Annie '07

1. Is where you are currently where you thought you would end up?

Nope! My original plan was to go to dental school, but around my junior year I decided that path wasn’t for me. After Pomona (and a year spent soul-searching), I ended up getting a master’s degree in Higher Education and then spent 9 years working in student activities, alumni relations, and career education at various colleges and universities. Last year I made a career pivot and became a project manager at a financial tech startup called Guideline, which does 401(k) management for small businesses. I never would have guessed I would be working in tech or in finance, let alone both!

2. How did you land you are your current role?

When I decided I wanted to find a new job, I started talking to my friends about their jobs and what they do. I told them about my strengths and what I was interested in, and they were able to connect me with other people so I could do some informational interviews. These conversations helped me learn about different roles in multiple industries. Then, I truly got lucky. I started marketing myself as a project manager on job search sites like LinkedIn and AngelList, and I was contacted by my now-boss about the position I have today. I had never heard of the company, but I decided to take the call with him, and it turned out to be a great move!

3. What is the most important leadership lesson you've learned and how is it valuable?

One thing I’ve learned along the way is to not lose sight of the long-game. It’s easy to get bogged down in day-to-day stuff at work, but to be a leader you also have to be strategic and think big-picture. You have to figure out how your actions today might impact you and the people around you down the road. Someone once told me to schedule ‘think-time’ into my week where I set aside email and all the other daily stuff to do my big thinking, and it’s a practice I’m trying to adopt.

4. What advice can you offer on how to progress in your chosen field/career?

Never stop learning. Find mentors, whether it is someone within your workplace, a friend, or a family member who can give you advice and challenge you to succeed. Join interest groups, attend events, or talk to others who do what you do (or want to do) so you can learn from them as well as share what you’ve learned. There are also lots of online courses and certificates that are free or cheap and can teach you a lot about how to improve, the latest trends in your field, leadership skills, job-specific skills, and more.

5. How would you describe your personal style? (in work/work-life balance)

I cultivate a style of approachability and willingness to work hard as part of a team. I believe that acting professional at all times is important, especially when I am not the most senior person and have a goal to advance my position at the company. I strive for constant improvement and I can be a bit of a perfectionist – this comes in handy at some times, and proves challenging at other times! My life outside of work is very important to me so I try to leave lots of room for that and always take vacation when I can. I believe that the amount of time a person puts in shouldn’t matter as long as quality work is getting done and they are dedicated to their job.

6. What do you wish you knew when you were a student at Pomona that you know now?

I wish I understood all the opportunities I had while at Pomona, whether it was getting involved with a club, going on an OTL trip, finding an internship, applying for a grant, attending lectures, etc. I wish I knew that I should treat my jobs and internships as a way to experience something that could actually become a career, rather than just a way to earn money.

7. What Motivates You?

The opportunity to learn new things motivates me (which may be why I have switched jobs every two to three years!). It’s challenging to not know how to do a job and to have to figure it out along the way, but if I always knew what to do it would be boring! I find it motivating to work as part of a team a make my contribution to a part of something bigger. Finally, I am motivated to know that I am helping others, whether that was by building community in my last role at Stanford, or by providing affordable retirement savings options for employees and employers in my current role.

8. What does a day in your life look like?

I’m at the office by 8:30am before most of the product team arrives, which gives me time to check email and prepare for the morning meetings that I lead. We use a product called JIRA for project management, so I review new project requests and spend some time troubleshooting bugs or other issues that arise in the product. I meet with members of the sales, operations, customer success, and/or compliance team to scope projects they have requested. I spend a lot of time writing out project roadmaps, workflows, and creating detailed instructions for our designers and engineers. I also check in with our engineers on the work they are currently doing to find out what’s slowing them down. It is up to me to get them the answers they need to continue building out the product. I may hold a meeting to kick off a new project with an engineer, run a design by another team to make sure it fits their criteria, or review engineering work for quality assurance. I am constantly juggling prioritizing and planning what needs to get done next while also moving current projects forward. I typically leave the office around 5:30pm.

9. What are some lessons you've learned the hard way?

I learned the hard way that the single most important thing is your manager. Managing is a tough job when done well, and it’s easy to do it poorly. Making sure your manager is a good fit and will really manage you well can make or break a job experience. It’s the most important thing to pay attention to in a job interview.

10. How did you go about organizing your time while at Pomona? Did you plan everything or go with the flow?

I’d like to say I planned everything, but instead I ended up having no plan at all! I studied biology because I was good at it, and because I originally wanted to become an orthodontist. I did random biology-related internships each summer as well as a PCIP internship at a veterinary office, and I had a student job with the Annual Giving Office at Pomona. However, by the time I graduated I had no idea what I wanted to do. I moved back home and worked three part-time jobs for a year, half-heartedly searching for full-time positions while debating between applying for a master’s degree in culinary science, or one in higher education. Ultimately what motivated me to choose higher education and then to pursue work in student activities and alumni relations, was my time spent as Co-Chair of the Annual Events Committee at Pomona!