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Sitting down and getting real with an aspiring PM
“I think and think and think but this time, I did not do that. I said, I am going to go bold in 2021.”
That was the thought cementing Ava’s decision to apply for Co.Lab’s program and a few days later, she officially became part of the 2021 Winter cohort. Her goal? Learn all there is to know about product management and break into the tech scene with confidence.
Ava Turner had spent the majority of her career in the hospitality industry as an event manager. She later pursued an MBA at the University of Georgia and moved into marketing at Marriot International. It had been then when digital marketing and technology first piqued her interest, where Ava saw the many different ways to reach people, apart from traditional methods.
So when the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020 and devastated the hospitality industry, Ava decided to act on that interest. “I love projects, I love innovation,” she says as she recalls last year, “This digital space is so interesting and exciting and maybe I can pursue that space more.”
Just what is it about technology that draws on her? Without hesitation, she answers, “The accessibility to be able to create things that help people, that make life easier for people, that connects people.”
“When I think about technology, I think about accessibility and I’m always thinking about accessibility because I’m usually thinking about marginalized communities. I see how technology and accessibility helps empower them and how it improves their quality of life. Financially, for example: you have apps that can help you financially or connect you to your money. I feel like technology can help provide that ease of access to people who would otherwise experience barriers.”
It applies to Ava’s situation as well. Without a technical background, it can be quite a struggle to break the barrier of getting into tech. Though Ava knows her previous experience can definitely be applied in a role like product management.
“Acorns was having a career event and their head of product was talking about product management. He said, ‘if you’re interested in product management, you have to be a great communicator, have great organizational skills, and have this natural curiosity.’ I thought: well, I can do that, that is so me! Before I was really intimidated by it because I thought it was so technical. I’m not an engineer, I don’t think like an engineer. But if you need a great communicator, if you need someone who can organize, and be curious of why things work the way they work and why people do things the way they do—if I could marry those soft skills that I already have with the technical knowledge, then I can do well in a role like that.”
That same sentiment resonates with Co.Lab: you can still thrive in tech without having the expected background! Though recognizing that it still may be tough switching industries or careers, Co.Lab bridges that gap by providing hands-on learning and experience.
“I’ve had workshops and I’ve had boot-camps and then I leave but there’s nothing that I could say that was hands-on, that I could point to and say: ‘this is a tangible product that I created, that I did—that no matter what happens, I’ll still have it. Usually what I leave with are just notes that I took. And Co.Lab is not that.”
Being three weeks into the program, Ava shares what her favourite aspects about Co.Lab are (besides creating and shipping a real product!!).
“It’s the network that I’m able to build, the people who I’m able to meet across the country and also in Canada and other countries. Someone in our group is in the Middle-East right now but I wouldn’t have access to those contacts to be able to make those connections as easily as I’m able to do now. It’s really important to me.
Also the mentorship! It’s key, it’s a confidence boost for me. Elyse is my mentor, she’s fantastic! Last Monday, I was talking to her about my spec and let me tell you, my first draft was pitiful. But her feedback was uplifting: your idea is good, what you’ve written is good, now let’s refine this and make it even better. It was very encouraging for someone to say that you’re on the right track but here’s how to make it better. I’m just really grateful for someone to share their time with me. For someone to care enough to say ‘I want to give back and I want to help you and I’m going to help you by being there as often as you need me to’. I really appreciate having that mentor to help me improve, because that’s what I’m really here for.”
Our Co.Laborators have been hard at work for the past few weeks! Come hear from Product Managers, Designers and Developers on how their first time working within a real product team went, and see their shipped products in action!
Another foundational pillar that Co.Lab builds its values on is diversity and representation. Being female and as a person of colour, Ava sometimes feels that maybe she doesn’t belong in tech. What if she doesn’t fit there? That doubt is quickly vanquished from her thoughts.
“Helen said something that really resonated with me: the products we make are for everyone so it’s only right that there’s a diversity of thought, a diversity of voice, a diversity of background into building these products because everyone uses them. That spoke to me and gave me that extra push to say, ‘I should really pursue this’.
There was a while, professionally, where I could not show up as just myself. I kind of had to fit whatever that cookie-cutter version was to feel like I fit in, or I could succeed or grow in the role. With technology, I think ‘do I really want to pursue something where I feel like I will have to elbow my way in or feel like I don’t belong – do I even want to be bothered with that?’ But I feel like the door’s opening and people are more receptive to it. I know there will be challenges along the way, for sure, but at least I know people are thinking about how to make it better for people of colour.”
Take the Co.Lab community for example. It doesn’t matter where you’re from geographically and professionally, it’s always an inclusive and safe space.
“The people in this cohort are so interesting and so diverse, and have these amazing backgrounds and for me well, I’ve been working in hotels for the past 12 years. But I never felt like I did not belong.”
That’s because she does belong. She belongs in tech and she belongs in Co.Lab! We came up with a list of words that best represent Co.Lab, but there are two that resonate most with Ava. With her big-heart laugh and an even bigger smile, Ava shares a bit of her truth:
“Empowerment speaks to me. Like I said, I don’t have a tech background and I feel like having this opportunity empowers me to learn more and to be able to do something that I was not able to do before.
Also community because of what I feel about civic engagement and giving back to the community and looking out for the community. And even thinking about the connections that I’m currently making in Co.Lab—I want to find a way to maintain those connections. So community is a big thing for me.”
The Winter 2021 season seems to be off to a great start for Ava. This week, she’ll be getting comfortable with the rest of her team as they design and build the product of their vision. Best of luck with the rest of the program and we’re looking forward to seeing what you and your team come up with!
Curious to know what exactly that is? Join us on Demo Day on March 27th when the Winter 2021 cohort presents their products! 21 teams, 21 amazing ideas. You definitely don’t want to miss out.