Selected topics: Surviving high school, becoming a librarian, transitioning into tech, being a first-time manager, handling imposter syndrome.
About Season: Season is the Taxonomy Manager at Viator (owned by TripAdvisor), where she organizes tours and activities into categories and destinations. She holds a Master’s in Library Science from NC Central University and a BA in English from NC State University. She loves to travel, play video games, do yoga, and hang out with cats (and sometimes people).
Books she recommends
(WITtalks will receive a small commission if you purchase a book using the affiliate links on this page. Thanks!)
Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Note: The text below reflects constructive editing of the published audio for clarity and flow.
Erin: In this episode, we talk with Season Hughes, a taxonomy manager at Viator, which is a TripAdvisor company. Don’t miss this episode if you want to learn about tech jobs for organized bookworms, why taxonomy matters online, being a first time people manager, and dealing with impostor syndrome. And if high school was or is difficult for you, you’ll definitely want to hear Season talk about surviving that challenge.
Erin: Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the WITtalks podcast. I’m Erin Allard, your producer and co-host.
Tammy: I’m Tammy Sanders, also a co-host.
Season: And I’m Season, I’m the guest on this show.
Tammy & Erin: Yay, Season! [Laughter]
Tammy: We should talk about a little bit how we got you as a guest. I’m working currently at a data analytics software company, and Season and I used to be co-workers. We started at roughly the same time at that company, but I just remembered Season being super amazing, always volunteering, and always trying to make everything better around us. You put a good spirit and a good vibe out into the world. We remembered Season and we thought, “We’ve got to get that kind of energy on the podcast.” Thank you so much for joining us.
Season: Super excited to be a part of this.
Tammy: We really appreciate it.
Erin: When we were brainstorming who would be some initial people that we would want to have on this show, she suggested Season. You have such a unique job that I think a lot of people, first of all, don’t even know about; and second, might not think that your job is a tech job, but it really is. We’ll give you the chance to explain why, but first, we’re going to keep people in suspense and not tell them what you’re doing yet. [Laughter]
First, can you tell us a little bit about your life story, whatever you choose to share and whatever you think might be relevant for people to understand who you are and why you’re on the show today?
Season: Sure. I am 32 years old. I live and work in downtown San Francisco. I grew up in the South East. I have a dad who worked in radio, so we went wherever the best jobs were, wherever the best place to raise a family was. I was born in Virginia Beach. I’ve also lived in Missouri and in South Carolina. I’ve spent most of my time in North Carolina, which is where my family lives now and where I went to college and grad school. Right after grad school, I went to Seattle for seven years. Now I’ve been in the Bay area for about a year and a half.
Tammy: What took you to Seattle?
Season: My ex got a job at Microsoft and I wanted to get out of North Carolina and see the West Coast. It worked out pretty well. I think he’s still there, he’s done really well. We’re friends and I’m proud of him.
Tammy: That’s cool. That’s really cool.
Erin: That’s great! Let’s talk a bit about the schools you went to. Maybe you could tell us where did you go, what did you major in, why did you choose those places.
Season: Definitely. My college was North Carolina State University and I started out in zoology actually.
Tammy: Actually, I’m not surprised about this because you really do seem to love animals.
Season: I do, sometimes more than people. [Laughter]
I wanted to be the next female crocodile hunter, have that show and educate people about it. And then when I went into zoology, it was more of “What are the cells of the animals?… What are their insides?…” It wasn’t what I was looking for, so I moved over to English. It was something where people were like, “You’re a good writer. You’re good at this.” It came naturally and easy to me, so I switched over there. I went to college and graduated in three years. I took about a year and a half off to work, and then I got my Master’s degree at North Carolina Central.
Erin: So you graduated in three years, even having switched majors?
Season: Yes. [Laughter]
Tammy: How did you pull that off?
Season: No free time. No, I did classes during the summer. I think I just wanted to grow up and be an adult quickly, and I don’t recommend that to anyone. You stay in college as long as you possibly can, please do. Take your time.
Tammy: I think both of these perspectives are really interesting. What was it that propelled you into adulthood? Why’d you want to get there so quickly?
Season: I think because being a certain age, being younger, being in middle school, being in high school is really tough for a lot of people—and I was one of those people. I moved to a small town in North Carolina, I didn’t look like the people there. You can’t see me but I’m a pale redhead. I was super into reading, I was into classical music, and I did theater in high school.
Erin: We would’ve been best friends in high school. I have no doubt.
Season: I think so too. Small town North Carolina is just horrid on that personality and anyone who’s new or different, and I was just ready to get out of there and go to a better world.
Tammy: Got it, that makes sense. A lot of hard work, dedication—[you were thinking] “Let’s get on with it.”
Season: Yes, exactly.
Tammy: What was your Master’s in and why did you choose it?
Season: It’s in library science. I chose it because I was on the CIA website looking at jobs and was like, “Oh, it would be really cool to work for the CIA.” [Laughter]
Tammy: This is why I love doing this podcast. We’ve had many personal conversations and I would have never guessed that you—mild-mannered, sweet-natured—are on the CIA website. What are you doing? How did you get on the CIA website?
