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Join us for our series featuring interviews with Community IT employees. In this series, we talk about nonprofit technology career paths, career resources, skills, and certifications. We will also touch on mentoring opportunities as you start out on your career and ways to give back if you are further along. If you are wondering what it is like to work at a place like Community IT, you can learn about it here.
In today’s interview, Carolyn talks with Jennifer Huftalen, a Community IT veteran of 16 years and currently Director of Client Services.
Jenny took a front desk job at the old Community IT offices in downtown DC partially because it was in the neighborhood where she was living so the commute was convenient. She stayed through many life changes and moves because she loved the company culture and loved assisting our nonprofit clients and helping them reach their goals. Community IT has supported flexibility and trust culture in managing work from home throughout our history, and that helped us better support our clients in 2020 as everyone adapted to working remotely. Jenny’s career path exemplifies that flexibility as well.
“Our culture allows people to find their strengths, and find what they are good at. We can take a peek behind that door [of our next position] see if it makes sense, and if so, keep moving. So I was given a lot of flexibility, a lot of time, to try different things.”
A certified “non-tech” person, Jenny finds in her role as Director of Client Services she can serve as a good link between our clients and their needs and the technical staff at Community IT, and learn a lot of tech along the way.
“Our colleagues are really good with technology and really good at explaining it…our team has always been so good at that.”Jennifer Huftalen, Director of Client Services, Community IT Innovators
Jenny Huftalen has been providing Account Management services for Community IT’s partner organizations since 2007. Now as Director of Client Services, she is responsible for ensuring those partner organizations are receiving the right combination of IT support services that meet their organizational needs and goals.
Before joining Community IT, Jenny worked in a similar role for a best practice healthcare research and consulting firm. Jenny enjoys Community IT’s commitment to serving progressive organizations that are devoted to making a positive impact on their communities and the world at large. She earned a BA in political science from Union College, with minors in economics and history.
Carolyn Woodard has served many roles at Community IT Innovators, from client to project manager to marketing. With over twenty years of experience in the nonprofit world and marketing, including as a nonprofit technology project manager and Director of IT, Carolyn knows the frustrations and delights of working with technology professionals, accidental techies, executives, and staff to deliver your organization’s mission and keep your IT infrastructure operating.
Carolyn is excited to help manage Marketing at Community IT Innovators and is always looking for new ways to tell stories and reach people. She has a master’s degree in Nonprofit Management from Johns Hopkins University and received her undergraduate degree in English Literature from Williams College. She thinks the best thing about being with Community IT Innovators is the people.
Carolyn Woodard: Welcome, everyone to the Community IT Innovators’ Voices Interview series. My name is Carolyn Woodard, and I am the Outreach Director for Community IT. And today, I’m very happy to welcome Jennifer Huftalen to the interview. Jennifer, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us your job title and how long you’ve been at Community IT?
Jennifer Huftalen: Yes. Thanks, Carolyn. Thanks so much for having me on. My name is Jennifer Huftalen. I go by Jenny typically, but respond to both of those names. I’m currently the Director of Client Services at Community IT, and I’ve been here for 16 years. I just celebrated 16 years in October, which is an unbelievable length of time for so many reasons. But yeah, it’s been a wonderful journey so far and I’m happy to be here.
Carolyn Woodard: Congratulations.
Jennifer Huftalen: Thank you.
Carolyn Woodard: I know that a lot of our staff have been with us for over 10 years, so you’re definitely in that club.
Jennifer Huftalen: Yes, for sure. And remarkably, I remember when I first started and people talked about the sabbatical offered at 10 years and it was hard to imagine in my early twenties that I’d get there. Being in your thirties felt like an impossible distance to cover, but it happened very quickly and I feel like I’m staring down 20 years now. So maybe I want to see if we can get one of those sabbaticals to go round two.
Carolyn Woodard: That’s amazing. Do you remember when you started at Community IT and how that happened?
Jennifer Huftalen: Yes, I remember it very well. I had been living in D.C. for a couple of years. I had cousins that lived in D.C., so I visited as a kid and I loved the city. So in some ways I was drawn to D.C. first. Then I kind of fell into a couple jobs that happened to be related to account management, which obviously ended up being the area that I focused on at Community IT. I’d say it was not necessarily a deliberate focus.
