellevation

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What does the career path and day-in-the-life for a Product Manager at Ellevation look like?

We connected with Maggie Brenner to find out!

Ellevation is hiring, click here for job openings.


Career Path

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Larchmont, NY which is a suburb of New York City.

Where did you go to college?  What did you study and what were some of your initial jobs out of school?

I have a BA from Bowdoin College and a master’s in urban education from Loyola Marymount University. My undergrad degree is in visual arts/art history, but I would say that I have a true liberal arts degree and studied everything from calculus to infant & child development to the arts of Japan. I worked for an orphanage in Malawi, Africa right out of college and then quickly made my way into the education space focusing on charter school operations first at the NYC Department of Education and then for a network of charter schools in Harlem. From there, I applied and was accepted to be a TFA corps member and taught in San Jose for two years.

What has contributed to your success thus far and has helped propel you to the position you have now?

Being relentlessly curious, developing and leveraging strong networks and finding opportunities to explore topics/skills that interest me. As a little kid, I was always analyzing which jobs I didn’t think I wanted: crossing guard sounded too cold and garbage person too dirty. Although a seemingly straightforward exercise, this tendency to continuously analyze what I like or don’t like about a role has enabled me to clarify what I’d like to do next and intentionally move towards my goals. I’ve also been incredibly lucky to have worked with a unique number of supportive and collaborative co-workers and managers.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Product Manager at Ellevation Education?

  • Engage in discovery

  • Ship Minimum Viable Products often

  • Curate our backlog - create and prioritize user stories, review any new bug

  • Evangelize our product

  • Track and analyze key metrics

  • Engage our customers to get input and feedback on product development

Any tips for someone considering transitioning to a career in Product Management?

  • Talk to anyone you can who’s an engineer, product manager or designer. Learn about the variations between companies and which type of role you think will be best for you. I also went to a few meetups and introductory courses which gave me some solid baseline knowledge.

  • There’s a ton of great literature out there about the PM role, product teams and how to work best with engineers which I would recommend reading. I found Cracking the PM Interview helpful in understanding what the interview process might look like.
     
  • Think about what your best entry point is. For me, it has been beneficial to move internally. While I’m learning the role, I’m able to leverage strong knowledge of our product and customers.

What drew you to Product Management?

I had the opportunity to participate in a discovery sprint internally. The focus on solving challenges and the iterative nature of the work got me hooked on learning more about product development. I’ve learned that being a PM isn’t just running discovery sprints, but the continuous cycle of developing hypotheses, testing, learning, and iterating to address our customers’ biggest challenges keeps me excited every single day.


Day in the Life

Coffee, tea, or nothing?

Coffee

What time do you get into the office?

Usually between 8 and 8:30.

What are three things that motivate you in your role?

  1. Our customers and the students they serve

  2. A desire to solve problems and understand how things work

  3. My co-workers

Every day is different, but can you outline what a typical day looks like for you?

I’m only in month two of the PM role at Ellevation, so I’m still figuring that out a bit but here’s a high-level overview:

  1. Pour myself some coffee and assemble some sort of yogurt/granola/fruit breakfast

  2. Review any new bug or feature improvement tickets that have come through

  3. Look at our health and OKR metrics in Splunk

  4. Troubleshoot/Look into anything that our Product Support team has flagged

  5. Review the virtual stand up where everyone on the team shares what they’re working on

  6. Attend Stand Up with other Engineering/Product leads to discuss what’s up next to go into production and how we’ll sequence it

  7. Meet with Product Marketing to discuss roll out of a new feature

  8. Lunch

  9. Review feedback from usability sessions and identify key functionality that we’ll want to add

  10. Curate our backlog, create and prioritize user stories

  11. Review any new bug or feature improvement tickets that have come through

What time do you head out of the office?

5:15ish

Do you log back in at night or do you shut it down completely?  

I’ve gone through phases of each but for the most part try to shut down completely when I leave and only log back in when there’s something that might require monitoring or night time work. I’ve learned over time the lines that I need to draw for myself to ensure I don’t get burnt out and do my best to stick to them.

What are the 3 apps that you can’t live without?

  1. Slack

  2. Splunk

  3. Evernote

What professional accomplishment are you proudest of?

  • Becoming a Product Manager

  • Hiring and developing a collaborative team of high performers (in my last role as a Director of Implementation)

  • The relationships I formed with my students

Bowdoin Alum

Who do you call upon for professional advice?

