From Informal Mentee to Formal Mentor: How DigitalOcean’s Jessica Rothfuss Is Paying It Forward
When Jessica Rothfuss started her first job out of college, she felt a little lost.
"I had no idea what was going on. I didn't grow up around corporate America and I didn't know the norms," Jessica explains, highlighting her discomfort with office conversation around childhood vacations (which her family couldn't afford) and having to navigate dress codes (when a friend told her khakis probably didn't cut it for client meetings).
With the help of some friends and informal mentors, Jessica expanded her comfort zone and figured out corporate life, developing the soft skills of persuasion and communication that she needed to navigate tough conversations. And now, decades into her career in tech and currently working as a Senior Technical Program Manager at DigitalOcean, the cloud infrastructure provider for developers, she's come full circle, serving as an informal mentor to other women in tech and a formal mentor, as of last week, to a woman at DigitalOcean.
We sat down to talk to Jessica—who was joined on-camera by her adorable senior rescue dog—about her career path, how she's giving back and helping other women navigate the world of corporate tech, and how DigitalOcean's remote-friendly approach to work has changed the way she sees her future.
Navigating a steep learning curve as a first-generation college student in tech
As a first-generation college student, Jessica's opportunity set was different from her peers' from the get-go. She studied chemistry and couldn't afford to take an unpaid internship in a lab—"summers were for making money to pay next semester's tuition," she remembers—so she kept her job doing technical support for AOL. Her early exposure to tech piqued her interest, and she ended up joining a startup after graduation, working her way up to being a project manager. Later, after teaching herself SQL and enjoying it, she tried her hand as a developer. She found the work "too isolating," so she transitioned into being a technical account manager and worked at a variety of firms, from small startups to big multinational corporations, until she found the Goldilocks fit at DigitalOcean.
Along the way, as she was exposed to a wide range of work cultures, people, and problems, she built up answers to the questions she'd had at the beginning, like "Which direction should I take my career?" and "How do I approach my boss?"
Jessica now counts her soft skills, like empathetic communication, as some of the most valuable things she brings to the table. Being an outsider at first—and a fairly invisible one, because as Jessica says, "People who come from a background of lower income might not be willing to out themselves; it's not something you kind of mosey in with and say, 'Hi, y'all, I'm a first generation college student'"—meant that she had to find her way into tech from the outside. Doing so has made her especially understanding of other people.
"Tech is very relationship-based," says Jessica. "I think we could all do a lot more to try and understand where people might be coming from, because we all have different experiences, different backgrounds, and different baggage."
Paying it forward by mentoring others
With help from friends and from managers who have since become friends, Jessica more than made up for any gaps she had in her first few years on the job, and now she's helping others.
It started with women reaching out and asking Jessica to help them navigate the various personalities and politics of work life, she says. "One woman came to me and said, 'I see you getting these folks to do stuff that I would never guess I could actually get them to do—can you help me figure out when and how to communicate with them?'" remembers Jessica. She did that for several more women, and has since been tapped to be a formal mentor through DigitalOcean's mentorship program.
When she's mentoring other women in tech, a lot of her advice focuses on navigating the situation from the other person's perspective. "As women, we've got to toe that line. We don't want to be called too aggressive, and we also can't be too meek," she notes.
"I try very hard to put myself in the shoes of the other person. We're in tech, and there's always conflict on some level, right? Something's always changing. Someone's resisting the change. There's always something going on, and there are a lot of strong personalities," says Jessica.
She coaches her mentees to learn how their coworkers and bosses think, and to try to approach problems from their perspective. "If you can put yourself in their shoes and understand why they might be feeling a little insecure or feeling like their job's in jeopardy or feeling like they're being snubbed or that they're being taken advantage of, you can figure out how to approach them," she says.
Five key pieces of advice for women in tech as they navigate their careers
We asked Jessica to distill some of the wisdom she shares with her mentees in order to share it with our readers. Here's what she had to say:
1. "Pay attention to everyone. If people are reaching out to you, you'll naturally figure out who you should be listening to over time, but it's always good to take in the information."
2. "Remember that you're going to stumble and you're going to misstep and that's okay."
3. "Some relationships can last for a really long time and serve you well beyond the current role you're in—try to be open to them. I grew up very much not trusting of people, and at some point you have to start trusting yourself to make those decisions."
4. "Find the people who are willing to help. They're always there. I have yet to enter a place where they're not, and I've entered some hostile places."
5. "And then when you're at that point, be the helper. Pay it forward and be the one to help the generation coming in after you because they're going to need it, too."
