Role Models: Jon Gabriel, Digital Producer at REQ

REQ_headshot_4x5_jon

Today’s Role Model is Jon Gabriel. Jon attended the University of Delaware and studied computer science. While he didn’t want to code for a living, he wanted to stay in the tech space. Immediately out of school, he traveled across the U.S. as a freelance photographer covering action sports. He spent some time in photo studios learning about portrait lighting, and later moved down to Maryland to work as a Traffic Coordinator at Sabre Hospitality Solutions. One year later, he transitioned into a hybrid Product Manager role. Currently, Jon is a digital producer at REQ, a brand management agency.

What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?

I am a digital producer at REQ and I have been in the role for one month!

What attracted you to this role?

I have a background in producer roles. Someone in a producer position is well-connected with the development and design teams and has a high-level view of the landscape of resourcing and project health. My background in computer science and design combined with my overall extroverted nature made me a particularly good traffic coordinator at Sabre. I wanted to return to this position in a different industry to see if I could learn more.

Walk me through a typical day in your role. What activities do you engage in? What types of meetings do you join? When’s lunch?

I get in early to assess the day’s client work deadlines. I run through all the creative and development responsibilities and make sure that the design and tech teams are in a place where they can be successful. As new projects come through the pipeline, I pop in and out of meetings discussing what resources may be best for the client’s requests. I run cost/analysis operations with the different teams. Analyzing their time time tracking shows us how we’re doing compared to how much we’re generating and producing.

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

Being organized and having a caring personality are the most important skills for success in this role. I believe that a company’s success is generated by happy people, so I try and keep that in mind when I request work from individuals. We ask a lot of design and dev teams, so I strive to maintain a caring mindset towards those team members. I rely on my organization skills to keep track of specific tasks and forecasting timelines for the future.

What’s the most fun or creative part of your role?

A digital producer position is a bit of a Swiss Army knife of a role. For the most part, the bulk of the work revolves around efficient resourcing of design and dev. But just like a lot of other positions at a smaller / medium sized company, you will wear a lot of hats. There is a lot of project management in this role which can be fun. Depending on what work is coming in, there can also be a bit of business development. I enjoy the variety of what’s asked of me and I dive into whatever I can get my hands on. I love learning about the business as a whole.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

Since the digital producer role sits between client services and the design / dev teams, I need to interact with a range of personalities. Not everyone’s working style / personalities may be effective at efficient project and resource management, but you have to work through those challenges. For the most part, everyone means well and is trying their best, so having an understanding and caring mindset is important.

Another challenge is keeping design or dev teams to a timeline. When someone has something due and you need it from them, the relationship can quickly turn to a ‘means to an end’ interaction. Balancing an ask with humor and understanding is critical.

What teams/individuals do you work with cross-functionally? Can you give an example of a time when you collaborated with another group/individual?

I frequently work with all teams within my organization – business development, client services (account management), design, development. Recently, we received an ask from a client to develop an email template and then build it out. This project involved first working with the account manager to understand what was being asked. Then, I brought the idea to design to create a standard email template that matched their brand. Once we had a design, the project moves to our copywriting team to write engaging content for the emails. Finally, I brought the completed designs to development to work through creating the actual HTML that would be sent out.

What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your role?

Forecasting the future is incredibly valuable for project management and efficient resourcing. I would say planning against multiple project deadlines and limited resourcing timelines is something I’m still trying to refine as I grow in this role. Mastering this skill helps organize and turn around good work at the same time giving a better work life for co-workers I care about.

Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?

A strong EQ is necessary, since you’ll need to interact with a lot of people in this role. Critical thinking and organization is important as well, because timelines shift daily. Having an opinion about design can help, too. Occasionally, you’ll be asked to chime in on what you think about work. 

What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this role?

I am a lot more organized than I have been in the past. I have also tried to be conscious of how I come across to others more. In this role, it’s important to stay level-headed and kind regardless of how you feel, since colleagues across the other teams will feel your sentiments reverberate.

In your role, what metrics define success?

Project progress versus client timelines determines my success. As long as we’re making good progress and hit our deadlines as a design and development team, I’m doing pretty well.

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Role Models: Kate Maxwell, Business Lead at Strava

Kate Maxwell

Today’s Role Model is Kate Maxwell. Kate studied marketing and built a solid AdOps career in New York City. After several years in the industry, she felt like something was missing but wasn’t immediately sure of her next step. Through deep introspection, the power of networks, and her own persistence, she made a big move. Three years ago, she relocated to San Francisco and landed a role at Strava, a mobile app and website connecting millions of runners and cyclists through the sports they love. Today, she’s the Lead of the company’s business division. When she’s not working, she’s hosting dinners for friends, running all of Northern California’s trails, and exploring international destinations.

What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?

Lead, Strava Business – 2 and a half years!

What attracted you to this role?