I lean on my family and my boyfriend as thought partners in most professional decisions. We circulated Radical Candor by Kim Scott around the office at one point and there are a lot of concepts in that book that have really stuck with me. The importance of pairing caring personally with challenging directly about reports and colleagues (which I think is fair to call the thesis) is something that I think about often.


Keith Cline is the Founder of VentureFizz.  Follow him on Twitter: @kcline6.

Images courtesy of Maggie Brenner and Ellevation

About the
Company

Ellevation is the first and most powerful suite of tools designed specifically for professionals serving English Language Learners   .

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Career Path: Gabe Mulley, Engineering Manager at edX banner image

Career Path: Gabe Mulley, Engineering Manager at edX

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What does the career path and day-in-the-life for an Engineering Manager at edX look like?

We connected with Gabe Mulley to find out!


Where did you grow up?  What did your parents do for work?

I grew up in Norwich, VT. I affectionately refer to it as a rural suburb of Dartmouth College. Many of my fond memories from that period of my life are of time spent in the forests and rivers of Vermont. There are some great swimming holes there. Not sure why there isn’t a swimming hole culture in Massachusetts, I definitely miss it!

My parents are both educators. One of my parents is an autism specialist who has worked closely with schools throughout Vermont and New Hampshire throughout her career and has taught in the education department at Dartmouth. The other is focused on early childhood education and teaches kindergarten at the Upper Valley Waldorf School.

As you might expect, education is a big deal in my family!

Where did you go to college?  What did you study and what were some of your first jobs out of school?

I studied computer and systems engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). I knew I was interested in computer programming and was drawn to the intersection between software and the physical world. I retain that interest to this day. I love hacking on hardware.

My first job out of college was as an electrical engineer at Design Continuum. I was primarily writing firmware for medical device prototypes. From there, I did a stint at Vistaprint and then jumped into a database startup called Hadapt. Hadapt was an incredible experience; in 18 months I learned an incredible amount. Since we didn’t have a big team to lean on, I had to learn a little about a lot of different things -- DevOps, databases, distributed systems, automated testing, package management, etc. I’m a generalist, so this was a dream come true! Hadapt was also the first company to take a risk on me and put me in more of a leadership role. It was a great opportunity to learn and grow.

After I left Hadapt, I joined edX as an entry-level software engineer and have happily been learning and growing here for the last five years.

What has contributed to your success thus far and has helped propel you to the position you have now?

I think one of the biggest factors has been a willingness to take responsible risks. There have been a couple of key moments in my career at edX where the company took a big risk on me, and I leaped into the unknown, trusting that I could figure it out. I then tried my best not to mess it up and contain the blast radius of any damage I caused making mistakes while learning. In each case, a great team patiently helped me learn and together we did some incredible things!

That said, I don’t just blindly try out new ideas. I try to take calculated risks that have low cost and high potential upside. In order to figure out what to try out, I have often relied on finding good ideas generated by other people. I’m not brilliant - but there are lots of bright people out there sharing their insight with the rest of us! This includes both my direct mentors at edX as well as authors, bloggers, and other idea publishers. I do go out of my way to read a fair amount and find great mentors. It’s really hard and time-consuming to learn it all from scratch by yourself, it’s a lot easier to learn from the best!

Ultimately, I think I had to trust that fundamentally I was good and valuable, and even if I failed, I would still be good and valuable. Once I was able to truly believe that, I was able to take some bigger calculated risks and try different things. Sometimes they were failures and I learned something. Sometimes they succeeded. As long as the cost of the failure is relatively low, that’s a win-win.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as an engineering manager at edX?

I’m the engineering lead for one theme at edX. We have aligned our staff around particular groups of business problems that we call a “theme”. To solve these business problems we built cross-functional teams composed of staff from marketing, data science, product management, user experience, education services, the executive team, and engineering.

My primary responsibility is to ensure engineering is able to do our part to enable the team to solve the business problems. I am responsible for making sure we have the right staff, that we have the right tools, that engineers are aligned and that we can rapidly deliver prototypes and production-ready features. I focus a lot on process and people, but ultimately I do whatever it takes to solve the problems. One day five of us stopped what we were doing and did manual data entry for an hour since it was faster than writing a script and it needed to be done immediately!

To me, it’s about creating an environment where this cross-functional group of humans can build incredible products. How do we create a team that feels inspired and excited to solve the problem, is proud of their work, is more effective together than apart, has a big impact, and feels valued as individuals and as a group? It’s a really hard problem. Much harder than any engineering challenge I’ve faced!