Creating the future she wants at DigitalOcean
Jessica has always taken an active role in planning her career. She accepted a job offer in order to work with a manager she knew she could learn from, even when that meant another cross-country move. She's said no to promotions that would cost her the work-life balance she's worked hard to establish. So when she was considering a job at DigitalOcean, she tried to see where it would fit in with her larger career and life goals.
She'd never worked for a remote-friendly company before, but loved that DigitalOcean's setup—with headquarters in New York and offices in places like Cambridge and San Francisco, and the option to work from home—would allow her to move back home to New Mexico to be closer to her mom, while still getting some face time in with the team during her trips back to California to see friends.
Coming up on her second year of working for DigitalOcean, she says it's one of the best decisions she's ever made. As a technical program manager, she manages cross-functional initiatives with lots of moving pieces, leaning on her strong communication skills to connect stakeholders between departments, document progress, and unstick problems along the way.
DigitalOcean's combination of meaningful work, positive culture, and remote-friendly policies have worked out for Jessica. "I don't know that I ever want to go back into an office, ever!" she says, laughing.
If DigitalOcean's culture and remote-friendly work policies sound intriguing, check out their open roles here.
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Insight from SoftwareONE’s Jeff Cannon and Chris Lecosia
SoftwareONE’s Jeff Cannon Business Development Executive US) and Christopher Lecosia (Senior Consultant) share a similar adventurous and brave spirit, which has led to a long trajectory of creative experiences for both of them. From taking care of two new puppies to backpacking across Europe — neither of them back down from a challenge.
As members of the LGBTQIA+ community, Jeff and Chris spent a large portion of their careers fighting for inclusive workplaces where they feel a sense of belonging, and opportunities to use their experiences to serve people, no matter what career stage they’re in. And they’ve both recently found that in the global provider of end-to-end software and cloud technology solutions SoftwareONE.
We sat down with Jeff and Chris to hear their stories on how they navigated mid and late career changes and their journey to finding a company where they felt valued. Keep reading to the end for four major tips on how to successfully pivot careers.
The Journey to SoftwareONE
Jeff Cannon was born in Tacoma, Washington, but considers both Texas and Georgeia his home. After graduating from college with a bachelor's degree in English and History, “I wanted to go to graduate school for history,” he explains. But upon arrival, he realized graduate school was not the right path for him, so he packed his backpack and set out for a trip through Europe instead.
This adventurous spirit led him back home to pursue exciting challenges, such as opening a hotel in Austin, working as a flight attendant in New York and Hawaii, and eventually pursuing a sales career at Dell. “I was an account executive for large university systems and large K-12 systems providing information technology to students to be able to further their education. It really fit in with my mantra around how important education is in society,” Jeff explains.”It's kind of my thing.” But after nearly 20 years at the company, he decided to look for new opportunities. “I was tired of doing the same thing all the time.” Enter SoftwareONE.
“This was an opportunity to do something completely different and take the information that I learned and use it to help build a practice that can accomplish some of the same things,” Jeff explains. He joined the company as a Business Development Executive Executive where he works to build the company’s education practice within the public sector in the United States.
SoftwareONE is a company where Jeff can thrive professionally and personally. He specifically cites the company to be people-first, which his coworker Christopher Lecosia agrees with. “SoftwareONE is a place where you can thrive as an employee, and where your creativity can flourish,” says Chris.
SoftwareONE is a leading global provider of end-to-end software and cloud technology solutions, with headquarters in Switzerland. The company itself prioritizes people as their “greatest asset” and advocates for life-work harmony. Their company’s core values are Employee Satisfaction, Customer Focused, Speed, Passionate, Integrity, Humble and Discipline, to name a few, and they ensure that they have “a welcoming – and constantly evolving – work environment for all”, no matter the racial, ethnic, religious, sexual or other preferences.
Christopher works as Senior Consultant for SoftwareONE. He entered the field of IT in 1974. “Back then it was called data processing,” he jokes. “But I kind of fell into IT consulting.” He enrolled in college as an accounting major, but quickly realized that was not the path for him. “I drove into the parking lot of this college for the first day and I got very scared,” explains Chris. “I turned around and went home and I found a job.” And he was able to pursue jobs that allowed him room to change and grow with the market. He began as a systems programer and, progressively, he scaled to managerial data processing roles at multiple software companies, including IBM. He played a key role in leading and growing software asset management programs, directing support for configuration and asset management, and serving as a senior project manager for multiple teams in his previous companies.
