How I Went from College Town Barista to InterWorks Marketing Manager

Culture

How I Went from College Town Barista to InterWorks Marketing Manager

"How I Went from" is an ongoing blog series that highlights our employees' different journeys to InterWorks. The results are pretty diverse, but each story is special in its own right.

We have a really fascinating blog series rolling right now: “How I Went from _____ to InterWorks Consultant.” Our team is sharing their journeys including various jobs and skills they’ve learned along the way, which have culminated into the awesomeness that is InterWorks today. While technically I am not a consultant, being on the Marketing team means you get to take a little poetic license and change things up a bit.

College and Life as a Barista

While in school at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, OK, I had the privilege of working at the best coffee shop in town, Aspen Coffee. I was an “Aspenhead” – the name given to any employee who has passed through its doors in nearly 20 years of business.

Actually, let’s back up a few years.

Before my three years at Aspen, I had been working in coffee shops in my hometown of Tulsa for three additional years. Coffee is my thing, and I can make a mean latte (or Americano if that’s more your style). Aspen gave me the schedule, caffeine and tips that I needed to scrounge by as a Graphic Design student at OSU. 

The Graphic Design program at OSU is arguably the best program in the region, and with that comes the most grueling work, but it gave me the skills that I need today at InterWorks. The design program I was in was broken up in a few different ways. This included a portfolio review during your sophomore year, where you compete directly with your peers to snatch one of the 25 or so coveted spots for that year to continue on in the program.

Stress City.

You’re exposed and tested in three categories: print, digital media and illustration. I will be the first to tell you that I don’t draw. I just don’t do it. So, print and digital media were my focus. After gaining entry following the portfolio review, the real fun starts: projects, critiques, edits, critiques, balancing work at Aspen, critiques, other gen-ed classes, critiques, sometimes brushing your hair and sometimes crying in the bathroom when your Typography Professor takes a shot at your design skills. And critiques. However, I made it through, had some really fun times, accidentally cut my hands several times with Exacto knifes, sprayed a little too much spray adhesive in my apartment at 3 a.m. trying to finish a project, and even won some awards in my efforts. Below are a few of my college projects:


(selected various projects from life as a graphic design student)

Title Sequence: The Perfect Cappuccino from jenny parnell on Vimeo.

 

Back to life as a Barista. When I wasn’t in class, I was usually working mornings at Aspen. That means waking up at 5:30 a.m. almost every day to open the store. Which positively has made me quite the morning person these days. I knew of InterWorks through my brother-in-law, Todd Walls, who had been with the company for a few years as a Network Technician. He told me, “The owner comes in your shop. You probably make his coffee every day and don’t even know it.” Sure enough on the next day, I put a few pieces together and introduced myself to InterWorks CEO, Behfar Jahanshahi and COO, Staci Bejeck. I had been making their morning drinks for months.


(Me behind the counter at Aspen in Stillwater, OK)

From there, every morning was casual talk with them, and I could tell these were some cool people. Then one day, Staci whispered to me when I was partnered with another barista, “Can you make our drinks? Behfar thinks you’re the best at making lattes.” I kind of like to think that my perfectionism with lattes had a little something to do with my job later on with InterWorks. From there, I would go to the main InterWorks office in Stillwater to cater and serve coffee for espresso cart days. Staci would rent an espresso cart from Aspen for a few hours and get the staff hopped up on caffeine (a tradition that lives on today). That’s how I started to get familiar with the company, and more importantly, the people. I started to really like this company and the vibe. However, I wasn’t a techie … how would I fit in here?

Internship and Beginnings at InterWorks

Fast forward a few years and a lot of lattes later, and I had to leave Aspen during my last semester at OSU to pursue a Graphic Design internship with OSU’s University Marketing. During my time there, I got to take all of that junk I learned in school and really apply it to a working/functioning department that was a vital part of the university’s communications and marketing. I had a fantastic mentor there, Paul Fleming, who taught me all about the production process, and more importantly, taught me to say, “Yes” instead of, “Yeah.” It was more professional. I was able to sit in on departmental planning, magazine discussions, communications strategy meetings and sports marketing initiatives. Little did I know how much I was absorbing and how it was preparing me.

