A New Way to Return to Work: Spotlight on Ellein Cheng

Ellein Chen AppNexus

Ellein Cheng left her career for four and a half years to raise her children. Ellein was a high-school math teacher, and held a career as a market risk analyst before that. When she started her Path Forward returnship as a product support specialist, not only did she re-start her career, but she changed it completely. She is now a full-time product specialist at AppNexus.

How long were you actively looking for a job before applying for a Path Forward return-to-work program? I was looking for around five months. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to go back, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do next. I was still questioning whether I should go back to teach, so I was applying to some schools. The very core of who I am is still teaching.

So what made you apply for the AppNexus returnship? I was hesitant about working in a corporate setting, but once I clicked on the AppNexus job description the first qualification they listed was for someone who is passionate about learning and teaching. That caught my eye. Then I saw “learn and teach” was one of their core values. I decided to give it a shot. They were not looking specifically for someone with a tech background. They were willing to train and teach me.

What was your returnship experience like? AppNexus is very good at training new hires. All the returnees went through a six-week rigorous onboarding program. We were assigned mentors, and after each week we had to give a presentation. It was really fun, but also a lot of work. It really helped on-ramp us quickly to serve clients.

After the onboarding we started taking cases and helping clients, and continued to develop our knowledge of the industry and platform.

What roles have you held at AppNexus? As a returnee, I was a product support specialist. I supported clients who use AppNexus technology and answered any questions they might have after implementation. I trained clients and troubleshooted issues to help them use the platform more effectively and achieve their goals.

Now that I’m in a full-time role as a product specialist, I am a main support for our bigger clients. I build more personal client relationship. It’s more high-touch and hands-on. I also occasionally take on projects.

I have recently transitioned into the Solutions Consultant team and am excited to continue growing with the company.

Tell us about the projects you work on? Which one are you most proud of? I was selected to improve the onboarding process – the same onboarding I went through. I understand why my manager picked me for that task. He knew since I was a former teacher, I would enjoy doing it. I built new learning materials, restructured the curriculum, and worked to make the process more user-friendly.

The onboarding project is something that’s very near and dear to my heart. I feel very fortunate in this role because I am not throwing my old self away.

You also participate in a dance troupe. How do you manage that on top of a job and a family? I’m motivated to show my girls that if you have a passion for something, you manage your time to make it happen. Maybe you do it less, but don’t take it out of your life and use the excuse “because I’m busy.” Dancing is part of my life and balancing it with my life provides a model for my children to pursue their passions.

What has been the most exciting or gratifying part of returning to work? I never thought I would be working for a technology company. I have two kids who are growing up in a world that’s ever-changing because of technology, and it’s exciting that I am a part of it. I am navigating this world and growing with them.

Did anything surprise you about your return to work experience? If you asked me a year ago, I would never think that I would be where I am. What surprises me is how much a person can learn in just a few months. It’s kind of amazing to experience that growth.

What did you find the most helpful about being part of a Path Forward program at your company? Because of Path Forward’s presence at AppNexus, I can feel comfortable having conversations with my manager about my work/life balance. Working full-time is not going to stop me from being a mom. Not many people on my team are married and have kids, but I don’t feel anything is stopping me from expressing what I need. It motivates me be more vocal about my role as a mom and to push the company a little, because I know they want to be pushed toward that direction. They really emphasize diversity and inclusion, and I feel they appreciate that push.

What kind of preparation would you suggest potential returnees do before applying for a return to work internship? Read Path Forward’s newsletter. They have good articles about updating your resume and interviewing. Research the companies you are applying for. I went on Youtube and watched videos about the industries I was applying to, since the technology industry was very new to me.

Would you recommend a return to work internship to others who are looking to restart their careers? Absolutely. I would.

Thanks for sharing your story, Ellein! We are so happy you’ve found success in your career. Special thanks to AppNexus for the photo of Ellein and her family. Be sure to read more about Ellein’s experience with AppNexus on their blog

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