His successful 40+ year-long career led to the start of a well-deserved retirement. “I turned 65 last October, and I thought, ‘okay, I think I’ve had enough,’ and I decided to retire in full.” But his retirement was short-lived. “A few months before I retired, [my company] had put out an RFP to the street, which SoftwareONE responded to, and I'll never forget,” says Chris. “I was hearing them respond to me and I thought, ‘Wow, these people know what they're talking about. They're really sharp and I really believed in the value that they could bring.’” So when he was offered a position as a Senior Consultant, he didn’t think twice about coming out of retirement. “In November, a recruiter from SoftwareONE called, and I started in January of 2022.”
Changing jobs after working for a company long-term can be risky, especially later in your career. But both Jeff and Chris agree that the benefits of working at a company like SoftwareONE are well worth the risk. And for the first time, they’ve felt like they can show up as their full, authentic selves at work.
Jeff recalls past workplaces that, when push came to shove, “had an undercurrent of non-acceptance.” This undercurrent brought many challenges, but he credits them for his confidence today. “I have no issues whatsoever showing up originally as myself. And at SoftwareONE, everybody's been really lovely.” Even remotely, he finds ways to connect with his coworkers, and he feels like he can do so authentically.
Chris reiterates this in his own trajectory at SoftwareONE. “When I started, my Regional VP asked me for a bio. In my bio, I talked about my husband and my two dogs and how long we've been together. That got sent out to everybody in the organization. So when I onboarded, everybody already knew,” he explains. “It was the first time in 65 years that, right from the get go, there was no pretense at all as to being something different than I am. And that's how I came out at SoftwareONE. It was good to do that. I feel truly authentic.”
Advice for Mid-Career Pivoters
Both Jeff and Chris have successfully pivoted roles and companies later in their careers. They offer four tips to consider before making the jump to a new role or joining a new company.
1. Find a place that values service to the client. “Have the mindset of service,” says Chris. “ I'm a service oriented person and part of being of service is to share my experience, strengths, and hope with other people. Whether that's on a, social, spiritual, mental level, or on a professional technical level, this helps bring growth to you, and to the company you’ll work for.” Jeff shares that, “with this mindset, we see the challenges that customers face, so we're able to better articulate to customers what our value proposition is. We can help clients achieve their goals, and everything comes a lot more easily and naturally.”
2. Believe in what you have to offer. Chris and Jeff share that aligning with the company’s mission is another key aspect to consider before changing companies. “I never thought that anybody would want to hire me at 65 years old,” Chris shares. “I had been in my former job where I saw many opportunities that I thought I was perfect for, in terms of advancement, but I wasn't given those opportunities because of my age. I started to feel dried up a little bit. When I got the offer at SoftwareONE, I felt I really wanted to come back, be of service, keep my brain sharp, and do something. I do believe I have something to offer to many clients, as well as colleagues. And that's what made me make the move.”
3. Think of the experiences you bring to the table. Jeff shares how he transferred his knowledge to his new role. “I was able to take everything that I had learned about building an organization and bring it over to a company that needed that expertise specific to the United States. Being able to have the opportunity to do some of that background work and build on alliances has been, and continues to be, a great opportunity.”
4. Find a workplace that prioritizes diversity. “Each one of us brings a certain set of characteristics with us that sit well with our clients,” explains Chris. “The diversity we bring to the company — whether it be age, gender, color, educational background, intellectual capacity — all of that color makes us more relatable to our clients and our customers.” This leads to the company’s overall success.
SoftwareONE is constantly looking for dynamic employees like Chris and Jeff. Check out their company page to find out more about their roles!
We all have our favorite websites– the ones we frequent, bookmark, and recommend to others. You might even enjoy some website features so much that you’ve found yourself wondering why they aren’t more popular. Or maybe you’ve experienced times where you were frustrated with a website and wished you could add features or even design your own!
If you’ve ever found yourself intrigued at the prospect of designing and developing your own websites, then a career as a web developer might be just for you!
As a web developer you would be responsible for coding, designing, optimizing, and maintaining websites. Today, there are over 1.7 billion websites in the world and, in turn, the demand for web developers is on the rise. In order to figure out what kind of web development work best suits you let’s start with an introduction to the three main roles in web development that you can choose from.
The Three Types of Web Development Jobs
Front-End Web Development: The Creative Side
In addition to programming skills, front-end developers need to be detail oriented, creative, willing to keep up with the latest trends in web development, cyber security conscious, and geared toward user-friendly designs. The median salary for a front-end developer can reach well into the $90,000 to $100,000 range.
Back-End Web Development: The Logical Counterpart
While a house can be beautifully decorated, it’s incomplete without a solid foundation and efficient infrastructure. Similarly, a well-designed website depends on logical and functional code to power the features of that website. Back-end web development is code-heavy and focused on the specifics of how a website works. If you enjoy the analytical challenge of creating the behind-the-scenes code that powers a website, then back-end development is for you.
