Ever wondered what it’s like to work for a digital product studio? Feeling curious about what makes our team so successful? Our employee spotlight series is here to give you an insight into who we are, how we work, and shine a light on Crowdlinker’s most valued assets - the people.
Fiona Haller is the Director of Product & Design here at Crowdlinker. With over 20 years of coaching and management experience, as well as more than 10 years of project and product management experience, Fiona received her promotion from senior product manager to the position she has now in just 1 year. She’s also simply one of the most warm and positive people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.
I sat down for a virtual catch up with Fiona to find out a little more about her journey, what drives her, and what it’s like to work in such a key role for our company.
Tell me what a day in the life of the Director of Product and Design at Crowdlinker looks like?
Every day I feel like I'm working on about half a dozen different tasks, which is my comfort zone! I like to have that variety in my day. Right now, we’ve been working on growing our design and product teams, so making sure we have the proper documentation and training processes in place to ensure that when we have product managers and designers take on projects, they're ready to go and we can deliver those projects to our high standards.
We’re also doing a lot of work with new clients right now. We’ve had numerous new clients come in through our sales channel, so we’re working with probably about 10 different clients at various stages. There’s so much involved in this phase - reviewing estimates and proposals, as well as initiating partner meetings to understand what their needs are and how we can best help.
I’ve been working quite a bit with our director of technology right now as we’ve identified some areas we’d like to improve our processes, so we’re working on those together. Other than that, just checking in with the team, making sure their projects are on track, ensuring they have the tools to be successful and helping to unblock obstacles where needed.
Outside of CL, what keeps you busy in your spare time (if you have any!)?
In addition to coaching and doing choreography for gymnastics, I spend time at the gym, and I do a lot of hiking with my dog because she’s super high energy. She’s a Husky Shepherd cross that we rescued, and she needs a good run everyday! I’m also a part time uber driver for my children and all their activities. I have 2 girls, one who’s into power tumbling and the other now coaches gymnastics. Other than that I just try to travel and get in some quality time with friends and family.
You’ve also put a lot of time into your academic life, studying both psychology and economics. What was the journey like for you from student to product manager?
When I went into university, my goal was to become a surgeon, then the first year happened and I probably had more fun than I should have!
I ended up rerouting, and became really interested in psychology. I felt that it was something that could be applied to not just a job but so many other areas of my career and life. After completing the psychology degree, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I was working on a government program to help students find jobs. I was researching labour markets and trends, and that was when I got interested in economics. So, I headed back to University to do another degree.
After school, I travelled overseas to coach for 4 years, and when I came back I landed a contract job with Metroland, which is the community newspaper division of Torstar. It was basically a 6 month project to improve our HR practices, build in competency based hiring, identify talent, implement development plans and hiring processes etc. We wanted to reduce turnover, improve our hiring practices, and create an environment where staff could grow.
That morphed into a HR role, then I ended up in digital where I was overseeing a team of developers, designers, and sales people. It just kind of grew from there. My roles were always very project based in nature. As Metroland media started restructuring, I took on a product management role at Torstar and worked on TheStar.com/Metroland's election platform for 2019, real estate and marketplace sites, and an AI project which was pretty exciting.
One of the things I took advantage of while working there was the ability to carve your own road. When there was an opportunity to take on a new project, or learn a new skill, or be connected to different people, I’d jump on that. My role was unique in that I worked with basically every single department across the entire company footprint of Metroland. In a lot of companies you can be siloed, but because our team worked with everyone I was able to learn about the operations across the company.
Before joining Crowdlinker as a senior product manager, you (like many of us) spent some time limbo-ing around in a sort of pandemic vacation - how did you find the motivation to pull yourself back into the workplace and apply for the job at CL?
When covid hit I took 10 months off, and I took that time to recharge and reassess. I had a huge list of things I wanted to do, and basically I ended up doing lots of sleeping! Which turns out is what I needed. It was good. I got to spend time with my family, which I felt I hadn't been able to do for a long time because of the commute and long working hours.
When I actually started to look for a job I was in a really good place and was ready to go! I have always sort of worked remotely, with teams that have been dispersed so it wasn’t new for me to work remotely. But after having previously commuted for 5 hours a day on the days I went into the office, I was really happy to look at companies who were set up for remote work.
It was perfect timing, and Crowdlinker was the perfect fit. I’m happy it all worked out really well.
How did you feel when you learned about your promotion to director of product and design at Crowdlinker, after just 1 year with the company?
I was thrilled. I love to manage projects but where I thrive is growing people and helping them achieve their goals, to become better at what they do. I think that’s the coaching side of me that comes out. And I also enjoy looking at how to improve processes. So it was a natural role that I was looking to grow into.
Even though I was super thrilled, I will say there was a downside at the time. I was working with a client that was probably one of the best clients I ever had the opportunity to work with in my career - just an amazing group of individuals. Luckily, it’s worked out that I can still be involved in that project.
As someone who has achieved so much in their career, what advice would you give to someone wanting to level up and stand out in their field?
There’s the typical work hard, go after your dreams blah blah blah. But I would share the advice that one of my first managers said to me:
“I hope you fail, because I hope you take those opportunities and those risks. Without those and without failing, there’s a lost opportunity for learning.”
This advice holds two lessons: 1. being okay to fail, and understanding it’s always something you can learn from, and 2. the need to take risks and not try to play life safe. If you never expand your experiences, you lose out on the opportunity to discover new passions. The last few years in my prior role, I was playing it safe, I was in a job and going about it but I wasn’t growing as a person and it got to the point where I knew I needed change. When I had that time to reflect and pause, I came back a lot stronger and more focused.
What has been your favourite project so far with Crowdlinker, and why?
I loved my work with Banfield Pet Hospital. I love animals so it was easy to connect with the product. There were also just great people involved in the project. We had meetings sometimes with 30 or 40 people on the call, and it was an amazing group. Everyone was very professional, intelligent and super motivated to get the build out.
Other than that, we have a couple of projects that are in the discovery phase, which is a phase that I really like to work in. Understanding what it is the client wants to build, and what their pain points are, and what we can build that will fill a need in the market, and how we can take that project to the next level. I find that so exciting.
Last question. If you could’ve played a hand in any product that is currently on the market, what would it be and why?
Wow, that’s tough! Immediately, I’m thinking about something huge like working on the space shuttle. I don’t really know what the actual product would be, but I guess the goal would be to work on something that’s a game changer. Having the opportunity to work on something that monumentally changes the way people live or how they look at life.
I have certain criteria that I live by, and things that I try to hold true. One of those is, regardless of what you do in life, you should always try to live it in a way that when you leave, you know you tried everything you possibly could to leave it in a better state then when you arrived. However small that might be. I pass that sentiment on to my girls, and I take it with me in every product that I work on. The end goal is to ensure the products we build are making someone's life easier. Every solution should deliver value for the customer.
Thanks so much to Fiona for taking the time out of a busy schedule to speak with me.
If you’re interested in joining our team, check out our careers page for the latest opportunities at Crowdlinker.