MLT Blog

Making the Switch to the Tech Industry – An MLT Alum Feature

Jolawn Victor, MBA Prep 2007 and NYU Stern Alum recently started a new position as a Principal Product Manager at MLT’s partner company Intuit, who also hosted our Tech Boot Camp in Silicon Valley this year. We wanted to learn more about her role at Intuit, her insight on working in the tech industry and how she balances life as a working mother.

As a Principal Product Manager at Intuit, what exactly do you do? 

I joined Intuit five months ago as a Principal Product Manager, and my team recently released TurboTax Expert Full Service – a product that allows you to work with an accountant from the comfort of your own home.

What is your favorite aspect of Intuit’s company culture?

Intuit operates with eight guiding values that reflect the spirit and heartbeat of the organization. The company values align with my personal values very closely, and that makes going to work everyday something I look forward to – even on a challenging day.

My favorite aspect about Intuit is our customer focus. Everything we do centers around adding value to our customers – and it starts with our employees, followed by our consumers and then finally our shareholders. That order of priorities speaks volumes about the culture, and it permeates my role heavily.

What is the most exciting aspect of your role? And what’s the most challenging?

I’m on an innovation team and we meet with customers weekly. In tech, you have the ability to hear from customers, learn what problems they have and then iterate on solutions. The first attempt is never right, or even the second or the third – so you’re continually learning from your end-user and making their product experience more awesome with each change.

The most exciting part is literally seeing and hearing from customers and being able to implement a customer-led idea immediately – but it’s also challenging knowing that the product is never perfect. It’s through trial and learning that you create a fully delightful experience.

We noticed that you had an engineering background in college, so why did you initially go into marketing post-grad?

After working as a project engineer at General Mills for several years, I realized I yearned to influence products much earlier in development, including understanding more about the target consumer, playing a role in the strategy and ultimately the execution.

A great mentor suggested I consider business roles, and after shadowing a small handful of African American women in marketing and finance, I agreed that brand management would be a great post-MBA role to merge my equally balanced right and left brain thinking.

What attracted you to the tech industry and to Intuit specifically?

Tech is relevant. It’s how we function, how we live, how we do business and how we socialize. So marrying a segment of the financial industry that’s not so sexy (taxes) with an innovation mindset is really intriguing to me. It’s ripe for innovation and I’m ready to leverage technology to make doing your taxes more relevant.

Also the benefits are great – seriously. Not very many people know Intuit by name – but you know our brands: TurboTax, Mint and Quickbooks to name a few. To remain competitive we offer some really great benefits including free SoFi (student loan consolidation), MDLive (telemedicine), and sittercity (childcare database) accounts as well as a really great discount for stock purchase.

What challenges did you have, if any, in making the the transition from consumer packaged goods (CPG) to the tech industry?

Each day I work with designers and developers who speak a new language to me. I was familiar with the language of a food product developer – not a software product developer, so I’m learning a new dialect of innovation. At the core – I listen to customers, learn about their problems and work with a team to create something that not only eliminates their pain points but delights them.

What insights can you share based on your experiences so far on being a woman of color in tech versus CPG?

I attended an event from my undergraduate alma mater (Spelman College) recently, where Judge Monica McCoy Purdy spoke about her role being a Judge in Dallas. She mentioned how she didn’t see a lot of women in politics growing up, and how key it is to see yourself reflected in the roles you seek. She shared that “you can’t be what you don’t see,” meaning that it’s nearly impossible to inhabit a role if you haven’t seen someone like you function in it.

There are very few women of color in product management as a whole, and even at Intuit. The only other black woman I knew in Product was Erin Teague (MLT MBA Prep ‘08) at Google. We took a GMAT prep course together a decade ago, so she was the first person I called as I prepared to join Intuit. Her insights and coaching were spot on – and I knew I could excel in this role because she had.

It falls on my shoulders to help increase exposure of the myriad opportunities in tech. I’d never heard of product management when I was in college and tech wasn’t on my radar in business school.

We noticed that you have an amazing blog about your family and home life. How do you balance everything? Do you believe that it is possible to lead a perfectly balanced life? 

I started my blog in business school because I was frequently told “you should write a book,” when I shared stories about taking two infants on the subway, going to my internship at nine-months pregnant and raising a family while in a full-time MBA program. The blog has grown with my family and I’m able to tell the adventurous stories of being a working mom now. I don’t always include the really challenging, hard and emotional sides of wearing many hats. I strive to have margin in my life – which comes down to really excellent planning for me. I put everything on my calendar, personal and professional – even block time for menial daily or work tasks to protect those windows.

There are a lot of things that don’t get done in my life, and I’m okay with that because those are things that aren’t critical to my values. The kids may go to school with mismatched socks, or miss a birthday party or two and it’s not the end of the world.

What advice would you give to other women who are trying to figure out how to “balance it all”?

What a tough question. Every woman is different and we’re all on different journeys. My biggest piece of advice is to women managers – remember what it was like when you were in their shoes and be a supportive champion of the awesome women on your team.

Release any expectations that women on your team will handle life changes similar to you, or that they need help in the way that you did. The best thing we can do (both women and men) to support other women in the workplace – is to listen openly, be aware of our biases and create an inclusive work environment that allows any woman on your team to thrive.

Jolawn speaking at MLT’s Tech Boot Camp hosted at Intuit in April.

Jolawn was also featured in our MLT Love Series this past February. Check out her feature here.