Hello Zillow Group!

Zillow logo

Since my work laptop arrived Wednesday and I cleared the I-9 hurdle this morning, I’m incredibly happy to announce that I have accepted a Web Marketing Operations Manager role at Zillow Group, starting next week!

What will I be doing? From the job description:

  • Partner with the website marketing team and program managers to define and execute on the web technology stack with the goal of supporting marketing initiatives
  • Build and handle web pages and merchandising placements within the content management system (CMS) based on business requirements
  • Work with marketing and development teams to coordinate requirements and govern website tagging and tracking
  • Drive and configure integrations of tools such as customer data platform, A/B testing, forms, and other technologies with the CMS
  • Build and maintain a high level web technology roadmap
  • Coordinate the selection and management of agencies and third-party vendors for web consulting and platform execution
  • Collaborate with other marketing operations partners to ensure website solutions are in alignment with other channel approaches
  • Stay plugged into emerging technologies/industry trends in the web technology space and apply them to strategies and tactics

A few of the many things that attracted me to the role are that Zillow Group is in the midst of shifting their business model from essentially selling ads against their inventory to a vertically integrated real estate solution in a sector that is ripe for disruption, the ability to learn more about the marketing discipline, and that everyone I talked with just seemed like good people. Zillow Group has also embraced flexible work, so I won’t have to commute every day and they score well for gender equality. They’re also hiring, so come work with me!

And to answer the question, “Heather, what the heck have you been doing since you left IMDb almost five years ago?” โ€“ it’s been a ride.

When I left IMDb I had resolved to take six months off to just be a mom for my kids after a turbulent year and feeling burnt out on tech. Around month five, just when I was getting the itch to get back to work, my mom unexpectedly passed away. It hit me hard, and with the object lesson of life being short I decided to take more time off to support one of my kids who needed some extra help, settle my mom’s estate, and figure out what was next for me. One year turned into two and then bled into a third before realizing that spending down my retirement fund wasn’t the smartest financial move.

Prior to my mom’s death I had visions of doing user/customer experience consulting, but freelancing is hard and requires a lot of hustle, and I just didn’t have it in me at the time. So, I turned my attention to a side project that I’ve been incubating for a few years, Alluvial Lux, designing and fabricating custom freshwater aquarium sculptures. Throughout 2019 I worked to get the business structure set up and start work on my first design. As my money started to run out, I realized I needed another job and started looking in September 2019.

My 2020 plan was to work full time in tech and use weekends and nights to get Alluvial Lux up and running, using my living room as a gallery showroom for the sculptures, and see what happened.

I was intentional in looking for an all- or mostly-remote gig, and interviewed at WordPress VIP (VIP), a subsidiary of Automattic, a remote-only company for an Enterprise Technical Account Manager role. Hiring in there took about six months(!) and my first day of work in March 2020 coincided with the first Covid lockdowns in the Seattle area. My Alluvial Lux plans were put on pause because the whole world changed and I wasn’t about to have people I didn’t know over to the house.

On the surface, VIP seemed like a perfect fit; it’s managed WordPress web hosting at scale and was very digital.forest-like. I’d be able to marry my web operations background with my experience in supporting enterprise customers. The reality turned out to be not so great for me.

The 7/24 nature of the business gave me stress flashbacks to digital.forest, there was more technical support than I realized or wanted (my bad for not realizing that beforehand), and over time I realized I didn’t fit well into their technical operations and business cultures. But ultimately I lost faith in leadership over a business decision they made that I was morally opposed to and their dissembling and condescending justifications for making it is what drove me to seek a new job.

I did make some great friends there and I wish my former colleagues at VIP all the best.

Onward to the future!

Heather Kilbourn’s looking for work!

The tl;dr: I’m looking for a senior-level IC role in information architecture, user experience optimization, project management, communications, or writing/editing.


