women.js: How an Artist Found Herself in Tech (In More Ways Than One)

Posted by Amanda Small on 11/19/18 10:01 AM

Amanda Small, HR Manager, Jibestream

Everyone’s path to tech is slightly different. We’re celebrating the diversity and breadth of experience of our team by digging into their paths to tech.

I have always been an artist. From a very early age I was busy making jewelry, designing clothes, working with clay, collaging, writing epic journal entries, recording songs - essentially, creating things.

Working as an artist, I was hooked. There was nothing more interesting to me in those early days than spending hour after hour in the studio, researching, conceptualizing, and making the work. I was a full-time artist (with a full-time job) for the better part of 10 years. I exhibited in Europe, Australia, and across the US. Some of my proudest achievements during that time were having the opportunities to design and create permanent installations, collaborate with other artists in joint exhibitions, and working with students as a visiting artist at numerous universities.


As an emerging artist, I fell into the incredible opportunity to develop myself as a connector. Artist talks, residencies, visiting schools, collaborative projects - all of these were opportunities to share ideas and to foster the sharing of ideas. During that time, although I didn’t recognize it immediately, I was honing my skills in public speaking, recruiting, building my network and engaging with people.

Working as a recruitment and programs coordinator at the International Ceramics Research Centre in Denmark, I supported and recruited emerging artists, while simultaneously building up and developing programming for artists from all over the world. I learned quickly that human beings - especially creative ones - are complex, motivated by different things, and have different contexts and lenses through which they see and experience their surroundings. My role gave me incredible insight into managing people both as employees, and as paying customers that you live, eat, and create with. It was very humanizing and compelling to experience the important duality of my role as the “connector,” rallying my teams internally, while also providing high quality service to our “customers”- the artists living and working at the residency.

When I moved to Toronto in 2014, I started working for a mentorship program, matching entrepreneurs with experienced mentors. It was during this time that I co-founded Ten.A.City, a pilot project aimed at pairing artists with mentors from other fields. During my time as an artist and mentorship coordinator, I saw a gap in how artists were highly developed in their craft, but often unable to think in terms of ‘business.’ This was my first attempt at merging my love of the arts and artists, and my burgeoning discovery of entrepreneurship startup culture, which shares a motivated, collaborative, innovative and imaginative way of thinking and being.


As a true Sagittarian, I’m always looking for the next adventure, always seeking the next opportunity to expand myself, my experiences, and my views. Until moving to Toronto, I didn’t know anything about the tech scene other than that my cousin’s successful San Francisco startup had beer on tap and a fresh smoothie machine in the office - both of which sounded pretty great to me.

My first ‘tech’ job was a surprise to everyone (including me!). One of the mentors I worked with previously, the CEO of a mid-size tech firm, asked me out of nowhere to join his team in Marketing and HR. I jumped in, and was quickly going to recruiting events, learning about venture capital and investments, rebranding our mission and vision statements, building our company core values, owning internal communications, revamping the onboarding process, and learning about our products on the fly as I built my chops in technical recruiting.

My role at that firm was interrupted by another new adventure - parenthood! Becoming and being a mom continues to challenge and inspire me daily - raising up, surrendering to, and growing with a child has been one of the most rewarding, tumultuous, and love-filled things I have ever given over to. It’s also the ultimate litmus test for how I apply value to time.

After 13 months, slightly stunned, I came off maternity leave, and in an act of kismet, met with the CEO of Jibestream, and the rest is history. At Jibestream, I have truly had the chance to own my “HR-ness.” I am given room to consider and implement recruitment and retention strategies, explore leadership and growth opportunities, to research and write company policy, and I’ve learned more about payroll and reconciliations than I ever wanted to. I have been embedded into the JibeCrew and believe we are truly “family.” Our successes are the companies successes and vice-versa. I am grateful for all of the “learning on my feet” I have done in my short time here. At Jibestream, my voice is heard and valued and my input and feedback is considered and taken seriously by the senior leadership team, and I am able to contribute to real change through our special interest group, women.js

womendotjs_photos-4504Looking back, I think that moving from being an artist, to an arts programmer, to a recruiter, to a mentorship liaison, to a culture and leadership builder, and finally to an HR Manager meant that I had to look at the big picture and understand how skills - and people - connect and interact.

When you’re an expert in an area, you have a depth of knowledge about a specific subject. In this capacity, I think artists aren’t so different from developers. They often hone their craft to a razor’s edge and it’s often a very tactical or technical type of knowledge. You know how to solve the problem at hand and be adept at it. I think as people move through their careers, it’s also important to trust yourself to add breadth to your skills, and sometimes that means evaluating your skills in a new way, through a different lens and ultimately, jumping into the deep end and putting yourself way out there. What lies outside your comfort zone, while not “easy,” is often expansive and rewarding in very different ways than you might expect.

There are times I feel the often-quoted imposter syndrome as I move more fully into HR and the tech industry. I can sometimes feel overwhelmed and second-guess what I am doing and how I got here. At times, I deeply miss my art practice, my creative community, my hands building something tangible - but then I take a deep breath, remember the organic journey through art and technology that brought me here, refocus on my commitment to people, culture, diversity, and building a happier, more creative workplace, and I believe the adventure is not over yet.

This artist may have found her path after all!

Topics: women.js

Amanda Small

Written by Amanda Small

Amanda is the HR Manager at Jibestream, and co-chairs women.js, a special interest group committed to supporting women and improving gender equality in technology.