Almost a year ago, I was lucky enough to stumble upon Support Driven. Among the amazing resources the website provides for Support professionals is a Slack channel filled with members of some of the best Support teams out there, and a group of people that have been a constant source of empathy and encouragement. Recently someone proposed a writing challenge to try and get us all to produce one presentable blog piece a week for 6 weeks in a row. This is the first of those six topics… Hope you enjoy!
This week’s topic: “Our history shapes us - what path led you to Support? Was it a planned career? Or did you happen upon it?”
From the age of four, I was obsessed with science and technology. My dad and I used to go out to the backyard and stare at the stars and planets whenever the Florida sky was clear at night. I once asked him if people lived near the stars, and he said no. I asked, “Why not?” and he told me that no one had been there yet. In typical little kid fashion, I asked “Why not?” again, and he told me that no one had been able to make a ‘plane’ that could fly that far, and I responded that I’d build that space plane one day…
Needless to say, no one was surprised when I went to college for Aerospace Engineering, nor did anyone doubt that my dreams of being the CEO of a Fortune 500 tech company by the time I was 30 were at least in the realm of possibility.
When I got to my college classes though, I realized that aerospace engineering mostly consisted of sitting in front of a computer all day, and that didn’t seem like a great way to work up to being a CEO… so I changed my major to Industrial Engineering, which had a large focus on the management side of working in technical industries. In addition to the classes on financial engineering, supply chain logistics, and process optimization, I also took extra classes to earn a minor in Engineering Leadership.
Along with my education in the classroom, I took an active role in ensuring I developed “real-world” skills by using my extra-curricular time wisely. I worked for the academic office my freshman year, did research my sophomore year, had a 1.5yr internship at Lockheed Martin my junior year and pre-senior summer, and then a 1.5yr internship with Mitsubishi Power Systems my senior and “super-senior” (5th) year. I also was part of the Honors College, joined several science and engineering related clubs, and founded a chapter of the co-ed engineering fraternity named Theta Tau on my campus.
All in all, I think I was doing a pretty good job of setting myself up for the Forbes “30 under 30” list.
Reconnecting with roots
I graduated with honors, and then, in an act of quarter-life crisis and rebellion, decided to turn down a full-time job offer and spend a year traveling and studying abroad. After a summer backpacking around Europe, I settled down for a full year of study at the Mayanot Institute in Jerusalem.
To say that year abroad was transformative would be a vast understatement. It was the capstone of a multi-year spiritual journey of reconnecting with my Jewish roots, and while people who know me now probably can’t imagine me not being an observant Jew, it was really that year in Jerusalem that solidified my new way of life.
I didn’t “forget” about my career while I was traveling -in fact, I was still doing remote contract work for Mitsubishi while I was in Jerusalem- but I now saw a career as just a part of who I was instead of the main focus of my life.
Leaving manufacturing behind
After that year, I decided to move to Brooklyn with a few other friends I had met in Israel. It was a big change from having grown up in suburban South Florida my entire life, but it was there that I met my husband, so you could say it was worth it. 😉 We got married and moved to New Jersey where he was in Rabbinical school, and I had to figure out what I wanted to do to support our little family while he was still learning.
While there were definitely some manufacturing plants in the Jersey area, there were not so many jobs open that appealed to me. I decided to broaden my horizons and look for things outside the manufacturing industry, and found a job as a Process Improvement Specialist for PIERS, the data branch of JOC, a shipping logistics and data company. I had to learn SQL on the job there, and it was my first foray into programming and “new tech” beyond the AngelFire html pages I had messed around with as a kid. Before long, I was promoted to an Operations Engineering position on their development team, and taught myself Java (I know, I know) in order to help redesign and optimize their massive ETL processes.
Trying new things
After my husband’s school was done and we took a brief nine month stopover in Brooklyn, we decided to move to Los Angeles. That’s where he’s from, and his family still lives there, so we wanted to give the family-owned travel agency a shot and see if it was something we’d be interested in taking over in the long run. He worked on marketing and social media while I handled all things tech-related, like server maintenance, random IT tasks, and some database optimization. We decided it wasn’t a good fit for us, so my husband went back into Rabbinics and I left the agency a month before our son was born.
Maternity leave was an interesting time. I was simultaneously trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my career while also adjusting to, ya know, parenthood. I tried a lot of things… tech consulting, WordPress development, even a start-up idea or two. The other thing I did was firmly resolve that I was going to really learn how to code. From following the startup scene in Los Angeles, I knew that the flexibility and benefits that many tech companies offer was unparalleled in the previous industries I worked in, and those things were really important to me now that I was a mom.
Change of priorities
I had started building some portfolio projects, but before I had a chance to work on anything too complicated, by husband suddently got laid off from his Rabbinical position. That quickly made getting back into the workplace into my number one priority.
I found myself in an interesting spot at that point. I knew I wanted to work in tech, and I knew I didn’t want to go back to manufacturing. But I also knew that I didn’t know enough to land a development/engineering position. So job hunting meant I needed to be creative.
There were a few things I knew I was looking for… remote-friendly culture, flexibility, good benefits for the family, good pay… but beyond that, I had no idea what I actually wanted to do.
After combing the career pages for dozens of companies that I either used on a regular basis or frequently read the blogs of, there was one type of position that kept jumping out at me: Support.
It was different than anything I had done as a full-time job before, but at the same time, helping people through complex technical problems was part of my day-to-day work at both JOC and the travel agency. So why not give it a shot?
I applied to a variety of different companies, but one of the few I heard back from (no experience in this, after all) was also one of the companies that I was most excited about: GitHub.
In addition to great benefits and remote work, what really stood out to me about GitHub was the opportunity to continue learning and growing the tech skills I had been working on for the past few months. A tool for developers of all experience levels meant that technical support would be a chance to learn more about what those developers do on a day-to-day basis and how something like GitHub can help them do it better.
In May 2015 I joined GitHub as their newest Technical Support Specialist. After a few weeks of trying to drink the firehose of information that was onboarding, I settled into my new position and enjoyed every minute of it. I was part of a company with good pay and great benefits, I was a member of an amazing team of passionate and caring people, and I was given the chance to learn new things every day. That makes one happy Rachel.
I loved my time in Support at GitHub, but I recently switched teams. Why? Well, in February 2016 (around the time we moved back to Brooklyn so my husband could start learning programming at Flatiron School… he’s on quite a journey too!) GitHub started building out a Support Tools Engineering team. In June I was asked to use my background in analytics and process improvement to create metrics and data tooling for Support as an Analytics Engineer on the Support Tools team. It seemed like a great chance to provide some unique value for a team that I’ve come to really love over the last year and a half, and it also seemed like an interesting turn on this crazy ride that my career has become, so I decided to give it a shot!
So far it’s going pretty well, and we’re now able to access data that has never really been looked at by the Support team before. There’s a lot more work to do, and I’m excited to see what the future holds.
One thing hasn’t changed in recent months though… Support is still in my ❤, and that’s why I’m so grateful to work alongside such an amazing Support team, and so thankful to still be a part of the Support Driven community.