Any tips for someone considering a career in engineering?

Be persistent. I was never terribly good at math, or at least, I thought wasn’t very good. It wasn’t until I took calculus in high school that a great teacher showed me that I wasn’t actually bad at math. I looked around me and saw people for whom it came naturally to, they were taking math courses at Dartmouth while still in high school. I was always comparing myself to them. This teacher helped me see the beauty of calculus in a way that I could appreciate independently. It wasn’t about being good or bad at math, it was just learning something amazing. It became clear to me that I could be successful at something even if I wasn’t naturally talented.

This was true throughout my college and professional careers. I really struggled in my first data structures and algorithms class, while it came much more easily to others. I still ended up with a very good grade because I realized that just because it was harder for me, it didn’t mean I couldn’t do it.

To this day, I know that I’m not the most talented computer scientist. I will never be the next Donald Knuth, however, I can leverage my other natural talents and I can compensate for my weaknesses with willpower and still provide a lot of value.

My advice is: when it gets hard, that’s when you get to show off -- show the world how strong and persistent you are, embrace the challenge, and problem solve!


Day in the Life

Coffee, tea, or nothing?

Coffee for sure! Followed by a lot of water. I realized I had been dehydrated a lot of the time, felt great to be properly hydrated once I figured that out!

What time do you get into the office?

I usually get in around 8:30 AM. I do some of my best work in the mornings.

What are three things that motivate you in your role?

  1. Having a big impact
  2. Being on a team that is executing effectively
  3. Learning!

Every day is different, but can you outline what a typical day looks like for you?

I usually do a chunk of deep work in the morning. Right now this often communication and coordination, sometimes I do data analysis or programming during this time. At 11 AM every day we have our team stand-up. I then typically have a mix of meetings and free blocks in the afternoon. Lately, it’s been a lot of recruiting related activities (interviews etc). I also have a number of 1:1 meeting with the staff I manage, mentees, and upper management.

I try to avoid taking mission-critical programming tasks since I don’t allocate that much time to that type of work. Most of my contributions to development work are code reviews. I also will take quick, simple, tasks that I can do quickly and would require a lot of context switching. I try to save the big complicated work for engineers who have bigger chunks of uninterrupted time.

What time do you head out of the office?

I try to leave by 4:30 PM every day so I can catch an hour or so with my daughter before she goes to bed. She charges my batteries for the next day!

Do you log back in at night or do you shut it down completely?  

I usually log back in around 10 PM and work for a bit before going to bed.

Any productivity hacks?

  • Take handwritten notes.
  • Don’t use devices with screens in meetings, instead take notes by hand. This dramatically increased the value I could add since I was actually paying attention to the whole conversation. I generally feel that if I have something that is so important that I have to do it during the meeting, I should probably just not go to the meeting and do that thing instead.

  • I use an adapted bullet journaling system - this has made it a lot easier to keep track of lots of different things I need to do and prioritize my time. I take my notebook everywhere!

  • Suppress interruptions.

  • I try to mostly ignore Slack and email and respond when I’m between meetings or deep work blocks. Most things can wait!
  • Figure out what time of day you are most effective and do your highest priority work then.

What are the 3 tools that you can’t live without?

  • Google Docs - Collaborative editing and version control are killer features

  • Email - My go-to async communication tool

  • Git - Version control all of the things!

What tools are overvalued?

  • Slack

    • I prefer face-to-face for synchronous conversation since there is a lot communicated nonverbally.

    • I prefer email for asynchronous communication because it encourages more thoughtful, fully formed responses.

    • I find it to be more distracting than helpful most of the time.

What professional accomplishment are you proudest of?

One team, I was on found and implemented a change that resulted in a ~30% increase in overall revenue for edX. That was a huge impact!

Who do you admire or call upon for professional advice?

Mark Haseltine, Ed Zarecor, Alyssa Boehm and Katy Willemin are my go-to resources. All are brilliant leaders, managers, and thought partners!


Keith Cline is the Founder of VentureFizz.  Follow him on Twitter: @kcline6.

Images courtesy of Gabe Mulley

About the
Company

edX is the education movement for restless learners.

 
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Career Path: Addison Maupin, Technical Recruiter at athenahealth banner image

Career Path: Addison Maupin, Technical Recruiter at athenahealth

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What does the career path and a day-in-the-life look like for a Technical Recruiter at athenahealth? We connected with Addison Maupin to find out.

Visit athenahealth's BIZZpage for their latest job opportunities!


