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  1. Blog
  2. Partners in Diversity

Learning on the Job: 9 Women with Experiential Career Trajectories

“What I wish I would have known earlier in my career is that there is space for me”

Woman learning on the job
Photo courtesy of Windows

This article is part of InHerSight's Career Trajectories series. Women's career paths vary significantly. Hear from women themselves about the pivotal career decisions that have shaped their growth and success.

This article is part of InHerSight's Partners in Diversity series. Discover companies partnering with InHerSight to better support women in the workplace.

There’s no denying that a college degree can expedite a job search, but is it entirely necessary? According to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, only 39 percent of Americans hold a bachelor’s degree, meaning the majority of the population is forging careers without a college education… and student loan debt for said degree that they might or might not need.

Yet despite degree-free career paths being surprisingly common, how they come to be remains relatively under wraps, because, culturally, college is still considered a “must.” So, we asked nine women at our partner companies, some with college degrees they don’t use and some without, how they’ve mapped career trajectories through non-university education and on-the-job training. Single moms, former carnival workers, baristas gone corporate—hear how each has turned a unique route into a success story. 

9 women with experiential career trajectories

Wendy James

Digital Development Training Manager at Radancy

What do you do?

I serve as the subject matter expert (SME) and delivery team's representative for all product rollouts. I conduct interviews for digital project managers (DPMs) in the USA and onboard new DPMs globally. I am responsible for internal product training, documentation, and on-the-job training. I also coordinate appropriate department SMEs and act as the facilitator for our delivery team department training series and its curriculum.

How did you get where you are?

As a young single mother, I could not attend college. I became self-taught; my source of knowledge were books, the internet, and volunteering my time assisting colleagues in completing their work. I would often take on challenging work and spend time at home figuring out how to resolve them. I requested and implemented feedback, and most importantly, I was not afraid to ask questions.

What has most surprised you about your career?

I've always been self-conscious about not having a college education and would often doubt my capabilities. Looking back on where I came from, I could not imagine being in a role where I am the source of knowledge. 

I am in a position I genuinely love and feel proud of the path that brought me here. I am fortunate to work for a company that believes in and empowers its employees by giving them the freedom to learn and grow.

Sarah Berry

Workplace Experience & Culture Specialist at The Zebra

What do you do?

I’m a workplace experience and culture specialist. I ensure our employees are having a stellar experience through their entire lifecycle with us, ensure our business and culture are aligned, and our employee resource groups (ERGs) are thriving.

How did you get where you are?

I started at The Zebra as our barista (coming from a long career in coffee shops) and as our receptionist. During the pandemic, I was forced to pivot (as we all were) but through the solid connections I’d built all throughout the company, I was able to stay on and started focusing on connection and growth. To continue my growth, I’ve since attended a Workhuman conference, am a huge culture and diversity, equity, and inclusion nerd, and attend as many webinars and panels as I can along with a healthy reading list. All of this, along with utilizing the amazing humans around me as learning tools and constantly seeking more information, has helped me find a new and exciting career that I am unsure college would have led me to. 

What has most surprised you about your career?

How everyone is constantly learning and figuring out new and better ways to do things—no one is an expert quite yet. The idea of company culture being its own focus is new and trendy, so it has a lot of splash and attention right now so it is a very exciting time to be in the thick of it.

Lynnette Scarratt

VP, People Operations at Supernatural

What do you do?

I am the VP of People Operations at Supernatural, a VR fitness company, and responsible for looking after our people and culture. As a professional listener, my purpose is to build strong connections between employees and leaders through collective intention and value alignment.

How did you get where you are?

My career has always been service-oriented, having worked as a cashier and server in college before landing my first corporate role in banking. I worked in traditional banking for six years, serving in many consumer-facing roles as a teller, banker, and manager before transitioning to the tech industry where I ultimately fell in love with start-ups. 

I was fortunate enough to have worked for a Fortune 500 company early on in my career and was able to learn firsthand how a successful business operated. When I was recruited to join my first start up in FinTech, I was hired as employee #40 as an operations manager responsible for building out the operations team, including customer experience and operational compliance. 

I hired an amazing team who ultimately expanded to three countries and grew 10x in less than two years. Through the exponential growth, there were a lot of processes created and learnings along the way, which required innovative solutions to attract and retain talent while delivering a world-class experience for our members. Due to my team's success over the course of my tenure, I was promoted to director of business operations and ultimately vice president of people and operations.

Since then, I joined Supernatural, a VR fitness company, in the midst of the pandemic. The transition from financial services to virtual reality was intimidating, yet exhilarating. My passion for helping people and creating communities through a sense of belonging is a passion that can be helpful in many capacities and the excitement to learn something new overpowered any concerns I had when taking the leap. While my experience with VR was limited, I trusted my intuition because I believed in the people, the product, and myself and knew that I could learn and navigate the waters no matter how choppy they were. Almost two years later, I'm surrounded by an amazing people team at Supernatural who has hired over 100 employees and supported exponential growth within our community.

What has most surprised you about your career?

Going off to college and not having a career plan mapped out was scary for me. Unsure about what I would end up doing with my career, I ended up taking a safe path by majoring in English Literature because it felt comfortable for me and I was scared to fail. What I realized was my fear of failure stemmed from my belief that a degree would define me and my future. It wasn't until I took a job in sales and customer service that I realized my outgoing personality, curiosity about people, and desire to learn would take me much further in life if I just trusted my instincts. In doing so, I have found myself in a position that I find challenging, yet extremely rewarding in an industry I never even knew existed until I gave myself permission to take risks and dive in head first not knowing what would happen next. The biggest surprise about my career has been my change in perspective. I have given myself grace to normalize taking informed risks recognizing the possibility of failure, but believing in myself enough to focus on the possibility of amazing returns, which has led me to where I am today.

