Conley Potter - 2018

Position title: Web Development, Nonprofits, Marketing

Pronouns: he/him

What career pathway have you pursued since your time in the UW-Madison English major?

Initially I was recruited to work at Epic after graduation, though I did not stay a long time in the position. I worked as a Technical Services Analyst. Getting that job was made easier by taking computer science courses and helping friends found tech startups while in college. I went on to a coding boot camp soon after, where I learned the skills of a full-stack software engineer. Having always been drawn to entrepreneurship, I was a freelance web developer for a long time afterwards, working various jobs on the side. [As an aside, my career has had some flips and turns because I struggled with alcoholism in my last year of college and for a few years afterwards. I’ve been sober since January 18th, 2021. Since then my career has had a much more logical progression, thanks to God’s grace and a 12-step program of spiritual action.] During the Covid lockdown, I felt moved to help my community with issues related to housing, so I pursued a career in Nonprofit Human Services for about a year and a half. I thought of this much like signing up for Americorps or similar groups: I didn’t intend to spend an entire career there, but I knew I needed to help and had the skills to be useful. I worked for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program in my local community, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. As the program winded down, I moved into management at the organization contracted to staff the eligibility processing team. I became a manager in the Financial Empowerment Center at Tenfold, supervising a team of Financial Counselors and other frontline social workers. My work there was in supervision, program development, funding, and grant writing. I had transitioned my web development freelancing to include marketing work in early 2021, and continued to do that on the side off and on. Recently I left my job in nonprofit to pursue that work full-time and care for ill family members.

What did you enjoy about the English major?

My English classes were filled with extremely bright, well-rounded students who engaged in meaningful dialogue in a way I hadn’t experienced before around my favorite subject: literature. They were led by world-renowned scholars whose warmth and passion was only outshone by their erudition. I looked forward to my English classes everyday. Favorites included a class on Faulkner, Hemingway, and Cather taught by Dr. Anderson Wood, a sophomore seminar taught by Dr. Bearden, and a seminar on the canon compared with masterpieces written by authors of marginalized races taught by Dr. Jovic-Humphrey. I met friends with whom I’ve stayed connected to this day. My days spent in English classes are amongst my life’s fondest memories.

Other majors, certificates, or key points of involvement during time at UW:

Chinese Major, VP of Chinese Language and Culture Club, Badger Volunteers Team Leader, GUTS Conversational English Tutor

How did your time as an English major prepare you for your current work? What skills do humanities students bring to your industry?

Though I’ve had various roles in a few different industries that may seem completely unrelated to English Literature, my roles could all be categorized under the umbrella term of interpretation. My jobs have always required me to study, and to become so acquainted with a niche subject that I develop an understanding of its core principles and utility. Then I use that knowledge to share actionable insights with stakeholders whose subject matter expertise is much different than my own. At Epic I knew the inner workings of our software and information security practices. I would advise analysts, engineering teams, managers, and executives at our customer organizations, so my job was to interpret what I had studied and analyzed into a language which they could understand and insights they could use to operate more efficiently and profitably. Even now, my job is to study and analyze marketing tactics, strategies, culture, and algorithms and interpret that subset of knowledge into a language my clients can understand and leverage to increase brand visibility. I learned this skill reading closely and studying complex, thick tomes of literature and theory, interpreting my understanding in class discussions, and utilizing my knowledge to research and write essays about subjects most people on earth don’t care to understand. I honed the skill studying Chinese language and literature. These are skills that are desperately needed in my industry. Algorithms change overnight, new advertising platforms and modes of communication seemingly erupt from the ether at dizzying frequency. We don’t need platform-specific technicians, we need interpreters and big thinkers.

What is one piece of career advice you would offer our English undergraduates?

Your skills are invaluable in a world of technology which constantly and quickly shift the sands of every data-driven industry (which I’m sure I need not remind you is almost any private sector industry these days). Learning a skill that is too specific to a narrow set of conditions puts one at risk of having subject matter expertise rendered obsolete. The private sector needs young people who can see the bigger picture, put cultural trends into the broadest context, and provide actionable insights to businesses of all sizes. Do not underestimate the value of close reading, interpretation, and analyzing complex or even archaic subjects.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Though my company isn’t currently hiring, I’d hire an English major with an acute understanding of how their skills can be applied in the context of my industry over a Marketing or Business major any day.