Where did you grow up?  What did your parents do for work?  What was your very first job (before any internships)?

I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. My dad owned his own landscaping company, and my mom was a teacher. My very first job was starting my own lawn mowing business.

You graduated from Boston University in 2008, right as the financial crisis was about to hit.  What were your initial jobs out of school and what did that period teach you?

My initial job out of school was to lead the writing program for an ESL tutoring organization. I was laid off after a year-and-a-half there. Following that, I was unemployed for the better part of a year. No period of time post-college has taught me more. It’s what I think of the most as I interact with job-seekers. I’ll never forget how brutal it was to search for a job during that time with minimal work experience that was relevant to the areas I wanted to take my career.

How did you get into recruiting?

I fell into it. I was called by a recruiting firm that was willing to train me, and I didn’t have many other options. I realized very quickly how much I loved it. It allowed me to help people every day, and eventually teach and train new employees on what I had learned. Those were two things I was interested in doing before starting my career in recruitment, so it was a natural fit.

What did you learn in terms of running recruitment process outsourcing programs at large companies like CVS Health, General Motors and other companies?

I learned that even the largest and most successful companies in a given industry undergo large-scale, tumultuous change with surprising frequency. Companies are merging, getting acquired, and buying out other companies like never before. It helps me greatly to structure conversations with people that get caught up in those situations and are affected personally by them.

Why did you decide to join the recruiting team at athenahealth and can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Technical Recruiter?

First and foremost, I wanted to join a software company that builds products that genuinely help people. Athenahealth is the epitome of that. Secondly, I wanted to find a team that I liked as much as my team at my last company, which set a high bar. I’ve never felt more aligned with an interviewing team as I did following my interviews with athenahealth.

As a Technical Recruiter, I support some of the most niche areas of the business, including Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Platform Engineering, and Business Intelligence. IaaS and Platform are working towards enabling microservice architecture via automated solutions across the entire technology stack. Business Intelligence is working towards providing reporting services across all areas of the business. Needless to say, it’s an exciting time to join any of these three groups!

I spend most of my time fleshing out a sourcing strategy for finding the best talent in these areas. I’m always exploring new ways to source, organize and present information, and collaborate with technical teams to build an airtight end-to-end hiring process.


Day in the Life

Coffee, tea, or nothing?

Coffee

What time do you get into the office?

Usually 8:30 AM.

What is something you look forward to everyday in your role?

Using tools that are new to me, and discovering ways of using them to make my life and my managers’ lives easier.

Every day is different, but can you outline what a typical day looks like for you?

I’ll always spend a chunk of time in the morning organizing my day. I’ll usually source and reach out to candidates in the morning, and schedule phone screens for the afternoon. These activities are spread around meetings I have with my internal team, and also with my hiring leaders. I do also spend time every day learning more about the roles i’m staffing for and the techniques I can utilize to best fill those roles. This involves watching online classes in Cloud Engineering and other subjects, watching product demos, etc.

What time do you head out of the office?

Usually about 5:30 PM.

Do you log back in at night or do you shut it down completely?  

I log back on. Often candidates cannot talk during working hours, so I need to make sure I make myself available to them as needed.

Any productivity hacks?

Yes - the system that I use to track all progress on a given position is the same tool I use to correspond/collaborate with the hiring teams that I work with. It’s saved me a lot of time.

What are the 3 apps that you can’t live without?

Mint, Spotify, and Reddit

What professional accomplishment are you proudest of?

My best stretch of hiring when I was supporting Equifax for Sevenstep. I went over 13 months without a single offer decline, which included a month with 18 hires (3 of which were SVP level, 1 of those 3 had been open for over two years before I filled it).

Who do you admire or call upon for professional advice?

My best friend Tom. He began his career for a marketing agency, and he’s made his way into a DevOps engineering role without a degree in Computer Science or any formal training on the subject. He’s a great example of how much someone can do professionally when they dedicate themselves to moving into areas that might be out of their comfort zone.


Keith Cline is the Founder of VentureFizz.  Follow him on Twitter: @kcline6.

Image courtesy of Addison Maupin.

About the
Company

athenahealth is a leading provider of network-enabled services & mobile apps for medical groups & health systems.

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Career Path: Garrett Rapp, Senior Solutions Architect at Bullhorn banner image

Career Path: Garrett Rapp, Senior Solutions Architect at Bullhorn

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What does the career path and a day-in-the-life look like for a Senior Solutions Architect at Bullhorn? We interviewed Garrett Rapp to find out.

