For those that dedicated their higher education to studying the humanities, there’s the inevitable question that comes your way at big family gatherings or when you meet someone new: What are you going to do with that degree?
For Anna Seeler, a Business Systems Analyst at Hubspot, her degree in anthropology has been key to her success in tech. Although 40% of people with college degrees claim that they aren’t using their degree, I spoke with Seeler about the unlikely benefits of studying anthropology, what mentorship looks like at Hubspot, and what’s next as she advances in her career.
Mary Hodges: Can you tell me a little about your current role and responsibilities?
Anna Seeler: I’m currently a Senior Business Systems Analyst working at Hubspot. I am working on a team that has a product manager, a product designer, and engineers as well, so we all collaborate together on essentially a team mission. My responsibilities encompass a lot of different things such as communicating with business partners, coordinating with different product teams in our space who are writing technical documentation, investigating bugs in our systems, managing products, analyzing data, and helping to design and build out scalable solutions. Ultimately, we want to empower other Hubspotters to be able to do their best work without having to think too much about the actual systems underpinning. So if you’re calling customers, we want you to focus on those conversations with customers and not about “How am I going to take my notes?” or “Oh, how many fields am I going to have to put in?” We try to cut down on that as much as possible so that people can do what they’re good at.
MH: What is your top priority right now?
AS: So we’re currently planning for a systems migration where we are uprooting a big number of Hubspotters from one system and transplanting them into another. We’re focused right now on thinking about how that’s going to work with migrating data and rebuilding automation, making sure that there’s feature parity in the old system and in the new system—really making sure that it’s a seamless transition. There are definitely going to be some rocky parts, so we are making sure that we can plan for those as much as possible to interrupt the business as little as possible.
MH: I saw on your LinkedIn profile that you studied anthropology in college and did work as a volunteer research assistant before moving into the tech industry. Can you tell me about that change and how you prepared yourself?
AS: It actually was, I would just say honestly, good fortune that I landed at Hubspot. I started working at Hubspot a couple of months out of college. I had this degree in anthropology and I was really thinking about what could be a good fit for me and where I could kind of go and get my feet wet in terms of a career to start gaining experience. I thought to myself, “Some of the things that I’m good at are reading, writing, and talking to people.” I started just talking to some of my connections in the area and someone said, “You should take a look at Hubspot, they’re building marketing software and they’re a leader in that field.” So I did, and I interviewed for a customer support role.
I got the job, and it was really interesting because I remember when I was interviewing they said, “We think you have the customer gene and we feel really comfortable putting you on the phone with our customers, but you don’t know anything about tech.” I was like: Correct. And so they were like, “Okay, we will train you up.” So, before moving into the role I took an online HTML and CSS course to start understanding what was happening on a web page which was totally new to me. I had no idea what was happening so that was interesting and also [I was] reading a lot about Hubspot—just getting as much information about them as I could beforehand.
MH: What was the biggest challenge when you made your career change?
AS: It was an incredibly steep learning curve, and one of the things that was really difficult about that job was that I had no experience in the tech field at all, like, I thought the Internet was just magic honestly.
MH: When in your career did you experience the biggest shift in responsibility? How did you adapt?
AS: It was definitely moving from a back line support role into the Business Systems Analyst role. My support role was really transactional. It was very sort of ticket based where you take a ticket, you complete the ticket, you take the next ticket and so forth. [It was] very reactive, so you’re responding to things that people are asking, like “Oh, is this a bug?” or “Is this working the way it’s supposed to be designed?” and then you deal with those one off and move on to the next one. In the Business Systems Analyst role, it’s a lot more proactive where you’re looking for higher level trends and making suggestions about how to change those behaviors or trends or outcomes. It’s also less transactional and much more project-based where some of the things I’m working on are not going to come to fruition for months or even years. So it’s much higher-level, and a bit more strategic than that support role. So that would be, I think, like the biggest change.
MH: What are some skills you needed to grow to handle the change?
AS: Oh definitely getting a degree in cultural anthropology. One of my co-workers has a degree in French and it’s worked for him. He’s doing awesome in the role. Being strategic is definitely a good [skill to have]. Another beneficial skill that is good to have is a bit of an imagination—it’s questioning what is, what the status quo is, and how you could go about solving for something and being able to kind of do that mental exercise where you look for alternatives and you never just take the first thing that comes to you.
