Finding Your Niche With Danielle Madison

Fiona Waters

August 22, 2020

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For some people, their career is laid out for them as a clear path to follow. A doctor majors in biology in college, attends medical school, and gets a job at a clinic. An artist opens an online business, manages their social media accounts, and develops a brand. What about the majority of people, though, whose plans aren't as definitive? Danielle Madison, Chief of Staff at Blizzard Entertainment, offers some reassuring advice. Her aspiration to become a newscaster transformed after she started working with broadcast operations and technology. Today she is responsible for optimizing operations at FLO TV, Qualcomm, QuickPlay, and Verizon to make the launch of various applications and services possible. "Sometimes your personality just fits a certain career," Danielle begins, "and you don't know it until you start working -- and that's okay."

What company do you work with and what is your current position?
I'm Chief of Staff at Blizzard Entertainment, though my role also spans IT and Security across King and Activision. I mainly lead strategic initiatives across IT and Security.

What does a day of work look like for you?
In general, I prioritize and do the "tactical" work for the CIO. Mostly I create proposals and comparisons to make sure our teams are operating efficiently. For example, I might gather teams for data analyses or decide who would be the best person to give a presentation about an idea. I know who in the office is a good fit for a task, who's good with networks, who's good with apps… You need to know who's going to ask the right questions in a meeting.

What is your approach to staff management?
It's important to respect the other person. Challenging an employee with something new shows them that you believe in them. I like to assign people to tasks that might be a little bit out of their comfort zones, but that I know they can do it.

What interested you in majoring in Political Science and minoring in Communications in college?
My plan was to become a newscaster. I prepared for it as a career and even took reporting classes. I remember in 4th grade, my classmates and I were asked to write down what we liked to do. I said "taking naps and watching TV," and the teacher called my mom! I ran into that teacher a few years after I had gotten into broadcast operations. When I told her I ended up in the TV and media industry, we had a good laugh.

How did you get from majoring in Political Science to working in the broadcast and media industry?
You'd be surprised how much politics comes to play in some of these big companies! In college, I really just wanted to major in something I was interested in. I'm definitely of the opinion that pursuing what you love will pay off. The local station I worked for didn't pay for anything.

Even if a degree isn't in the exact direction you end up in, it's something in addition to the skills you develop. The majority of people don't know what skills they need until they start working, so it's hard to prepare for the workforce. One of my co-workers is actually a biology major who does work on the artistic side of the company!

My personal path started completely by chance. A friend invited me to work at Qualcomm as they launched a service to stream TV to cell phones. It was supposed to be for a six month period. I wouldn't join, because I was dead set on becoming a newscaster. Then, my hiring director admitted they would also only be working there a few months. I ended up joining the company with a plan to leave after 6 months. Over five years later, I was still there.

What is some advice you would offer recent graduates?
Find a good mix of roles. For example, if you majored in accounting and you like mechanics, you could work in the finance department at a car repair company, or if you like health and also like helping people, you could do customer service at a hospital. Find something you're passionate about, because outside of that interest, a lot of the daily tasks are the same across jobs. Do I have a passion for creating PowerPoints? No, but it's something I do regularly.

What made you stay in this line of work?
The longer I stayed, the more I enjoyed the work I was doing. I made companies more efficient, and the more I worked with them, the more I was interested in operations and technology.

What challenges did you face in the male-dominated field of tech?
My career in broadcasting was primarily male-dominated as well. Early on, it was difficult being the only woman in the room when I didn't have much experience. As I gained experience, I also gained respect from the people I worked with.

People also always assumed that I didn't have technical knowledge. At one of the companies I worked at, I was given the lowest title when I changed divisions even though I had great reviews and had been in a technical position previously.

I think most people assume that if you work hard, you'll just be 'auto-promoted.' I've learned since then that you need to be very clear in your expectations. I consider myself to have a strong personality, so it wasn't too big of an issue for me, but getting a promotion is something you have to request. The world is changing, so I hope asking for what you deserve becomes more natural for women.

What do you define as success?
It's something you set out to do that also makes you happy. You shouldn't keep pursuing something if it's not something you want. For some people, success might be finishing a marathon. For me, success is realizing -- sometimes during the marathon -- that I don't care about finishing it. Getting to that point of realization allows me to understand what I do value (and what I don't).

How has COVID-19 affected your work?
Before COVID-19, our office had a pretty anti-work-from-home culture. Working remotely was very rare, because we believed the office setting and the in person connection was vital to creativity. At home we don't have our whiteboards or easy office to office communication, so we've had to put some effort into developing virtual alternatives. Virtual meetings and interactions have also disconnected everyone in some ways, so we've had to get creative with facilitating a social atmosphere. There are people at work who I would wave to in the hallway. You can't call someone on Zoom just to do that!

I think the best path forward is going to be some sort of ratio, with people coming into the office at times and working from home at other times. We haven't been working from home for very long, so it's hard to say how it's affected creativity. Overall, I think there are some losses, but I also think there are some gains. There's no commute, which has been great for a lot of people.

Employees and even my boss have been free to move around. I even tried to spend this summer of social isolation in the Bahamas! If I can't be around other people, I might as well spend it relaxing on the beach. It didn't end up working out, but I like that it's even something people can consider -- or in my case, dream about -- now.

What are you watching right now?
I don't have a ton of free time, but if I do, I'm watching The Last Kingdom or Schitt's Creek on Netflix. Handmaid's Tale is also great; I hope they get another season.

I used to be into tiny home tours, but now that I'm always at home with my family, I can't really imagine living in such a small space.

What is the most used app on your phone?
I've gotten back into Words With Friends now that I'm home. My dad also got me into TikTok. It's like a rabbit hole. You start with one short video and the next time you look up from your phone, it's been an hour!

What are three things you can't live without?
My family, easily. It's been hard stuck inside with them because of COVID, but I'm glad to have them. My Google Home is next. Without that thing, I wouldn't know what day it is. I can tell it to turn off all the lights at night, change the thermostat temperature -- you name it. If I really had to stretch my answer to cover three things, I would also say my phone, especially now. My mom texts me a lot more now, and I like to be in touch with her.

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