Visit Bullhorn's BIZZpage for their latest job opportunities!


Where did you grow up?  What did your parents do for work?  

I grew up in a town called Harvard, Illinois near the Wisconsin border. My mom was a teacher of all different types (she also has a law degree). Although we lived pretty far into the country, my dad worked as an attorney in downtown Chicago. As a kid, I spent a lot of time roaming around the woods surrounding our property and both reading and emulating Calvin and Hobbes comics. Pretty much the rest of my time was spent playing piano.

Where did you go to college?  What did you study and what were some of your initial jobs out of school?

I attended Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU) in Bloomington, Illinois after a tough decision against pursuing piano performance. Instead, I enrolled at IWU as a biology major. By sophomore year, I switched to a religion major while I worked at the campus newspaper and the campus radio station. By junior year, I added an English and writing double major, and going into senior year, I was editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper. I still credit my time behind the wheel of The Argus as one of the most eye-opening and best educational experiences of my college and early career.

After school, I had a brief stint at the University of Chicago in a religion graduate program, from which I ended up withdrawing. At the same time, I was working the phones in an hourly job for TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson (a F250 transportation and 3PL company). I also did contract work in search engine optimization and content development for a company called L2T Media.

Garrett Rapp, Bullhorn
Garrett and his wife, Linda Martin, in London

What has attributed to your success thus far and has helped propel you to the position you have now?

For better or worse, if I’d continued in the graduate program I was in, I wouldn’t be here now. That’s not to say I regret it at all though: I got some real exposure to handling debt, grappling with sunk costs (and their associated fallacies), and weighing my pride and the idea of quitting against the likely outcomes and my personal happiness. I made the right choice, and I believe that you can learn a lot from agonizing over hard choices.

There may be a way in which that decision caused me to double down at the job I was working. I really dedicated myself to my career, and over the next several years at TMC in Chicago, I worked my way through several promotions into a key role in their internal Operational Excellence group. This role stoked my interest in consulting as a general career path and in technology (especially automation) as a focus.

What made the most difference at that early stage of my career was an obsession with efficiency, including typing speed, automation, templates, and organization, which freed up time to self-teach. There was no problem that I wouldn’t try to figure out myself first before I asked someone else. If you can afford to spend some time digging around and trying things yourself, you can learn all you need. If you don’t have time to do that, you have to make time for it first.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Senior Solutions Architect at Bullhorn?

Solutions Architect is a broad term, which can mean varying degrees of pre-sale business engagement and technical delivery engagement depending on the business. At Bullhorn, the role truly encompasses both, but a descriptor that really resonates with me is “Solution Owner.”

If we’re implementing our software for a client, we have a project manager who is the delivery owner, but we, as Solution Architects, are responsible for helping to ensure that the holistic solution works for the client. This goes beyond ensuring that our software does what it’s intended to do as outlined in the statement of work. We also need to know what systems the client depends on for their day-to-day operations beyond our software and how our data needs to interact with theirs.

Any tips for someone considering a career in Client Services?

A genuine interest in positive interactions with other people, even those you know little or nothing about, is the single most important piece. Dedication to your customer’s success is table stakes; to excel, you have to put yourself and the urge to blame aside, and refocus on the problem you have in front of you.

If you can find a way to build a rapport with your clients, you’ll enjoy making them successful. Face-to-face interactions make this easier, so I’d recommend opportunities to connect in-person with your clients. Bullhorn hosts an annual conference series called Engage that creates an opportunity for everyone in our company to meet our customers, and it’s consistently a highlight for me.

Beyond this, building your personal toolset is a key ongoing project. Whatever your specialty, try to broaden your horizons. For me in the technology and software space, this means looking at methods of conflict resolution and negotiation (I love the book “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William Ury), trying to understand profit and loss and balance sheets, and brushing up on consulting skills. Some classic consulting case interview preparation and practice is invaluable for anyone who aims to grow their career.

Garrett Rapp Bullhorn
Garrett Rapp in San Francisco 

Day in the Life

Coffee, tea, or nothing?

Lots of coffee! Not too picky about it - I’ll trade quantity for quality here.

What time do you get into the office?

About 7 a.m. I get a lot of mileage out of the first 1.5 hours of office time before my email, phone, and Slack messages start increasing. If I’m onsite with a client, the goal is arriving a minimum of 15 minutes before any meetings with them start, but ideally 20-25 minutes so I’m ready for a productive conversation.

What are three things that motivate you in your role?