Full-Stack Web Development: A Little Bit of Everything
A full-stack developer is essentially the Jack (or Jill)-of-all-trades in web development. Full-stack developers need to be knowledgeable about both front-end and back-end roles. This does not necessarily imply that you would need to be an expert in both roles, but you should fully understand the different applications and synergies they each imply. In order to work in this position, you will need to know the programming languages used by front-end and back-end developers. In addition to these languages, full-stack developers also specialize in databases, storage, HTTP, REST, and web architecture.
Full-stack developers are often required to act as liaisons between front-end and back-end developers. Full-stack developers need to be both problem solvers and great communicators. The end goal for a full-stack developer is to ensure that the user’s experience is seamless, both on the front-end and on the back-end. In return, you can expect to earn a median salary of $100,000 – $115,000 a year for this role.
Taking the Next Step
Web development is both in-demand and lucrative! All three roles described above contribute to specific aspects of web development and the scope of each one can be customized to the industries and positions you feel best suit you. Regardless of which role you choose, all of them need a foundation in programming.
To gain the programming skills needed in each role, you can enroll in courses or learn independently. Coding bootcamps are a great way to boost your skillset quickly and efficiently.
Click here for some of our highly rated programming bootcamp options! Make sure to check out the discounts available to PowerToFly members.
So you’ve spent some time job searching, found the perfect role, aced the interview, and finally got your dream job.
But what happens if accepting a job offer means having to decline another one?
We’re living in a candidate’s market, and that means it’s becoming more and more common for job seekers to receive multiple offers. The good news is that this gives the candidate the opportunity to choose their perfect position. The bad news is that the candidate will probably have to turn down an offer or two when choosing the best role.
But how do you turn down an offer, without severing ties and keeping things cordial and polite?
Keep reading for our top tips on how to professionally decline a job offer — and keep your network strong for future career opportunities!
How to Professionally Decline a Job Offer
When turning down a job offer, it’s important to maintain a healthy relationship with the hiring manager and company you interviewed with. After all, you never know where your career may lead you next, and just because you decline one position with a company doesn’t mean they won’t have a place for you in the future!
Not prioritizing relationships in your job search can be detrimental, so here are some important points to keep in mind when you decline an offer.
1. Make your decision carefully.
This may seem obvious, but, before you give your final decision, make sure that it’s the move you truly want to make.
Ask yourself: Why do you want to decline it? Why isn’t it a good fit? Weigh out the pros and cons and examine how they could affect your career in the long run. Even though they’re important, don’t just focus on immediate benefits, like salary and flexibility. Consider how this career move could affect your mental health, whether or not it will help you advance professionally in the long run, and if you would be a good fit with the company.
This is a big decision, so make sure that when you do say no, you mean it.
2. Don’t wait to give your answer.
If you’re sure the position just isn’t right for you, it’s wise to contact the recruiter or hiring manager as soon as possible. This is the most considerate and professional approach you could take when turning down a position, because the sooner they know, the sooner they can find someone else to fill the position.
Waiting too long to give your answer could push the hiring process back to the beginning. A hiring manager will appreciate an efficient answer so they can move on to the next candidate and keep the process moving forward without too much delay.
The best way to do this is to try and give them a specific day that you will contact them with your answer, or keep them apprised during your decision-making process. As soon as you’ve made your decision, it’s important to let them know. As difficult as saying no can be, the sooner you do it, the better for everyone.
3. Call before you send an email.
Most of us would probably prefer to give our answer in an email, and that’s understandable! But calling to verbally decline the offer first shows an extra bit of care. This will demonstrate that you care about the time and energy invested in you during the hiring process and are grateful that you were chosen for the position.
It’s also a great way to maintain a good relationship with the employer, because it demonstrates your professionalism and maturity, and will give you an opportunity to be specific about why you are declining. If you are unsure of what to say, write your response down before you call.
You can follow up with an email that reiterates what you said on the phone so that the recruiter or hiring manager has written proof of your response.
4. Be appreciative and humble.
The hiring process isn’t simple. It requires a lot of time and energy from multiple stakeholders, so it’s important to show your gratitude before you decline the job offer. Thank everyone who was involved and acknowledge the investment they made in interviewing you. Let them know you are honored to have been chosen and that, while you carefully considered the offer, the position just isn’t right for you.
5. Explain why you’re declining.
While getting into specifics isn’t always necessary, and you should only share as much information as you feel comfortable, letting the hiring manager or recruiter know why the position isn’t right for you can help keep the communication portal open.