For the last year plus I’ve been at WordPress VIP, a part of Automattic, working with some of their largest, most complex customers as an Enterprise Technical Account Manager (TAM). I’ve loved working with the great people there and supporting my customers, but I’ve come to the realization I have been working 180ยบ away from the type of work that brings me the most happiness and that I need to make a change.

See the source image

I’ve had a fortunate career with the successful exit by sale of my data center startup and working at companies who operate chunks of the web at scale. The through-line for me has been roles where I am building things or fixing things. I thrive working on green field or transformational projects and my TAM role has been more to the side supporting things. Thus, the change.

I also realized I missed things like analyzing customer data to optimize information architectures & help smooth user experiences and then seeing the results of that work; project managing high-stakes bets and bringing to bear all my strategic and tactical experience plus soft skills to get stuff done; and the opportunities to use my writing skills in the communications and documentation spaces. Most of all, I missed the sense of completion of a job well done and the excitement of the next thing over the horizon.

So, I’d appreciate any and all referrals, pointers, tips, and leads for roles in those areas! If you’ve worked with me and feel so moved, a LinkedIn recommendation would also be most appreciated. ๐Ÿ™‚

Onward!

RIP Chris Wicklund

Chris was one of those people for whom sitting still and keeping quiet was hard. Very hard. A mutual friend’s father who needed a bit of prodding to remember who he was famously said of him, “Oh, the mouthy one.”

In his defense, Chris was not unkind, cruel, or particularly foul-mouthed more than other people โ€“ he was just loud.

Sound, more than anything, defined his life. We were housemates in college in the late 80s, and again later in the late 1990s when he was between relationships and housing. He almost always had loud music playing, or was talking loudly, or was laughing loudly.

He laughed a lot. At full volume, his laugh was a barking snicker that would erupt out of him. In quieter moments it’d be a more gentle, “Heh.” Chris was a comedian, with an almost endless patter of one-liners, snark, wry observations, and pantomime, which often made other people laugh, too. Trained in and a student of the dramatic arts, he would put his whole body into it, with arms waving and torso thrusting; anything for a laugh or reaction.

Chris was also a musician, and when I met him he was playing bass and backup singing in a band called The Look. They played cover tunes at frat parties, schools, and the odd event, and I worked crew for the band for a spell. He played a black Steinberger, (for those not familiar, it’s a very blocky looking instrument, with the tuning keys at the base of the saddle,) and its New Wave look stood out for a rock and roll band.

Chris’ setup was always pretty easy. It was a microphone and stand, plus a monitor speaker. The crew, of course, always tormented the talent, so his microphone stand would almost always be set up for sound check just a little bit too low or a little bit too high. He’d bitch at us while adjusting the height and then tell the person running the soundboard to turn the bass up in the mix. Being good crew, the sound person had already been forewarned, so knobs would be twiddled that didn’t adjust the bass volume at all until he was satisfied with the mix. Sometimes we’d catch him at the board later and have to turn it back down.

The Look went on to record a CD in 1991, Big Fruity Wet Bongos, to showcase the talents and range of the band and hook a record contract. I was fortunate enough to attend and observe a few recording sessions, and it was inspiring to see Chris pursing his artistic dreams. But 1991 was the year of the grunge explosion, and The Look’s pop-rock with metal-inspired guitar didn’t stand a chance and The Look eventually disbanded.

But throughout his life, Chris was almost always in a band or getting a band together, and I remain impressed he was a gigging musician throughout his life. He moved from bass to lead singer, and years later he was forced to hang up the guitar for good after a semi-trailer rear-ended him and damaged his playing arm. He expressed his sadness and frustration after that at not being able to play anymore, but he also talked about how much he loved singing.

When he lived in my basement, I got to know the quieter side of Chris over a chessboard. It was one of the few activities where I would see him sit still and be quiet. We’d talk about everything and nothing, and it was a respite for both of us.

Chris moved around later in life and we drifted apart. But a few years back he texted me about chess, and we had some back and forth there and over the phone. We tried to make plans to get together but they never gelled. The last time I talked to him was in January this year while visiting mutual friends in Moses Lake. I hand’t heard from him in a while, so it was a pleasure to hear his voice and laugh.

