Technology & Data

Bryant Plano

Bryant PlanoBryant Plano graduated from UW-Madison in 2013 with a B.A. in History and History of Science. He is a Solutions Consultant at Ionic, a Madison-based start-up software company.

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First Job After College

My first job after college was at Technical Support, Zendesk. I’d previously worked technical support at UW and found it to be a great fit. It was tough working at a company that – at the time – was just starting to grow here in Madison. We didn’t have access to some of the resources that our colleagues in other offices had (such as a formal HR presence). However, my team was amazing and the company continued to grow and expand, providing us new opportunities to grow and learn. My time at Zendesk has definitely been useful to my career – it helped me establish a foundation of knowledge and expand my network of friends and colleagues.

My career path so far has been pretty linear. In technical support, there are normally “tiers” which you can progress through, and within each tier you can move from team member to team lead to manager and so on. I spent time in two tiers of technical support and moved within those tiers before I began exploring options in the engineering realm. Eventually, I felt I had enough experience in support to move onto a new job path – approximately three years at the UW and two years at Zendesk. I chose to take some extra courses outside of my support job to help bolster my technical expertise, which eventually led to an engineering job.

Entry-Level Experience

In this video, Bryant describes the experience he gained by working tech support at UW and how getting connections and good references from his bosses helped him land an entry-level position.

Getting into Consulting

Working in tech support, Bryant explains, helped him build enough knowledge that he could begin to offer solutions of his own to users’ problems.

The Biggest Influence in Shaping My Career Path

Personal drive has been incredibly important. There are a lot of factors that ultimately influence your career path, but being able to keep myself motivated to continue working hard and learn more outside of my job has made me a better employee and much more marketable.

How I Got My First Job

In this segment, Bryant recounts his experience interviewing for campus tech jobs. One of his supervisors took another position, then invited Bryant to lunch with a colleague who was hiring. The lunchtime discussion took the place of a formal interview. Similarly, his first interview for a post-graduation job took place in a coffee shop and asked many basic questions.

Advice on Building Support Networks

I can’t say enough about the support network students have available to them – between professors, the career advisors, other students and the various networking events on campus, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved and comfortable with the job search before you graduate. Networking is pretty awkward for everyone, but a single conversation with someone can lead to new opportunities. Make use of all that is available to you.

Skills I Learned as a History Major

Communication is a key reason that a History or liberal arts degree is valuable in the workplace, Bryant explains. “Being able to communicate just a little bit better” is an advantage, he says.  He also notes that the History major offers perspective: the ability to tell stories and connect with people.

Advice on Resume-Writing

In this video, Bryant emphasizes having a clean, clear resume. In his experience hiring new employees, he appreciates resumes that tell him “exactly what [the applicant] is about – exactly what their experience is like and exactly what other kinds of things they’ve worked on.” Recruiters he has talked to agree.

John Vanek

John VanekJohn Vanek graduated from UW-Madison in 2008 with a B.S. in History and Political Science. He is a genetic genealogist and family historian.

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My Work Life

Through the business I started, I help clients identify and learn about their ancestors, whether it’s adoptees searching for their biological parents or individuals wanting to learn about their heritage more generally. I also help people write family history narratives.

Traditional genealogical research is just historical research by a different name. I spend lots of time with historical documents in archives both digital and physical. Government records, church records, business personnel files, historical maps and gazetteers, newspapers, military muster rolls, and reports from private organizations: you name it, I’ve found clients’ ancestors in it.

I call myself a genetic genealogist because I frequently use the results of commercial DNA tests as an additional research tool. Indeed, sometimes DNA testing is the primary tool. For example, I identified my own biological father (an anonymous sperm donor) by reconstructing the blank half of my family tree on the basis of DNA test results. There is an inherent logic to family relationships, in both the structure of family trees and patterns of DNA inheritance. By studying the family trees of genetic cousins who were identified through the DNA test, I was able to zero in on several clusters of shared ancestors born in Germany during the 1830s. It was then a matter of using traditional genealogical research to figure out where the different families came together more recently. DNA testing can also be used in other ways to answer different genealogical questions.

First Job after College

I initially took a semester-long unpaid internship at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, then returned home for an unpaid internship at the Minnesota Historical Society. That led to a contract position working on an exhibit for MNHS. I also worked for the U.S. Census Bureau and at a used bookstore. This wasn’t the trajectory I had envisioned for myself but I see all these positions as “my first job after college” because they fit together into three years of further experience-building while I also found a way to make ends meet.

Skills I Learned as a History Major

The ability to absorb, arrange, interpret, and write about complex historical data in a coherent, compelling way is the most important and useful part of the history major. While my bachelor’s and master’s degrees are both in history and form the basis of my skillset for traditional genealogical work, it is worth noting that I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in History from UW-Madison. Before I chose history as my major, I thought I wanted to work in one of the hard sciences. I took courses in mathematics and chemistry. In my spare time, I read the popular science classic The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins and a book about DNA replication. Now I use history and science in combination, and that’s what I love most about my job.

In my work, the science—DNA test results—is often meaningless without historical context. DNA alone cannot answer most genealogical questions. To use my own case as an example again, as soon as I identified one small group of probable ancestors, I made note of their ethnicity, religion, geographic points of origin, migration and settlement patterns, and habits of marriage and family (in-group vs. out-group marriage, family size, etc.) In short, I studied the ethno-cultural history of people who settled in a particular area. This helped me identify other possible ancestors on the basis of even less-certain genetic evidence. In similar ways, I put my broad knowledge of American and world history to use every single day for my clients.

Advice for Students

Learn as much as you can about whatever it is you love. Force yourself to find real-world work that will give you the skills to succeed. Then find a way to combine your knowledge and skills into a paying position. Spend more time getting to know your professors. I wish I had.