Amy Larion has spent her career in technology companies, from entry level Systems Analyst, to Product Manager to where she is today- Senior Manager, Database Marketing. Her relationship-building skills coupled with her problem-solving mindset are two things that have set her apart and propelled her career. Amy offers simple, yet effective advice on culture, and explains why collaboration is key. She lives in LA with her two kids, and is passionate about Salesforce and CRM.
Tell us about your career progression into your current role.
It’s been about 18 years- I started my career at a start-up up in the dotcom boom. It was around 2000, and it was a Scott Painter company that focused on buying cars on the internet. That sounds so silly now, but at the time, it was really cutting edge. There ended up being a lot of system work involved- there was no CRM system so we worked on a lot of internal systems and processes for documentation, approval workflows, etc. I was on the implementation team and had a knack for details, writing requirements documentation and testing scripts. I enjoyed the collaboration of working with a dev team and being the intermediary between the users and dev teams. From there, I moved to British Telecom (formerly Infonet) and did the same type of things. My old boss brought me over to Yahoo and I was there for 10 years in various roles, ending as a Senior Product Manager. The role was defining requirements, working with external vendors, setting up calls, etc. After ten years, I was ready for something new, so I went to a start-up for a year (which eventually failed). I did some independent consulting, then ended up at my current company. I’m using the same skillset- communications, details, writing, keeping everything on track, hitting a date, moving pieces to coordinate cross functionally. I have a specialty in Salesforce- I’ve spent my career in CRM systems.
What are some of the actions you have taken that, looking back, helped you move into a senior manager position?
One thing I always responded to was doing things that no one wanted to do. Not necessarily grunt work, but a lot of people want to just give opinion and don’t follow through with action. I remind myself that I add value by what I do, not just what I know. Peer relationships are also really important in technology companies. It will be hard to move up and succeed and collaborate if you don’t have them, and that’s something I enjoy. Most people admire that attitude in others, and businesses need quite a lot of help in making them successful.
What draws you to a company/position?
I have a benchmark of culture. It’s hard to figure out what a culture is like- these days, companies have websites and online presence, but they also have a marketing department who run all of those and that can cloud the real picture. I try and get a sense of people and how collaborative they are. We have tools like Glassdoor- I don’t look for positive reviews or negative reviews, but rather, reviews from technical teams and how they feel their experience at a company has been. There must be room for career growth to be happy long term. Look at these factors-Is the company growing? Are they seasonal? Are they making money? (Which can be tough to know if a company is private). In short, the two important factors are culture and growth.
What does a good culture look like? How can it be achieved?
A culture of collaboration is key. If you have a strict, hierarchical culture, that doesn’t lead to collaboration- it leads to silos, bureaucracy, and those things may have a place if you work for the government or something, but usually these are a very a bad sign for technology teams.
I also simply look for nice people- Is the receptionist nice? Are the people I talk to on the phone nice? Are people doing bare minimum or going out of their way to get their job done?
When you’re interviewing, read people. Does the interviewer give you time to speak? That shows if they are interested in what you say or not. If you’re in a panel interview, are people trying to show each other up, or are they working collaboratively? If they don’t get along in an interview, they probably behave worse in their day-to-day. Panel interviews are okay but can lead to group think.
Research the company on the internet and study up beyond their marketing. Try to find any public interviews done by their executive staff.
Check what type of questions they ask- I don’t mind trick questions if they have a point, but I think there was a time in tech when interviewers would try to do that a lot, and it doesn’t give you a great impression of what it’s like to work there.
Although there’s been a lot of progress in diversity efforts, it’s not changing fast enough- particularly in STEM sectors. What can leaders start doing immediately to accelerate this change?
Hire people! Politics is a problem in company culture. Improve your culture to a collaborative one and get rid of rigid hierarchy and politics as much as possible, and you’ll attract a larger pool of candidates at all levels. Also, many organizations have this “top of the mountain” race that’s discouraging- not just to women, but to anyone who’s remotely different.
When you look at the data, the number of diverse CEO’s are high for small businesses and entrepreneurs, but in Fortune 500 companies there is a huge drop off at the executive level. Some women are opting out, and some are simply losing the “top of the mountain” game.
You’ve managed to continue progressing your career whilst having a family - what are some key factors to balancing both?
I don’t think there are any silver bullets. It’s hard! It’s easier as children grow. There’s different phases, and the baby and toddler phases are the definitely the hardest. There’s also a difference between one child and multiple children (I have two). As a working parent, make it a priority to take care of yourself- get enough sleep, drink a lot of water. It’s taxing.
A lot of women opt out of a career because they feel like they have a choice but the vast majority - 70-75% - of families feel they need 2 incomes to survive. That’s not for luxuries- that’s just to get by.
There’s no set-in-stone success kit, but a few things I did that worked were:
I always read in bed with my kids. I don’t travel a lot so I’m home for at least breakfast and dinner. We do a lot of things on the weekend, so I make sure I’m home for that.
Flexibility. Most bosses understand that people have families- if you work for a global company most people have weird hours anyways, so getting flexible hours isn’t tough. I don’t try to be 100% at home and 100% at work. You must pick and choose. I saw my kids off to camp this morning and we meet for dinner. Pick a baseline- that’s different for different people. There are more companies now that allow flex time or let you work remotely.
Communicate. My career is important to my children- I tell them I go to work so I can pay for their toys and their summer camp. I communicate to my kids why it’s important, and it sets an example for them so that they’ll know it’s possible to have a career and a family someday too.
What advice do you have for a less-experienced person or someone interested in a career like yours?
The best thing to do is work hard. Especially if you’re young in your career and getting experience, and maybe don’t have a family at home. Do the things no one else is willing to do. Get along with people! How you act with peers, what you say, and how you dress, these things matter as much as what you know or think. Present yourself professionally and work hard and it will get you a long way. You can then top that off with expertise over time.
If you’re further in your career and looking to make a switch- It’s hard to take time off to reflect when you’re still working. I don’t recommend making that public either. It’s fine to make a career change. Get expertise on the side of your current job somehow. Look for companies and products that you like, then research their job openings. For example, if you really love Coca-Cola then look into what jobs they have that match your skills. It’s likely that if you connect with a brand and product then you’ll find their mission inspiring and motivating too.
A huge thank you to Amy for her insightful interview!
Posted about 3 years ago