Near the end of my final semester, I was busy with my internship and prepping my final Capstone, which is the culmination of all of your work as a Graphic Design student. This was your final show and included the portfolio that you will take out into the real world to get a job. The only problem at this time was the economy was in a downturn, and we had professors telling us, “Good luck; people just aren’t hiring creatives right now.”

I was worried but hopeful.

Finally, I was about three weeks away from graduation. My brother-in-law, Todd, gave me a heads up that InterWorks was looking for a Marketing person and Staci wanted to talk to me. Now remember, I had been away from the coffee shop for a few months, but Staci remembered me!

Stay calm, be cool, be cool.

I found myself back at the InterWorks Stillwater office a few days later, but this time with my portfolio and not to serve espresso. It was to interview for a job. Staci told me that they had a position for Marketing Coordinator and thought I would be a good fit. I was honest with her: “I’m a Graphic Designer. I don’t know a lot about marketing. I had a few marketing classes …” She assured me that it was okay, and they felt comfortable that I would take the position and be able to run with it. She asked, “So, what do you think? Do you want to be our Marketing Coordinator?” For the record, I replied, “Yes” not, “Yeah.”

Three Years at InterWorks  

I turned in my last student project on a Friday and started at InterWorks the following Monday. I was never one to take a vacation or anything because I was so broke. At the time, InterWorks had about 40 employees between Stillwater and Oklahoma City, and this thing called “Business Intelligence” had started to really take off. In true InterWorks’ style, you hit the ground running and never look back.

I began working on everything including daily design tasks, coordinating employee photos for the Meet the Team page, creating event graphics, helping with marketing strategy, web design, video editing, and working with department directors from IT, Web, Software, BI and Sales for whatever they threw my way. More importantly, I loved everything I was doing, and continued to take on more. For about two years, I was a little marketing machine on my own, coordinating with various parts of the company to reach various initiatives. Finally, after about two years, it was time to hire some people for the Marketing “team.” Since then, InterWorks’ former Director of Web Strategy, Dalton Parsons has moved into the CMO role, and the Marketing team now has several working parts including design, events, content, web and everything in between that supports our company strategies or those really smart IT/Data people out in the field.


(Me and the InterWorks Marketing Team at the 2013 Annual Holiday Party)

I told Staci in my interview, “I was just a Graphic Designer,” but at InterWorks, no one wears just one hat. We are all a Jack-of-All-Trades in our own right, and I am lucky enough to have found my niche in Marketing. I have a lot of memorable campaigns, of which I have been able to put into fruition and am very proud. I have been a part of the planning for some of the biggest industry events in Business Intelligence, data and IT which have helped put our talent at the forefront of the continuous tech wave. My favorite memory:

InterWorks’ Director of Business Intelligence, Dan Murray telling me that he has a presentation to land Facebook as a client and needs some help with graphics, “and we only have about five hours to get this thing ready …”

Needless to say, the presentation went well.

Today, after three years with InterWorks, and now as Marketing Manager, I am still juggling 50 tasks/requests at any given point in time in one day. This includes company marketing strategy and branding, project management for the entire marketing team, major event/conference coordination and strategy, partner marketing, sales RFP prep, promotional video editing, sales/consultant support, recruiting, endless marketing collateral and sometimes, I stock the soda in the fridge at the Tulsa office.

I can’t say enough how lucky I was to be a barista at a coffee shop, in a town where there just so happens to be a great company looking for a Marketing Coordinator, around the time I graduated. This job has taken me further than I have imagined I could be in three years, and pushed all the boundaries of my creativity.

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More About the Author

Jenny Parnell

Global Marketing Manager
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