Welcome @techchatchelsea, what is the most significant career moment you have experienced?
Thanks so much for having me, I’m very excited for this!
Wow, what a great question to start with, and one that’s very hard to narrow down because I’ve lived at least 3 very different career lives up to this point.
Drawing straws in my head, I’m going to have to go with my recent promotion from an analytics/development role (big data marketing segmentation would maybe be the best way to describe it) to a product management role….
But it wasn’t the promotion that was significant. It was my former director announcing my promotion in a large, all-hands meeting emphasizing how I had earned that promotion.
For someone who had only worked in tech for a few years at that point after a career in education, it was so incredibly validating to hear that. I had worked my butt off, but definitely struggled with a bit of imposter syndrome. I have felt a lot more confident since that moment.
Sometimes it takes a while for us to find where we should be
So many layers to this, but definitely true. I would argue that it’s a lifelong process where we’re constantly recalibrating. Sometimes small recalibrations, sometimes changes that register on the richter scale.
But so far as career goes, it took me longer than most to find my direction. Which I actually don’t regret, my past experience has really served me unexpectedly well.
Say a bit more about how your past experience (in education? Or elsewhere) has served you well in your tech career?
My career in education started with teaching middle school history (not for the faint of heart), included a stint teaching college economics, and I eventually landed in an administrative role at some charter schools.
So far as actual teaching goes, I hold 2 secondary teaching credentials: Social Studies and English. I didn’t just learn how to teach content….
I learned how to communicate in an engaging way, how to cater to multiple learning styles/differentiate instruction, how to be inclusive, and how to deal with bureaucracy.
I also learned how to manage large groups of unruly kids, which has proven useful more than once in my corporate job (I’ll leave that one right there). Creating documentation, designing timelines, and keeping people on task are also skills I’ve drawn on A LOT…
When I was hired for my development/analytics role a few years ago, my hiring manager knew I didn’t have a degree in CS or any actual development experience. But he knew that I could communicate, that I would fit in well with his team (it was an awesome team!), and that I was a good learner. No one talks enough about how development roles especially are require constant learning. New systems, new platforms, new processes. Nothing is static!
Soft skills are SO IMPORTANT.
Ahead of moving into a career in tech, what did you do to be prepared?
My administrative role at the charter schools had been very data heavy, and I had taken 3 quantitative methods classes in grad school many years before. So I was pretty damn good at Excel and even had a little bit of experience with Stata. But I’d never coded a thing and didn’t even know the basics of Python or SQL. All I knew was that I loved data and wanted to better learn and understand it…
I’d been a FiveThirtyEight fan for years for their political analytics and visualizations (I’d interned in the US Senate and studied electoral systems in-depth in grad school), and this was a huge influence in deciding to sign up for the Data Science & Visualization course that’s offered through many university extension programs. I did mine through UCSD Extension. 6 months, 240 in-class hours plus god only knows how many hours at home. It was intense! …
To prepare for my DS bootcamp, I took the Coursera Learning How To Learn course (HIGHLY RECOMMEND), and I found local learning communities through Meetup, joined local organizations like sandiegotechhub and @athenastemwomen for networking, and worked with family and friends to make sure that my domestic responsibilities were all taken care of. I’m extremely fortunate to have a community that was able to help and recognize that not everyone is so lucky…
Unsurprisingly, these are also what I use in my current job…
As for getting hired for my role, the boot camp had a team dedicated to helping us set up a website, GitHub, create a solid resume, fine tune our elevator pitch, and prep for interviews. They held networking events, online seminars with companies who’d hired from their program, and more.
The career services/hand holding was one of the biggest draws to the program for me. It was expensive and, yes, I could’ve done all my learning on my own, but this part more than paid for itself.
Once you landed a role in tech, what surprised you most about tech?
I cannot tell you how much I love this question.