Season: I’m glad that I fooled everyone. [Laughter]
Erin: You would’ve actually been a great spy.
Tammy: You would’ve been perfect! No one would’ve ever thought that you’d be a spy.
Season: What’s funny is I actually did get a phone call and an initial interview for it, and I didn’t know who the Secretary of State was at the time (or something like that) and I just blew it. [Laughter] It was an immediate fail. This was actually for a field agent job, not a librarian.
Tammy: I do find it interesting that you were on the CIA website, looking at CIA jobs, and you’re a reader and well-informed, but it had not occurred to you to think about the Secretary of State.
Season: Yeah, I don’t know. I should’ve obviously done my research. It would’ve been a different interview if we had done it today, I would’ve been well prepared. I was super young then. One of the jobs was librarian, and in order to be a librarian, you needed Master’s of Library Science. I’m a person who loves learning and education, and I knew a master’s degree would be in my future and I said, “That looks really cool. I love libraries, I love research, and I love books—perfect fit.”
Tammy: So a librarian for the CIA?
Season: Yes, that was my goal.
Erin: That is really cool.
Tammy: Yeah, that is cool.
Season: As I went on, I’d split my time between what I call “special libraries”, which are medical libraries or anything that doesn’t fit your traditional library model—between that and public libraries. I was undecided. I wanted to be, possibly, a teen librarian.
Erin: That would’ve been cool.
Season: It would’ve been cool too, but after I graduated, I ended up working in public libraries. Luckily, I was a victim of budget cuts. I say ‘luckily’ because I found that you can have these dreams where you think you’re going to go and recommend books to people and change people’s lives, and do cool teen programs but… what people really just want to know is where the bathroom is. [Laughter] It was a little disappointing. I discovered that working with the public is the defining moment—I never wanted to do it again. So that helped shape my career in an interesting way.
Tammy: Very interesting. How did we get from Season who is the nerdy girl in North Carolina, goes off, possibly wants to be a librarian with the CIA, ends up in public libraries where she thinks she’s going to do teen library recommendations, and now we’re talking to a woman in tech? How’d we get there?
Season: Well, there’s another funny story. After I was laid off due to budget cuts, I’d decided I wanted to work with animals for a little while, so I worked as an adoption advisor at the humane society and then switched over to being a dog walker in a pet center.
Tammy: So working with the public was that bad, huh? [Laughter] Did you say to yourself, “It was so bad I just want to work with animals”?
Season: To be honest, yes. I think it’s important to try out different things and see if they’re for you. It was fun. It wasn’t as fulfilling as I wanted it to be, but I’m glad that I took that time for myself and to have fun for that year.
But I kept getting these calls from a contracting company and I was ignoring them at first, but one day, I just had that urge to pick up the phone and talk to them. It was a job at Amazon that was within what’s called “Kindle Direct Publishing”. It’s where anyone can write their own book and upload it to Kindle, and we’re in between to make sure there were no copyright issues or anything incredibly offensive. That’s how I ended up at Amazon.
Tammy: How did this contractor find you?
Season: I think it was maybe on Monster or LinkedIn. I happened to have my resume out there somewhere. That’s the second time that’s happened with a contracting company that I’d landed a really cool gig, which both of them ended up being full-time. So I got really lucky there.
Tammy: Sounds like a lesson learned. If you want something to come to you, you also have to put yourself out there first.
Season: Exactly. Definitely. And on as many channels as possible.
I was there for about a year and a half. I’d been hired full-time as a reviewer. A friend of mine, who I worked with and who also had a Master’s of Library Science went over to the Browse Development and Taxonomy Department at Amazon. Every so often, she would just say, “Hey, we’re hiring. You should check it out.” She kept it up to the point where I just was being polite like, “Okay, I’ll apply. I’ll talk to the people,” to get her off my back. [Laughter] She was really well-meaning but I avoid confrontations, so I was being polite and like, “Okay, I’ll do it.”
Tammy: It also sounds like you really didn’t want to change at that point.
Season: Yeah, I was fairly happy. But I think you should be open to change, so I finally allowed myself to be and just fell in love during the interview process with the people I was talking to. With the job description for taxonomist, it’s something librarians typically go into if they’re not looking to go into a traditional library setting, because we’ve got research and we’ve got organization. In the interview, they’d asked me how I organize my closet. I knew I had to have that job after the interview, so I had my fingers crossed and ended up getting it.
Erin: Now that we’ve let the cat out of the bag that you’re a taxonomist, we need you to tell everyone listening, what does a taxonomist do?
Season: We don’t stuff animals, contrary to public belief. I have to get that out there.
Tammy: That would be a taxidermist.