In my previous life, I was running Ad Ops teams for media publishers & platforms (Gawker Media and Tumblr, respectively) for years and was craving a new learning experience. I was lucky to work at companies who prioritized the user experience over revenue at the expense of a great website — so many publishers in the early 2010s got caught up in the opportunity to “monetize every impression” and that’s when you started to see programmatic banner ads all over every site. I think that mentality is largely being won over by the opportunity to generate revenue in other ways now – subscription models, events, meaningful and useful partnerships, content that actually helps your life.

Anyway— after my tenure at tumblr, I took some time off, traveled the world, came back to New York and decided to move across the country to California. That’s when I got connected to Strava, who was just starting to think about ways to deepen the business development and revenue side of the business and I showed up at their door with that experience- the rest is history.

Walk me through a typical day in your role. What activities do you engage in? What types of meetings do you join? When’s lunch?

I have a long but enjoyable commute (ferry boat across the SF Bay and walk/biking), about an hour, so I usually get my emails read and to do list organized for the day during this time. Then my day really can vary quite a lot, but here’s an example of the meetings I attend and things I work on :

  • meeting with a brand partner to go over a potential partnership deal
  • weekly 1:1 with one of the people I manage to make sure their job and days are going smoothly. In these meetings, we plan and prioritize the future
  • discovery deep dive with our product team to figure out more details and needs for a future business product offering that’s being developed
  • working on a pitch proposal for a new client to work with us
  • work session with the other leads on my team to outline our resource needs, headcount, and roadmap for next year

Lunch is somewhere in the middle of all these fun sessions- because my commute is long, a couple times a week I use lunchtime to get a workout in, whether that’s going for a run or going to a yoga class or a swim. At Strava, being active is encouraged and the saying is “there’s always time for your favorite activity type.” This is a relief in comparison with other places I’ve worked— at Strava, we support fitting workouts in because it makes you a happier and more productive contributor. I always feel refreshed and ready to get back to work after a good sweat-it-out session.

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

We use a CRM tool called Boostr to help us track business leads and prospect deals (and therefore forecast revenue into the future), lots of Google Docs, sheets, and slides, and Strava has built a robust internal system to execute the products we run with partners. We use Trello to track projects and Jira for technical ticketing. In the past used to run instances of ad servers like Google DFP. My role is less technical these days and more strategic, but since Strava is still a relatively small startup, I remain involved with that side.

What’s the most fun or creative part of your role?

I love that I get to wear so many hats! No two days are ever the same. I love that I have the autonomy to think out of the box with my team and come up with stuff that’s never been built or offered before. It feels good to be able to flex those muscles and end up bringing an idea to fruition. We have a great test and learn mentality here, too; if something doesn’t work the way we hypothesize, it’s okay— learn from it and then create something even better knowing what you discovered.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

Probably the age-old opportunity of short-term results vs. long-term vision. How do we execute for today’s goals while building for the future? I don’t think there’s a magical answer, but it’s very top of mind for us and something we make sure to keep iterating on.

What teams/individuals do you work with cross-functionally? Can you give an example of a time when you collaborated with another group/individual?

We work with the marketing team to get communication out about a new feature or offering. We collaborate closely with our engineering team to build and execute our roadmap. We check in with our amazing support team to make sure our athletes are always having a great experience. And we coordinate with the infrastructure team to make sure all the t’s are crossed on the back end. There’s not one team at Strava that I don’t work with!

A great example of a stellar collaboration happened a couple years ago.We knew adding post functionality it would be an important addition to our Clubs feature. This functionality helps groups and brands to really connect with their community and capitalize on Strava’s strong social graph. It was a complex project, and when I was leading it from the business side, we needed to coordinate across two different engineering  teams to get it built and released. All went off on deadline without a hitch, and I’m so grateful for all the people who helped work on it with such finesse.

What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your role?

I’m always looking to improve my leadership skills- I was a part of a special leadership program in college and it was my minor- but this is something I’ll always be studying and trying to improve. I love mentoring employees and helping with their career path, helping to set the future vision for the department and/or company.

Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?

Negotiation skills! Ability to think creatively and quickly to solve problems, and ability to build great business relationships. Patience and persistence, because building relationships takes time. Really believing in and understanding your business. And finally, investing in people and building a great team. Hire people who can work proactively and autonomously, and who think differently than you do! Your team will be better for it.

In your role, what metrics define success?

Athlete motivation, and revenue! Ultimately, if we can build and offer great ways for businesses to connect to athletes and reach their own goals. When these opportunities help athletes get better and learn more about themselves, we are doing a good job.

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Role Models: Erin Morrissey, Advanced Digital Designer at Criteo

Erin Morrissey is an Advanced Digital Designer at Criteo.

Erin began her digital design career at a small tech startup before transitioning to Criteo, a global ad-tech firm. Over the past three years, she’s climbed the ranks to her current role of Advanced Digital Designer. Work keeps her busy, but she still finds time to work on personal art projects in her free time.

 

What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?

I am an Advanced Digital Designer at Criteo, a global Ad-Tech company. This August will make three years at Criteo’s New York branch. I started as a Designer and was promoted this past January… so I’m newly enjoying my “Advanced” projects.

