Career Shift: From Educator to Program Manager
Hailing originally from Connecticut, Kiersten Kirshman moved to Seattle with her family in 2013. Part of what drew her to Seattle was the beautiful nature, the rich culture, and the kind and open-minded people of Washington. With a solid background as an educator and a career spanning 20 years in that field, Kiersten also found herself ready for a career change. After landing in Seattle, while still applying for traditional teaching positions, Kiersten found her focus being drawn more and more towards corporate Learning and Development. Her cousin, a consultant at Prime 8 at the time, saw that desire for a change and encouraged her to apply to Prime 8 as an Instructional Designer - and the rest, as they say, is history!
Three years on, Kiersten has rapidly developed into a truly exceptional Program Manager with our Learning and Development team. We chatted with Kiersten about her journey and her growth through career change.
Why did you choose to switch from being an educator to an instructional designer?
I was a music educator for more than 20 years and, in addition to my love for sparking learning in my students, I had an underlying passion for building curriculum. Digging deep into what motivated learning had always been a passion of mine. In many of my roles while teaching in the arts, I had to be scrappy and build my own curriculum and programs—and I loved that aspect of teaching. However, throughout my years as an educator, I started to realize that there was more that I wanted to do with my career journey and felt that my administrative and executive skills could grow and shine in new ways.
My first role at Prime 8 was as an instructional designer and it was a great match for my background as well as my future goals. I was now able to build adult learning products and draw on my education experience while building new skills and acquiring new tools. The first six months were a big learning curve and I worked really hard, but at the same time I felt a sense of gratitude for the new opportunity and I received lots of support from my manager Angus Hawes and my team members. I then moved into project management and am currently a Program Manager. I am loving the opportunity to work directly with my clients and having a more strategic role within my projects and on our L&D team.
How does your teaching background help in your current role?
My training in education and the arts runs beneath it all, I still carry my mentors with me. Thanks to them and lots of years teaching, I have a framework inside for what good instruction and good learning looks like. It feels like it’s part of my DNA, as I lived it for so long. I have always had a sense of urgency about learning outcomes and that stays with me today. When I look at something we are building for a client, perhaps a workshop or an e-learning course, I ask myself: what is the main objective here? What is the learner’s experience? I go through many of the questions that I did as teacher. I taught with standards and objectives in mind and now I continue in that spirit but with my clients’ objectives and standards in the forefront.
What steps did you take to make your career change?
I was pursuing teaching roles in the arts when my family and I arrived in Washington. As I mentioned, I had a personal connection to Prime 8, and was encouraged to apply for an instructional designer role. With some additional background in event planning and administrative experience, I felt that I made a strong candidate for learning and development. I was thrilled that Prime 8 was interested in me and my skill set and was able to place me on a contract with Microsoft. I haven’t looked back since.
What advice do you have for someone thanking about making a career change?
Believe in the skills and experience you have in your current career and know they are an asset, as opposed to something to minimize. Those skills can be a differentiator for you and will always be with you. Your background will give you a unique perspective and become a source of strength in your career. Once you make the switch, be prepared to work diligently and expect a learning curve. It’s a big change. Lastly, relationship building is so important. The way you treat others and run your business speaks volumes to who you are. Build that trust and be accountable - do what you say you will do.
When you were growing up, what was your “dream job?”
When I was very young, I loved music wanted to be a music therapist. I also wanted to be a party planner and create elegant, fancy parties.