Season: Yes, thank you. It’s kind of fancy and a little bit boring of a word to say, “We organize things.” I work in retail taxonomy, so I organize products. I put them in categories in a way that people can find them and buy them. I make sure that the categories are named in a natural language. I make sure that I write guidelines for whoever is assigning the products to categories so they’d put them in the right place. I just organize all day long and I happen to do it for a travel company. Travel is my favorite thing. Every day I feel like I’m traveling the world in my job. It’s super cool.
Erin: Wow! Can you give us an example of some things that you would have to organize? I’ve read a couple of articles that you interviewed in and some of them were pretty funny.
Season: [Laughter] Yes. In my current job, there are things like, “Helicopter tours or helicopter rides? What do we call them? What are the people searching?” This is what I think about at night or in the shower. “Why do I need these things?”—things like, transfers to the airport, water cruises, we sell wedding packages, anything that you can do in any destination and making sure that we have the right categories. If we have enough products, we’ll create a category and put them in there.
Right now it’s travel; before that, at Amazon, I worked in what’s called the “Hardlines” division, which basically is anything that’s not media, clothes, or groceries. So I worked in pets, hardware, lawn care, dental supplies… [Laughter] it’s quite a range! What’s fascinating is if it’s something you know nothing about, you have to quickly become an expert, crank out a good navigation experience, and then move on to the next thing. I’m an expert in aquariums now, in cabinet hardware, in dental professional instruments, just all of these things I never thought I’d learn about.
Tammy: Essentially if we were to sum it up for anyone who shops online, if you’ve been able to go online, navigate a site and find what you want, you could probably thank a taxonomist.
Season: Exactly, and if you haven’t been able to find what you want, just blame the engineers. [Laughter] I’m kidding!
Erin: One of the questions that I’ve written down to ask you was, “Why is a taxonomist’s work important?” but I think you’ve answered that for us. Especially for e-commerce sites and online retailers, if your customers can’t find the thing they want to buy, you’re going to lose the sale. Would you say that that is the primary importance of your role in the context of where you are right now or is there anything you would add to that?
Season: No, that’s exactly it, it’s really very simple. If a person can’t find what they’re looking for, they’re not going to be able to buy it and you’re not going to be able to make money. Also, it drives traffic into search. A lot of people say, “People don’t browse sites anymore. They just go on and search.” But at the same time, if you’re not putting the products in the right category, it’s not going to work as well as it possibly could if your products are labeled or tagged in the right place.
Tammy: And if they don’t have the right keywords…
Season: Exactly. So we’re not just browse, we’re more than that. But yes, in a retail context, that’s exactly what I do.
Tammy: I have a quick question. I want to go back to when you were graduating with your Master’s—I’m still thinking about the CIA. It was interesting because you said that taxonomy is something that librarians or people who do library science degree will go into if they don’t want to go into library work. Why weren’t you thinking about taxonomy when you left your Master’s? Why didn’t taxonomy stand out for you? It sounds like you’re made for it. You just love organizing and you’re made for it.
Tammy: But why didn’t it occur to you?
Season: If you talk to most people on the street, do they know what taxonomy is and do they know what a taxonomist is? Even as someone who’s gone through a library school, that was never presented as an option—if you’re in library science, librarian is the term. But really, there’s a lot more out there that’s emerging and getting more attention. Taxonomists could be knowledge managers, digital asset managers, content strategists, information architects, maybe they’re not all exactly taxonomists but they share so many similarities. There are so many other things you can do, people are just… “I didn’t know that that was a thing.”
Tammy: Given that that’s the case… I remember when we worked together, one of the things that you did was that you gave a talk about taxonomy and what a taxonomist does, and it definitely occurred to me that that’s something you do and you’re trying to spread the word. What are some other things that you do? Do you actually give a talk to library programs? What do you do to make sure that people know that this is actually something you can do now as a role?
Season: That’s a great question. I don’t know that I’d actively spend much time promoting the role. I guess my hesitation is that it’s also so specialized. There aren’t many positions out there for taxonomists. When I moved to California, they’d been looking for months to fill the role that I filled at Bloomreach. It can be hard to find people and it could sometimes be hard to find a job as a taxonomist.
Also, just my nature and the nature of most librarians or taxonomists were not self-promoters in any way. Giving those kinds of talks can be hard for me, like with the public speaking and putting yourself out there. We tend to stick with our own people. But again, there’s getting to be such a need for it now, I don’t even know that we need to evangelize it. People are starting to realize, “I need to call things what customers call them.” There’s also the backend of taxonomy where all of your documents—be it physical, be it a repository of information or instructions—need to be organized in some way, and people are starting to realize that taxonomists are the people to do it. I think it’s spreading on its own.
Tammy: Do people know how to go find people in library science? Do they know where to go look for a taxonomist?
Season: I think that they do because most job postings will ask for or require that kind of degree. So if you do a little digging, you can just see that they lead into each other.
Erin: For listeners who might be hearing you say this and saying, “Oh my gosh, I totally identify with her! This job would be perfect for me. I love organizing!” what advice could you give to them since there’s not many of these types of jobs? How can they go about studying and maybe start the process earlier?
