If anyone is the queen of pivoting, it’s Jenn Green. Throughout her career, Green has thrown herself into unfamiliar territory but proven time and time again that she’s got the grit to learn and adapt. We recently sat down with the VP of App Development at Big Nerd Ranch to chat about her start in the Atlanta technology sphere, spearheading a new LGBT tech meetup in town, and everything in between.
From Marketing Manager to VP of App Development
I became very familiar with the concept of pivoting before it was a thing people regularly talked about. My first job out of college was as a marketing manager for a fitness company. Changes at a higher level in the company called for a series of layoffs – one of which affected me. The slim job market, along with the pressure of college debt, forced me to move back home for a bit to regroup.
I ended up getting an instructional technology position, even though I hadn’t done anything like that before. The Director of Technology was a family friend, and he thought I seemed handy enough to crawl under desks, fix printers and reimage iMacs. So I worked in the public school system for two years, which led me to a job working for the a K-12 content management platform, eChalk.
Working remotely for eChalk made it easier for me to eventually move back to Atlanta. After putting in 6 years at eChalk, my longing for more technical experience and career growth, as well as getting to work onsite with people in an office, inspired me to look for new opportunities.
I wanted to work for a development company that embraced an open and collaborative culture. A friend recommended that I apply to Highgroove, a small Ruby on Rails shop in Atlanta, and I got an interview for what was initially called “Inside Sales.” The CEO liked my account management and client services experience and hired me in the hopes that I could bring operational processes and client services elements to how we were delivering on projects.
I actually ended up at Big Nerd Ranch because it merged with Highgroove just a month after I started. It was a big adjustment going from “I don’t know anything about Ruby on Rails” to working for a company that builds and designs a variety of apps. Big Nerd Ranch does iOS, Android, front-end web, back-end web, and design. I was essentially a project manager for a lot of projects that involved all of those elements, so the learning curve was high – I had to learn a lot very quickly.
How did you manage that?
Half of our business consists of teaching app development, so the company culture and philosophies are built around the ideology of “never stop learning.” It was an environment where I felt very comfortable asking what might be basic questions to extremely talented developers and designers, but everybody was really great about helping bring me up to speed. The other benefit was that the project strategist position hadn’t existed before I was there, so it was an exciting challenge to figure out what that job should look like. It means you make a ton of mistakes, but it also means you learn a lot so that you can help projects succeed.
I helped build out the project strategist team at Big Nerd Ranch, then moved into the Director of Consulting Operations role. These positions gave me more opportunity to manage a team and focus on the processes, effectiveness, and quality of our consulting projects. I’m incredibly proud of the team we have and the value they add to our projects. Now that I’m in the VP of App Development role, my job is to focus on the quality of our App Development services, as well as our sales strategies. I’m looking at our processes from the moment a lead comes into how we’re learning from our projects after they’ve wrapped.
The Atlanta Startup Community
How has it been for you to grow within the Atlanta startup community?
I really appreciate our culture because I hang out with people I work with more than any of my other friends. If you like the people you work with enough to hang out with them outside of work, then it’s a pretty great place to be.
What I really enjoy seeing now in the Atlanta startup community are all the amazing resources that exist here. There are so many accelerators and incubators, programs at ATDC, ATV, and others that give people the opportunity to know what it means to not just build an app, but build a business. So when we are fortunate enough to work with someone who has taken that approach to their startup, it makes the process so much more interesting.
Do you think long-term you can continue to grow in this role?
I get really nerdy about stuff I didn’t realize I loved until I started working. We have these really dynamic conversations, looking at new ways we can solve a problem. I never thought I’d enjoy digging into financials and then thinking about different ways we can continue to evolve, or thinking about the different types of projects we can work on. Or researching things that will be really important in tech over the next 6-12 months and seeing how that fits within what we’re capable of helping people with – it’s just super exciting.
You have to constantly think about how you are differentiating yourself one way or another.
Is your work with Amazon part of those new projects?
Initially, we had been asked to provide feedback on what it would take to teach or put together sample curriculum on coding for this initial Alexa operating system. Multiple conversations evolved into looking past how it’s immediately valuable for Amazon, and outside this one piece of hardware. More and more companies want voice-enabled technology and are making similar products, so we are trying to think ahead on things.
We heard you’re also personally working on a LGBT in tech meetup.
Yes, it’s Lesbians Who Tech, which is relatively new here in Atlanta. The founder, Leanne Pittsford, reached out to me about a year and a half ago, but it was right after I was promoted to the director position so I was very busy and couldn’t add it to my plate.
I ended up attending the Lesbians Who Tech Summit, which was a wonderful experience and decided to take it on after all.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve met so many lesbian women in town who are involved in tech. It just seems like it exploded out of nowhere – or maybe it was something I didn’t pay as much attention to before. But I think it says a lot of great things about Atlanta. I’ve had people say to me, “I was hoping we would have a chapter here,” so it’s a feel good moment and I’m excited to see it grow.
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