From as early as preschool, you are asked a single ubiquitous question meant to guide the choices you make for over the next decade. This question will likely inform the extracurricular programs you dedicate yourself to or the AP classes you take. It can play a part in the college you choose and especially the major you select. The question is, of course: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Through entering the job market at an uncertain time and being open to opportunities that may not have always been on his radar, Jason Bilog, Data Operations Manager at Patreon, learned that you can’t plan for everything. The answer you develop for “What do you want to be when you grow up?” can change, develop, and expand as you enter the workforce and find new passions.
I spoke with Jason about how he nurtures his career in an industry that is ever-changing, what exciting things are in store for the world of Ops, and the dangers of getting too attached to a single tool or software as a self-proclaimed “MarTech Enthusiast.”
Mary Hodges: Can you tell me a little about your current role and responsibilities?
Jason Bilog: My role has definitely changed a lot since I started data operations at Patreon. Right now specifically what that looks like is working with Workato on maintaining Marketo, similar to a sysadmin, working with Qualtrics and fielding creator trust surveys, documenting instances, and instrumentation.
MH: What is the top priority in your role right now?
JB: We are working on a product qualified lead to model, you can think of it as a lead scoring model. That [model] hasn’t been refreshed in about two years, so one of the projects that I’m working on is to think about how to update this and what we can use to make updates.
MH: I saw that you went to school and studied Economics and Chinese—how did you get into the world of data and marketing ops?
JB: I definitely did not expect to kind of be in this field. I wanted to work for the government, like the State Department, which is why I studied Chinese and economics. Back in high school, I studied abroad in China and Japan.
I graduated around the recession and it was very hard to get a job. Before going to grad school presumably for international affairs to get a job in the government, I wanted to try to get a marketing job.
I wanted to work at a startup and found a marketing associate job which turned out to be primarily email marketing, via Marketo, and that basically started the whole thing. It really snowballed, and now it’s been about eight years.
MH: What was the biggest challenge when you made your career change?
JB: I’d say the biggest challenges, I think, were changes in perspective. When I was in the role at Hilton, I was a contractor and I had to learn how to just get things done, not only inside a larger company, but also understanding the role of a contractor versus a FTE (full-time employee).
MH: How did you adapt to changes in your career?
JB: Things are constantly changing. Learn how to position yourself in a way that you can work on projects that are interesting and where you feel that you are growing. I’ve had to keep on my toes, and I think that lends itself more towards just being proactive. You need to know how to position yourself internally in the company to be able to do what you want to do.
MH: Who helped you along in your career? Did you have a mentor, manager, or colleague who helped you along the way?
JB: I don’t have a mentor that I’ve had forever. [My mentors] have been people that I’ve worked with for different chapters.
A handful of my managers have helped me. For example, I had a manager at the University of Maryland that was super helpful, that I learned a lot from about media, and how media adds to the context of marketing.
I was involved with DC Marketing Tech talks, and the person who headed that program has been in the marketing analytics space for over 20 years. She had said that you need to make sure that you don’t pigeonhole yourself into just Marketo or Pardot or SalesForce. You really need to figure out how to go beyond just one tool because these tools don’t last forever.
I’ve been very explicit and transparent about my interests, my goals, and what excites me. I try to really share those feelings with my managers. That’s the best thing that I can do to champion myself essentially, and I feel that my managers had my back.
MH: What books or resources would you recommend that have helped you in your career?
JB: Scott Brinker is pretty much the godfather of all this stuff. I met him at one of these conferences a while ago, and he signed my marketing book, Hacking Marketing: Agile Practices to Make Marketing Smarter, Faster, and More Innovative. It’s a nice intro to this whole notion that technology is constantly changing and you can’t really predict the future. Even in three years there might be some new technology, and there’s a difference in what is actually going to stick versus what’s actually going to just be a fad.
The nice thing about being in Marketing OPS, is that there are all of these influencers, like Scott Brinker and Sarah McNamara that are just really smart.
MH: Do you have any advice for people going through career changes or who are looking to switch industries? Do you have any advice for someone who is looking to become a Data Operations manager?
JB: Understand that you can’t necessarily plan out your whole career. I think, especially when it comes to technology or marketing technology, things are constantly changing. You can’t just say, “Hey, in three years I want to be in your role.” You need to manage expectations around what you’re defining as your goals and focus on what you want to be doing for the next 12 to 18 months. Be mindful that plans change.
MH: Is there a specific tech trend that you are especially excited about?
JB: Scott Brinker posted something on his LinkedIn about the ecosystem in data OPS as how it has its own roles and field and I thought that was interesting. Data Ops is understanding that the data is not just there, but understanding what is available and how to use it. Data Ops can be pivoted from more of a strictly go-to-market perspective to impacting the business as a whole.
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