I will freely admit that I don’t have a lot of experience with snow. Sure, I had snow days as a kid, and I’ve been to the mountains to strap my feet to a board and plummet down a hill on my bottom once or twice (“gracefulness,” thy name is not Nicole). But living in the Seattle area, even a half inch of snow tends to bring about more “Snowpocalypse” memes and driving-paralysis than deep love and appreciation for those frosty flakes.
Even if icicles do not run through my veins, I am a HUGE fan of the Snowball Effect.
According to Cambridge Dictionary, a snowball effect is “a situation in which something increases in size or importance at a faster and faster rate.” You’ve surely heard examples of this, from news stories about pay-it-forward acts of goodwill to the meteoric rise of Bernie-Sanders-at-the-inauguration memes. But what about your career? Your professional skills? Can those experience a snowball effect?
YES. Unequivocally yes.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my professional life as well as my personal life, and a fair portion of that success is certainly due to being in the right place at the right time. But even if I have been exceptionally lucky, I have also put myself in those right places, at those right times, and then I’ve kept the momentum going - and I believe that’s an important distinction.
For those of you who are familiar with my journey using Alteryx, taking me all the way from Zero to Sixty, you’ll recall that I didn’t begin my career in analytics. While you might assume that my introduction to Alteryx was the beginning of the career-snowball-effect for me, that’s only partially correct. In truth, the initial snowball had already been formed, sitting there at the top of the hill: I knew I loved learning new languages (VBA, SQL, really any new syntax for new applications), I loved problem solving, and I got REALLY REALLY tired of having to do the same repetitive steps over and over again. So I packed all those things tightly together into a big ball of “This can be better,” and when I stumbled into Alteryx, it was just the energy that snowball needed.
I’ve been at T-Mobile as a Sr. Business Solutions Consultant since 2017, and if there were an image in Wikipedia for “Right Place, Right Time,” the magenta entrance of this incredible company would surely be it. I was brought onto a team to help with Alteryx enablement and process improvement throughout the accounting department, and was given fairly free reign over building up a T-Mobile Alteryx Community and creating structure around our Server environment. It was a HUGE leap for me, from a tiny company as the solo Alteryx user, to one of hundreds of Alteryx users in a company of thousands.
Momentum is a funny thing – rather than being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the projects and the 3-letter acronyms and the fact that “immaterial rounding error thresholds” were now in the millions (!!), I chose to embrace the chaos and see what I could create with it. Because I was so giddy to be around so many like-minded people - who were excited about data, interested in new tools, and passionate about continuous learning - I tackled this challenge with a ridiculous grin on my face! It amazes me to this day that someone is willing to pay me to do what I do – build Alteryx workflows all day, and get other people excited about nerding out over cool solutions with me. Just last week I was pinging my colleague on Slack, early in the morning, “HURRY UP AND GET ONLINE SO I CAN SHOW YOU THE COOL THING I FOUND!!” <== THIS is what we should all be striving for at work – the type of joy over what you are doing, you cannot help but share it with others so that they can be stupid-excited about it too!
I started at T-Mobile with a general directive to help build out individual Alteryx solutions for different teams, but when an opportunity came up to be involved in a major project, I leapt on it. I then spent about six months developing workflows and reports for the Revenue Recognition team that would help them meet the obligations of a new GAAP Accounting Standard, giving them useful information and validations from a database that didn’t have any out-of-the-box reporting. I learned more about SQL and database design in those six months than I thought possible, and I started to develop my own standards and best practices for workflow building.
After that first big project, I moved on to working with the external reporting team, developing a process that would allow them to iteratively test their IFRS financial data before uploading it to our parent company’s reporting site. This saves us time by avoiding errors and allowing us to shift the focus back towards accurate processes at the beginning of the pipeline, rather than reactionary fixes at reporting time. And when another Accounting Standard loomed on the horizon, I jumped into that project as well, developing interactive reports with more flexibility, a shorter development timeline, and a much cheaper bill than the built-in reporting solution. I was able to capitalize upon what I learned with my earlier projects, so already the learning curve was halfway there… I then further refined my own philosophies on “workflow best practices,” keeping 100+ separate validations organized and consistent within a single workflow, and creating a reusable template that would help me speedily develop similar reporting solutions for future projects. These examples show how I was able to capitalize on previous successes to reach that next achievement even faster – why reinvent the wheel when you can start from halfway there, using what you already learned?