It hurts to know that voice and laugh is now gone. I miss my friend.

Can you help a teenager out?

(tl;dr version: Jaiden needs money for medicine. Can you donate or help spread the word? http://gf.me/u/ugk3wr)

Being human can be hard work and it feels even harder when your body is conspiring against you. Everyone experiences body discomfort during their lifetimes from short-term or permanent disabilities, like the flu or not being able to walk, and we feel these discomforts physically and emotionally. Mixed with the hormone cocktail of puberty, discomforts adults or younger children will otherwise suffer through can feel excruciating with no hope of relief for adolescents.

Meet friends of my family, Jaiden and Ingrid.

Jaiden and Ingrid

Jaiden and Ingrid

Jaiden’s your typical teenager straddling childhood and adulthood. She likes kitties, her golden retriever, and wants to be an electrical engineer. But her body is fighting her, causing significant discomfort. The good news is that there’s medicine she can take so she can avoid painful and costly treatments when she’s an adult. The bad news is that her mom, Ingrid, is self-employed and her insurance company won’t pay for the medicine because they don’t cover transgender health care.

They’d rather have a kid suffer than provide puberty blockers to pause her puberty, giving her more time to make her decision about if she’ll take hormonal therapy when she’s older. Without the blockers, Jaiden will have further pubertal physical development, which will cause additional distress now and require more work to undo when she’s older if she decides to transition.

Can you help by chipping in a few dollars to Jaiden’s GoFundMe and helping to spread the word about it by sharing the link (http://gf.me/u/ugk3wr) around?

Thank you!

Writing is Not a Solitary Endeavor – Cascade Writers 2019 Writer’s Workshop Trip Report

I attended the 2019 Cascade Writers Workshop in Bremerton, WA this past July 19-21 out of a desire to jump-start my writing again and get a sense for the state of my craft. The workshop offered various panels on writing and the business of writing, and included optional, Milford-style workshops for pieces under development, which I signed up for. It was a fantastic experience with great people, and in addition to making some new friends, I learned that writing is not a solitary endeavor.

I’d only ever attended one other workshop and it was about four years ago. It was a one-day Milford hosted by Clarion West in Seattle, and the teacher, a published author, encouraged me to submit the story I’d brought with only a few word tweaks. I still haven’t sold it.

My Cascade Writers workshop group of eight was led by a literary agent, Jennifer (Jennie) Goloboy of the Donald Maass Literary Agency, and I felt very fortunate to be in her group. Her job is to evaluate writing and work with authors to get their submissions into shape before trying to sell them to publishers.

I wrote a new story just for the workshop to reflect the current state of my writing. Most of the other writers in the group were part of author’s critique groups, so the critique process was familiar to them. They provided me with such wonderful feedback, I was gobsmacked. Jennie echoed much of my cohort’s feedback and helped contextualize it with regards to things that would inhibit a sale. I’ve been mentally working on revisions since.

My personal breakthrough was when Jennie helped me crystalize something that is now obvious to me in retrospect, but wasn’t beforehand. Her (paraphrased) advice was, “You don’t workshop to show off how much of a genius writer you are, but to get constructive feedback on how to make your work better.’

My mental model for writing had been: write, edit, and submit alone, and use rejections as impetus to improve and push on. That model shattered when I realized my fellow writers used critique groups/workshopping for continual improvement. It was quite a realization to discover that what’s been missing from my writing is critical feedback from other writers.

This was ironic, given my background as a product manager who used customer feedback data to help craft better products and internal reviews before launch to catch errors. I’ve been shipping my product without any review or testing. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

All of us in Jennie’s group agreed to stay in touch and to support each other, and I was touched and energized when I was asked to join/form a couple of local critique groups. I can’t wait!

If you’re a writer who’s been toiling alone, I encourage you to get out and go to a workshop like Cascade Writers to find your writing community.