Meet The Woman Changing The Columbus Community For The Better
A conversation with Laura Jackson
Many people talk about creating their dream jobs, but Laura Jackson is actually doing it.
She switched careers to become a self-starting Product Manager and lends a hand to freelance projects around the city, all while being highly engaged in the Columbus community.
Laura is constantly working on exciting projects, and, as if that wasn't enough, she's a wonderful human, too. And the best part? She's just getting started.
I interviewed Laura about all things career. Why ‘intentionality’ is a way of living, what’s it like being a community connector, how she learned to stand up for herself and much, much more.
Here’s a look at what she had to say.
You started working in Content Marketing and Content Strategy, spanned to IT Project Management, and then found your calling in IT Product Management. How was that transition?
You know when you’re in college and you don’t know what you want to do? Well, I didn’t want to be one of those people, so right away I put all my eggs in one basket and went for Marketing.
I did everything.
From social media campaigns, email marketing and SEO writing to storyboarding for videos and infographics. And with all this going on, I felt I was not being challenged enough - that’s what gravitated me toward technology.
So, while working in the Content Marketing department for a small agency, I took a liking to Information Architecture and Content Strategy for websites. That soon became my desired specialty as I moved into Project Management in the Technology space.
After being a Project Manager/Content Strategist I decided it was time to seek a new adventure. I took a month off, and travelled to South Africa to reset and figure out what I wanted to do next. When I came back to the city, a friend referred me to Cardinal Solutions - which was very exciting opportunity because I could work in a variety of corporate environments and learn from some of the smartest people in the city. .
There I became a Product Manager.
As I transitioned to Product Management -just like most Product Managers I’ve met-, it all came into existence by accident. It’s not a well known career path. In fact, most universities are just now offering masters programs in Product Management across the country.
There’s a quote about Product Management that I really vibe with:
This role is a great combination of all my past experiences, and I’m really enjoying the teams I have gotten to work with.
What does being a community connector mean to you?
I think I have very good intuition about things when it comes to people, what they enjoy, don’t enjoy, and things that get them out of bed every day. I enjoy listening to what fires people up and connecting them with other people that are on the same mission.
To me, empathy is at the center of everything we do.
Coming from that lense of understanding where I see where everyone’s coming from, I feel like I’ve made meaningful professional connections with people and connected the community to things they are interested in.
Everyone talks about “building communities” (which is great!) but some people already had the idea of what they want to build. They just don’t have the team or connections around them to build it.
That’s where a community connector comes in.
How did your own relationship with the city of Columbus evolve and change through becoming a community connector?
That’s funny because I didn’t grow up in Ohio (and most people that live here are born-and-raised here, too!).
When I came to OSU I did not know anyone. So my first relationship with the city was very timid. I was trying to figure out what were all the moving pieces, and what was going on in the city.
From there, I became very intentional about everything, but especially about who I networked and connected with. This is my North Star or guiding principle. My energy is sacred, so I have to be intentional. This principle has led me to have an amazing relationship with the Columbus community and it has just gotten so magical over time.
I truly treasure the network of people around me that I’ve created.
Many people feel that genuine networking can be hard. What advice can you give anyone struggling with exactly that?
Intention, intention, intention.
Don’t feel pressured to talk with somebody just because they’re a big-time name or the company they work for. There might be someone in the corner with a great story to share.
You can seriously learn from anybody. But don’t force things, because when you do so two things happen: 1) either something breaks or 2) it becomes more stuck.
So if it’s not a good fit, why even put the intention out there?
Do you have any career mistakes you can share? What did they teach you?
Oh man, so many.
Probably the most important career mistake was not speaking up for myself enough. Whether that was negotiating for more money or just saying “hey, I feel disrespected”. I learned to fix this because it affected my personal life as well.
Now I’m a bit over-vocal. Which can be a career mistake too, in the sense that I need to learn how to articulate the words that I use with people. I do a great job with that on an individual level, but I certainly have room for improvement when dealing with stakeholders and larger group dynamics.
What keeps you motivated?
In my career, it’s having these little moments where I feel I’ve helped someone be heard.
The position of a Product Manager can come off as a dictator that makes all these decisions and is the “far reaching” business no one know. But the reality is that I want people to feel like I consult with them instead of talking at them.
Making people feel good about their job really motivates me.
Who should we be following? What blogs/people/books/publications keep you inspired?
A lot of my favorite sources are product related! Some podcasts I love are:
Masters of Scale. It talks about how big companies such as Airbnb, Netflix, or Facebook, grew from zero to a gazillion.
How I Built This with Guy Raz. It dives into the stories and anecdotes behind some of the world's best known companies.
This is Product Management. It basically shows how *everything* has to do with Product Management: creating thinking, vision and strategy, giving feedback, revenue, you name it.
I also read a lot of articles that pop-up in my feed on Medium, based on the topics I’m interested in.
Lastly, what’s next for Laura Jackson? Do you have any upcoming projects you're particularly excited about?
Okay. I’m going to tell you this so that I’ll have to do it!
I’ll publish a quarterly post in Medium called Columbus Connections to bring a more physical, tangible directory of people that I’m meeting throughout the city and what they want to be connected to.
Another personal pursuit is to create a space that celebrates technology in a way that educates people. Not necessarily by learning how to code, but by creating a space for people to be more comfortable with it, whatever that means. I haven’t figured it out yet. In Columbus, the divide between people that are living in low-income families, different social climates, ethnicities, and status is huge. So the more we progress in technology, the more these people are going to be left behind. I don’t want that to happen, and we need more inclusivity.
Lastly, I’ve always been really involved in the IT community, but my goal for 2018 is to be more involved in social issues that I do care about, such as human trafficking with the non-profit She Has A Name and wherever I can help.
Follow Laura on Twitter @LauraDesinsa.