  • I care deeply about my team and my department. I’ll go a long way to help other people in my organization because I like seeing them succeed.

  • Getting to be a problem-solver. In most jobs, when you get handed a problem, you actually have a plethora of resources, tools, and some time allocated to solving it. Real-life problems aren’t always that accommodating!

  • Getting to meet, understand, and make a difference for customers directly. I love working with end users of our software (especially in-person, like during user acceptance testing cycles) and helping them learn new things about the tool.

Every day is different, but can you outline what a typical day looks like for you?

This varies throughout the year based on what project I’m working on, but it can involve:

  • Participating in client calls (design and requirements, demos, handoffs, and defect reviews)
  • Participating in internal calls with our sales department
  • Creating statements of work for services engagements
  • Creating functional specifications for custom apps and automations
  • Troubleshooting or testing our software and custom automations
  • Deploying our software

What time do you head out of the office?

Anywhere from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., depending on what’s going on that day. All bets are off when I’m on-site with a client though - spending from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. with a client in their “War Room” builds camaraderie!

Do you log back in at night or do you shut it down completely?  

I often will log back in at night, if only to file away emails that I don’t have to respond to, or hit off quick answers. I don’t find it stressful to keep up on things after hours - it’s worth it to me to have less noise waiting when I kick off in the morning. It’s relatively rare that I need to get on the phone with my project teams or clients for urgent matters. That said, as a project and implementation consultant, there will be occasional evenings or weekends for working on big deployments and go-lives.

Any productivity hacks?

  • I couldn’t live without organized folders in my inbox, my desktop, my Google Drive, etc.

  • Know when to block yourself off and “hide.” If I have a deep, detailed technical specification to write, I’ll minimize email and Slack, silence my phone, and work in an obscure conference room to avoid interruptions.

  • I think it’s pretty common to freeze up or procrastinate when faced with tough problems. The key thing is to start on them anyway: start simple and don’t aim for perfection, but just start producing something. You can always improve it later, but you haven’t wasted time avoiding your main problem or displacing it with lower priority issues and requests.

What are the 3 apps that you can’t live without?

  • Slack isn’t “the email killer.” Email has a very clear purpose and utility, but I do think that Slack is the ultimate office chat tool, and its iPhone app is excellent.

  • For traveling, ExpenseIt lets me photograph receipts and automatically puts their costs, comments, and allocations into my open expense reports. It’s a great way to not lose track of the money I spend while traveling for business.

  • I use the basic call, calendar, and mail apps a lot, but the other key apps in rotation would be podcasts and Spotify, especially for when I’m traveling.

What professional accomplishment are you proudest of?

Working my way into a technical and software specialist role over the years, given my lack of a technical and software degree, is my proudest accomplishment. The challenge now is staying up to speed!

Who do you admire or call upon for professional advice?

If I call someone for professional advice, it’s likely to be a parent or sibling (who are all pretty accomplished). In terms of admiration, it would be one of my first managers - Adam Gerdel. He ran the Operational Excellence team at my first job, and he became a big role model for how to develop teams that want to work together, how to deliver results while also making time to think outside of the box, and how to support employees both personally and professionally - all while staying ruthlessly focused on efficiency and innovation. He’s a one-in-a-million team leader, and I’m grateful for all that I learned from him.


Keith Cline is the Founder of VentureFizz.  Follow him on Twitter: @kcline6.

Top photo courtesy of Maximillian Tortoriello Photography, other photos were provided by Bullhorn.

About the
Company

Bullhorn is the global leader in software for the staffing industry.

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Career Path: Elaine Milardo, Senior Director, Data Platform at DraftKings

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What does the career path and a day-in-the-life look like for a Senior Director, Data Platform at DraftKings?

We interviewed Elaine Milardo to find out!


Where did you grow up?  What was your very first job (either pre-college or internship)?

I grew up in Middletown, CT and Wethersfield, CT. I have a huge extended family (25 first cousins). I think the last name “Milardo” took up about half of the phone book in Middletown! It was amazing growing up in a small town where everyone knew the family.

When I was in middle school, I was a papergirl delivering the Hartford Courant, on foot, around my neighborhood...in rain, ice, and snow.  I think it’s where I got into the habit of getting up before dawn and acquired my aversion to the cold. I also worked as a cashier Sears for many years during high school and college.  I really enjoyed retail. I’m an extrovert and learned a lot about how to be a good manager from watching my supervisors at Sears. For example, on a busy holiday evening, the manager of the store came down to my department and worked the registers with us for hours, regaling us with stories. That stuck with me - he wasn’t above jumping in and helping out his team while bringing the positive vibe.    