Season: My biggest advice would be… There are two big names in the taxonomy world. One of them is Taxonomy Boot Camp, a conference every November that taxonomists, knowledge managers, or whatever we’re calling ourselves get together and talk about taxonomy. There’s a lot of networking opportunities there. There are two different tracks: One is for beginning or aspiring taxonomists and the other is for more experienced taxonomists. That’s a great way to start to learn if this is for you, to learn if these people are your people, and to get your business card out or to grab business cards—I would start there.
I’m also a member of Special Libraries Association, which has a taxonomy division. They have student rates, so if you’re in school and you’re trying to decide what you want to do, I would go there. They’ve got mailing lists, conferences, and chapter meetings in person. I’d try those two resources first. They can always contact me and I’m happy to talk to them about it.
Tammy: Please tell me that the taxonomy conference is in some wild place, like some penthouse in Vegas.
Season: It’s in a very nice hotel in Washington, DC. [Laughter]
Tammy: Okay, well, that’s what you would expect to see from sensible taxonomists. [Laughter]
Erin: I’m really curious to know, Season, you’ve now been doing taxonomy work at three different companies. You started at Amazon, went to Bloomreach, and now you’re working in the travel space. How has your role as a taxonomist changed from employer to employer? Have you been able to shape your role in any way? Can you tell us a bit about that?
Season: Yes, dramatically. I think your role as a taxonomist is shaped by the size of the company and how it’s run, the team that you’re on, and who your manager is.
With Amazon, we were a large team of taxonomists and our worth had already been established and accepted. Our managers were very protective of our time. They would often be the ones to handle harder questions or uncomfortable situations. They were very good at stepping in. We were large and supported, we knew what we were getting into each day, and we had projects that would last for a couple of months. So that was very well-defined and comforting.
And then I moved to Bloomreach, which is a startup in Silicon Valley, as the only taxonomist. The culture I experienced there was… I didn’t know what I would do each day. The work that I did would depend on what our focus was for that day. “Did we get a big client and do we need to try very hard to analyze their data very quickly? Would we be focusing on them for a couple of days?” I never really knew what I would be doing, so I had to be very flexible.
Whereas now, I work for a medium-sized company that’s owned by a very large company, and we just went through a really radical shift in leadership. Our CEO left, my immediate manager left, and a lot of our executive team left. I was also the one who started the team and I’m a manager for the first time, so I’m dealing with a whole bunch of new responsibilities and shifting priorities. But as the person who started the team, I am that person who decides what I’m going to do and what our team does each day and hope it’s the right thing.
Tammy: Can you talk a little bit about your team size? Have you been hiring people? What was the mandate for the people that you’re going to hire? How could you go about building the team? Just talk about your role of the evolving manager.
Season: Definitely. I had this grand vision to build our team the way that Amazon did. But now that we have a new CEO with a mindset of more frugality, I think my hiring’s going to be on hold for a while, which is great because it forces me to work within the resources I have. I have one taxonomist and I have a project manager.
My taxonomist used to work at Walmart and she never was formally a taxonomist. She doesn’t have the formal training and a library degree, but what I saw in her is a vision of starting with the customer, the vision of being highly organized, the vision of thinking of things as a whole and being able to articulate the worth of taxonomy—that’s very valuable to me.
My project manager, whom I actually worked with at BloomReach,—I hired him over from there—handles linking products from Viator to TripAdvisor. He deals quite a bit with our sales team that deals with our suppliers. It requires that political touch and friendliness. He could make anyone just love him and that was really the quality that I saw in him, not the taxonomist role. He’s not too much involved in formal taxonomy.
Tammy: Got it. Where are you taking your cues for how to manage? What I also find really interesting is that often organizations, even organizations who really do care about their people and want to try to develop them… The speed at which we’re all moving is fast and it’s really hard to invest time to teach people how to manage, so sometimes you just really have to learn by doing it.
Tammy: So where do you find your management lessons and how you incorporate them?
Season: I’m laughing because I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing 99.9% of the time. We do have some training classes that I’ve been offered. I love training. I will go to any training that you put in front of me. I’m a firm believer in them. You have to apply what you’ve learned in a training as well. Don’t just go and sit there and zone out, because it’s so valuable. We had training on how to lead one on one. We had training on how to manage the path of your own career and also apply that to helping out your employees figure out what they want to do. I’ve had a lot of different managers and most of them were fantastic and inspiring. I try to just manage people the way that I would want to be managed—that’s really my golden rule.
Tammy: Do you have any lessons learned like, “I also need to remember to not manage like that”—do you have any of those? I think it’s great that you were able to say that you have really fantastic managers, but not everyone has that. Do you also have those lessons that you can apply that are like “The things I should remember not to do”?
Season: Yeah. For me, it’s trying to find something or anything that your employees are doing well, and tell them about it. It can be very easy to just try to correct or encourage them in some way, but take that time to sit down and say, “Hey, that one email you wrote was really articulate,” or “You’ve done this project that’s going to shape the company and other departments in this way.” Take the time to appreciate who you have.
