If you’d have told Birkenstock wearing International Development studies grad, aspiring world travelling war scribe me a decade ago that I would be living in Calgary, Alberta working in tech for a growing company in a position that feels like it was created just for me, absolutely certain that my feet were planted in exactly the right spot in my career I’d have said “You’re batsh*t crazy, you must be talking about someone else.”
But, here we are. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself though, so let’s rewind a bit, well….okay, let’s rewind a decade-ish (don’t tell anyone though, it might ruin my “cool factor” with all the hip, young Arcurvians).
After completing my International Development Studies degree (or what my parents liked to call my “hippie degree”) at the University of Winnipeg, and wondering “OK, WTF do I do now?”, I set my sights on being a conflict reporter – chasing the life of Christie Blatchford, my favourite Canadian journalist. I applied and got accepted to Red River College’s competitive and highly sought-after Creative Communications program, dead set on becoming a print journalist. People would say, “Dani, print journalism is dying, maybe you should consider advertising or marketing,” and I’d give them my signature eye roll and tell them they just didn’t know what they were talking about. In my second year of the program, itching to get out of Winnipeg and do something different, I spent my semester break, plus an allotted three-week internship slot in Calgary, grinding out daily news for what was then Metro Calgary. I liked Calgary, but ten years ago, I didn’t really see myself, the granola-munching hippie journalist with dreams of packing my bags and reporting from a Humvee somewhere overseas, settling down in Oil & Gas central, Calgary, of all places. In fact, I didn’t really see myself settling down at all (cheers to our early 20s). So, when the newspaper encouraged me to apply for an upcoming opening, I didn’t even consider it. I had other plans.
Back to journalism school, though. I skipped my second internship in lieu of graduating early to move to Swan River, Manitoba where I took a job at the small town’s weekly newspaper. I lasted three months in that rural town and got hired at the Winnipeg Free Press’s community newspaper: my first “big girl” reporting job. Nine months later, the wave of layoffs in the national media community happened, as things began to transform in the industry (thanks, technology… no, really. Thanks, technology. I wouldn’t be here without you). I found myself in my editor’s office, asking him “If you were me, what would you do?” He gave me a piece of advice I don’t think I was ready for, but that I’d always be grateful for. He told me I was bright and talented, and I could always write, even if I wasn’t a journalist. He suggested I make the move into communications, for job security’s sake. So, I did.
For the first, but definitely not the last time in my career, I had to adapt to the rapidly growing and changing technology industry. Without offending my colleagues who still work in journalism, I knew I wasn’t personally getting anywhere sitting in a newsroom, hyper-fixated on my end goal of getting my name in black and white newsprint. So, I took my first job outside of journalism as a communications coordinator for a small not-for-profit in the health sector, where I did a little bit of everything. It was there I began to realize how important adapting digitally was. I learned how to design, I learned how to tell stories in different mediums, and I even learned how to write code – our website was still powered in Drupal and I had to drag and drop HTML code into Dreamweaver to update the site. I had no idea how much those YouTube tutorials on basic HTML coding would help me later in life. After that, I took a job as the Communications Specialist for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, which kicked off my time working in Winnipeg’s Arts Scene. I realize now that I loved working in the Arts in Winnipeg because I was able to work alongside some the city’s most creative, innovative folks and that fueled my own creative fire… very much like the technology scene in Calgary.
My career path kept on its winding journey, and I ended up managing communications, and then operations for a commercial art gallery in Winnipeg. Then, in an exciting and unexpected turn of events (but the opportunity of a lifetime that would change my career path from there on out), received a grant to open my own art gallery. I truly thought I was going to work in an art gallery forever – I loved owning and running my own business, I loved working with artists, and building a community and fostering culture around peoples’ collective passions. I had discovered my own entrepreneurial spirit and experienced what it was like to use that to contribute to a thriving community – but I still didn’t know that it would lead me to a career in tech in Calgary… yet.
