It’s Avvo’s 10th anniversary this month, and what better way to celebrate than by highlighting the creative, diverse group of people who work here? A few weeks ago, we started sharing stories and lessons from Avvo team members a la Brandon Stanton’s “Humans of New York.” To keep the conversation going, we sat down with colleagues across the company to chat about work-life balance, gather career advice, and more.
In part one of this two-part series, we caught up with Financial Systems Administrator Deidra Johnson, Director of Business Development Benjamin Brown, and Client Relations Manager Jenny Leaverenz.
Here is what they shared with us.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned in your career so far?
- Deidra Johnson: “The people you work for and with make all the difference. It sounds a touch hokey, I know, but the companies I’ve worked for that I truly felt passionate about were the ones that had good people and good drive, not just a good product.”
- Benjamin Brown: “You have to go get what you want – the only person holding you back is yourself.”
- Jenny Leaverenz: “The best lesson I have learned in my career is to stay true to your core values and trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, speak up. Whether you end up getting the clarity you need to feel confident and fulfilled with a situation or you shed light on an issue that needs to be addressed, it has been my experience that the long-term outcome has always turned out positive when I have made a stand when I felt something questioned our integrity.”
How do you approach maintaining work/life balance?
- Deidra Johnson: “That has always been important to me, so I make a conscious effort to make time for my many hobbies and never-ending house construction projects. While I can’t say I leave work entirely at the door at the end of the day, I try hard to flip the switch in my brain from work mode to home mode. Being happy in my ‘normal’ life makes me happy at work!”
- Benjamin Brown: “I maintain a work/life balance by intentionally not looking at email outside of work until specific times. For example, I usually take a few hours off after work and catch up on email later that night. Whether I’m reading, floating in a sensory deprivation tank, or enjoying the company of good friends and family, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is very important.”
- Jenny Leaverenz: “I struggle with this to some degree, because my family and friends are within Avvo so it can be hard to completely disconnect.”
What type of legacy do you hope to leave at a place that you work?
- Jenny Leaverenz: “I hope the legacy I can leave behind is to be authentic, empathetic, and real. Numbers and successes are incredibly important, but people remember how you made them feel, and the integrity in which you handle situations in a more meaningful way. I hope people will remember how deeply I care about the success and wellbeing of my teammates, our clients, and Avvo.”
- Benjamin Brown: “When everything is said and done, I would hope to leave behind a legacy built around passion and rational optimism.”
What’s a trend that most excites you about your field?
- Deidra Johnson: “I think the move towards cloud-based accounting software is pretty cool. I’ve worked on some ancient, clunky systems, and the difference between what I had to use when I first started working in accounting and what we have now is amazing.”
- Benjamin Brown: “I’m a big futurist. A trend that excites me about my field, and all fields for that matter, is the potential impacts of artificial intelligence in the next 5-10 years. I believe the democratization of A.I. will bring us into a new age of products and services. It’s already happening in many ways.”
What are the resources you visit to nerd out about your field?
- Deidra Johnson: “I have several software-specific admin group boards I’m on regularly, and I try to catch up on the American Payroll Association articles at least once a month. I think it’s fascinating keeping up with all the regulation changes!”
- Jenny Leaverenz: “I love working for a company that is so invested in their employees. As the company has grown, so has the access to additional training and tools. Lynda.com is one of my favorites as it allows us to take courses on areas we want to improve within our roles at work but also allows us to explore other areas of interest outside the scope of our role.”
What life or career advice would you give to your 18-year old self?
- Deidra Johnson: “That could be a very long list! My 18-year old self was pretty stressed out, so I’d say relax and stop worrying so much about all the things that can go wrong. Life is much more interesting and more fulfilling if you learn to take the challenges it throws your way in stride, and you’ll learn a lot along the way. You can’t grow if you can’t let yourself make some mistakes. I might also mention that the degree I was working towards in music performance wasn’t going to be put to much use!”
- Benjamin Brown: “A new favorite saying I came across from Chris Sacca is ‘Be your unapologetically weird self. There’s no one else like you.’”
- Jenny Leaverenz: “If I could give my 18-year old self (and at times my current self) some career advice it would be to see the beauty and opportunity in change and taking risks. I have never been a huge risk taker and have been pretty shaken up by change in the past. After being here at Avvo for seven and a half years, I have come to learn that the only ‘constant is change’ and with every change comes an opportunity to learn and grow. I have also learned that my biggest accomplishments and times that I gained or grown the most were from taking risks and stepping out of my comfort zone. Be fearless and embrace change!”
What do you value most in a manager?
- Deidra Johnson: “Honesty, trust, and the ability to challenge me. I love working for someone who makes me rethink my processes and pushes me to learn new things.”
- Jenny Leaverenz: “One of the most important qualities of a manager for me is someone who truly cares about their employee’s progression. I think a strong manager builds trust and genuinely wants to see you succeed, and acts as a resource and support to help you do so.”
- Benjamin Brown: “This is a popular buzzword right now but still describes this answer best: a growth mindset. Someone who loves to learn. I value a manager who has mastered the art of constructive feedback. Although awkward at first, honest feedback is critical for anyone’s development.”
Tell us something your co-workers probably don’t know about you.
- Deidra Johnson: “Once upon a very long time ago, I competitively danced in a cowboy swing troupe. Cowboy hat, shiny satin shirt, sequins, and all. My mom recently sent me video proof of it – I think she was hoping to embarrass me!”
- Benjamin Brown: “I produce my own electronic music as a futuristic alter-ego robot from 2040 for fun.”
- Jenny Leaverenz: “I was at the Super bowl when the Seahawks won! Also, Mark Britton came to our wedding in September!”
Stay tuned for part two of this conversation where we will catch up with senior email marketing manager Emily Hieger, director of BI and engineering Tanuj Mehta, and chief product officer Sachin Bhatia.