Jessica Farnum

she/her/hers

Where did you go to college? My first college courses were taken through the U of M as a PSEO student, I then did a year at Augsburg as PSEO, a year and a half at Bemidji State, and finished my BS in Computer Science at Augsburg. My path for schools is a bit piecemeal but it was largely driven by affordability.

Undergraduate Degree: Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, Augsburg University, St. Paul MN

Graduate Degree: I completed my MBA from Augsburg in 2007.

Current job title: We’ll find out soon, I am in transition and expect to land in a Director position in a technology-focused company. My most recent title was Technical Manager within Engineering Operations with Honeywell Aerospace.

What experience first got you interested in science and is that field the same one you went on to pursue?

The first career that I remember wanting to have was a toy designer. I had notebooks full of sketches and backstories. I also had an awesome sister who used connections to set up a visit to Hasbro where I met some energetic ladies who were so happy to share their passion with me and answer my questions. Based on their inputs, Industrial Engineer was on my radar.

I really sparked on physics in high school. I loved relativity and the way that some of the concepts really stretched my mind to its limits of understanding. That was different than most of the topics that I had previously covered in school that came easily. I found and loved OMNI magazine; in it, I read an article that quoted a physicist-theologian. And I was like, that’s it, that’s what I want to do. I loved the thought of bringing together things that people generally consider at odds (and also the ability to mess with people on so many levels).

I started my college courses with a heavy emphasis on physics and math in support of this goal, but I ended up veering away from physics as I discovered that I really wanted more interaction with people than I expected of a theoretical physicist. I then explored pre-med for a year before setting my sights on computer science. My thought was that it gave me flexibility in what industry that I went into.

Tell me about some people who helped or inspired you along the way, in your early training and later in your career.

The people who stand out for me are the leaders who I picked up key lessons from. My first manager was a non-technical person leading technical resources. I appreciated seeing how the leader didn’t need to be the smartest one in the room or the most experienced technical resource. Leading was a skill in and of itself and you can lead a group without being the most senior technical person there. A later manager showed me how to lead in times of great uncertainty; that as a leader, you need to buffer your team from the ups and downs. And also that you need to care for the individuals on your team which means equal is not always fair.

Can you tell me about any moments of doubt you had as a student or early in your career and how you dealt with it?

Doubt can show itself in so many forms. In some ways, my early changes in the direction of my studies were related to doubt and I listened to myself and made course corrections to overhaul and refine my goal. Sometimes, doubt can show up as “not enoughness”. This can particularly be a hinderance for women. I recently reminded a room full of young women in tech that you are never in a room that you don’t deserve to be in. One might sometimes not fully see it themselves, but they need to own space and trust that they have put in the work to be in that room and should raise their voice accordingly.

My most recent bout with doubt came within the last year. About a year ago, I was excited when my job came to an end due to a significant reorganization. I spent the first half of the year helping people transition into and out of the team and it was finally my turn to go find my next adventure. I had asked the universe a year prior to be RIFed and spend the summer with my kids, so I was ready to receive just what I had asked for. I leaned into summer full of faith and gratitude that there was something awesome waiting on the other side. Things didn’t go as planned.

Shortly after I left my job, my mom was unexpectedly diagnosed with inoperable glioblastoma. As I pushed her wheelchair from one of her initial radiation appointments, I got a call from another sister and my mom listened as I coached her through some of her shock and grief. When I set down the phone after I had helped her to reframe the experience and set a tangible action for her to focus on, my mom declared “This is what you need to do!”. At the time, it felt ironic. When I was pondering college, my mom had discouraged pursuing psychology. I began to wonder whether I had followed the wrong path entirely. In the subsequent months, I had to come to peace with that.  I journaled. I talked with people. Then, I realized that I was uniquely capable to handle the change my family was going through. This situation needed my ability to look at facts without flinching even when they suck. It needed my high EQ to help each individual reframe the situation as needed. It needed my drive for results to keep us moving forward. And it needed my superpower of bringing calm to chaos when people are on the cliff of panic. These were the same things that my teams have valued in me. The same things that have built strong teams, developed capable leaders, and rescued troubled projects. I went from wondering whether I needed to chart a new path entirely to feeling confident that I would continue as a leader of technology teams.

Can you share two or three surprising twists or turns in your early scientific training and your later career path.

I feel that each career move I made was a pivot of some sort that built on my previous experience and took me in a new direction. I started my career as a programmer analyst and I quickly realized that I loved databases and finding solutions with data models. I took a job as a Business Intelligence consultant where I was exposed to the business value of data and the importance of organizing data into information. While there, I worked on technical certifications including one for database administration. The combination of these skills and experiences opened the possibility of working at a start-up where I owned their internal applications, administered their databases, and worked on creative reporting solutions. When I made the move to my next position, the official title was database administrator, but what I really liked about it was the opportunity to lead projects. I worked along the developers and with the customers to craft solutions. As I gained success, I took on larger, more complex projects with larger teams and larger impacts while I moved into a project manager role and then into a resource manager role.

Can you give some examples of how you have incorporated your non scientific interests into your work.

The hobbies I am most passionate about are wine and Disney. I haven’t been able to connect them to my work yet, but I look forward to jumping on the opportunity when it arises. I will say though that those topics are great icebreakers during networking, lots of people have been happy for travel advice or an invite to my cellar!

Is there some advice you could you share from your own experience to help someone with a science degree who is just starting off on their own career path.

You are enough. Right now. As you are. The next job, degree, or certification won’t make you more whole or more worthy. So use your voice and make a difference where you are with what you have. No matter the stage of your career, find the thing that only you can do and rock it.

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