I ended up losing my gallery space in the first year of business when I was exhausted and broke and I was left at a bit of a crossroads… what do I do now? I realized I needed to chase my dreams outside of Winnipeg, because I was looking for something I didn’t think I’d find there. While I love Winnipeg and always will – not only does my family live there, but it has also given me a lot of incredible gifts -- I knew I needed to shake things up a bit more in my life and there was still this hunger inside of me that had to be fed. I hadn’t quite found the thing I was meant to do. Friends had talked up Calgary and how the economy was diversifying with start-up businesses popping up all over the place. I kept hearing about this “tech” thing and how it was happening, and how Calgary was the place to be. Hm. A lot different than the Calgary I knew nearly a decade before. A friend who knew I was looking for my next adventure and thought the startup scene might be a good fit for me referred me to a tech startup looking for a client relations manager. I did three phone interviews, got offered and accepted the job, and in just a few days, sublet and packed up the contents of my little Winnipeg apartment into a U-Haul, and my cat and I drove west. Three weeks into living here it dawned on me that I’d finally found my thing. I found the community, entrepreneurial spirit and creativity that I needed to inspire me. I found a place where all of my passions collided, and I was even allowed to wear my nerd badge proudly. So, we stayed. And we haven’t looked back. The rest is history.
Okay, not really.
As all stories do, mine had a few more bumps along the way before the “happily ever after.” After working in client relations, and then operations for the startup, plus a little bit of marketing, and managing the complete redesign of our SaaS platform (and spending many, many late nights on Slack with our Software Development Team), the startup changed direction (I think the trendy word these days is “pivoted”) and I was looking for a job again. Amidst a global pandemic.
At this point, I had drunk the Calgary tech-scene “Kool-Aid” and I was certain I wanted to continue to be a part of the excitement, but it took me a while to find my footing. I was freelancing my way through this rough patch when a client referred me over to the folks at Arcurve, who were looking for someone to do some writing for them. I happily accepted the referral and started chatting with Stuart and Jay, two of the founders. I knew immediately I had stumbled into something pretty special. I started doing some writing on a smaller contract and this grew to managing an overhaul of the Arcurve website, which then grew to even more responsibility. After a few months, we started having conversations about the possibility of bringing me on full-time. At this point, I had gotten to know the founders and some of the team pretty well and knew that from a values and culture standpoint, Arcurve was exactly the company I wanted to be working for. I had spent the better part of my career preparing myself for the work I would get to do at Arcurve. Plus, they had taken time to know me for who I was as Dani-the-human, not just Dani-their-part time-communications-contractor, and they saw my strengths and let me run with them. I genuinely got excited (and continue to be excited) about the work I was doing with them, and I couldn’t get enough of it. After a particularly tough year of slogging it, trying to steady myself and questioning why the heck I was even still living here, I was reminded why I moved to Calgary and why I had fallen so hard for the tech-scene after all. I had found a company that talked the talk AND walked the walk. So, it wasn’t a difficult decision when I got the offer to join the team as the Marketing & Communications Specialist full-time. They were stuck with me now. And the rest is really history.
I am proud to be part of a diverse company, and a talented team of humans who genuinely care about one another, in an environment where I am encouraged to show up as exactly who I am each and every day; where I feel valued and appreciated. I am proud to be part of a company that works hard to contribute to this community and the communities we work in. Even more than that, I think, I am proud to be a woman in tech, and to be part of a rapidly growing ecosystem that is putting Calgary and Alberta on the global map. Mostly, I am proud to have the privilege to share the stories of my fellow Arcurvians with our clients and our community day-in and day-out.
So, while my career path has been a bit of a wild journey and 10 years ago, I had no idea that path would be so twisty, my feet have landed in the right place and I kind of feel like I’m living my Christie Blatchford dreams after all (read: first female sports columnist and blazing a trail for women in that industry) – just in a different way than I’d imagined.