Sometimes Dragons

Meet the New Monk: an Interview with Morgan Harris

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As my colleague Stephen has detailed on Twitter, RedMonk recently went through a search for a new Account and Engagement Manager, which eventually resulted in the excellent Morgan Harris joining our team:

Amidst a very busy onboarding process for Morgan (and an exceptionally hectic events season for all of us), Morgan was kind enough to sit down with me to talk a bit about herself, her path to RedMonk, and what, exactly, an Account and Engagement Manager does. The lightly edited transcript from that conversation follows.

KellyAnn Fitzpatrick:  First off, can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Morgan K. Harris: My name is Morgan Harris (sometimes I use my middle initial K). I am the new Account and Engagement Manager at RedMonk. That role has a lot of different aspects to it. Basically, it comes down to:

  • keeping up to date on email communication
  • watching projects as they start and continue (not really necessarily project managing, but making sure we’re all on target, not dropping balls and making sure work is divided equitably)
  • talking to clients and prospective clients (This includes attending briefings so that I can get up to date on their products and services so that I can very easily assess how RedMonk can better help these various organizations talk better with developers, retain developers, and keep their interests.)

KF: On that note, I think I could speak for the other analysts in saying that we are so glad that you are here. After having had to all pitch in to do what you are taking on in the past couple of months, we definitely have an appreciation for a) what you have to do and b) what you specifically bring to the role.

MKH: Thank you. Yes. For now, I’m just digging into some of the mechanics of it: learning processes and having the opportunity to talk over processes and perhaps update them with the team. An alternate term for what I do–Account and Engagement Manager is a completely wonderful, acceptable term for it–but another term for that is “customer success.” So I will be doing a big bird’s eye view over all the accounts to try to see where we can grow relationships as we assess capacity and assess the market, and help bridge what our clients really need with what we can uniquely provide.

KF: You’re definitely speaking my language in terms of updating processes and streamlining things. But onto our next question. How did you get into tech?

MKH: I got into tech in what can be considered an atypical way, but as we all know these days, the typical “hero’s journey” story of the lone programmer building a computer in a garage, those kinds of hero stories are never really true when you examine them closely. That being said, I transitioned into tech from an art-related support job. I have a BFA in Fashion Design from Fashion Institute of Technology, which in fashion terms is more of an applied art school than a theory school.

So when I moved back to Chicago from New York–New York, I love it, but it is quite expensive–I was working in an art-related support job. After doing some time there, one of my great coworkers (who I’m still in touch with to this day) left for a company that at the time no one had ever heard of called Groupon. The rest of us were ready to explore different career opportunities, and so as Groupon grew and roles became available, we all gradually made our way into tech. Everyone had either gone to school for creative stuff or liberal arts majors, so it is interesting that our diverse, all-female group has found a footing in tech, even though it wasn’t our first idea of what was a great career fit. So that was my transition into tech.

KF: I love that. My background is that of an English major, so I love stories about how people get into tech, especially when they initially were on some other path. And I’m always fascinated by how that informs their view of tech.

Also, I just added you to the William Morris channel in our Slack, because we have one of those.

MKH: William Morris–the guy who did all the wallpaper and the textiles and everything?

KF: Yep, that guy.

MKH: Nice. I love it. I am a big fan. I was like, “There’s only one though, right?” I am certainly in love with Liberty and their prints and I know that he designed at least some of them. Ok. Very cool.

KF: Like this one:

KF: But we may need to rename that as our art discussion channel, because that’s what it’s become.

MKH: I’ll have a lot of fun with that. Perhaps we should rename it just to make it a little bit wider.

It is interesting that myself and many of my former colleagues, even though we didn’t see ourselves necessarily at first in a career in tech, we’ve all pursued that and we’re all still in different roles in tech. Also, in terms of the stereotypes of who fits into tech and doesn’t, I do find it interesting that I’ve both been led here and found it to be a great career that uses my creative thought processes. And I enjoy talking to people and learning their stories.

My father worked for IBM for 30 years, starting in the 1960s as a systems engineer. So the odd thing as I continue my career in tech, thinking back to my discussions with him as a child– when I asked him about what he does–is that he basically did the hardware version of customer success, which is really kind of very funny. It’s always been an influence on me. IBM definitely influenced where I and my family moved in life, and definitely influenced my introduction to tech at an early age.

When I was a kid, for instance, our family had to get a second phone line because my dad was the one jamming up the first line in his jazz and music interests chat rooms. And as kids, we needed to use that second line to call friends about homework and everything. So as teenagers, we didn’t need to get a second line because me and my brother were too busy gossiping away. It was my father gossiping away with his friends on his jazz web boards that necessitated a second line.

He brought home his version of tech every day at the dinner table. Even with that background– by being not technically but actually a second generation tech worker–it still took a really can’t-miss opportunity that all of my friends and colleagues were doing actively to see myself in a career in tech.

KF: I feel almost like you were destined to end up at a place like RedMonk. I think we’ve talked about this, but the “Monk” in RedMonk was inspired by Armonk, NY–the corporate HQ of IBM. (And “Red”, of course, comes from Redmond, WA–where Microsoft is headquartered).

MKH: The more that I learn about the background of the whole analyst concept and job path, I feel like there’s definitely something “meant to be” in me landing here after about a full decade in tech.