I knew what I didn’t like and the first couple of job experiences I had also reinforced what wasn’t a great fit for me, which was more corporate work, more kind of buttoned-up culture. I tried to figure out what I valued about things in general, including work, what I wanted my work day to feel like and what I wanted to be a part of and contribute to.
As part of that, I was job searching. I’d done the corporate work. I thought I would see what nonprofit work was out there and there was an opening for an entry-level position doing admin work at Community IT. And it happened to be close to the neighborhood I was living in and I was really drawn to just the fact that they were able to support a wide range of issues through the nonprofits they supported, that I thought were really important.
I could tell right away as well that the culture was aligning with the way I wanted to live and contribute to the world. It was clearly very flexible and open and had a lot of diversity in the staff. And so all of those things felt right to me.
Despite not having any background in technology, I had some background in account support and the two things seemed to work out and came together. And so yeah, that’s where I landed.
Carolyn Woodard: Yeah, I think you and I may be two of the least technical people at Community IT.
Jennifer Huftalen: For sure.
Carolyn Woodard: People laugh when I tell them, oh, I work for an IT company…
Jennifer Huftalen: Me too.
Carolyn Woodard: It takes all kinds. I feel like I have learned so much about our realm of expertise just by interacting with people and interacting with you and learning what the clients are asking for and what the teams are able to provide. So I’ve definitely learned a lot. I’m a lot smarter about IT than I was to begin with, for sure.
Jennifer Huftalen: Yeah, same here. It was a real uphill battle for me, but I think it speaks to our colleagues who are obviously very good with technology, but also really good about explaining it. I felt like the Guinea pig in a lot of cases, because I’d have to just be like, really put it in the most basic of terms for me to understand. Our team has always been so good at that and I’ve really learned so much just through being close to it and hearing how they talk about it and describe the way things work.
And you know, despite myself, I feel like I now do kind of understand technology in a way that I never would’ve imagined I could back then.
Carolyn Woodard: You said you started out in an entry level position and now you are the Director of Client Services. Within Community IT, how does that happen? Was there a set amount of time to get promoted to this or that? Or do you make your own path? Did you have mentors? How does that work?
Jennifer Huftalen: So, that’s a great question. I think my trajectory looks a lot different than for the folks who are technical, and have been around as long as me. Although to some degree, the evolution of our company and the steps they take has also become a lot more clear and sophisticated.
You know, we evolved as a company from being IT professionals, but having staff that really covered all components of the client relationship. The technicians themselves were writing up contracts, they were dealing with service disputes, they were doing all of those things.
It wasn’t until we grew as a company that we had to clearly define those tasks as part of a deliberate team, and have the technical folks focus on doing the technical work, and somebody like me take on the non-technical work.
So because that hadn’t been established yet, there weren’t clear steps necessarily, which again, really worked well for me because I wasn’t drawn to the company because of the specific technical work, I was drawn because I really liked the culture. And part of that culture is allowing people to find their strengths and find what they’re good at and take a peek behind that door, see if it makes sense, and if so, keep moving.
I was given a lot of flexibility, a lot of time to try different things. Like I said, I had some background in doing account management, so contracts made sense to focus on. A service company has a need for the customer service side and I had a little bit of experience there, too. So it really was an evolution.
Over time and throughout that process, I was lucky enough to have direct experience working with some of our leadership. At the time, Johan Hammerstrom, our CEO, was handling a lot of the client service’s needs, and I just shadowed him a ton and we would go to meetings together. I’d just see how he handled different conversations, tricky conversations. And again, over time it started to sink in, like, okay, this is how we could think about what our customer service standards could be, and maybe I could play a role in defining those and make sure that we’re consistent about delivering those standards.
So I started out, like I said, at the front desk. I got a lot of exposure to the whole company there. And then, there was this need to formalize an account manager role. So a few years in, I became an account manager and now the director of client services role is really with a focus on formalizing what our customer experience needs to be, making sure that our customers are having a consistent experience and that there is a clear definition of what that is at Community IT.
