This is an interview with Laura Gavin, a Lead IT Business System Analyst at Transamerica, done by Naomi House of INALJ. This is part of INALJ’s 2020 series on non-library jobs for library workers.
On Lead IT Business System Analyst & Scrum Master Work :
an Interview with Laura Gavin
Q1: Thanks so much for taking the time to help us better understand what Lead IT Business System Analyst work is and what a Scrum Master does, and how LIS folk can get into this field. First could you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you got your MLIS (or your educational background) and what you do?
I’m a graduate of San Jose State University, receiving my master’s degree in library and information science in December of 2014. My undergraduate degree is in liberal arts, focused on history. I wanted to know a little bit about everything. I thought it would help me be a better librarian.
I am currently studying to take my PSM (professional scrum master) certification.
Q2: Now can you tell us how You personally got into doing this type of work?
Customer experience is the heart and soul of my motivation. Have you ever read a form letter, or had to be on hold with a company and wonder, “couldn’t they do that better”? Early on in my career, starting as a receptionist at a tax office, it wasn’t about me, but about the client. Their privacy, their loyalty, their experience. Then I landed the coveted job of library shelver in the children’s room of my town’s public library. It was here I had my “baptism by fire”, on the job training. As an 18 year old, I was helping kids find books, keeping the room organized, cutting out craft projects, and helping out with story times. It was a great way to make some money, and see all the new books coming out.
I chose a small liberal arts college in Iowa, and decided to study history. I wanted to be a librarian. My philosophy was that I wanted to learn a little about everything. Studying history, researching papers, and providing my own critical thinking, I felt, would be the best way to prepare for any part of librarianship. An internship at a public library during my senior year of college left me with a bad taste for librarianship. I was a part of a culture that was less than inviting, and ultimately I learned more about office politics than library work.
I toyed with getting a master’s degree in hospitality. I knew I still liked helping people. I knew I had a knack for finding things. I didn’t know what to do with that. Over the next few years, I took jobs as a substitute teacher, retail store clerk, and continued to apply for library jobs. I was hired as a cataloging assistant in a larger public library. I LOVED being behind the scenes. Cataloging also seemed to make sense. There was data and it was organized. Through the organization, librarians and patrons could find what they wanted.
Life happened, and I found myself relocating and had to quit that job. It was so sad to say goodbye, but it was then I realized I wanted back into library work, and wanted to be a librarian with my advanced degree. I was fortunate to be hired on as a director of a rural public library. I wore every hat, which I loved. I truly mean this. In a day, I could be working on the budget, county ordinances, cataloging, cleaning the building, presenting programming, helping someone apply for unemployment, and concluding with a board meeting. I faced a lot of challenges. The role forced me to grow up. It’s only in hindsight I see all the lessons learned.
I was burned out. I was ready to retire from being a librarian, and I hadn’t even finished the master’s degree yet. I was 1 year in to a 4 year online program with San Jose State University.
Here comes the pivot.
I’ll never forget the job post:
“Manage the innovation pipeline from idea generation through concept development. Qualifications: background in information sciences, library science or equivalent background required.”
Whoa! This job was not at a library, but they wanted someone who had that experience. After a phone interview and an onsite interview, I was hired and I was known in the department as the “Innovation Curator”. The senior leader of the new innovation department knew he needed someone who knew data and people. We need more leaders like him. I managed the platform that collected ideas from team members. I did citizen development, meaning I was able to build out the application without writing actual code. I led trainings, project managed several projects, and reported metrics. The last piece of this role was the collecting and housing of ideas, and maintain the archive of ideas and projects. I found myself to be a dot connector for details. I was able to finish my master’s degree, following that up with have my second child three weeks after my final project was due.
This position evolved to two different promotions, culminating with becoming a senior program manager, aiding a research and development team. My focus was on coordinating dependencies throughout the department, track budget spending, facilitate cross-functional meetings, focus groups, usability testing and team meetings. Data and people. Throughout the seven years at this one company, I continued to use every bit of my library training, and even enhance some of the skills.
Here comes the shift.
A former colleague of mine from my innovation days let me know of a “Customer Experience Manager” role open at his company. It focused on making sure the voice of the customer was heard, and worked to influence, shape, and shift products and services to be a better experiences for customers. Through three different virtual interviews, I was hired. As with most things, this role shifted to be more program management. The difference is that this team was looking to operate using the Agile methodology. I had some experience with Agility and working with developers through a backlog in a time box called a sprint. This was different from project management. I started meeting with a mentor who managed other scrum masters in the company. I was learning, quickly, I really enjoyed the Agile methodology and the scrum framework. I found it logical, solid, all while allowing for the team to decide what is going to work best for how the work gets done.
Here comes the tilt.
That mentor of mine had an opening, and within a month, I took a new role as an “IT Business Analyst” A.K.A “Scrum Master”. I was given two teams which I was to coach, remove impediments, and provide support to product owners. This was my first IT job. This was the first time I was something completely new.
The role has evolved. I am primarily a scrum master (three teams now), and I’ve been given other responsibilities and continue to grow my skills, and gain new ones.
Q3: What makes this a great field for LIS workers and likewise, what do you think makes LIS workers strong candidates for hiring managers in this field?
Data, organization, and people.
Items in a library are cataloged. There is metadata. There is a system to find the information. Companies also have repositories, archives, and cloud storage. They need logical organization, so that many people can access it. They need tags to help with filtering. Having a person with the knowledge of the organization and who can retrieve information quickly is very valuable. With both fields, there is data, it is organized, and it is used to find stuff. It transcends all industries.
Never underestimate your reference skills. I am constantly asking open ended questions, starting with the phrase, “Help me understand….”. Keep asking questions. I conduct reference interviews in my current role for many reasons. Often I am trying to understand a problem so that I can find a solution. One of my responsibilities as a scrum master is to remove impediments. I want my understanding of the situation to be rock solid, and that begins with the open ended questions.
Q4: What is the best way to get your foot in the door or your first IT business system analyst job? And your first scrum master job?
Consider your skills and tailor your resume. I noted above that I conduct reference interviews. I wouldn’t use that phrasing in a resume for a corporate role. I would use something like, “detailed oriented”. I would also re-phrase achievements to use more project manager vocabulary. Use words like, “budgeting”, or “data analysis”, or “milestones”. My library resume may not necessarily use that vocabulary. Also, add a summary statement. It emphasizes why you want the job and what makes you a good fit. Finally, use your network. Talk to people about what you are looking for and ask for advice. My latest job came to me from someone I met 6 months previously, who became a mentor, then my manager.
Q5: Finally what are some of the most important skills / certifications / etc that LIS folk can do to prepare them? Any last tips?
Never underestimate the power of being able to find stuff.
Again, use your network. Build upon what you know from who you know.
Laura Gavin is a Lead IT Business System Analyst at Transamerica. During her time there, Laura has worked as a customer experience manager, moving to her current role as a scrum master and jack of all trades. Before this role, Laura was a Senior Program Manager at ACT, Inc, in their innovation and then their R/D department. Laura holds a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from San Jose State University and a bachelor’s of Arts from Coe College. Laura has a passion for education and community engagement and is an active volunteer. Laura is the newly elected Parent’s Association President at her children’s grade school, and volunteers for various school, church, and community activities. She wishes she could list some hobbies, but truly in her spare time, she spends it with her husband, Allen, and their kids Emily and Griffin.
Views expressed are those of the interviewee and not INALJ or their employer. Photo provided by the interviewee and permission granted to use it for this interview.