Innovation Spotlight: Jen Bunk Ventures Out Into the World of Tech Leadership
This is the seventh article for the Innovation Spotlight series for the DCD Blog, where we interview some of the newest and most creative companies popping up in the Boston area. If you would like to be featured in our series, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Company: Jen Bunk Ventures
Interviewee: Jen Bunk, Founder
In the past we’ve talked about employee engagement, and how it’s the responsibility of the manager to make sure their team members have all the tools they need to succeed. But while some people are natural leaders, in many tech companies, many managers are employees who have been working for the company for a long time and have been simply promoted up the chain. These people have a lot of experience and skill in the job they started with, but not as much with the whole managing people thing.
Enter Jen Bunk, a Tech Leadership Coach, and founder of Jen Bunk Ventures. Management, she says, is a whole different world, which involves going into a bunch of meetings and handling people, and it’s important to let a new manager ease into that new environment. After all, tech can only do what it’s programmed to do, but humans as a whole are not so predictable. Nor are they as straightforward, simple, or single-minded as machines. If something goes wrong with a human, finding the solution is not usually as simple as going online and looking up the instruction manual.
So what brought her to this specific niche? “In my former life I was an academic,” she says. “I was a psychology professor for about 10 years. My husband and I were living in PA of the time, but I always felt this pull back to Boston.”
When Bunk’s husband got a job offer in the Boston area, they hashed out a plan and took the plunge, uprooting their life and moving back to a place that in their hearts they called home. Once there, Bunk continued teaching as a remote professor for about a year or so, but she knew it couldn’t last. It was time for her to venture out on her own.
An important early step to beginning this personal endeavour was figuring out how to name it. “One of the best pieces of advice I received when I was thinking about naming my business was ‘Just put your name in it. Because then, no matter what you do with it, it’s your own.’” With her sense of identity firmly in place, Jen Bunk Ventures was born.
She started with management consulting, like many other people in her field do to improve the workplace, but after a while, Bunk realized she wanted to focus more on who she could help and how. Though she can’t pinpoint one miraculous “Aha! moment,” after many mornings spent staring into her cereal bowl and letting her thoughts marinate, she came to a conclusion. She would focus her attention on tech managers. It was only natural, after all. She’d spent the last 10 years or so living vicariously through her husband’s trials and tribulations as a tech manager, and had learned a lot through it.
But Bunk isn’t just any leadership coach; rather than approaching her courses from the “Use the Jen Bunk Method” kind of mindset, she focuses on what she can do for a client in order to help them reach their desired results. She feels her unique approach comes from her experience with people, business, and tech. It’s not that other management consultants don’t have psychology backgrounds or that there aren’t people who focus on tech leaders, but she hasn’t ever really seen someone else who puts both of those together.
And for those tech-minded individuals, another unique aspect of her coaching process is to take data from the programs she runs for clients and share her results for education. She calls this an old habit that has carried over from her days as a researcher and scientist, one which serves her well now.
One of Bunk’s primary goals is to help get managers through their day to day needs and processes, while also helping their team members perform at the highest level they can. Most often, she finds that the most common issue is that a team isn’t performing as well as it could or should be. Sometimes, the reason why is immediately apparent to the team leader, but at other times, it is not. In cases like these, she works with the team leader in order to identify the underlying cause of these symptoms, and offers advice on how to find the most optimal solution for that particular dynamic.
Communication is another common concern. Bunk’s courses often include insights on how to provide useful feedback, including knowing the correct time and place to give it. Sometimes, she helps managers identify the most productive way to hold meetings so that the time invested is spent wisely, enabling teams to get the most out of them. Many managers know it’s important to have meetings with employees, after all, but the devil is in the details.
As helpful and thorough as her content currently is, however, she’s always looking to improve. The most important thing she is working on right now is refining her online program, called People Stack Academy, in order to get people interested in what she has to offer. Her current efforts include finding ways to offer more information through her free course, so that tech leaders feel better prepared to manage their teams.
Once she has enough people interested, her goal is not only to expand to other English speaking countries — such as Canada, Australia, and England — but to kick her program up a notch. She wants to be able to start helping people at a higher level than she is now by adding content for those who have graduated from the program. She also hopes for the chance to drill down into the super specific topics that people need help with.
Another expansion plan is to add new education integration options, where 90% of the lessons still take place online, but every 6–12 months everyone can get together at a nice locale to talk in person. Right now, she and her students interact once a week over video conferencing. The program is structured so that students spend most of the course watching training videos, and then they have a weekly Q&A call where people in the group can jump in, ask questions, and learn from each other. Having a chance for students to get together and work face to face, she thinks, will greatly enhance the discussion and spread of knowledge that will benefit them the most.
In the meantime, one of the methods Bunk is using to get her name out there is blogging. She runs People @ Work, a blog about leadership, team management, and how people work together. She mainly uses it as a platform to increase her sphere of influence and engage in collaboration projects; you may have noticed that she’s submitted a number of guest blog posts to Deep Core Data in the past. Our marketing expert, Rhiannon Chiacchiaro, even appeared on one of her podcasts!
Overall, Jen Bunk truly believes that understanding machines and humans are not mutually exclusive. As she continues to guide her clients and educate her students, she maintains a sense of “harmony in opposites” that is very rare these days. We look forward to seeing how her process continues to evolve, and how her work can help reshape the way tech teams are able to collaborate and grow, together.
Because she’s such an expert in both blogging and leadership, we asked if there any online resources that she would recommend for leaders starting out. Her favorites include:
- Rands in Repose by Michael Lopp of Slack. He’s been telling true to life stories about being a manager and tech nerd for years. He’s a great person to follow, both via his blog and Twitter.
- Harvard Business Review, which has a lot of great information on leadership and management. Because it’s Harvard, it’s very scientific but she feels that it’s very relatable to people who aren’t highly academic.
- Software Lead Weekly, which is a great newsletter that Oren Ellenbogen sends out each week, focusing on helpful, insightful strategies for tech managers.
Originally published at www.deepcoredata.com on March 16, 2017.