Jacquelyn Talpalar is currently the Director of Agile Operations at Hearst Digital Media. She started at Hearst in 2014, and over the past four years, she has been promoted from Scrum Master into more senior roles and helped grow the division from 3 to 24 teams. Prior to Hearst, she was a Senior Strategy Consultant and Scrum Master at IBM Global Business Services. Jacquelyn graduated from Duke in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy and a Certificate in Markets and Management. She currently resides in New York City.
Can you describe your current job position?
In my role as Director of Agile Operations, I work with teams (called “scrum” teams) to help them define and execute building technology products for the magazine division. At Hearst, these products include the tool our digital editors use to publish content, as well as what you see when you go to any of our 27 magazine brands online (ex: www.cosmopolitan.com). My Hearst career path began as Scrum Master overseeing 2 scrum teams, grew to Senior Scrum Master managing Scrum Masters and overseeing 8+ teams, and ultimately transitioned into managing the full Scrum Master team (10 Scrum Masters) and overseeing 24 scrum teams as Director of Agile Operations.
What does a scrum master do? How did you learn about this career path?
A Scrum Master is a career in the Technology space, and has become a common role in startups and new-age technology companies that develop using the “agile methodology.” Scrum is a management approach to address the quick paced, changing needs in a tech environment that enable teams of workers to achieve short term goals on long term projects that must continually adapt. The Scrum Master skillset requires someone who is very process-oriented, loves working with people, is a strong problem-solver, can react quickly in the moment, and is meticulous/attentive to detail. It’s a job that enables me to move between industries, as the need exists in most tech development organizations, whether it’s within the media space, finance space, medical space, or beyond.
I learned about this career path while working at IBM as a general consultant; I was staffed on a scrum team to help the team write the content for an app they were building. When the Scrum Master went on vacation, I stood in for the role. I learned very quickly how much I enjoyed it, and was lucky enough for IBM to give me the runway to pivot my skillset and take on Scrum Master responsibilities for more teams.
How did you decide to make the career switch between IBM and Hearst Media? How do you know when it is time to pursue a new role/opportunity?
I decided to make the career switch when I was ready to stop traveling in the consulting world. While I was enjoying taking on new challenges every few months and starting from scratch with a new environment to practice my scrum master skills, I was getting tired of the travel that consulting required. I was looking for an opportunity in NYC, and I’ve always had an interest in the journalism and media industry; I was a Public Policy major at Duke and took all of the journalism classes that I could. I applied to the Hearst Digital Media job online, and learned that they were in their early stages of implementing scrum; I would be their first Scrum Master. Turns out that Hearst Digital Media was the perfect fit for me!
What are some tips you have for leading groups of people and managing group dynamics?
1. Negotiation is one of the most important skills you can build in a leadership role. So much of what I do requires getting buy-in from people with opposing views. It takes practice, it takes building strong relationships, and it takes perseverance to bring about change. All of this helps in the art of negotiation.
2. I live and breathe by the importance of transparency. Group dynamics break down when people feel they don’t have the information they need to succeed. They lose trust in leadership and in each other, and without trust, teams delve into chaos.
3. While my role requires an emphasis on process at all levels, I believe in people over process in everything I do to help my teams succeed. Individuals and interactions matter more to success of teams than processes and tools; the processes and tools that your teams utilize should just be a solve for the way the individuals on your teams need to interact with one another.
What is the most important lesson you have learned in your career?
I’ve learned that if you want something, you have to take the initiative to make it happen. I learned the Scrum Master role at IBM by volunteering to cover for someone who was out of office. I got the Hearst Scrum Master job by putting myself out there applying online to open job opportunities. I earned the Senior Scrum Master title by proving my worth as the first Scrum Master at Hearst, and having confidence in what I knew I could bring to the team. And I’ve ultimately earned the Director title by continuing to work hard every day with my teams, being humble and honest with everyone I work with, and making my priority solving problems every day.
How has mentorship factored into your career path?
I’ve had tremendous mentors along the way. One of my first bosses at IBM was a Project Manager for an SAP Implementation; while I didn’t go down that particular career path, he has been a wonderful mentor for career advice and we grab dinner every few months to this day 7 years later. I’ve also been lucky enough to meet 2 incredible Agile Coaches, one at IBM and the second through a training program I participated in. Both serve as confidants that generously and confidentially offer me their time and advice when I’m working through a harder problem in the office and in my career. They have been invaluable in helping build my confidence in what I know and my ability to succeed in the field.
By the same token, I have mentees that I’ve met along the way—both at IBM, at Hearst, and beyond—that I like to give back to in the same way that my mentors have given back to me. I’m always looking for more ways to give back, and help others discover this career path that was completely unknown to me when I graduated from Duke.
How do you strive to maintain work/life balance?
That’s one of the hardest questions – if you’re doing something you love, it’s hard to know when to take a break. I wasn’t always good at balancing work and life, and early on at Hearst I found myself staying late and arriving early to make sure I could keep up with our growing teams and the growing responsibilities on my plate. Looking back on it, those extra hours during the time my role needed it most have enabled me to find stability now, as I’ve discovered how and when I work best, and I’ve gotten much better at delegating where applicable and knowing how to prioritize my work. Now I strive to leave the office no later than 6:30, even if it means I wrap up an email or two when I get home. I usually fill my week with 2-3 activities (be it dinner with a friend, a workout class, a movie with my boyfriend) so that my mind can take a break from the daily grind. I’ve found that work/life balance is so important, but that it’s also important to know when to put in that extra effort on the “work” side of the scale, as it pays in dividends on the “life” side of the scale in the future.
What do you like to do in your free time?
1. Play keyboards: Over the last 5 years, I was in a local band with some friends. I say “was” because we’ve disbanded this year as band members moved to other cities. 2. Run: Just participated in my first half marathon this weekend! 3. Read: I’m in a NYC book club that was started by some fellow Duke alum! 4. Travel: I try to travel whenever I can, both local and internationally. I’m lucky that my work sends me to London once a quarter, and I try to make a weekend out of the end of these trips whenever possible!
What is something you are trying to learn or work on right now?
I’m currently working on executive coaching tactics in my role. Scrum Masters coach their development teams. In my role as Director of Agile Operations, I coach our senior leadership team to meet their goals in the same way my Scrum Masters coach our development teams. Coaching at the senior level often requires different approaches, and I’m working on building this skillset and adding new facilitation methods to my Agile Coaching Toolkit.