I’m Maranda Dziekonski, and I’m the Chief Customer Officer and interim Head of People Ops at Swiftly.
Swiftly is a big data platform for public transit. If you think about everything from the real-time passenger information to the behind-the-scenes analytics on how the transit agency is performing, we partner with transit agencies to provide them all of that. I’ve been at Swiftly for over two years now.
I was asking myself this just the other day! I was counting how many years I’ve been doing customer-facing work, and realized I’ve been doing some type of customer-facing work for over 24 years. I took a very different journey than most.
Fresh out of high school, I went to the local factory and got a job as a screw gun operator. I worked there from 6:00 AM to 2:30 PM, and then from 6:00 PM to midnight, I answered phones in a call center at Amway. I worked with customers that were putting orders in or had questions about their accounts and such. Amway was my first professional office job and my first taste of helping people.
I realized I loved working with customers. I didn’t know what it was going to look like or how my career was going to unfold, but I knew that I had a passion for helping people. That started my journey to CS. I tried out various things along the way, and almost everything was customer-facing. I did customer service and sales at a bank and was the top salesperson for a solid eight months. I even won the coveted parking spot by the door, which in the winter in Michigan was a pretty big deal.
Everything I did was centered around customer needs, and having the ability to build rapport and get to know them. That kept my career going in that direction, and here we are!
Yes, I’ve gone through many personal and professional challenges. I came from a family where education wasn’t a priority. I never had anyone tell me I had to go to college, so I didn’t leave high school thinking that was something I needed to do. I actually arrived at that decision on my own.
During my entire journey, both in my childhood and career, I never had anyone in my corner talking about my next steps or where I should go next or do next. I’ve had goals in areas I wanted to learn about, but I’ve never had this set path.
I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have an idea of where you want to be, but I think a lot of folks tend to miss out on learning and opportunities if they’re so focused on what the end-game is. If you’re so focused on where you want to be, you could miss the opportunities that are available right now and miss out on potential learning moments.
And just to expand on that; I never thought 10 or 15 years ago that I wanted to be a VP of Customer Success. That isn’t what I thought that I needed or wanted to do. I didn’t know that this is where I would end up. Instead of thinking that way, I thought about what I could learn today that can help me be better tomorrow.
So when someone comes to me and asks if I want to learn how to do something like build out a training infrastructure, I would say yes without hesitation. Then someone else would come in and ask if I wanted to learn a different task - and I would also say yes!
That was me. I always volunteered. Always said yes to the opportunities that came my way. Not because I was wandering aimlessly, but because I wanted to explore everything and approach every day as a learning opportunity. Over time, I’ve accumulated the knowledge that has made me who I am today. I’ve always had this belief in myself that I could do anything if I try. I still have that belief. And while I often fail to get things the first time, I also do not give up easily.
If you don’t have any relationships that drive you forward in a positive way, you have to seek them out. They’re not going to just fall in your lap. You have to put yourself in situations or places where you’ll have exposure to folks that you aspire to be like or learn from.
For example, I left Michigan over 10 years ago and moved to Silicon Valley. I accepted a job with a tech startup there, and never looked back. I wanted to be around people that were creating, building, and growing.
It changed my career from a very steady and stable one to one that has had a very different but awesome trajectory. I dove headfirst into the startup world. Startups are not generally known for stability, but the learning opportunities are endless. I put myself in places where I could meet with and learn from others. I would attend every meetup I could find about customer success and reach out to folks on LinkedIn that were thought leaders in the space. San Francisco was just flooded with folks who were available and happy to go grab a coffee and talk about their careers. They gave me advice on things that I should do to move my career forward.
Don’t ever wait or depend on someone else to pave the path for you. You have to pave that path on your own. Have deliberate conversations with your manager. Let them know about your desires and where you want to go. Don’t be afraid! If your goal is to have their job, let them know.
Ask them, “I want to do what you’re doing. How did you get there?”
Have them talk through the skill sets that they need to learn or the gaps that would hold them back from being able to do what they do every day. A good manager is not going to find that threatening. They’re going to support you and help you figure it out. And if they can’t give you that mentorship, they’ll at least be able to point you in the direction you need to go.
Swiftly has created the first big data platform specifically designed for transportation data and operations. Swiftly works with over 95 city transit networks around the world, including MBTA in Boston, Capital Metro in Austin, VIA in San Antonio, VTA in San Jose, and MDOT MTA in Baltimore, supporting over 5,500 transit agency professionals and impacting over 1.5 billion passengers per year. Swiftly has helped customers improve arrival predictions by up to 30% and complete planning projects up to 90% faster, resulting in increased ridership, fewer passenger complaints, and more efficient transit operations.