Tammy: That’s interesting. One of the things that occurs to me is it might’ve been tempting for you to say, “Look, I’ve never managed. I’m not sure I know how to manage. I’m not going to take that role,” but what made you actually decide to go for it?
Season: I just wanted to. Again, I had really good and inspiring managers for the most part and I felt like, “Hey, I could do that.” I wanted to help people in a way that my managers have helped me. I wanted to inspire people. I wanted to be that protection or that middle ground and make sure that they have a good work-life balance, make sure that they’re able to shape their own career and do what they find interesting. I wanted to make a better life for people. That’s why I wanted to be a manager.
Erin: I love how you identify that you had great management. You must have absorbed the good things from those managers and it seems like you felt almost a sense of duty for carrying that forward. And now that you’ve had those good experiences, it’s almost like you have the responsibility to pass those along to somebody else.
Season: Exactly, you very articulately said what I’m trying to say.
Tammy: So that’s definitely the upside, but with every life, there are also challenges. So what are some of the challenges that you’re working through?
Season: I’m the kind of person that wants everyone to be happy all the time, so I get very anxious, particularly in management. “Are my employees happy? Am I doing the right thing for them? Are they bored? Are they interested?” I take those fears home with me and that can be hard to live with.
Tammy: Actually, I want to cosign on that just a bit because around when I was at the age that you are now, I ended up managing a team. It was an 11-person team that I got to build from scratch, which was really amazing. So I also identify with this notion that you actually have to build the team that you get to work with, which is really cool.
Season: It is very cool.
Tammy: It’s like getting to choose your friends who you’re going to hang out with all day.
So I had this incredible team, and because I really cared for the people that I was managing, I was so stressed out about that. I remember one of my team members came and sat me down and was like, “Look, I need to know that our department’s okay because we’re about to have a baby,” and I was like, “Oh my God, what do I need to do to make sure that everyone’s job is okay? This is really serious.” It’s interesting what you’re saying because I felt this weight of being a manager. Do you also have that?
Season: Completely, especially now because we have the new CEO, all of our departments are under scrutiny. Another challenge for me is proving the worth of our department. To me, it’s so obvious. You put things in the right places, you help people find products and they buy them, but if you want to put that in some metrics or presentation, that’s what’s really hard for me, so I go home. For the record, I think all of our jobs are fine but again…
Tammy: Let’s just get that out there—everyone’s okay. [Laughter]
Season: Yeah, we’re good, our department is A-okay. But like you said, it’s that weight. It’s because you chose these people, it’s because they’re so cool and smart and they make such valuable contributions, so you have to make sure that you’re doing right by them. I think about that all the time and it’s exhausting. To be honest, I don’t know if in my next role I’ll be a manager just because of that weight, but I’m enjoying it right now.
Tammy: You can use and make a presentation about the value of your team. You could have your project manager mock-up the website where everything was organized properly, and then have them mock-up a website where no taxonomists had touched it, and just tell them, “Go do these experiences” and then tell me what you think.
Season: Yeah, display it, don’t say anything, and just drop the mic.
Tammy: Exactly. “And if you enjoy this experience over here that’s totally unorganized, then we don’t need to be here.”
Season: I actually love that. That’s brilliant.
Tammy: Sometimes you have to give people the experience of “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone”, just to make sure everyone knows what the experience would be like if there were no taxonomists.
Season: Exactly. And they did a really good job. They did the best they could with the resources and constraints, but there was some room for improvement before I came on that we’re hoping to fill.
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Erin: In line with talking about challenges, when we initially approached you to come be on the show, I asked you, “Is there anything that you really want to talk about and address?” and you were really excited and wanted to talk about impostor syndrome. I’m totally right there with you, so I’d love to chat about that for a little while.
Season: Yeah, definitely.
Tammy: So how do you understand this? What is this impostor syndrome?
Erin: What does it mean for you?
Season: My therapist was the one who actually put words to what I’ve been feeling. I see a therapist for a style called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is basically about changing the way that you think to change the way that you feel. It’s easier said than done, but when you can do it, it makes a huge difference.
I would just keep talking to her about this feeling of, “I don’t deserve to be where I am”, or, “I fooled everybody on my interview and they hired me.” There’s also a specific feeling of, in some way, someone’s going to come up to you and say, “You don’t belong,” or, “You don’t have the qualifications for this,” or even during this podcast, I’m sitting here like, “Why did they ask me to do this?! I don’t know what I’m talking about. Your listeners are going to be like, “What?!” [Laughter] It’s that feeling.
Tammy: And yet you are the most qualified person to be talking about all the things you’re talking about. But no, I totally understand that. Go ahead.
Season: It’s hard for me to accept it. A lot of it, for me, is the confidence thing. When I described this to my therapist, she said, “Hey, look up impostor syndrome,” and just having the words for that feeling and knowing that there are other people who feel that way… We talk about it being something that affects women, but men experience this just as much, and maybe women are more willing to talk about it. It’s a thing, it’s out there, and I deal with it every day.
