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Women Who Tech: Julie Anderson

If you are looking for a definition of “redefining yourself” you should look no further than Julie Anderson. Julie has had many different careers that taught her all the skills she needed to have a career in tech. She sat down and with us to share her fascinating story and how she is redefining herself again.

Julie: I grew up here in Eugene, I’m a 5th generation Oregonian! I’ve also lived in Portland, the Bay Area, and Bend. I moved back to Eugene because I knew I wanted to raise kids here, near my family. I have just recently retired, joined the Board of Lane Arts Council, and will focus on making art again. I’m interested in that sweet spot where art and tech unite, and magic happens.

My career has followed an interesting path. I have degrees in Fine Arts and English. I taught drama for a while in California, then worked at Dynamix in Eugene, and then took time off to have kids and make art for about 10 years. I then started working at an IT consulting firm, co-founded a financial analytics startup with my first husband, and then moved onto my career at HP Inc.

While my kids were young, I also did some freelance writing for local newspapers, marketing and PR stuff for local companies, and I had an art studio in my garage, where I offered art classes and worked on my own art. I sold my artwork into local stores and galleries across the country.

I started out painting vintage Samsonite suitcases because they were cheap and easy to find at the time, and that became the product that everyone liked. I even sold one to Julia Roberts through a store in LA, and that’s how I learned about influencers and brand marketing.

When my family and I moved to Bend, I decided to take a “fun for me” job managing a non-profit art gallery, which helped me settle into the community and meet all the creatives and work with nonprofits, which I really enjoyed. I also started blogging and learning about social media, and continued writing and creating content for local and national publications.

Eventually, I started doing more technical marketing for other companies and startups, and was involved in setting up BendTech, and joined their first non-profit board of directors. So I still had one foot in art, and one foot in tech.

And then, when I moved back to Eugene, HP called. A friend of mine was a Director there and was familiar with my career history. They wanted someone who had experience in marketing, product development, social media, and understood blogging and influencer marketing. I took the job, and I was there for almost 7 years, working on many different projects.

At HP, I was a Technical Program Manager in charge of developer outreach and hackathons, I also worked on product development, business development, and partner program strategy. Even though I’m not a developer or an engineer, I can talk to technical people, translate for them, and usually convince them to do fun and crazy things.

My commute up and down I-5 to HP in Corvallis was long, but I was happy to continue to live in Eugene and get involved in the local community here. In the last 8 years, I’ve been involved with the Eugene Startups group, Eugene Tech, RWIT and I have volunteered at Fertilab and RAIN Eugene.

RWIT: Have there been any people that have mentored or inspired you?

Absolutely. Julie Burroughs was the neighbor that hired me at her IT consulting firm. She is the essence of an entrepreneur and has started and sold several companies. She was great about telling me “you are smarter than you think so stop with the imposter syndrome you have a great career ahead of you.” I wouldn’t have even thought of a career in tech even though I had worked in games early on. I just thought, “I’m a writer, I’m an artist. I’m not technical.” I didn’t realize how many career opportunities there are inside of tech companies for non-engineers.

I’ve had other fantastic bosses, too. My friend Dennis Iverson was my first manager at HP. He was adamant in reminding me that I was there for the skill set I bring. He would say “We don’t need you to be an engineer, don’t worry about not being technical. We build our teams based on what makes it work best for HP, and you are an asset because of what you bring to the table.” He also taught me that failure is essential. We have to fail in order to learn what works.

RWIT: You come from a different background which has led you to be tech-adjacent, for women who might be going through the same journey what advice would give them?

Lots of people have skills that are useful in tech and might not realize it. For example, a Program Manager is someone who can look at projects end to end holistically, think about how to scale them, and manage several threads and groups of people at all levels, and be able to continue to push the project forward. And it helps if you can be an empathetic leader, listening to all sides, and help come up with solutions that work on a personal level, too.

I acquired these skills working as a drama teacher, a writer and artist, an IT technical recruiter, starting groups, managing an art gallery, working in startups, volunteering for fundraising committees at ShelterCare and my kid’s schools, and of course, being a mom. All these skills translate into Technical Program Management really well. Don’t get stuck or be afraid about what you don’t know. Just ask, listen and google!

