Xtern gave Kate Harrison insight into career possibilities

Indianapolis native Kate Harrison has always been interested in technology and she’s comfortable with ‘the next new thing,’ but it took a popular television show and a list of Butler University majors for her to see her place in tech.

“I didn’t know I was interested in tech as a career path until I was checking out Butler’s list of majors. I saw MIS and the description struck me as something I didn’t know existed but that I thought I could excel at,” said Kate. “The Management Information Systems (MIS) program was about helping people work smarter through technology through studying the interaction of technology with people and business processes.” She also majored in marketing, which gave her the ability to unleash her creative side through graphic design.

The MIS program, coupled with the popular HBO series Silicon Valley, sparked Kate’s attention towards tech. “It was a glimpse into a world I knew little about but knew I wanted to explore,” said Kate.

Kate saw the MIS program as a way to be involved in the tech world and be a part of creating cool new things by speaking both tech and business languages and serving as a bridge between two fundamentally different types of people who must communicate effectively in order to produce products. This is, in a nutshell, her role at Angie’s List as a Product Manager.

Kate’s path to Angie’s List started when she enrolled as an Xtern in 2015. As an Indy native, Kate already knew Indy would be her location of choice after graduation. But the tech career was still a dream yet to come true. “The Indy thing was always a given but the tech thing was not. I’m very family oriented so I wanted to stay here,” said Kate.

Thanks to an ad in the Butler Connection, Kate discovered Xtern and attended an on-campus session led by Sally Reasoner, the former program manager of Xtern. “I wasn’t sure if they’d actually want me in Xtern because I didn’t know the first thing about code, but I applied anyway, matched with four companies, and ended up at Angie’s List,” said Kate.

Kate shadowed a product owner for the Angie’s List mobile apps and learned about the job before the product owner left on maternity leave, at which point Kate assumed her position. She took a part-time position with Angie’s List during senior year of college and continued working with the mobile team.

“I knew I liked what I was doing at work during my internship, and while I was 100% in learning mode, I still felt effective. The way Angie’s List treated me and were providing for me, I knew I liked the company, but the real thing was when I went “home” to the IUPUI campus after work and got to hang out with Xterns, who all lived together in the same building. These were quality people who had so much knowledge and wanted to have a good time. I just really liked the kind of people that work in tech. They want to build cool things and I want to help them do it,” said Kate.

Now, Kate is part of the Indy Tech Fellowship as she continues to work at Angie’s List in product management.

“It is not always easy to enter the product field as it is a very coveted place to be within the company. I was lucky to find a way in and start learning how to be an advocate for the customer and stay on top of the moving target that is technology. I get great satisfaction in seeing my work turn into something tangible that thousands around the country will use to solve problems. I think I’d be less satisfied in any other city, as it would be harder to find a job that would give me that impact,” said Kate.

What about the Tech Fellowship program appealed to you?

A good amount of my interest in the Indy Tech Fellowship stemmed from my incredible experience as an Xtern in 2015. I had never spent any time with software engineers in my life, let alone lived with them. My classes always discussed working with technical coworkers, but I never had the opportunity to interact with them. Xtern gave me a chance to get to know other students on career paths that would intersect with my own, not just other business students. It was also a great way to network with a large variety of Indy tech companies on a daily basis.

It was the best summer of my life, and the Tech Fellowship seemed like an opportunity to experience the same social connections and community-driven initiatives for two years rather than two months.

Tell us about your 9-to-5 Indy Tech Fellowship experience.

What skills (workplace, business or technical) have you learned?

I have developed a wide variety of skills during my two years and two months at Angie’s List as a Tech Fellow from basic duties of a Product Owner (eg. writing user stories, following scrum guidelines, and communicating between teams,) to comprehending the broader business aspects of working within an industry as an established company with many direct competitors.

What do you do outside of the 9-to-5?

If I’m not working on teaching my parrotlet to talk, I’m with other Tech Fellows. We’ve done everything from hanging out at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to going out to volunteer at a robotics competition 150 miles away.

What is Indy’s competitive advantage in attracting young talent?

Indy has a pride for its city that I’ve never seen anywhere else. As evidenced by organizations like Indy Chamber, Indy Hub, and TechPoint, the city has an enormous amount of collaborative energy focusing on problems facing our community. From social issues to business matters, the right people are solving the right problems by putting citizens first.

Where do you see yourself at the end of the fellowship?

Once my time as a Tech Fellow ends, I see myself staying in Indianapolis. I have always loved my city, but my experiences through TechPoint’s talent programs have given me access to a new community within my hometown that I might never have otherwise joined. Indy tech is my future.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sara Croft is the director of communications at TechPoint. She writes about Indiana tech companies, jobs, people and events. Reach out to Sara @saraelysecroft.