Erin: What do you do when you deal with it? How do you manage those feelings? I would expect that in your conversations with your therapist, she’s probably giving you a lot of tools. Maybe you could share some of those tools with us.
Season: Yeah, definitely. Like I said, it’s easier said than done. It’s something I struggle with every single day. What has helped me, personally, are the books she recommended by a guy called David Burns. The one she recommended first is called When Panic Attacks, which is for people who are dealing with anxiety and impostor syndrome. He gives you this whole range of tools and [my therapist and I] tried out every single one until we found ones that worked.
For me, one is called the “survey technique”, where you talk to other people and you say, “Do you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing most of the time?” and I think most people will say, “Yes.” There’s no script or a tool kit for life, nobody knows what they’re doing.
The second part is the hardest part for me. The second tool is accepting that and saying, “This is what life is,” and it’s funny in that way. Some people have more confidence, or they can fake it better, or they’re a little calmer or accepting. [I’m learning to] accept that I’m probably going to feel this way and not try and get rid of it but live with it.
Tammy: This notion of always questioning yourself and questioning if you know what you’re doing, I can imagine that that also breeds a degree of empathy in you for the struggles that other people have. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Season: Yeah. Another point that I wanted to bring up is if you’re feeling challenged or uncomfortable, don’t think of it as a bad thing, think of it as something good. You’ve put yourself in an opportunity where you’re learning, you’ve gotten yourself there and there’s room for you to learn and grow. If you’re always comfortable, that could be a really bad sign that you’ve become complacent and you’re stuck. So I do try to empathize with other people that are feeling that way and just be completely open about what I’m going through, and I hope more people feel that way too.
Tammy: I think I just took a bit of a shortcut based on personal conversations that we’ve had and how I have this sense of empathy from you. One of the things that really did strike me about you when we first met, from our first conversations, is that there just seemed to be this openness that you had to people, but also this way to be really present and attentive to the feelings that other people might be having.
Since we were all new together, you were like, “We’re new kids. It’s going to be okay. Let’s just hang in here together.” You definitely had that sensitivity and also that confidence that’s inspiring for other people around you. Isn’t it ironic? The thing that you’re struggling with is the lack of confidence, and that struggle helps you build confidence in other people.
Season: I had no idea that I was giving that off. But again, that’s something that’s good to hear. If someone’s inspiring you, tell them, they probably really need to hear it.
Tammy: Everyone used to say this about you at Bloomreach, especially all the new people: They’re like, “Man, Season is really setting the bar for service! She’s making all of us look bad,” because you were organizing Habitat for Humanity and you were organizing a blood drive. You’d been with us for 20 minutes and all of a sudden, there are all of these new things happening with all of these employees to “look after each other” kind of thing and “let’s look after our community”. You really have this spirit of service. I wondered if that spirit of service is connected to some of the struggle that you have and/or does that come from other places?
Season: It definitely could be. I’m someone who likes to just give back to the community because it makes me feel better. Right now, I volunteer with the SPCA. If you can make the world a better place for others,—I mean, I want someone to do that for me, so I do that for other people… if that makes sense.
Tammy: What I liked, too, is that you modeled that in a very day-to-day “start where you are” way. We all think about (hopefully) making the world a better place, but I think a lot of people don’t know where to start. So what would you recommend? I could talk to that for you but it would be better if you spoke for yourself.
Season: I think there’s an opportunity out there for everybody. Maybe the easiest way to start is with something you love. For me, right now I’m volunteering with animals. I’ve also volunteered for a video game museum. There are groups out there for everybody, just do some online searches to find them and don’t be afraid to reach out and say, “How can I get involved?”
Tammy: So just do a simple thing based on what you love?
Erin: If it’s okay with the both of you, I’d like to ask you a question about your dreams. What are your big dreams for yourself either at work or personally?
Tammy: Do you have big dreams?
Season: I have little dreams, maybe short to mid-term dreams, and I have long-term dreams. We’re in a society of Instagram, adventure, the year of “Yes”, the fear of missing out… my dreams have always been to travel the world, live in a big city, and be in a position that challenges me—and I’m there, and I’m exhausted right now.
Tammy: So you’re like, “I’m pretty much done with my dreams.” [Laughter]
Season: Yes! But no, I think we should have a permission to have the year of “No” and not do anything. My dreams right now for this year are to lie on my couch, watch Korean dramas, play video games, be anti-social, and not challenge myself. I want to shelter-in-place to relax and heal. We’re going to go to Disney World in December. I have a dream of going to Hong Kong, Seoul, and Tokyo next year. I want to write something. I don’t know if it’s going to be a book, a screenplay, or a video game. I want to live in a place where I feel at home and have a job that I enjoy going to. But this year, I’m sitting on my butt. [Laughter] That’s my dream.
