Change is always scary but it doesn't have to be risky - Veronica Belmont, AdobeFeatured

What's the biggest risk you've ever taken in your career and how did you build up the courage to do it?One night in April, 2016, I sat in a hotel room in Los Angeles and cried myself to sleep. Which was a bit strange, because by all accounts it had been a wonderful night. I had just successfully hosted a major red carpet event for the biggest show on in the world, didn’t fall on my face in front of everyone in my heels, and most importantly (to me) the bosses were happy with my performance.But I was miserable.After twelve years of working in web media as a host, presenter, producer, and writer, I was just done. Burned out. To outside appearances, it looked like I had it together: I had steady work as a freelancer since 2006, with a string of moderately well-known (at least amongst the tech enthusiast set) web shows and podcasts under my belt. But the excitement of new projects and experiences was starting to feel more like a burden than a joy, and I was craving stability and permanence. Plus, have you seen YouTube comments lately? When that’s a major part of your job, it really starts to wear you down.Even more crucially, just how do you change careers at 33?In one sense, it’s an easy question: you just do it, right? Of course, our brains don’t really work that way, and suddenly all of the insecurities of an entire career come crashing down on you. Here are a few of my personal favorite recurring themes:“I should have gone to school for computer science!” “No one is going to hire someone so old.” (lolwut?)“I’ve wasted my entire professional life.”Clearly, my head was in a great place, so I needed to rethink my strategy. I enlisted the help of nearly everyone I knew, asking them to tell me about me. What were my strengths? Where did they see opportunities for me? What skills or education should I pursue? At the time, I wasn’t thinking of this as my personal advisory board, but that’s exactly what it was. I was able to harness the collective wisdom of my friends and colleagues to help make a more informed decision about how to take my next steps. Having spent years advising startups (and more working as a technology commentator and journalist), I knew I wanted to stay in tech and concentrate on something I was truly excited about -- getting more deeply involved with actually creating the technology I was so passionately evangelizing. From my discussions with peers about my strengths, product management seemed like a natural fit, and combined many of the skills I had already cultivated from previous jobs. I was worried that not having an MBA or a CS degree would prevent me from making in-roads during the interview process, and that concern seemed to be a regular refrain from those seeking to make the switch into PM. From the research I had done into the field, I knew having specific domain expertise could also help, so I picked a focus and became an expert on conversational interfaces.All the research and talking and reading still is never enough to truly prepare you for that first interview, and let me tell you — the first several were really bad. Really. Bad. In one interview with a VP at a company you’ve definitely heard of, I completely blanked on what “top of funnel” meant. But each interview was a new chance to learn what people valued in the role I was aspiring to, and a new opportunity to practice. I was fortunate to have mentors and people already working in the industry to test my interview skills on, so look to your own network when the time comes. Getting the hard questions from a friend first is much easier than blankly staring at a VP across a conference table, I promise you.Remember the domain expertise tip? That was what got me through the door after all. I had been spending my free time helping to run a conversational interfaces enthusiast community (it’s a thing!) and it was there that I met the co-founder of a new startup. I became employee #1, which meant being super hands on and learning the ropes from people who really understood product. After a couple of years building up real-world experience, I eventually accepted an offer for my second product role, now at a much larger company. I’m grateful for the chance my first team took on me (and my learnings there, which were many!), and excited to have the experience diving into products with millions of users and all-new challenges.Was it risky to change careers? In a sense - leaving the comfortable and known for new horizons is always going to feel like a risk, even if staying ultimately makes you more unhappy. I think about those early insecurities that I had, and I’m mostly just annoyed by how long they kept me from making the change. I also now know how many women share these insecurities, or ones like them. That’s one of the reasons communities like Elpha are so important -- we have an opportunity to shine a light on the things that could hold us back from having the careers and lives we deserve. Change is always scary, but it doesn’t have to be risky if you have the right people holding you up.Veronica is a product manager, podcaster, and technology evangelist living in San Francisco. Currently at Adobe, she is a product manager and evangelist on the Adobe Spark team, helping social media creators, marketers, and influencers bring their brands and creative ideas to the masses. Veronica has also worked extensively as a public speaker, startup advisor, and presenter for companies of all sizes, including IBM, Intel, Sony, AOL, Discovery Digital, and more.