You graduated with a Psychology degree from Smith College.  How did you get into the tech industry?

Like many, after I graduated, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue on with graduate school and was eager to start working (and my parents were also eager to have me start working!). I was able to focus on a few things that I knew I wanted in a new job.  I wanted to work in the Boston area, at a startup, in a field adjacent to psychology or medicine, just in case I wanted to revisit the decision on pursuing an advanced degree. I was fortunate to find an opportunity with a startup that focused on conducting a meta-analysis of clinical trials for pharmaceutical companies. Twenty years ago, those studies were reviewed and compiled, prior to analysis, manually. So, I spent a lot of time mastering a photocopier at the Harvard Medical Library!  On the flipside, though, I was introduced to methodologies behind consolidating, cleansing and preparing data in order to enable the statisticians to run their data models.  In essence, at a much larger scale, that’s what I continue to do today!

Your career has been centered around data. What is it about working with data that has been a passion for you?

In my first job, I was able to have a significant impact on the efficiency and value of the business by wrangling data - as an entry-level assistant research analyst! That was powerful and motivating to me, especially at that point in my nascent career.  After that first role, it helped me define and focus on what I enjoyed doing at work. I began studying and learning more about data engines, administration, transfer processes, design principles, reporting and delivery tools, and analytics use cases. I took classes, read a ton, developed, and, eventually, got an entry-level data warehouse job at AT&T working on their local AdSales warehouse.  In each of my roles, with the mentorship of highly skilled data technologists and really good managers (I’ve been exceedingly fortunate), my technical skill set grew and I was able to take on designing more complex and large-scale data infrastructure.  

The data industry is dynamic; there is always something new to check out and dig into.  It could be a new design pattern to consider, a new storage engine to test, a new way to deliver or visualize data or a new data product to build or iterate.  

To distill it, I love being able to create a platform that enables folks to more easily diagnose, discover and action data.  I love working with a broad set of teams to make finding that value, easier. And, finally, I love working in an industry that is never stagnant.  I’m never bored.

How has the use of data evolved in terms of its ability to drive businesses forward since you started your career?

When I first started my career, it was typical to have a small database that was updated, with few transformations, nightly. Analysts leveraged the data to see what happened and, potentially, did some diagnostic work into certain patterns or trends. They would run database connected spreadsheets or direct data queries. The users were specific to teams like Finance or Operations.

As the accessibility of the data changed, the user profile changed. Data wasn’t just for a specialized team or users. There was a push to democratize data to the broader population of an organization. Everyone needed access to self-serve reports, dashboards were pervasive and intraday updates were essential for improving operations.

Data volumes continue to balloon. Near-real-time batch and streaming are now essential. Descriptive and diagnostic analytics are still at the core, but enabling predictive and actionable insights through machine learning has become critical in driving better decisions.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Senior Director, Data Platform at DraftKings?

The Data Platform organization at DraftKings is made up of two amazing teams that I am grateful to lead: Data Engineering and Data Science Engineering. On the Data Engineering side, we are responsible for designing, developing and managing the data infrastructure at DK.  We are the builders and plumbers - we assess data sources, build pipelines, design data stores, transform data, enable a variety of delivery methods, ensure governance and support the users of the infrastructure. These folks are a keystone in enabling our wide-ranging data capabilities.

On the Data Science Engineering side, we are responsible for the creation of data products.  Our Data Science Engineers are just that...they are software engineers with excellent quantitative skills. They leverage both of those skill sets, extensively, and are responsible for the curation of a portfolio of data products ranging from personalization and recommendation engines to customer modeling to fraud detection. These folks are essential to realize and achieve value from our data.

I’m responsible for leading and managing these teams and enabling and supporting our technical leaders in creating a scalable, speedy, and well-architected data environment.  I spend time in planning organizational roadmaps that align with DK’s strategy and I work closely with our Product folks to help drive product vision through specific initiatives and projects that can be implemented in a highly iterative fashion

Tl;dr:  I get to do both technology and management and it is awesome.


Day in the Life

Coffee, tea, or nothing?

Coffee.  So much of it.

What time do you get into the office?

I’m a morning person that likes to ease into the day.  I’ll get up around 5:30 AM, make a coffee and hang out at my kitchen table with my cats and my laptop.  I’ll catch up on email, review my calendar and prepare for meetings I have that day. Once I get into work...my butt isn’t in my chair for more that 30 minutes a day, so this is my time!  I end up heading in around 9-9:30 AM.