When you are ready to transition into tech, look up different job titles and definitions, and do your research on salaries. It can make a difference – sometimes between $10k to $30k in the pay scale for similar jobs.

You may be closer to those senior positions than you realize. You might be able to move up in your existing company, or you might be ready to apply for the next level up in a new company. Be brave!

RWIT: What resources you would recommend for women trying to get into tech?

There are so many great people, groups and programs here in Eugene. Go to the meetups and events! In addition to Eugene Tech, RWIT, Eugene Women in Tech, the Game Developers “Art-Tech-Play” meetup, and RAIN, I’m also a big fan of the Arts and Business Alliance, Lane Arts Council, Eugene Chamber, Lane Community College SBDC, and so many others! Kate Harmon at the U of O has launched many community events for local entrepreneurs and is a great resource for students and startups, too. The library is doing some amazing things for tech education. It’s pretty easy to get involved. Eugene Tech’s King Pong project is a good example of one way that people can volunteer (and earn stipends) to help round out their skills for their resumes and make connections.

Online I found LinkedIn to be really helpful, don’t be afraid to reach out to people you don’t know. Be sure to read through the profile, do some research and ask for something specific. Do you want to talk about something specific? Say it in the first email! What do you need? Make a direct ask. But take your time to do your research and don’t be afraid to follow up. People are busy and they get lots of emails daily so be authentic and honest not “salesy”. I’ve also used Twitter to chat with people and get to know them. And of course, going to conferences, networking, volunteering are all great options but be careful and respectful of people’s time.

RWIT: We talked a little about what’s next for you with retiring and art, where are you hoping that goes?

Right now I am taking time to explore the things that interest me: installation art, collaborative community art, mashing up art and tech and physical objects, and making those interactive. I am really interested in continuing to build community.

One idea I’m floating around is called Tech-Purse: I’d like to create a collaborate art/tech project, probably as part of a fundraiser, and invite people to make really cool interactive art pieces with vintage purses (I have a huge collection, including some I designed!)

We could offer the blank purses to groups of students, friends, and businesses that are interested in making something for fun, or as a team-building exercise. We could match teams up with an artist and a technologist if needed, to help them make crazy, fun art-purses that light up or play music…they could even turn the purse into a robot! Everyone learns new skills in the process, like using an Arduino to make the lights work or adding robotics to make the purse move or walk. You can imagine how much fun it would be to be creative and also learn some basic tech skills. Then, we can auction off the Tech Purses at a fundraising event to raise money for community partners, and help create a cool interactive piece of art in the process.

RWIT: Last Thoughts?

We have a very vibrant community in Eugene. It is amazing! And it’s not only the talented people that make this community work, but it’s also amazing to see how so many community organizations work together to bring art and technology into to the schools and around town. Like the King Pong team, the Eugene 20×21 mural project, ArtCity, all the work Lane Arts Council does in the local schools with local artists, Lane STEM, the Eugene Cultural Services team (and the bananas!) are amazing, the Mozilla gigabots work Nikole Gipps is leading, the Open Eugene Conference Mark Davis is launching…it’s much deeper and cross-connected than I realized. It’s really exciting!

Right after I quit my job to pursue art again, I had the opportunity to sit at a table with several different non-profit groups, business owners, professors and individuals in Eugene to talk through ideas around how we could integrate art and technology into the monthly Art Walks to make them more engaging for the downtown community, and there was a spark of energy in the room that felt electric. It was so exciting to meet all those amazing, creative people who believe in collaboration. I thought “this is what I want to do, and I didn’t even know it until right now!”

You never know where inspiration might strike and if you are able to do it, take some time to find what you really want to do. I know I’m very lucky, but I think part of my luck comes from continuing to pursue what is fun for me. It has lead me through a wonderful career, and at 53, I feel like I’m only halfway through!

Julie is certainly an inspiration to anyone who is still figuring out what they want to be when they grow up. Keep an eye out for Julie and her amazing art and tech projects coming to Eugene.

Looking for a way to translate your skills into a career in tech? Join us at co-working or reach out to us at info@redefiningwomenintech.com