Hi everyone – as a reminder – this is part of our public posts series sharing conversations with women across tech on the topic of #careergrowth. Veronica, thank you for sharing such candid and inspiring insight with us. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Thank you for sharing this today @veronicabelmont ! I had been building a startup for two years when my co-founder and I decided to table it in January. I have been working in a job that wasn't a good fit for me in the meantime to pay for life, and I have been burning out. I just decided to give notice YESTERDAY that I was leaving...without another job lined up. Your post gave me courage and strength today to continue moving forward with what I know is right in my brain and gut. I have 18+ years of domain experience, have started multiple companies, and managed multimillion-dollar budgets and teams, yet doubt creeps in. Confidence shattering negative self-talk. We need all the loving reminders we can get to create a positive cycle in our heads. Today I thank you for your words and your work. Keep living your most authentic and truest you Veronica!
Wow! Congrats on the big change! Similarly, what I didn't get a chance to talk about in the post is that I stopped taking freelance work right after that good/bad night from the beginning of my post, and that meant no new money coming in until I found that first PM role. It gave me the time to make job hunting my full-time job, but it was also financially risky. I'm excited for you, and totally agree about how much negative self-talk can really make things hard sometimes. Thank you for responding, and let us know how we can help!
Thank you for this post, Veronica. I smiled as I read since I'm in a transition process myself...that too from the startup I'd co-founded 2 years ago. Painful and heart-wrenching doesn't even begin to describe it. On top of that, I find myself becoming anxious while thinking about the path ahead. Similar to what you felt, I feel that I'm done with what I've been doing...sales. I'm happy about the learnings I had and the transferable skills it gave me, but I need to figure out what I want to commit to next. For the last few weeks, even I've been brainstorming with people who know me well and are able to tell me what my strengths are and what potential paths I could explore. Reading your story, I guess I'm on the track:) If you are able to share more details about how you decided on PM and what the whole process of speaking to your network to 'discover' yourself looked like, I'd be all ears. Thanks once again for sharing!
Hey! That's amazing that you're already talking to people. For me, I had spent a lot of time working with PMs and product-focused founders, so I had an *idea* what a PM did, but I really had no clue about the day-to-day. So I started researching, and reading. There are so many great books out there, like Marty Cagan's Inspired or How to Crack the PM Interview by Gayle McDowell and Jackie Bavaro, that really helped frame what a PM does (and what companies are looking for).Let me tell you, I bought a lot of coffees and cocktails during the process of talking to my "personal advisory board." I also really wanted advice on how to frame my previous work into the context of PM, so I could show that I was thinking on that level. Talk to people you've worked with in different situations, or friends who know you really well (and also have an idea of what the role is that you're looking to move into). Good luck!!
I can't tell you how relieved I am to read this!I've progressed nicely in digital marketing for nonprofits for about 5 years and, although I've been recognized for my work, I spend many days feeling disconnected. I wrapped a really challenging 2-year website redesign at the end of last year and it was great. I worked with a remote team! I learned a ton! I was promoted! But now, after all that, my day-to-day work isn't challenging enough. I feel like I've plateaued. And nonprofit budgets deliver a project like that once in a blue moon...I'm doing a lot of research into product management now, which several peers have told me I'd be suited to. But I don't feel equipped without the job titles or CS education. I keep wondering if I should do a bootcamp (my fiancee is a software engineer and thinks this isn't necessary) or if I should just keep applying for APM roles. I'll check out the books you mentioned down here. Thanks for sharing your story!