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Notes on the Way: Samantha Cook

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Notes on the Way

Samantha Cook

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Compass Check: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. What’s your church background?

Samantha Cook: I was born in the Church; I’m a third-generation believer.

What do you do for a living?

I do technology consulting as a change management lead within Deloitte, working for the state of Ohio. Functionally that means I am nested between the technical people—folks building the system that the client hired us to deliver—and the client and the staff who will be using the software. My job is to translate the high-level, complex technical talk into something that you could understand if you’ve never used this type of system.

What drew you to this field?

It’s fast-paced and challenging, but I’ve always liked the aspect of helping people, being in a social environment and teaching. [In college] I had verbally committed to doing special education, but someone advised me that if I ever had an offer from a consulting firm to take it, because that would open the greatest number of doors for me long-term. And I could always go back and do education if I wanted to. But the role I’m in is using the same skills you would use as a teacher. For instance, I will send emails communicating how to use this product to 300,000 people, comprising a huge diversity of backgrounds—some who have never used a computer before, but also those who use the product every day.

What has been your career path (i.e. how did you get there? Was it intentional? accidental? Series of random events?)?

In college I originally wanted to be in the medical field. [At one point] in college I did a fellowship in Nicaragua where I did some medical and therapy-type work, and thought I’d go into occupational therapy because I loved the therapy side. So I started volunteering for a preschool for kids with and without disabilities, where they were doing therapy on-site, and from that experience realized occupational therapy was too repetitive for me. However, that’s also where I learned that I enjoyed teaching.

I ended up with an internship doing business development and strategy for a nonprofit in New York City, and became friends with the person who was head of Human Resources there. She advised me to look into consulting. She had worked for Deloitte so I put in an application and that’s how I ended up there.

The most intentional part has been in the last six months to a year. I originally saw my job at Deloitte as a stepping stone to start my career before going back into mission-driven work of some kind (special ed, nonprofit, etc.). So, after a couple years with Deloitte, a friend’s company that helps kids with autism receive therapeutic services asked if I would help manage and streamline their clinical expansion and operations. Although I enjoyed many parts of that role, when my doctor mentioned she was forming a medical aesthetics/wellness start-up and asked if I’d come be the chief of operations (COO), I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. The start-up environment was incredibly fast-paced—but ultimately it wasn’t the right fit for my workstyle either. Coincidentally, during a social dinner with a former colleague from Deloitte, I found out the client I used to work with there was requesting I come back—so I did. After all those transitions, I am back here at Deloitte with the same team that I started with right out of college. At this point I’m not sure I’ll leave Deloitte again. I enjoy the work a lot.

That’s great, and was actually my next question. What about it do you enjoy so much?

What I enjoy is working with people. As far as my day-to-day, that’s 110 percent of my job. Yes, you have to be able to learn the technical systems and produce good work, but at the end of day people hire and keep consulting firms because they like and trust you. In order to get that business, it’s important for you to recognize the interpersonal aspects of working in a team, with people, and helping create an environment where we can make the best product we can.

Ever felt like you didn’t enjoy your job at any point along the way? Have you ever made a job or career change?

Yes. I think you can get a starry-eyed view of mission-oriented companies at times, which can cause an internal disconnect when there are typical business “growing pains” as the company continues to find itself in a competitive marketplace. There were moments where I struggled to reconcile the love I had for the mission/goal we were trying to reach with the methods we were using to get there.

I was going to ask about conflicts with your faith at some point, actually. Can you describe those, and also talk about what you didn’t enjoy about it personally?

In my day-to-day, I was in charge of budgets and strategy for expanding our clinics; but then I’d run into shortages of capital to meet the goals that we have. It was super hard to plan strategically for growth.

One specific example is that I would work hard to get us deals by forming good relationships with vendors, so it was important to me to treat them well. But more than once, a vendor would tell me they hadn’t been paid on time and ask why; when I would inquire with my superiors, I’d find out the company was having cash-flow problems, but that the information had not been communicated that way to our vendors—which put me in a tough spot trying to ensure the needs of our company and our vendors were taken care of at the same time.

Does your work now ever create potential conflicts with your faith?

Where I am now, back at Deloitte, there have been no conflicts with my faith. Most of the time in the work I’m doing, religion doesn’t come up unless someone asks, which is super rare. The only time it’s remotely come into play is when a new technology goes live, we have “go-live weekends” where everybody has to work weekends, but I always make sure I sign up first and choose Sunday.

What explicit advice would you give to someone in junior high or high school about pursuing a career that’s fulfilling?

Don’t box yourself in to what you think “fulfilling” has to mean. So often we think to have a fulfilling career you have to be “kissing babies and hugging orphans,” for lack of a better phrase. But I don’t think that’s the case for everybody. You can and should find ways to make the world a better place in your personal life through volunteering or other community engagements, but don’t put all the pressure on yourself to do something that’s world-altering in your career too.

Another thing I’d say is to be honest with yourself about your skillsets and what you actually enjoy doing. Honestly one of the things I love most about my job is making PowerPoints, but that’s not something cool you put on your dating profile. When I was at the medical startup, I tried to make it be “me” because I liked the idea of saying I was the COO, but I eventually recognized that I was struggling to motivate myself to do the work I had to do—whenever you start to feel that way, it’s important to listen to what your mind might be telling you.

At the end of the day, the big questions you need to ask yourself are: Do I feel happy? Did I learn things? Did I like the people that I was doing it with? Did I like the actual work I did? Did I feel supported and have opportunities to grow? And do I feel like I’m being appropriately compensated for the lifestyle I want to live and the work that I’m doing?   CC