Christina Balles

Digital Analytics Consultant at InfoTrust LLC

What do you do?

Simply put, I track what you do on the web! More specifically, I work with companies to ensure they're effectively tracking data in a privacy-centric way that helps them grow their business while protecting and respecting their customers.

How did you get where you are?

I’ve worked as a carny (carnival worker), owned my own business (entrepreneurship), worked in consulting sales, leveled up and became a director of marketing and sales, and finally landed in my current position as a digital analytics consultant.

I didn't have training or experience with any of the above before starting and had to train myself quite a bit to get to where I am today.

What has most surprised you about your career?

I never thought I would be happily working in the tech industry and doubly happy to not be an entrepreneur anymore. I always thought I would only ever work for myself, but I found entrepreneurship to be lonely. Luckily, I have the best team here at InfoTrust, and I’m loving having a team around me!

Kimberly Kosmas

Business and Project Controls Analyst at Milhouse Engineering & Construction

What do you do?

People believe that project controls is accounting. It's not exactly. It's controlling the operational aspects of projects along with watching the profitability. What I do is important to a company, and is a part of project management. Project controls focuses on the utilization of resources, potential risk, and overall performance of particular programs and collection of projects. Analyzing a lot of data!

How did you get where you are?

It's been a journey for me to get here. I changed my career back in 1999 to work part-time in construction to be able to care for my son. The part-time job was a need that turned into a 23-year career. I’ve learned a lot during this time. 

What has most surprised you about your career?

The fact I went from the banking and real estate world to this. I had no formal training and hadn’t taken engineering courses. I learned as I went. I started as a part-time administrative assistant and eventually became a project manager in the span of 23 years. 

Jaimie Olmstead

Principal Agile Process Lead at Alley

What do you do?

My focus is guiding one of our website development teams in Scrum and Agile education. I also serve as a lead within our Agile Professional Learning Group.

How did you get where you are?

My whole career had been self-taught—training, organizing a team around a cause and a goal, and making it happen.

I come from a lower middle class background. I went to school for art and animation for three years, during which time I also worked full-time in retail management. After my third year, I dropped out because my family couldn't afford tuition. I fell back on the role in retail and continued my focus on that career. I knew I needed to make a change. Eventually, I transitioned to a project manager role at a web development company. 

After that, I found Alley and started as a project manager. Through Alley, I learned about Scrum and Agile. Alley gave me the opportunity to get certified and support our Agile transformation.

What has most surprised you about your career?

I thought my world was very small in a very economically repressed area; however, since I began working remotely for an employer that paid for training and certifications, my career options were drastically broadened.

Katrina Sivels

Proposal Coordinator at Milhouse Engineering & Construction

What do you do?

I create proposals for various engineering sectors, which entails analyzing Request for Proposals, coordinating with the engineers and outside firms, and writing and designing the proposals.

How did you get where you are?

Using my writing and editing skills, I pivoted to a marketing assistant/proposal writing position at a small engineering firm in 2019. I knew absolutely nothing about marketing or engineering when I started. In addition to just learning as I worked, I googled architectural, engineering, and construction (AEC) blogs, connected with other professionals on LinkedIn, attended industry events, and bought AEC proposal writing books.

What has most surprised you about your career?

Everyone has been so helpful! From the engineers to other marketing pros, every single person I’ve met has taken the time to explain processes and engineering concepts, and give tips. So much of the job is learning as you go. I’m constantly developing skills through my experiences and working with other marketing/business development professionals in the industry.

Daria Krestina

Software Engineer at VTS

What do you do?

I’m a software engineer working with a small five-person team as a part of a larger engineering organization. I attend meetings, work on completing my technical tasks, test, and pair with other engineers. We provide ongoing maintenance, support, and enhancements in the existing application as a team.

How did you get where you are?

After studying hospitality management, I pursued a career in customer service, working first in a call center and being promoted to a group manager, then corporate account manager. I quit my job and was a stay-at-home mom for over three years. Then I decided to expand my skill set to pursue software engineering. I graduated from a coding bootcamp, where I developed various technical skills that allowed me to find my current job.

What has most surprised you about your career?

I never thought that I would be working in IT. I was studying hospitality management and was always working in client-facing positions. While I was a stay-at-home mom, I tried to code for fun and loved the results. I care deeply about cutting-edge technology, and I'm excited to combine this passion with my customer experience expertise.

Becky Rosado

Senior Billing & Collections Analyst at Markforged

What do you do?

I am a senior billing and collections analyst who oversees the full cycle of accounts receivable. An important part of my role is to collaborate with senior leadership and other departments identifying pain points in our workflow processes and find ways to correct them.  

How did you get where you are?

I’m a driven, hardworking, curious individual who is not afraid to learn something new. I was open to taking on extra projects that were outside the scope of my immediate role and I had the help of two especially strong mentors who helped me grow in my career. Being curious and asking a lot of questions (which isn’t always popular) helped me expand my skills.

What has most surprised you about your career?

I’ve worked hard and have been able to get to a great place in my career without a bachelor’s degree. My best mentors were in high-level positions (such as CFO) who were willing to invest their time in me and offer advice to help me advance in my career. I earned trust and respect, was entrusted with confidential information, given paths to grow into, and given a seat at the table—with a voice.

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