What attracted you to this role?

Prior to Criteo I worked in a position that required both design and administrative tasks. It was my first professional job after I completed my education and worked far too many restaurant gigs. That job taught me I am at my best, and happiest, focusing solely on projects that excite, challenge, and exercise my creativity. Criteo extended to me an opportunity to work exclusively in creative design while collaborating as part of a highly skilled design team. I also found the company’s global reach, and possibility for travel, attractive.

Walk me through a typical day in your role. What activities do you engage in? What types of meetings do you join? When’s lunch?

With the exception of a few standing meetings, my job lacks redundancy so days aren’t super typical, which for me works well. My position consists of: product workgroups, personal initiatives, client work, and varied meetings. Lunch is sacred… it is a French company so lunchtime meetings are a big no-no : )

When I transitioned to Criteo, I found it difficult and overwhelming to work creatively as part of a team, especially as someone who identifies as an introvert. However, working together has molded me into a stronger designer, a better coworker, and communicator. I get to work with designers from around the globe for the workgroups. In the end, it feels impactful to work on designs that develop in to new products.

The personal initiatives are also very important, and a fun alternative to day-to-day client work. I just finished the collateral for 2018 Pride parade. Right now, I’m making icons for an upcoming rooftop party, designing an internal newsletter that will be seen globally, and participating in a team striving for greater exposure for our designers.

Lastly, client work is a large part of my job as well. I meet with new and existing clients or agencies, discuss their branding, create ads for our platform, and maintain those accounts in a bevy of ways.

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

The baseline for design skills is always evolving. Awareness of new tools and trying them out is essential, and can be really fun and challenging. However, design moves so fast that positions are needed to be filled before there are even people trained to do the job. UX and UI, for example, are now ubiquitous design jobs that are highly in-demand positions.

However, most schools are only now offering these courses to students. This is exciting, but also can instill the fear of “impostor syndrome” in designers currently in the job market. So be flexible, sign up for continuing education classes, go to design talks, and always try new platforms.

Lastly, design on your time too… while your employer should have your best interest at heart, and you’re hopefully working on meaningful projects, you cannot also expect them to hold your hand. Introduce yourself to parallel industry standards and have fun trying.

What’s the most fun or creative part of your role?

The most fun, honestly, has been the travel! I’ve seen Geneva, the Alps, Paris, South of France all for work events. I have developed deep connections with coworkers, now friends, from the offices in France, Spain, Brazil, China, Japan, Korea, Sweden, and of course here in the States. I am not only a better designer, but more empathetic and understanding of design needs globally.

Those experiences are hard to compete with, but I have also loved my design projects. Working on really difficult client work can be especially fun. I love being stumped by a seemingly unsolvable problem. It takes a lot of internal, in-the-zone thinking and time (some would call this procrastination.) The moment you work through it is pure joy!

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

There are a lot of moving parts in my position and everyday is varied. I love the lack of routine, but it can be challenging.

What teams/individuals do you work with cross-functionally? Can you give an example of a time when you collaborated with another group/individual?

I could not work without my teammates. Tech is so dynamic and alive that no one person or singular team can make it alone. For product workgroups, I collaborate with other global designers, the Product and R&D teams in Paris, and local Sales for client feedback. The personal initiatives are whatever I want to contribute to Criteo so right now I am working with people from PR, Marketing, and designers from around the world.

As for client work, everyday is a constant open line of communication between fellow designers, the technical team, analytics for data about how our ads are performing, and the account managers.

What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your role?

There are certain constants, like client work, and other aspects of change in my position. Growth is a ongoing conversation, and evolution is natural in any role, but especially in design. I have watched coworkers transfer departments, move to other offices around the world, and/or redefine their positions within a team. As business needs change so do we, which keeps things interesting. Keeping an open mind has served me well – as needs arise and trends pivot, I want to stay agile and open to change.

What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this role?

I am stronger designer and better employee/coworker than I was before Criteo. Thanks to having open, judgement-free, relationships with my peers, my skills have been honed and my eye for good design is improved. I also feel far more confident pitching to clients, and even just speaking up and asking questions. Plus now I can speak extremely mediocre French ; )

In your role, what metrics define success?

“Success” is measured in two parts: Client Relations and Personal Growth. The clients I manage and integrate are measured by several metrics in order to maintain the highest brand standards. While grossly boiled down, success (specifically for a designer) is an amalgamation of: creative satisfaction, proper account maintenance, and education of our product.

Personal success is defined by the designer and agreed upon by management each year. It is an ongoing conversation that allows for great possibilities. For me, it’s very specific to my role, but essentially I want to learn more and do more!

Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?

Flexibility and ingenuity are essential traits in a designer. Good design requires several iterations and failure is inevitable – scrap it and move on. Don’t be defensive and listen to feedback. On the other side of that coin, give feedback that is constructive, helpful, and direct. Share your successes and encourage your teammates to do so as well. Most importantly, share your pain points in the effort to save others the same missteps.

 

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