Tammy: It’s interesting that you said, “I’m not going to challenge myself,” and yet, you are showing up for yourself mentally and doing all of this inner work, which I can imagine actually is challenging.
Season: It is. To clarify, I’m not going to challenge myself any more than I have to or that I realize that I’m doing, and just calm down for this year. [Laughter]
Tammy: Also, I just want to make a note. As someone who has managed, I also had a therapist, especially when I was a manager. It’s really great for your team if you are a manager with a therapist. That’s my personal view. I wonder what you think about this.
Season: I feel like if you’re any person, you can find a style that works. For me, it happened to be Cognitive Behavioral Therapy because I’m a person that wants to be reading and doing homework. I want a start date and an end date for my therapy, I don’t want to just sit there and talk the whole time, I want real exercises. Find someone that works for you. If medication is also something that you feel that helps your life, don’t be afraid to ask for it and talk about it. You do you.
Tammy: Do what you need to heal.
Erin: Talking about therapy, advice and things like that, maybe you could tell us what’s been the most impactful piece of advice or mentorship that you’ve been given recently.
Season: I don’t know if there’s any one formal advice or mentorship that I’ve been given, but probably the biggest influence on my life has been my mom, who’s a very strong, independent, cool woman. She’s semi-retired. She makes her own soaps and bath products, she’s taken a welding class, she’s traveled the world. Just having her as a figure in my life, that support, someone to look up to, and someone to say, “You do whatever makes you happy and I’ll be there,” although sometimes she jumps in and goes, “Are you sure you want to do that?”
Tammy: As a mom should.
Season: Yes, as she should. She’s been my biggest influence. Other than that, I guess the person who kept bugging me about, “Come be a taxonomist,” directly influenced my career path.
Erin: So reading between the lines: listen to your friends and do what makes you happy.
Season: Yes, exactly, there you go. No one’s ever said that and now it has been said.
Tammy: We’re at the end of our conversation and it may seem like a weird time to ask this question, but do you think of yourself as a woman in tech?
Season: That’s a good question. I think of myself as a woman semi in tech or maybe it depends on what your definition of a woman in tech is. Do I work for a strictly technology company right now? No. Does my role involve some form of technology? Yes, it does. I use tools to build taxonomies and I use data and metrics to inform my decisions. But if a woman in tech to you is an engineer, I’m certainly not that. We have software engineers who build our awesome tools. I have worked for Amazon, which is a tech company. So to me, internally, woman-somewhat-semi-in-tech, but maybe I don’t fit the classic definition.
Erin: What was really one of our missions with this podcast was to expand what it means to be a woman in tech, because I think that there are many roles in technology that require analytic ability. Like you said, the ability to look at data and make decisions using technical tools—the abilities to do those things—is very valuable. While we certainly hope that we’re able to reach a lot of female engineers and engineering directors, we also really want to inspire women who wouldn’t consider the work that they do to be particularly technological to also open that door for them and say, “Hey, actually, you could perhaps be more technical than you think you are and get your foot in the door at some of these companies.”
Tammy: And take advantage of it.
You said that you use tech tools, data and metrics. Can you talk about some of the tools that you use in your work?
Season: Yeah. Right now, one of the tools that I probably use the most is a tool called Omniture [now called Adobe Marketing Cloud], which measures what people are doing on the website. Our KPIs (key performance indicators) and how we measure the health of our taxonomy is through a conversion. “Are people going to the site and then buying? What’s the percent of sheer sales within a category? How much time are people spending on a page? Are they going to a page of helicopter tours and getting completely confused and disappointed by what they see such that they leave immediately? Are people clicking on the categories?” Omniture is a tool that we use to measure that.
Tammy: Wait, let’s sit on that for just a second. Omniture is a pretty data-heavy tool, right?
Tammy: It’s not light, like you just open up a screen and there it is! Can you talk about that a little bit?
Season: Yeah, it was absolutely terrifying to use. Some taxonomists are very comfortable with numbers and I am not one of those. I’d rather organize words—again, with the English degree. But we have an awesome analytics team and I go to their office hours all the time to tell them what I need, and they support me and correct any errors I make. It was a beast to learn and I’m scared every time I use it. [Laughter] It has really shaped our taxonomy, so I use that for data.
Tammy: As long as you don’t hit the delete key, you’re okay. [Laughter]
Season: Yes, and even then, I think there’s a way we can fix that too. [Laughter]
The other tool is a Google tool called the “Keyword Planner”, where you can throw in a bunch of words and just say, “What do people search for the most?” We have a bunch of products that are “escape games” or “escape rooms”, so we throw those terms in, and if people use “escape games” the most, then that’s what we call it.
Erin: That’s the thing where you’re in a room with the team and they lock the door, and you have to figure out the clues to get the door open?
Season: Exactly, yeah, we actually did one of those.
Erin: I really want to do one of those!
Season: It’s super fun.
Erin: It sounds really fun.
Season: Well, we sell them on Viator, so… [Laughter]
Erin: There you go. Check that out.
