How Your Voting Record Helped Me Figure Out My Career Path

I have a confession to make.  Remember last fall during the campaign season when you were bombarded with mail, phone calls, and volunteers contacting you?

That was me.  Well, it wasn’t entirely me.  I wasn’t sending stuff from the Republicans *and* the Democrats, but I was managing a state representative campaign and we employed the usual, often irritating, tactics of direct mail, phone calls, and volunteers knocking on your door on Saturday morning.

When I started working in campaigns over a year ago, I knew next to nothing about campaigns.  I’d followed orders, but I hadn’t done any strategy or made any real decisions beyond deciding to skip the door that had a sign saying “We Don’t Call 911” with a picture of a handgun in its window.

As it turns out, there are massive databases with information about where you live, when you’ve voted, your birthday, which party ballot you’ve pulled, your general religious beliefs, any volunteer or fundraising information, and even your astrological sign.  It’s a wealth of information - like Facebook but without privacy settings and including voting history.  

The program can be a little overwhelming because there is so much data and nearly limitless types of searches — how do I use this to my campaign’s advantage?

Soon after downloading this software I called up the company that made it to get a couple clarifications.  Their rep answered my questions, but I found myself with more for him.  Did he like his job?  How did he get started?  Had he worked on campaigns, or did he have a statistics background?  Was he in awe with the potential for this data, and did he have any tips for me?  He told me he did like his job, but laughed off the rest of my questions.

From a data standpoint, my first race (a congressional race) was limiting. We had paid for a set number of searches — enough to get our walking lists and calling data, but not enough for me to really explore.

In the second race, the aforementioned state representative campaign, I could run as many searches as I wanted.  The number of women over 35 who had children and had voted in the last three school committee elections?  Done.  They’d get a flier about teachers endorsing my candidate.  The number of men over 65 who have donated to previous elections?  Done.  They’d get a fundraising call.

After the election (we won!) I was trying to figure out where data and analytics could fit into working in a political office. After months and months, I knew I liked analyzing and examining people, data, and possible patterns.  I didn’t see an obvious transition, so I started looking around for another work environment with the same potential for data driven actions, with the excitement, purpose, and reach of a campaign.

Enter Startup Institute Boston.  I’ve forgotten how I heard about Startup Institute — Twitter?  A blog post?  It was sometime last fall, while I was working 60 - 80 hours a week and had limited neurons to devout to my career plans post November 6th.  The idea lodged in the back of my mind though, and as my brain calmed post-election, Startup Institute was my clear preference.  I submitted my application in mid December, and anxiously paced for a month waiting for interviews to start while coming up with back up plans A, B, and C.

Now I’m here.  I dove into a wealth of information with a little bit of a blindfold and quite a bit of hope.  Hope itself is not a strategy, so I’m trying to soak up as much information and knowledge as I can.  I’m staying late and learning from my peers; I’ve got a page in Evernote filling up with links for SEO, Adwords, and analytics I will look at as soon as the next three things on my list get done.  I’m asking questions and I’m figuring out what I need to know, what I want to know, and what is the best way to learn SQL?  

There isn’t time for me to learn and do and talk to everything and everyone I want to, but I’ve discovered there are many worse problems to have.  The number of brilliant instructors who’ve come by is more than I can count on two hands — and that’s only in the first 13 days.  That ambitious list of qualities I was looking for?  I’ve pulled out my pen to check them off the list.

You might say I’m too idealistic, but the Startup Institute is where I belong right now — and fortunately for you, I won’t be at your door, on your phone, or in your mailbox to beg you for your support.

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Rachel Sorensen is in the technical marketing track at Startup Institute with a special interest in data and analytics. She tweets @23RVS and has more info on her about page.