This entry is part of our summer blog series on women entrepreneurs and women in the technology sector. We chose women and companies that we find interesting and asked them what they have learned along the way. Janet Hall is the Vice President of Marketing at FiscalNote. She has had an extremely interesting and diverse career path. Here she shares details of her trajectory and great insight into what it has been like working in the tech sector during high growth times.
What we asked: Can you talk about your background and highlight how you got from a government agency to start ups?
What Janet said: Well, it was a circuitous route! After spending ten years as an intelligence analyst, I had decided I wanted to go into the private sector. I was particularly interested in the telecom industry at that time – it was in the midst of major disruption and I was intrigued by it. Although I already had a Master’s degree in political science, I decided I needed an MBA as a way of transitioning from government to the private sector.
When I completed my MBA, I was offered a job in product marketing at one of the then largest telecom companies in the US – MCI. I enjoyed my time there, where I was involved in launching the first global private corporate communications network.
Three years into my time at MCI, I got an offer out of the blue from a company that was barely on my radar: AOL. They were building up their product marketing team and were looking for people at MCI because the company had a really good reputation in product marketing. I recognized it as a great opportunity and accepted the offer.
I ran the product group that built community products – and one day I got a call from my boss’s boss asking me to work a “secret” project. That project turned out to be AOL Instant Messenger, which was AOL’s first web based product. It was wildly stressful at the time.
My experience in working with the engineering team at AOL led to the next twist in my career – one of the tech executives offered me the opportunity to come over to the tech side of AOL and run a software engineering division – Publishing Systems. Sometimes people call this Content Management Systems. At that time, AOL built most of its technology in house, including publishing systems.
I found myself in charge of three different engineering teams, a product management group, a product integrations group, and a 24×7 support staff. It was a real education in technology and I learned a tremendous amount. What was particularly important for the rest of my career was the appreciation I gained for software development and how to lead engineers, even though I couldn’t help them with their coding.
I left AOL a year after the merger with Time Warner. At that point, I had the “bug” for tech, so I began to work with a variety of start ups. I did take one more detour, into a small publicly traded management consulting company as Chief Marketing Officer. However, the company was focused on the communications and online industries, so there was a lot of synergy with my background.
What we asked: What type of STEM background do you have?
What Janet said: All my STEM background is on the job training. My formal education was Political Science and German majors in college; MA in political science; MBA.
What we asked: Do you have any observations to share about the way men and women differ in their leadership/work style?
What Janet said: I think the biggest difference is that men seem to have innate confidence from early on in their careers, while women think they need education and experience before having the same level of confidence. Men tend to dominate meetings; they are very comfortable in expressing their opinions. Women tend to listen more and carefully think about their contributions before expressing their opinions.
What we asked: You worked on raising venture capital for the startups you were involved in. What was that experience like for you as a woman?
What Janet said: Well, I am simply not a good fundraiser because I am not comfortable asking for money. I think my experience was less about the challenges women routinely have in the VC world and more about my own limitations. But it’s a tough world out there for women, no doubt about it.
What we asked: You have also managed major family health issues while working in the tech sector. What advice would you provide women in technical and entrepreneurial roles on work/life balance?
What Janet said: I suppose I would say that it’s hard to have a real balance when you’re in a start up. I’m good at compartmentalizing and I’m very good with managing a lot of administrative issues and multitasking. All of that has enabled me to deal with a long term family illness and continue to have a high pressure job. Naturally, it also requires financial resources to keep things on an even keel and I’m lucky that I’ve had that.
If this article was of interest to you, then check out some of the other posts in this series.