This moment in life we’re collectively experiencing has a lot of folks back to the drawing board of their life’s plans, including by making major career changes.
Against a backdrop of so much uncertainty, it can, on the one hand, be overwhelming to add yet more change to the mix. But as Emily Swall found when making a career pivot herself back in 2018, the payoff of finding your true career fit is worth the risk.
“If there is something you want to do, go for it,” Swall, who moved from a Customer Support role at Mindbody to becoming a QA Engineer in its Development department, said. “You deserve to be happy in your career.”
Like Swall, KT Ellis (she/they), an IT Business Relationship Manager who previously worked in Customer Services, and Kelly Irish, a Lead Product Manager and former Senior Software Engineer, have also made major career pivots during their time at Mindbody. Recently, all three shared with Fairygodboss what it looked like to make the leap into entirely new functions, how Mindbody’s uniquely supportive culture helped them do just that, and their advice to others who are contemplating a big move.
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
KT Ellis (she/they): “I’ve been in IT at Mindbody for two years. Before that, I spent my whole career of 20+ years in Customer Services, and five of those at Mindbody.”
Emily Swall: “I have been in my current role as a QA (first as a tester then an engineer, manually testing usability of new features and bug fixes and writing code to automate testing) in our Development department since April of 2018. Before that, I was working as a Support Specialist (taking calls, chats and emails from clients who were having trouble with their software) in our Customer Support department.”
Kelly Irish: “I have been in my current role for one year, but before that I was a Senior Software Engineer.”
Pivoting career paths can feel overwhelming. Why did you want to make this change, and what ultimately helped you do it?
Ellis: “My last role in Customer Services was as a Business Operations Manager for the customer onboarding team. The longer I focused on the needs of our team members, the more I realized how much opportunity there was to make things better. When a BRM position opened up with a focus on the Customer Services org, I was equal parts excited and terrified. The first thing I did was go talk to someone who had recently made a career change, a VP at Mindbody who I really looked up to. She told me about the sadness at leaving her team and about the intense imposter syndrome she still felt. She also told me amazing stories about how it felt to be challenged at that point in her career and how gratifying it was to basically reinvent herself in a new role. That connection really helped me make my decision.”
Swall: “I had been interested in trying to get into a software development department somewhere for years, but I was afraid I wouldn’t be smart enough, or technical enough. I had spent years doing customer support in call centers at different companies but I didn’t know if those skills would be enough. Ultimately what helped me overcome that fear and actually make the change was transitioning. Once I was able to be myself completely, the fear that I might not be good enough to do the job I really wanted felt less overwhelming. It also helps that I work for an awesome company that is more than happy to take a chance on people and encourages us to reach for what we want in our careers.”
Irish: “I wanted to try something new, and I wanted to learn new things. Normally I would start looking at other companies, but I liked working at Mindbody and so I started looking at other things I could do here.”
Tell me a bit about your current role. What are your priorities, and what about it excites you most?
Ellis: “On paper, I am a strategic partner and liaison between IT and the business who helps stimulate, shape and surface demand. My priority and my passion is building authentic relationships, every day, and helping folks leverage those connections to improve the employee and customer experience. Anyone who knows me can imagine me doing air punches when I get nerdy-excited about an outcome that will help our team members!”
Swall: “Once I had made the move over to our development department, I discovered a particular passion for software security. Now most of my time is spent testing and writing automation code to test changes when we create new security features or update our software with more secure code. What excites me about the security aspect of my job is that when you make a system more secure, you are not just affecting your company — you are also helping make the internet itself just a little bit more secure. You get to be a part of making the world just a little safer for people, and I love that. It makes me feel great knowing I can help protect people, even just that little bit.”
Irish: “I think the thing that excites me the most right now is getting a bigger view of the company, what we do and how we do it. I am learning something new almost every day.”
What about this company stood out to you and made you want to join? What’s been your favorite aspect since joining?
Ellis: “At first glance, Mindbody is an industry-leading wellness company that lives and breathes their inspiring core values. Of course I wanted to join! What you don’t see from the outside is that Mindbody, and everyone who works here, is helping everyday people make their dreams come true. Owning a business can be overwhelming and our products make it easier for them to get back to what they love.”
Swall: “I am going to try really, really hard to not go on too long for this one, because I could. I fell in love with this company the moment I started. From the fact that we not only have a well-defined set of core values for the company, but that we take great pains to foster the corporate culture that comes with those values. From hiring decisions and workshops to help us live those values, not only at work but also in our daily lives, to how we set up our work spaces — we really live those values. That was refreshing for me coming from a background where I had gotten stuck for years at companies that either didn’t have a set of values, or if they did have them on paper, they didn’t live by them. It’s the people (at every level of the company), though, that are the best. They really are what have made the company what it is and have made me not only fall in love with working here but continue to love it every day.”
Irish: “For most of my career, I worked in government contracting, and as a side job I worked at a gym. I knew the industry needed better software and I thought I could help with that. When I started to investigate making the change into the private sector, Mindbody seemed like the perfect fit.”
Tell me a bit about your first day (or week). What kinds of things (whether formal onboarding programs or casual interactions) made you feel comfortable?
Ellis: “My first week at Mindbody, I met so many people who genuinely believed in the products they were supporting and loved their customers. I knew right away I was home!”
Swall: “The big thing that made me comfortable was my new boss. She was supportive right from the beginning and made it clear that she wanted to help me find where I was going to thrive in the department. She was amazing.”
Irish: “My first week at Mindbody was spent with all the new hires in a weeklong training on the software. It was so helpful and also allowed me to get to know different people across the company, not just other engineers.”
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
Ellis: “A previous boss and now mentor used to remind me to ‘play chess, not checkers.’ If you haven’t heard that before, it’s about setting yourself up for the long game and working smarter. It really stuck with me and I think about it often.”
Swall: “This is memorable because of how abysmally wrong it was, but I was once told by a senior manager that I needed to be monitoring my agents constantly because, and I quote, ‘People do what you inspect, not what you expect.’ It was the most ridiculous advice I think I have ever gotten from someone, as many studies have quite definitively shown that micromanagement hurts productivity rather than improving it.”
Irish: “‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ Thinking honestly about risk has helped me to mitigate potential risk and make big changes.
What advice would you give to other women interested in making a major career change?
Ellis: “It’s going to be scary. Do it anyway!”
Swall: “If there is something you want to do, go for it. If your current company won’t support that and help you find the best career for you within the company, then think about finding a new company where you can be fulfilled. You deserve to be happy in your career, and any company that can’t see your worth and support that doesn’t deserve you.”
Irish: “Trying something new doesn’t mean that you can’t go back. It might not be the same, but there are always options.”
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