You don’t need to be a coder to have a successful and rewarding career in tech.

Personal Information

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NAME

Sarah E. Brown

JOB TITLE

Head of Customer, Community and Brand Marketing

LOCATION

Boulder, CO

SALARY

Undisclosed

NUMBER OF YEARS IN THE FIELD

8 years

COMPANY

ServiceRocket

Education

Vassar College
Geography and Hispanic Studies, B.A.

Career Bio

The profession

I oversee customer, community and brand marketing for ServiceRocket. That includes overseeing many areas of our content marketing, our social media and PR, and our global brand. Our company ServiceRocket is trusted by thousands of enterprises, helping them get the most out of their software and transforming the way they do business. Headquartered in Palo Alto with offices around the world, our products and services help clients accelerate alignment, reduce friction and connect with their teams, partners and customers.

How I got here

I come from a family of academics and doctors, and I have a liberal arts background. I went to Vassar College for my undergrad. I studied Geography and Hispanic Studies. In many ways, the skills I learned during my liberal arts education were crucial to my day-to-day work, including writing, editing, and critical thinking, however I don’t pull out my Spanish often unless I’m at our company’s Santiago, Chile HQ. Growing up, I wanted to be a journalist; I was editor in chief of my high school newspaper and was senior editor of Vassar’s newspaper. After school, I worked at the Center for Environmental Health in Oakland. I helped produce promotions and communications for them including social media and e-mail campaigns. While there I really fell in love with that work, and since then have parlayed that into a business career.

Many of the things that were interesting to me about journalism--the writing and the creating for a target audience—have helped me with what I do today. In school, I didn’t take any business classes, though I have taken many and invested quite a bit in learning about business since college, including in-person and online courses, reading tons of books and taking workshops. Learning is key to growth in the tech field, as technology moves fast and is constantly changing. Even in non-technical roles at startups, you need to learn a great deal about business and technology in order to succeed.

My job requires understanding our customers intimately in order to market effectively to them and provide value to them. The idea of “radical empathy” in business is drawn from the worlds of anthropology and geography.

There is going to be a skills gap as technology continues to evolve. You don’t necessarily need a technical background in order to make a big contribution at a tech company. I would tell Liberal Arts grads interested in technology to go for it – you may be surprised by the skills you have that translate to many non-technical roles in tech. And, of course, if you are interested in a coding role, there are many bootcamps and schools now that can train you in how to code.

A typical day

Our marketing team at ServiceRocket is small but mighty. Under the guidance of our Vice President of Marketing Colleen Blake, we help the company attract and retain customers through many different initiatives. I co-host an enterprise technology podcast called “Helping Sells Radio” which made it to the new and noteworthy section of iTunes last year. I also meet with my colleagues in different departments. We may have company-wide leadership meetings so I have a mixture of meetings and execution work. Most of my meetings, because I’m remote, are virtual meetings, though I frequently travel to our Palo Alto office with our team.

Outside of my “day job” I also co-organize events for a local LGBTQ tech meetup in Boulder called Flatirons Tech. Giving back to my community is important to me.

The hardest parts

In tech and in startups there are no predefined roles. There may be a predefined role in terms of hiring for a job description, but none of these jobs have been done before exactly the same way. There are some processes that replicate themselves; for example, if you do finance you’ll probably do the same thing from one company to another. But for most jobs, that isn’t the case. No one had the job I have before me. Working at startup requires creating value at a company when roles are not predefined. Startups require doing things outside your job title in order to create an impact and help the company achieve goals. That can be hard, but it’s also very rewarding.

The best parts

Our team is amazing – I come to work every day excited to collaborate with our colleagues. I also really enjoy working with our customers; we regularly partner with them on content, events, and more. The ability to make a big impact is my favorite part of my job. I can see how the work I’m doing helps our current and prospective customers, and that feels great.

The myths of the profession

You don’t need to be a coder to have a successful and rewarding career in tech. The focus on getting more people into the field of computer science is great but I think it’s really important to broaden the vision of which jobs are available in tech. I think the narrative to get more diverse folks into tech needs to also focus on getting people into tech in non-technical roles. When I say technical job I mean computer science coding, writing code and learning how to code in order to build or run software. A technical job might also include being a data scientist. These categories blur. But if we want to make tech more inclusive, that’s not just about coding and making the application, it’s about making the business function. By thinking about non-technical roles in tech we can open up a much bigger pipeline to bring people in to the community.

It’s also important to realize no one is going to manage your tech career for you. You need to take charge of your own learning in order to grow your career. Taking on “stretch” assignments has been crucial to my career growth.

Relationships are very important to your success in the tech industry. It is important to align yourself with people and organizations to achieve your goals.

The workplace

I work out of a co-working space in Boulder called Impact Hub. I’m one of two Boulder, CO employees. Our office is headquartered in Palo Alto. We also have offices in Malaysia, Chile and Australia. I travel to the Palo Alto office regularly. It’s a fairly casual office; you’ll catch people from all levels of the organization, including our CEO Rob Castaneda wearing a Rocket t-shirt (our logo) and jeans or slacks. The tech industry in Silicon Valley is more casual than elsewhere.

At my company work-life balance is a priority. We are encouraged to use our vacation time and unplug when doing so. This differs at different tech companies, so it’s important to find a company whose values around this align with your own

Advice for someone thinking about going into the field

Focus on learning and on where you can provide unique value. It’s important to learn and constantly be growing but you likely have skills that you’ve developed along the way --so don’t discount those. I’ve been really lucky because I’ve had mentors who have helped me level up along my journey.

Focus on finding mentors within the industry and focus on what you can bring to the table, rather than what you can get. A lot of times we look for mentors by thinking about what we can get from them and how they can help us; while that’s part of the relationship, if you focus on people who are ahead of you in their career, who are doing things you admire, who are doing skills that you wish you had and you figure out how you can provide value to them and help them with their goals they’re actually going to bring you along.

Also, find people who support you. There are people out there who want to help youth and who want to help LGBTQ folks. There is more discussion about making tech more inclusive than ever. Look for them—because they want to find you!

Advice to my younger self

Don’t wait until you feel you’re 100% ready to start a new challenge. Be mostly ready and trust that you’ll learn along the way.