Tammy: Season, is there anything that you want to mention that we didn’t get to? We just want to make sure. Any brilliant ideas or thoughts you’re having?
Season: Yeah. My biggest advice really depends on where you are in your life and how you’re feeling. If you’re someone in high school who’s listening and just thinking, “Man, this sucks,” I had a bumper sticker on my car that said, “Boy, does high school suck.” It does get better. Just do your thinking, get out and go to college, and things will improve. I bet you’re scared that it’s not really true but it is totally true. You get to pick the people that you hang out with, the classes, and the activities. If you’re in college, enjoy your time there and stay as long as possible.
Tammy: [Laughter] Parents might not appreciate that. Some parents might be like, “You need to go get a job.”
Season: Stay as long as your parents will let you. Right out of college, just have an open mind, you’re probably not going to get your dream job right off the bat, especially in this new world. You might not even know what your dream job is, but try to find jobs that will teach you the skills that will get you closer to it. You’ll figure it out. If you’re like me and you’re a mid-career professional and have any advice for me, send it my way! [Laughter]
Erin: What’s the best way for listeners to reach out to you if they want?
Season: There’s many ways to do it. My name is Season Hughes. I might be the only one in the whole world, so…
Tammy: You are very unique, that is very true.
Season: LinkedIn, Facebook, just find me and we can talk.
Erin: Okay, perfect. I’m so excited for these last few questions. I’m also a book lover and I would love to know what have you read recently. That’s my first question.
Season: David Burns’ books, which were recommended to me by my therapist. If you have anxiety, When Panic Attacks is great for that. If you’re dealing more with depression, Feeling Good is the name of the book. You can go between the two. For Christmas, I received a book called Quiet.
Erin: Oh! I’ve read that, it’s so good!
Season: I just started reading it.
Erin: Oh my God, it’s so good.
Tammy: Introverts everywhere unite.
Erin: We’re going to have to meet up and talk about that. That book really changed my outlook of myself.
Season: Definitely. Every page that I’ve read is so good. It’s like, “This is me!”
Erin: If you’re an introvert, even if you are not a struggling introvert or even if you are an introvert who’s confident in your introversion, this is an excellent book.
Season: I feel like extroverts should really read this.
Erin: They should.
Tammy: I was going to say that. Let’s actually be really clear about what we mean by introvert and extrovert. I have been asking people this a lot over the last year: “Do you know what introversion and extraversion are and what do you consider yourself?” Most people glom onto the stereotypes like, “I’m not introverted because I’m very social,” or “I’m extroverted because I like to go to parties,”—people think of it that way. But think of your energy as a battery. Do you fill up that battery by being with yourself or do you fill up that battery by being with other people? And it sounds like you very much fill up your battery by being with yourself.
Season: Yes, or with my cats.
Tammy: You said, too, that that’s the year you want to have. You want to be with yourself and fill up your battery.
Season: Yes, for the whole entire year.
Erin: So we will reconnect. Email me when you’re done with the book.
Season: [Laughter] Definitely.
Erin: What are a couple of your favorite books of all time? Harry Potter is allowed. Not to plant any seeds or anything.
Season: Oh, god… you’re talking to a librarian. I don’t think I can possibly pick.
Erin: We should narrow your scope. Do you have a favorite teen book?
Season: Teen is my favorite, favorite genre. I’ve read like a million.
Tammy: What are your favorite 20 books? [Laughter]
Season: I can’t even do that. How about I tell you the last teen book I’ve read that was really good? It was called Red Rising. It’s one of those dystopian Hunger Games kind of novels. It actually took me a couple of chapters to really get into it, but for fun, if you like that genre, I recommend it.
Erin: Alright, so we’re down to our last three fun questions.
Tammy: Well, now I already know the answers to this first one. [Laughter]
Erin: Yeah. So the first one is kind of a gimme: solitude or company?
Season: I’m going to say solitude with the caveat that solitude to me could also be with my boyfriend, with my cats, with my close friends, or with my family. But I go to movies alone and I go to restaurants alone, no big deal.
Erin: Coke or Pepsi?
Erin: Okay, no hesitations here at all!
Season: One of my best friends works for Pepsi and I’m sorry, but yeah, it’s Coke.
Erin: Alright. Last one—money or fame?
Season: I think neither, just personal happiness. For me, I don’t know if that’s tied to money or to fame, so neither one.
Erin: Should we let her get away with it?
Season: Can I? [Laughter]
Tammy: It’s Season. We gotta let her get away with it, absolutely. Thank you so much, Season.
Season: Thank you, guys. That was a lot of fun.
Erin: Thank you, Season. We really, really appreciate you.
Well, this was Season Hughes, everyone. I’m Erin.
Tammy: I’m Tammy!
Erin: And thanks for listening to another episode of WITtalks.
Season would love to hear from you if you’re interested in a career as a taxonomist, want to talk about impostor syndrome, or want to connect about books. You can find her on LinkedIn and Facebook.