Expect the unexpected

Not everyone has a linear career. At Adobe, that’s a good thing.

What do a military officer, a geography major, a documentary filmmaker, and a former Christmas tree salesman have in common? They’re all working at Adobe in roles that have little to do with their past experiences.

That’s no accident. Good companies know that you can’t pigeonhole employees according to their college major. In fact, Adobe’s talent team advises managers to look for unique talent, not just the people who come from the same school or the same background. In reality, an eclectic set of life experiences is a sign of a curious, ready-to-learn employee who will probably excel in just about any position.

We talked to four Adobe employees whose paths to Adobe were long and winding—and completely inspiring for the job seeker who has ever thought “what if?”

Matt A., Lehi

VP of Mobile

Matt A.’s father sent him off to college with time-honored advice: Do what you love, and the jobs will follow. So Matt studied literature—and quickly found himself unemployed after graduation. He went to work as a Christmas tree salesman and, depending on your viewpoint, he was either very good at it or very, very bad.

“I was fired for giving away Christmas trees for too cheap because sometimes people had only $25,” Matt says. “What could I do? I felt bad for them.”

A mentor from college suggested he attend an international conflict analysis program in the UK. After he finished that degree, he found himself in a job he despised, saved one feature: It put him in Silicon Valley. Witnessing the tech boom from the outside whet his appetite for high-tech, but he wouldn’t dive into that world for a few more years.

After deciding to leave his job, Matt took advantage of his close proximity to Stanford and sought refuge in academia and his love of learning. He studied law and graduated—just in time for the tech bubble to burst. He returned to Utah looking for an internship and found one at a Linux company. For the next 12 years, he worked in the open source space.

“I worked for five or six startups,” Matt says. “I liked the startup life. But pretty soon, I found that I wanted someplace I could go and stay forever.”

One day, Matt had breakfast with an acquaintance who worked for Adobe. The acquaintance said he loved the company and suggested Matt check it out.

“He introduced me to some people, and some of them had built their own business and sold them to Adobe—and they were still there,” Matt says. “I thought there must be something about Adobe if all of these startup founders came here and are still happy.”

Matt says he got a good vibe from everyone he met. Somehow, Adobe felt like home. And just like that, the guy who thrived in startups—the guy who felt like he was missing out on the action by being away from Silicon Valley—was thrilled to accept a job in Adobe’s Lehi office. He now runs mobile strategy for the digital marketing business.

Matt

“It comes down to the core problem that I’ve been trying to solve all along, which is figuring out how to build new businesses,” Matt says. “That’s what we’re doing now at Adobe: building a new billion-dollar mobile business. Only now, I’m enjoying it more than anything before.”

Matt says his initial impressions of Adobe employees have held true: Not only are they smart and accomplished, but they’re also incredibly kind. And while his eclectic background is very different from some of his coworkers’ backgrounds, he says both kinds of people make the company the success that it is.

“There are days where I look at many of the people who have been here for 10, 15 years, and I sometimes feel envious about those who have given that commitment,” Matt says. “But as awesome as it is that these people have had long careers at Adobe, I also think it’s good for people like me to come in and graft in new knowledge and new opinions that help Adobe to keep its core but also help interpret that vision in slightly different ways.”

One more thing to know about Matt: He makes pies. And he’s already an office legend.

“I take them around to people for their birthdays,” he says. “It’s relaxing to bake. I used to bake during conference calls because it kept me off of my computer so I wouldn’t be districted by Twitter or whatever while on calls.”

Our tip? Ask for the Swedish apple.

Kulmeet B., Nodia

Director of Enterprise for South Asia

When Kulmeet B. was 16, he left home and joined India’s National Defense Academy. That decision would kick off a career in the military, where Kulmeet would learn lessons that form the foundation of his corporate career today.

After earning his bachelor’s degree, Kulmeet became an army officer at age 20. He then joined a fighting unit and spent six years in active operations in Kashmir, the region rife with conflict between India and Pakistan. After that, he spent three years working for the governor of an Indian state in the capacity of an aide-de-camp and another three years teaching military strategy to senior army officers.

Everything was going well. Too well.

“I had topped all my courses of instruction,” Kulmeet says. “I was selected for a UN mission appointment and could clearly envision my next 10 to 15 years. That’s when I was hit by the ‘what next?’ syndrome. I wasn’t bored, but just wanted the next big challenge.”

Kulmeet

He found it by switching gears completely: by arming himself with an MBA degree and moving into the corporate world.

For the next eight years, Kulmeet worked in sales at two major IT companies, first as a manager and then moving up to a director role. When he joined Adobe in 2012, it was essentially to play a part in building Adobe India’s enterprise business in media and marketing. Having accomplished that part of his goal, Kulmeet moved on to friendly competition with Adobe teams in other countries, each trying to outperform the other.