Maybe you received another offer that better aligned with what you were looking for in terms of pay, or perhaps you need more flexibility than the one you are declining can offer you. This feedback can be helpful to share, and sometimes the company might even respond with a counter offer to better suit your needs!
Perhaps the reason you are turning the offer down is due to more personal reasons that you don’t feel comfortable sharing. That’s okay too! Either way, it can be helpful to be transparent about why you are declining.
6. Utilize the opportunity to network for future career moves.
So the position isn’t right for you — that’s okay. But maybe your values aligned with the organization’s, or perhaps you felt that you connected during the hiring process and you’d like to keep the door open to other positions in the future. Just because the role now isn’t right for you now doesn’t mean that the organization won’t have a place for you down the road.
Networking is key for career growth. If you really like the company, don’t be afraid to let them know that you would be interested in other positions in the future. Giving them the means to contact you, like your email and your LinkedIn, will give them the ability to reach out if any other positions open up.
If you find that the company itself just doesn’t fit you, keep in mind that networking and maintaining a good relationship is still important. You don’t have to plan to work there in the future, but you never know who is connected to who, and how that good relationship may pay off in time!
Email Templates for Declining a Job Offer
Turning down a job offer is a delicate task, but it is becoming increasingly necessary in this competitive candidate’s market. If you’re unsure of where to begin or how to write your email, we have included some examples with links to help you get started.
Example for when the position isn’t a good fit
Subject line: Job offer – [Your name]
Hi [insert last name of hiring manager],
Thank you very much for offering me the role of [insert name of position]. However, I have decided that this is not the right fit for my career goals at this time.
I sincerely enjoyed our dialog as well as discussions with your team, and I very much appreciate your taking time to share information about the role and vision of [insert company name].
Again, thank you for your time and consideration; best wishes in your continued success.
Example for when you’ve accepted another offer
Subject line: Job offer – [Your name]
Hi [insert last name of hiring manager],
Thank you very much for offering me the role of [insert name of position] with [insert company name]. Though it was a difficult decision, I have accepted a position with another company.
I sincerely enjoyed our conversations and very much appreciate your taking time to interview me over the course of the past few weeks.
Again, thank you for your time and consideration; best wishes in your continued success, and I hope our paths cross again in the future.
Example for when you’ve already accepted the offer
Thanks so much for offering me the position of [Job Title] at [Company]. It was a pleasure meeting you.
Unfortunately, after a great deal of thought, I have decided to turn down this gracious job opportunity. I am truly sorry for any inconvenience this decision may cause and hope it will not affect any future relationships with your company.
I wish you continued success and hope to hear from you in the future.
Looking for a job? Check out our newly updated job search page and find the job of your dreams!
💎 Want to succeed in a Slack job interview? Watch the video to the end to find tips on how to nail the process!
📼 To work at Slack, a solid job interview is the first step along the way. In this video, Jo Saari, Senior Sales Recruiter at Slack, walks through the company’s application and interview process for you to feel comfortable and excited to begin your journey with them.
📼Slack recruiters will ask questions at the job interview and you need to be prepared to answer them correctly. In the face of any question, use the STAR method to articulate your response. STAR stands for situation, task, action, and result. You can set the scene and describe the situation, then share the goal that you were working toward. When you describe the actions that you took, remember to stress your particular contribution. Lastly, make sure to share specific results. And don’t shy away from taking credit where credit is due!
📼Understanding Slack’s job interview process makes preparing even easier. First, you will have a one-on-one video interview with your potential new manager. This is a great opportunity for you to learn about their management style. Following that, you will go through Slack's chronological interview. This interview takes a structured approach. You'll go through each role that is presented on your resume and you'll talk that through with a panel of interviewers. Finally, you'll round out your interview experience with a final presentation. This is your opportunity to show your skills. You'll be given a prompt, and some time to craft what you are proud to present to your interviewers.
Slack Job Interview - Your Opportunity To Thrive
Slack is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. They are dedicated to hiring diverse talents and ensuring that everyone is treated with respect and support through the interview process and once they join Slack. The company embraces diversity and strives to create conditions where everyone is provided with an equal opportunity to thrive.
🧑💼 Are you interested in joining Slack? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Jo Saari
Jo Saari is eager to connect talent with opportunity. If you are interested in a career at Slack, you can connect with her on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Slack
Every day, Slack refines, iterates, and explores how to make work better for everyone. Join them in creating a better future of work that’s more connected, inclusive, and flexible. They’re building a platform and products they believe in, knowing that there is real value to be gained from helping people simplify whatever it is that they do and bring more of themselves to their work, wherever they are.