What are three things that motivate you in your role?

I love mentoring and coaching. I have strong satisfaction with seeing others grow and achieve their goals.  It seems trite, but it’s been an evolution over my career. I used to be a kick-ass individual contributor and felt successful when I personally delivered awesome stuff.   Fifteen years ago when I started managing, I stepped away from IC work and shifted my worldview. It’s common, of course, as you grow as a manager. I am successful (and feel amazing) when my folks succeed.  That is the biggest motivator for me. I’m a quintessential manager.

There are always new technologies out there for data.  Like many, I have to balance my desire to try a new data processor technology with successfully maintaining our existing infrastructure.  My folks are pretty effective in pushing me to let them try new stuff. My vocation, for many years, was data engineering. With the integration of data science engineering into data platform and the hiring of a fantastic head of data science and his team, I’m continually learning.

The Data Platform team has a huge, positive impact on DK.  Whether it’s, for example, providing a data product that increases revenue or reduces risk, or providing a data store that allows for both the rigor of a single source of truth and the flexibility of multi versions of the truth, our team is so valued and valuable at DK. It’s a good feeling and huge motivator to feel the love.
 

Every day is different, but can you outline what a typical day looks like for you?

I need to get myself organized before I get into the office.  I prepare notes or comments for each of the meetings I have that day and I should have a priority of tasks that I need to accomplish.  I’ll usually meet up with the technical director, leads and product, informally, each morning to catch up on their evening and if they have any potential concerns or issues.  Then, I’ll end up in meetings for most of the day. These range from discussions about new product dev, product, and technical planning, recruiting/interviews, 1-1s, or key technical design discussions.  I’ll usually end up walking around and checking in with the teams, again, in the afternoon and make myself available if folks want to quickly chat on a project, an approach, or anything that’s forefront of the mind.  At the end of the day, I’ll either be ready to go home or feel up for hanging out with people in the office, after work.

What time do you head out of the office?

I’m usually out around 6:30 PM. I’m social, so I do try to wind down the day with some good conversation with folks from around DK.  We have a bunch of after-hours groups or events at DK from D&D, board games, trivia or, even, karaoke!  My favorite (and I’m a bit biased since I started it!) is WhiskyKings, a bi-weekly get together where we do whiskey tastings (though we have expanded our portfolio to bourbons, recently). Just like I like to ease into the day...I also like to ease out of the day!

Do you log back in at night or do you shut it down completely?  

Yeah, me and Slack have been pretty tight in the eve.  With my wife’s encouragement, I’ve gotten better at putting down the phone when I get home so I can cook and chat with her about our day.

Any productivity hacks?

I try to bundle all my 1-on-1s and staff meetings on the same day.  I find that it helps me keep on schedule and allows me to be more focused on the conversations.

I do tend to move from one meeting to another.  Sometimes, though, I require uninterrupted time to just, well, think.  So, I secretly block off an hour during the day to focus on a particular problem or project.  I’ll leave it to my coworkers to try to figure out what hour that is...and attempt to book over it!  

What are the 3 apps that you can’t live without?

  • Slack - Because I don’t want to miss a thing
  • Spotify -  ‘Big Band‘ and ‘Deep Focus’ playlists
  • Starbucks - see above
  • (and, of course) DraftKings

What professional accomplishment are you proudest of?

In my previous job, I relocated to Europe and established corporate Business Intelligence teams in Barcelona, Spain and Winterthur, Switzerland. It was an amazing experience for me, professionally and personally. I learned so much about hiring, communication, and collaboration across regions and cultures.  I made meaningful connections with colleagues and friends whose expertise and judgment I value immensely.

Who do you admire or call upon for professional advice?

I’m fortunate to have excellent relationships with many of my current and former colleagues. The data community in Boston is relatively small, so it’s easy to stay in touch and keep up with everyone. I definitely have a few fellow data and management experts who I got to for professional or technical opinions.

My mother, father and sister are all incredible listeners and when I’m stuck on something I’ll run through different scenarios with them - just having that objective and balanced sounding board usually brings insight and clarifies the situation for me.  And I can always rely on my wife to help me work through scenarios; she’s a creative professional, and helps bring a different perspective. I am lucky to have a large pool of people to call on for valuable points of view!


Keith Cline is the Founder of VentureFizz.  Follow him on Twitter: @kcline6

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