Definitely having technical chops and being passionate about learning. I am unabashedly a huge nerd so I love learning, like all sorts of technical things like how do API’s work, how we can automate this or that, sort of being really reliant on data and comfortable with it. Being able to work and glean insights. And definitely people skills: You have to talk to a lot of people, you have to lead discussions where you might be with other people who have vastly different goals from your own. So being able to come to a consensus with them is very important.
MH: Who helped you along in your career? Did you have a mentor/manager/colleague who helped you along the way?
AS: Yes, one of the things I love about working at Hubspot is my teammates. I get to work with some really phenomenal and really caring people. So on that support journey, I actually worked really closely with someone who coached me—my team lead. We just kind of became friends and she ended up taking this journey where she became more technical and moved into the back-line support team. At that point in time, I had learned that I was really interested in this more technical side of the business, I really didn’t think I would be, but I was just like yeah I love knowing how the Internet works. So I kind of just watched what she was doing and then kind of followed in that same path, and we diverged from there. Having her be a strong buttress so early on and taking me under her wing for a long time was really beneficial to showing me that I could succeed at this job. And I’m very fortunate she’s still one of my super close friends at Hubspot—I’m going to her wedding in September! So yes, I’ve just worked with some really great people
MH: So you are currently a Business Systems Analyst at Hubspot. Where do you see yourself going from there?
AS: I think some of the things that I really like about my current role are the strategic aspects. I like thinking about the future and building out a vision for where we’re moving, where the business is moving, and where our systems are moving. And I also really like working with people on my team. Now that I am more tenured and more senior in the role, I’ve had more opportunities to do some of that mentorship of my own. So working with new hires, working with people in areas where they’re upscaling, and providing them with support. I’m kind of toying with the idea of management.
I’m still currently exploring and trying to figure out if I actually would want to do something like that, but that’s where my head’s at right now.
MH: What books or resources would you recommend that have helped you in your career?
AS: It’s not necessarily like the most accessible option, but I would say self-paced online courses have been super helpful. I know that some of them are free, like I think you can do Code Academy and some other options. I’ve done the whole gambit like Treehouse, Code Academy, Udacity, and Harvard extension school. I just started using those to fill in gaps in my own knowledge. For me, data does not come naturally. It is something where I have to continuously keep learning, and it doesn’t just click for me. So I did some of those courses to learn more about data analysis, SQL, and Python and just get more exposure to those concepts to figure out how to manipulate data; how data lives in a table; and how to aggregate it, slice it, and dice it into visualizations. If you do have a spare 30 minutes in your day, you can just kind of tackle some of that course material and then keep moving.
MH: Do you have any advice for people going through career changes or are looking to switch industries?
I think that one of the things that I found and what I am kind of experiencing more in this role was that my degree, even though it was not in tech at all, actually prepared me really well for work like this. One of the things that I was thinking specifically as a systems analyst is to have to deal with regularly is how we should design something to approach a particular problem and there’s never one right answer—there are always multiple, even dozens of, ways to go about a problem.
I think that a lot of those thinking skills—looking for alternatives and questioning the way something is set up—I learned in anthropology. In anthropology, a lot of the things that we take for granted, even something as basic as a family, like a family structure or something like that, you learn really quickly that you can never take anything like that for granted. There are limitless ways that people approach those things so if people are saying things like, “Well, this is the way we’ve always done it,” it’s like: “But why?” There’s this understanding that there are many ways to go about solving that problem and thinking through pros and cons and being really deliberate and outlining them.
MH: Is there a specific tech trend that you are especially excited about?
I guess honestly it’s just the increased humaneness in work life. I think the pandemic has really rattled working life in general, but I’m just so excited that there’s more acceptance towards flexible working hours and working remotely.
There’s definitely more acceptance as well, I think, from employers and management for people to just go and take care of the things that they need to take care of. There’s more acceptance for when you see roommates and partners and kids and pets wandering across the screen. And being more supportive with mental health and wellness and achieving a good work-life balance. I think that those things have been around forever; they were just harder to see. But I think the pandemic kind of reshaped and reframed it all, so that those things started to become more apparent. And I think tech has started to kind of normalize those things, and unfortunately that’s not going to be the case for every industry and every worker, but hopefully it can kind of push some of those good trends into the rest of the working world.
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