Carolyn Woodard: Can you talk a little bit more about that? I know you’ve spent the last year or year and a half thinking about what the client experience should be, and you have several touchstone phrases that we hear.
Jennifer Huftalen: One of the advantages to being a person that’s not technical is that, I think I can kind of sense or feel or have a different perspective on what it is to experience technical work. Whether it’s actually dealing with fixing a problem or how technology plays a role in your workday, I’m not a person who’s thinking about it from the backend.
One of the things that I kept coming back to as I was trying to define our customer service standards was that we needed to be able to meet people where they’re at with technology. Especially for people who are very technical, it can sometimes be hard to pull yourself out of what you understand. It’s almost second nature to you if you’re in it all the time and it’s efficient to talk about it in a certain way, and it all makes sense to you.
But our customers may not be people who live in that world. In order for us to be able to connect with them, understand where they’re coming from, understand what they’re trying to achieve, provide a service that’s adding value, we need to be able to meet them and see the problem the way they see it.
So a big part of my focus was: what practices do we need to put in place to help all of our staff do that well? A fundamental component to providing good service is that we’re able to understand where our clients are coming from and then be able to get them to a better place.
The other part of our goal as a service company is to add value. And we can only add value if we understand the problem, right?
So that’s been my mantra over the last year or so: let’s meet them where they’re at and get them to a better place.
Carolyn Woodard: Excellent. If I can shift gears a little bit, I know that you worked in D.C. originally and you work remotely now. I also work remotely and Community IT has been extremely supportive to staff being able to work remotely or as a hybrid, coming into the office in D.C. sometimes, but also working remotely.
We also support clients remotely; entirely remotely in lots of cases, nationwide. Can you talk a little bit about that evolution, going from working in the office as the receptionist/front desk to now working from New York State? Also, about having a family while you are a career employee at Community IT and how that is supported?
Jennifer Huftalen: I think that’s one of the things Community IT has always been a little bit ahead of the curve on is accommodating not just remote work, but having a broadly flexible work-life balance. We’ve really walked the walk on that one.
When I go back to thinking about why I was drawn to the company, that was a huge part of it. Even though early on I needed to be in the office as the person who answered the front door, there was always a sense that there could be flexibility in my schedule to some degree. This sense that we had a life outside of work was always there and always displayed by our leadership, as well.
I remember when I started, our CEO just had a baby and he was out for that, so I experienced it early on. After a few years, for personal reasons, I needed to move to New York City. At that point, I had moved on from the front desk and was doing account management work, which is a little bit more mobile than answering the door, answering the phone. When I asked if that’d be something I could do, there was no hesitation. That was back in 2014, so way before anybody knew about a pandemic or any kind of remote work as a standard thing.
There is a general cultural value at Community IT, that there’s a lot of trust. If you work hard and you stick to your responsibilities, they don’t have to see how you’re doing it or the way you’re doing it. If the work is getting done, they trust that you’ll do that.
I felt very fortunate that they allowed me to move first to New York City, where I stayed for a few years, and then after having my first son, the city kind of gobbled us up a little bit. I was able to move back where I’m from in Central New York to be around family. At that point, I had been working remotely for about five years. And there were no questions. It was you’re getting your work done and you’re available for meetings. And it was working very well.
As we approached our current situation where it’s very common for people to work remotely, Community IT was so well-positioned to handle that transition. They’d already allowed people to have a flexible work schedule, knowing that as long as you’re responsible and you’re doing your work, it doesn’t matter how it gets done or when, as long as it gets done.
But in addition to that, there was a lot of technical support that allowed people to just seamlessly go into working remotely. You know, we didn’t miss a day. Things were already in the cloud which means you could access the information you need from anywhere. Many people, even those who are based in D.C., already had laptops which allowed them to be more flexible.
There was a sense that as part of offering a work-life balance, even before the pandemic, you needed to give people the ability to work from where they need to work from. Like you say, if you have a family, sometimes that means you have to get out of the house; you have to go take your computer somewhere else.
