Eva Petzinger didn’t think she had what it took to be a developer.
“I had long assumed from college and a couple of CS classes that I wasn’t smart enough to be a software engineer,” Petzinger said.
But, with some on-hands coding experience and an engineering bootcamp sponsored by her employer, Ellevation, Petzinger realized otherwise: In December, she made the lateral move from quality assurance to engineering.
Training is on a spectrum: On one end exists more formal training, like conferences or continuing education, and on the other exists more informal training, like weekly one-on-ones and check-ins. Both have the same end-goal in mind: ensuring employees are hitting their career goals in stride.
Without both kinds, Petzinger says she wouldn’t have been able to make a career switch.
The team will help you, but what you get out of it is dependent on how much you’re willing to put in.”
At Ellevation, trainings of all stripes have helped employees like Petzinger move up the career ladder. The company reported that more than 50 percent of its leadership team consists of people who began as individual contributors, including Manager of Professional Services Catalina Hart-Hidalgo.
“Opportunities like my own have popped up as our business has grown,” said Hart-Hidalgo, who started at Ellevation four years ago. “As I moved into the role without prior management experience, it was overwhelming, but I felt well supported.”
The Boston edtech company boasts programs like online training materials, a two-day manager training, financial support to cover professional conferences, and appointments with on-staff job coaches at the requests of employees.
While the career paths between Hart-Hidalgo, Petzinger and their colleague Alex Mukherjee differ, they agreed that the common link to career development at Ellevation is effort.
“There’s an attitude here that the team will help you, but what you get out of it is dependent on how much you’re willing to put in,” Mukherjee said. “If you want to learn something, take initiative, set up a conversation, explain to leadership why you want to take a course and they will help you do those things — but you have to ask.”
Here’s how Hart-Hidalgo, Petzinger and Mukherjee seized the support available to take their careers to the next step, with some tips for those interested in following suit.
The first-time manager
Hart-Hidalgo worked as a teacher for six years before joining Ellevation as a training solutions manager. In her role, she visited schools to train the teachers on how to implement Ellevation’s English language-learner software. Before her manager left, Hart-Hidalgo said she began grooming her for the professional services manager role. That support continued from her new director when Hart-Hidalgo received the promotion last year.
On Ellevation’s culture of learning: One of our values is continuous learning, and I think leadership does a great job reminding us of these. The learning here never stops, and there’s a big initiative around internal professional development. Everyone has different strengths and tools that they can share, and we try to leverage these strengths by having employees run their own sessions. On my team, we regularly share webinars and conferences that cover a hot topic in our space, like distance learning. Learning is contagious, and it makes you want to offer help or learn something new.
How Ellevation prepared her: The company sent me to a two-day intensive course manager training. One of the key things I learned and continue to apply to my management approach is how to lead by being empathetic and empowering others. After the conference, my director consistently checked in and even visited me in Miami, where I work remotely, to scope out with me what my transition into a manager would entail over the first 30, 60 and 90 days.
The importance of one-on-ones: Every other month we hold one-on-one meetings with our team members called “insight meetings.” This is a time for us to dig deep into how someone is doing, where they want to go next in their career and how they want to grow. We review professional goals in and outside of Ellevation and figure out how we can best provide that learning for them. It helped me before I became a manager, and now that I’m on the other side, it’s great helping others.
Advice for others looking to move up: Remember that you’re your best advocate. Whatever goals or topics you want to learn, you need to voice them to your manager or your peer. Self-advocacy is No. 1.
An engineer, by way of support
Petzinger hadn’t aspired to become a software engineer when she joined Ellevation’s product support team, although she was always interested. After working closely with her manager and the engineering team, she overcame her doubts and pursued the position.
“This has felt like a very personal journey as I’ve grown the confidence to know that I can do this role,” Petzinger said.
On Ellevation’s culture of learning: If you can show that you will get something out of a professional development opportunity, the company will send you.
How Ellevation prepared her: The vast majority of my learning was on the job with our own engineering team. The company also sent me to a Python course at General Assembly, which was two-hours long a couple of times a week. That was really helpful to get simplified instruction on what a class is or an object, and then I could relate that to what I had learned at work that day.
Leadership mentorship: While I was on the product support team, my manager made sure that everyone on our team had the chance to do a little bit of everything. When we were able to, she’d open up time so that we could work on what we were most interested in, which to me was getting deep into technical issues. Once the QA role opened up, she was incredibly encouraging. I felt that same support from my manager on the QA team when I moved to the software engineering side. It was an intimidating situation, and she helped point out the strengths I already had for it and scaffold my knowledge.
Advice for others pursuing a new path: Don’t be too married to a plan or title you want. Learn as much as you can in your current role and see where it takes you. For me, I would’ve never expected to be where I am today, but I continued down the path that I found most interesting and where I knew the least. Try to help other people when you can and they will help you in return.
Shifting to sales
Mukherjee said he loved working on the product support team and wasn’t looking to join another department. That changed though after an opportunity on the account management team opened up and encouragement from several account managers and his own manager began pouring in.
On Ellevation’s culture of learning: It comes from the top down; we see our leaders expressing this attitude daily. I used to sit behind our President and Co-Founder Teddy Rice, and the number of times I heard him eagerly discuss a new topic he just learned a lot about was a regular reminder of how I needed to learn something new that day.
How Ellevation prepared him: My one-on-one meetings with my manager are driven by me, which I appreciate. I come to them with one or two areas I’ve been worried about and we spend an hour attacking it together. Additionally, my account manager teammates are always helpful. One of them also came from product support, so he and I throw ideas off one another a lot.
Learning through collaboration: On both teams that I’ve been on, everyone has been really good at something and willing to share their knowledge with others on the team. My one colleague taught me how to use the platform Splunk to leverage deep data. Conversely, in my support role, I introduced a new dashboard that we could use to be more data-driven in our workflows and decision-making processes.
Advice for others pursuing a new path: Understand the power that your voice can have and all the things you can make happen for yourself. For me, I learned that people want to help because it makes them feel valued. It’s not as scary as it seems on the surface to ask for things and help.