KF: So–aside from the IBM connection, of course–why RedMonk?

MKH: My current track thus far has been directly B2B or B2C, assisting clients with a variety of different concerns. At my first tech job, I was introduced to working with many of the usual software platforms. I multitasked: switching from tool to tool, learning the terms, and getting into a bit of QA, without even realizing I was doing it. It helped me learn where some of my tech strengths and weaknesses were.

I did another role that upped my general familiarity with tech where I worked for an email marketing and automation platform that really pushed my technology skills up to the next level. Dealing with higher level terms like UTM parameters and API calls definitely stretched my mind into the nuts and bolts of how things work.

After that, I transitioned to customer success: learning the customer success lifecycle, contracts, etc. I was definitely ready for a change. So when I saw that this opportunity would allow a higher level of evaluation, advice, and a look into the greater world of technology and infrastructure, it was very exciting. I can take my in-the-field knowledge of actively working with a variety of software platforms and styles of clients and really change that experience into theory.

The idea of being able to consult and assist analysts with these very important software decisions was a really attractive opportunity. I’ve worked for a large firm, small firms, and startup style orgs, and that variety of experiences really has given me a good grounding. It was a natural next step when I saw this opportunity. It is a job-seekers’ market, but this was an opportunity that was exceptionally unique, intriguing, and very different from the other roles that I was seeing on the market.

KF: It is a job-seekers’ job market, so we’re glad that you chose us.

To your point, you’ve had a chance to connect so much information already from your past experiences, but then you’ve also had to process a firehose of information about RedMonk and our clients, all while taking so many calls–all our clients are just so eager to meet you. And yet, with all that information, you had mentioned to me that one particular post from our colleague Rachel Stephens spoke to you. Can you talk a bit about that?

MKH: It was Rachel’s post comparing the tech industry and the fashion industry that I just happened to read recently while trying to digest the key pieces that RedMonk analysts had written. And that really spoke to me, especially this part:

For better or worse, we are a fashion industry; a brilliant and weirdly technical fashion industry, but a fashion industry nonetheless. The hype cycles around trendy ideas are intense, and our collective attention is easily diverted to the new hotness.

Again, I have a BFA in Fashion Design, and I personally can very clearly see the comparison between the journey of a master tailor as craftsperson and developers as craftspeople. Both of those types of craftspeople–technicians, if you will–are doing a version of the same thing every day, but getting better and better doing it continuously. You’re presented with similar problems, and you have to rework things to find better solutions. As one of these kinds of craftspeople, you get better at it every time. Also, as an unbelievably coincidental aside, some of my closest friends in the fashion industry transitioned out of the direct design to an agency model nearly a decade ago, so there is precedent there, as well.

I started using the comparison between tailors/people in the fashion industry and developers/people in the tech field around 2016. It worked as a comparison for some people, but then when a very famous supermodel, Victoria’s Secret Angel Karlie Kloss, announced that she was going to NYU for coding and that she was opening a coding school for girls, that really brought home that this metaphor that I was using in my own world to explain myself and my role to people actually landed with others. After starting at RedMonk and finding that one of the analysts had used that analogy completely separately from my experience with RedMonk, it really let me know that I’ve landed at the right place.

KF: I know you talked about this earlier, but (before we wrap) are there any other points that you think folks should know about your role as Account and Engagement Manager at RedMonk?

MKH: It would be great if people thought of us at RedMonk–and myself, especially–as your partner. We’re here to advise you best on what you need as a company and a client to succeed, and hence the name “customer success” used in some instances to describe my type of role. We’re not here to sell you a bill of goods. We’re here to assist you in understanding developers specifically and tech practitioners in general: groups that you’ve got to appeal to in order to be successful in the tech industry. Try to think of working with RedMonk as opening up a conversation that we’re going to continue with you so that we bring out the best in your company.

KF: I think it’s important to emphasize that while we’re a small firm and we all wear a lot of hats, you have extensive experience and expertise in what you do. And you are here to use that expertise to help our clients thrive.

Last question and–depending on your perspective, this may be the most important question: What is the best dragon from a 1980s fantasy film and why is it Falkor from The Neverending Story (1984)?

MKH: It just is. Everyone had a seminal moment watching The Neverending Story, of course. It’s Falkor that rescues Atreyu from the Swamps of Sadness just after Artax dies, right?

KF: Yes. Yes, exactly. Falkor saves the day.

MKH: For that moment we all collectively have the saddest moment of our entire childhood. And then this beautiful person rescues this young man from the literal and metaphorical Swamps of Sadness, I mean, that made an indelible impression on every single child who sees it. So that is why he’s the best.

KF: I think that we have to have a whole other Swamps of Sadness in The Neverending Story vs. the Fire Swamp in The Princess Bride (1989) debate at some point.

Morgan, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today and help give our community and clients a chance to learn more about you and your role at RedMonk.

And in closing, I want to leave folks with actual footage of my reaction when I learned you had joined RedMonk:

Gif from The Neverending Story of Bastian (a boy) flying through the air on the back of Falkor (a dragon) and exclaiming "yes!"

Disclosure: IBM and Microsoft are RedMonk clients, but this was not a sponsored interview.

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