Kulmeet says his years in the military taught him lessons that he still carries with him today. First, it’s not about how good you are; it’s about how good your team is. Second, it’s all about discipline and integrity. Last, leadership needs to be understood as inspiring your team members to stand for something and be their best.

“If I needed to take an eight-man patrol out in the middle of the night to counter an infiltration in a nearby village, I would seek volunteers,” Kulmeet says. “Now, how do you choose these people? You simply ask for volunteers and end up getting 16 hands up, despite them knowing that some of them may not come back alive. That was what leadership meant to us.”

Kulmeet says it’s been no different in the corporate world.

“It’s all about getting people to want to work with you because they get to envision the impossible, to cling to the magic of life, and to build a legacy larger than themselves.”

Meagan K., San Francisco

Senior Product Marketing Manager

After graduating from college, Meagan K. decided to spend a year and a half traveling through Australia and Southeast Asia. She had spent her junior year in Barcelona, had worked as a health volunteer in the Dominican Republic as a high school student, and had become fascinated with the way art, music, and dance are expressed in various cultures. So she returned to the States knowing that she wanted to tell those stories. She enrolled in a master’s program at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, focusing on documentary film.

“You set out as a young person with a very definitive idea of what you want to do,” Meagan says. “You want to follow your dream, and I was intent on achieving it.”

And she did. For the next seven years, Meagan worked as a film editor and producer. She worked with award-winning documentary directors editing and producing documentaries ranging in subject matter from a southern cult to the Internet’s effect on interpersonal relationships, and an ambulance service run entirely by high school students, to inspiring women in wheelchairs who advocate for the disabled community. She ultimately went to work doing research and development for Lucasfilm Ltd.—until the economy crashed in 2008, and Meagan found herself looking for work.

Meagan

She joined a company that makes video editing software and managed all relationships with filmmaking customers. But when a coworker left to go to Adobe, Meagan mentioned to her colleague that she might be interested in a position at Adobe if one ever opened up. It soon did, and Meagan took on contract work in product marketing.

“I was very open with my manager when I was going through the hiring process. I said, ‘I know the film business inside and out. I understand the mind of an editor. But I don’t know formal marketing,’” Meagan remembers. “She told me that marketing is a tough animal but knowing the mind of the customer is half the battle. She’s been amazing in helping me learn.”

Three years later, Meagan is the senior product marketing manager for Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Prelude and also leads marketing for video social media and community engagement. Her personal life has mellowed out—no more grueling travel, weeks away from home, or late nights in an edit bay—and she’s expecting her first child in the fall.

“There are so many people here at Adobe who are musicians, filmmakers, photographers, and designers outside of the office, and the company’s desire to have a diverse workforce really speaks to its focus on the customer,” Meagan says. “Innovating for customers comes from hiring people who don’t necessarily have the exact line items in the job description but do have a deep understanding of where the customer is coming from.”

Anneka H., Sydney

Solution Consulting Senior Manager

When Anneka H. was in college, she was fascinated by ecosystems and the physical sciences. So she let go of a childhood fascination with veterinary medicine and majored in geography.

“I loved things like glaciers and plate tectonics, and I enjoyed how geography incorporates so many different disciplines,” Anneka says. “I loved solving problems, interpreting data, and being in the field, but I didn’t really think I’d go into the geographical sciences as a career.”

Instead, she went to work in a food science lab where she helped determine the nutritional value of foods—fun, she says, but too detail-oriented. Her next job was for a software startup in London. She had minimal software or technical experience, but startups are famously “all hands on deck,” and Anneka soon found herself setting up laptops, crawling under desks with a screwdriver, doing technical support, and helping customers on the phone.

After her employer saw how quickly she learned, Anneka got a chance to lead a team and then relocate to Sydney to help set up a new office. She took on a support role, then presales, then consulting—and then the company was acquired by Experian. With her love for people management and strategy, Anneka soon was a director.

Anneka

That was a fascinating journey, but after 14 years, Anneka wanted to try something new. She interviewed at Adobe and was sold.

“The great thing about Adobe is the people and technology,” Anneka says. “Everybody is really smart and driven to succeed. We have an exciting opportunity here in the APAC region with such rapid growth, and it’s great to be part of it. I love how the company has the creative side and science side, and I noticed when I joined that the amazing brand made a big difference when talking with customers.”

Today, Anneka works with presales engineers to match Adobe’s media and marketing solutions to the problems customers are facing. She says one of her favorite things about the company is the mentoring and coaching that she has received—and which she now tries to pass on to others.

“Last week I was talking to five new interns, and I explained how career paths may not take the direction you expect and you may not even know what you want to do,” Anneka says. “That doesn’t matter. It’s about taking opportunities and learning all the time. If you don’t like something, make a change. Don’t be scared about trying something new or making mistakes, because it will take you a step forward and could be the best thing you ever do.”