I have to say, I was pretty shocked/amused when I figured out that even the very seasoned technical colleagues who’d built the processes and data structures for the org had historic knowledge that didn’t necessarily translate to knowing current state or implementing new features or building new products…
In some ways it gave me an edge because I could ask a million why questions that often led to improvements. And when it came to anything new, we were all on a level playing field. And there’s always, always new in tech. A 10-year-old platform feels like it was built alongside the pyramids.
What gets you most excited about tech currently?
I still feel so new to the tech world, so it’s not hard to get me excited about tech.
I know it’s cliché, but I’m still very excited about generative AI. Partially because I’ve been able to get involved in my company’s corporate strategy in this space. But mainly because of the potential it has to level the playing field in so many different spaces…
I believe that some of the people who are poised to be helped the most by generative AI include people using a language that isn’t their native one, critical thinkers, and non-techies. Overworked parents who don’t have time to try and remember how to do trigonometry and need to help their stressed out kiddo. Office workers who want to automate some of their more mundane tasks. Brilliant PhD students who understand English really well but struggle writing research papers in the right voice…
The list obviously goes on for miles, and it’s exciting to watch the creativity that’s out there.
I love learning about transitionary spaces and time periods, I’m a history buff after all, so it’s fascinating to live through one like this. There’s plenty to fear and criticize about generative AI – how it’s being implemented, and government attempts at regulation – but I’m generally an optimist and am grateful for the work being done behind the scenes from people making sure we don’t blow it.
What type of data science work did you do? And why did you choose to transition to product management?
I was definitely more in the analytics space than I ever was the data science space specifically. I work with ridiculously large marketing databases spanning many, many brands owned by my parent company. I’m on the corporate side so I’ve had to become familiar with every data collection, storage, processing, and retrieval method you can imagine…
I often work with our DS teams to apply their models to our data for the sake of producing targeted single, multi, and omnichannel campaigns. I joke to my friends that I’m the one listening when all your ads try to solve that problem you mentioned at dinner last night (not exactly, but also kinda).
I also helped start a company-wide data science mentoring program for colleagues interested in pursuing a data science career…
So far as moving into product, I’ve always felt that it would be a good fit for me. Being able to understand both the technical and business sides of a program is my sweet spot, and I really love working with people across the organization to push initiatives forward. And, thanks to my teaching days, I’m not half bad getting colleagues on board with new ideas using only a PowerPoint and computer camera.
How can men like me better support women in tech?
You’re already doing a great job because step 1 would be to ask that question! Ask women what they need, ask their opinions, and listen to what their answers are.
I’m certainly not the top expert in this, and I am willing to bet that many, many other women here on Threads would be able to chime in with more nuanced answers than me, but I’ll give it a go!…
There are so many opportunities to be supportive of women in tech! Make sure that the work environment is conducive to a diverse workforce. Be sure that no one feels “othered”. Speak up when colleagues make sexist, racist, homophobic, etc., comments because often times people in the group that the comments are against don’t feel comfortable saying something…
Pay attention to whether or not women are being given the chance to speak and share their ideas; it’s common for us to be interrupted, talked over, or ignored, and sometimes that teaches us to not even bother trying.
Celebrate our accomplishments and give us promotions! There’s a whole host of research out there about how much higher the bar often has to be for women to be promoted than men. Mentor us to help us understand how to get there…
I would love it if other women in tech wanted to chime in here!
Those are the first 10 that popped up & I suspect would have thoughts here, but I’m sure many more women and members of other underrepresented groups in tech would be great at adding to the conversation.
[Side note: There was a huge and informative discussion spurred from this post. It is worth diving into. Check it out on Threads: @techchatchelsea • I would love it if other women in tech wanted to chime in here! @amylwebster @elainecchao @el… • Threads ]
How can people find you elsewhere online?
Thanks so much for chatting with me!
At the moment, @threads is my only public account, but if anyone reaches out on IG I’ll respond.
I’m putting together a website and blog right now and will definitely socialize those when they’re ready by the end of the year!
See the original interview on Threads: @ryan.swanstrom • Threads Dev Interview #37 with @techchatchelsea I am finding developers on Threads and interviewi… • Threads