In 2019, I was given the incredible honor at T-Mobile of being selected for Winners Circle, a recognition for providing outstanding frontline support. I think sometimes companies underestimate how truly motivational it is for employees to feel like they have been noticed, that the work they are doing is making a difference. I mean, I’m all about the swag – I could probably go for weeks wearing only T-Mobile t-shirts at this point – but it goes well beyond just handing out logo'd accessories, and T-Mobile is the KING of championing their employees. My husband and I were treated to a week in Puerto Rico, spoiled rotten, and it was glorious (it would not surprise me if people in Puerto Rico were still finding magenta confetti in unlikely places - we turned that whole island pink!!). When you find yourself unexpectedly in a position you could not have possibly imagined just three years prior, loving what you do to the point where you occasionally worry that people are going to think you are in some sort of weird magenta data cult, it’s hard to explain how much that makes your heart soar.
2020 certainly had the potential to be the big brick wall that took out that snowball. The ups were exhilarating, but the downs were crushing, and then let’s mix in a pandemic and political turmoil and murder hornets and oh my… our family suffered several losses in 2020, and it’s been especially hard watching the impact of the last year on our young daughter. But there have been so many bright points as well, and I’ve used those to build up stamina and keep the ball rolling – speaking at virtual conferences, passing the Alteryx Expert exam, discovering the joys of online grocery ordering, getting to spend some time at a beautiful lake with dear friends, growing closer to my brother, getting my hands dirty with some remodeling projects. When all those negative things were threatening to break that snowball into pieces, I just kept packing in more of that core belief that moving forward is far better than falling apart. When speaking at an internal conference late last year, I talked to my team about the benefits of not just automating processes, but reinventing them, re-imagining the ways that things can be done. And I think that is what happened in 2020 – we all had to find ways to re-imagine ourselves. Re-imagine what work looks like, re-imagine what family looks like, re-imagine what toilet paper looks like… and while last year was a circus on SO MANY LEVELS, at times it was one of my favorite years, especially during my tenure at T-Mobile.
Case in point: Our company went through this teensy little merger in the spring of 2020, combining T-Mobile and Sprint to create a massive new contender in the telecom space. In the best of times, this would have been a feat. In a pandemic, with everyone suddenly forced to work from home and schools closed and the country in chaos, it was a tad bit more difficult. But I LOVED EVERY MINUTE of this integration, and I think a majority of the reason is because my role using Alteryx at T-Mobile gave me a wonderful doorway to fantastic new opportunities. I worked with our internal audit team and accountants throughout our newly integrated organization to bring over 60 controls into compliance on our Alteryx Server – identifying processes, reviewing workflows, upskilling our designers, and really just working together towards this vision of making us all one team. For someone who loves solving problems, particularly when using Alteryx to solve them, this past year was a gold mine! I’ve built some incredible solutions, met some truly inspiring coworkers, and had a blast getting to share my enthusiasm with anyone who is willing to listen! And when I look back at how I got here, it’s easy to see the path that led me down this hill – I still have that tightly packed love of learning new languages, solving tough challenges, and discovering new tools and ideas. And that solid core is what has allowed my career to continue to pick up speed, building upon the skills I have fostered and now careening down the glittering slopes at a company that puts so much effort into giving employees the motivation and recognition they need.
And now, at the beginning of 2021, I have just received notice that I am the recipient of another award from T-Mobile – the PEAK Achievement Award, which is the pinnacle of recognition at T-Mobile, based on nominations by your peers. In the fall, I’ll be joining other employees (who also bleed magenta) in Maui for a celebration of what we have achieved, and to provide inspiration and motivation to keep that momentum going. I am floored by this honor – mostly because there are so many people who have made it possible along the way: from my exceptionally kind and encouraging manager, to the hilarious and brilliant folks I work with every day, to the never-ending sources of inspiration from my fellow ACEs, to my extremely patient husband and daughter, who let mommy do silly things like geek out on Alteryx of Code every night in December… it feels strange to me to be recognized for something that feels so little like work, and so much more like play.
It also feels a bit awkward to celebrate these achievements (the continued notoriety after winning the Grand Prix in 2018 baffles me to this day!), but I was told by one of my dear ACE friends that it’s important to celebrate your successes, and to let others see the incredible things that can happen when you choose to keep that momentum going. And I AM incredibly proud of myself for not giving up, for having massive imposter syndrome but refusing to let it stop me, and for choosing to focus on the things that bring me joy, and that bring inspiration and encouragement to others who want to take a similar journey with their careers. And I encourage you to do the same in your own careers – OWN those wins, and be proud of what you have achieved. You never know – one day you might find that snowball effect has landed you on a nice warm beach somewhere too!
So yes, I started this post with a metaphor about snow, and I’m ending it with a picture of a pineapple in sunglasses on a beach, but let’s be honest, rules no longer apply in today’s world. And that’s really the point – it’s never too late to re-imagine what you can become – as long as you keep up the momentum, your career and opportunities will most certainly continue to snowball to bigger and better things!
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