That foundation was already there when we had to all go remote. I felt like it almost was a benefit that now everybody was remote and now everybody lives in this space where I was. It used to be when I joined meetings, I was one of a handful of people on the phone. There’s just a different dynamic, being in a room with somebody and having one person on the phone versus, everybody being on the screen, or on the phone, or in the same location.
I feel like it really was fortunate in some ways for me to have the rest of the workforce join me remotely. We already had all these tools ready to go and it just made handling our work being remote that much easier.
Of course, we miss seeing each other, but because that foundation was there, that trust was there, we’ve been able to adapt to being a fully-remote company and maintain that kind of culture, that type of expectation. Even though we’re all meeting each other on screens now, I think we’re still able to do that, and do it well.
Carolyn Woodard: That’s one thing that I really noticed and we’ve kept it going. I remember at the beginning of the pandemic, we started on our remote calls to have a little check-in moment at the beginning of calls of just, how are you feeling? How are you doing? What’s going on? Then we would start the meeting and talk about what we needed to talk about. We’ve really been able to keep that going, which I find just exemplifies that people are whole people. They work part of their time and they have other lives outside of their time at work. You can do better work if you’re connected in that way.
I think that actually helped our clients, as well. Some of them had to move to remote very quickly at the beginning of the pandemic and we already had this experience. So as we were helping them fully realize their cloud technology and be able to work remotely, we also had, as a company, that experience of what helps make remote work work. Like you said, we were just well-positioned to be able to support our clients with that.
Jennifer Huftalen: Yeah, it was a challenging time for us and for all of our clients. We felt fortunate to be able to make sure at least one major component of their operations, their IT, was continuing on smoothly and that they could rely on us and we had the experience and the expertise to help them get to a better place.
Carolyn Woodard: It’s crazy too, when I think about all of the companies that are forcing people to go back into the office. I don’t want to.
Jennifer Huftalen: I know. I don’t see how that’s going to work.
Carolyn Woodard: There’s a good thing; let people have the good thing.
Jennifer Huftalen: I really don’t understand it. We all understand that getting together is valuable. I do think some of it does come down to trust, or you don’t think your staff are capable of managing flexibility.
Carolyn Woodard: Yeah, when my kids were little, I worked at night. I would work after I put them to sleep because during the day, I was so distracted. I would work from seven to 10 at night, every night.
Jennifer Huftalen: I feel like there’s a sense that it is going to be coming back, that people are going to be wanting to go back to the office.
Carolyn Woodard: For some people, working from home was terrible. They get energy from being interrupted. I think there are a lot of people who are like that, who want to be with people. I hope there is a way for them to have an office environment.
Jennifer Huftalen: It’s interesting you say that, because I feel like up until the pandemic, so much of what was valued was people who are out there doing, doing, doing. That’s what you should be doing – consuming. And you know, the pandemic revealed for a lot of people, oh, this is actually the way I want to live. This is what I’ve been looking for.
But for those people who thrived in the previous world, it hit them really hard and there wasn’t really an avenue to get out of it. You really didn’t have any options to do anything and get out. I think it’s interesting because I feel like it’s been really positive for a lot of people who value their quiet time. They need it and for those who aren’t able to, it’s just super, super challenging. Now that we know both worlds, maybe we can create a better one, I don’t know.
Carolyn Woodard: I always ask this question: when you are in an elevator, or at a cocktail party, and someone asks you, “What does Community IT do? What’s your job?” What do you say? What does Community IT do?
Jennifer Huftalen: I always say that we provide IT services to nonprofits. That’s kind of where I start and because I do sometimes get that look, especially if the person knows me at all, you do what? And I say, well, I do the nontechnical part of that. I manage the ongoing relationships, the contracting and service-related questions, but the company is providing an essential service for the nonprofit community and providing support to their technology needs.
Carolyn Woodard: Thank you so much for doing this interview with me. I really enjoyed spending time with you.
Jennifer Huftalen: Of course. Thank you, Carolyn.
We hope you enjoyed this Community IT Voices interview with Jenny Huftalen, Director of Client Services. Community IT is the right place for you if you find fulfillment in helping others succeed and want to work for a company that serves nonprofits.
Our employees stay and grow with us, and over half of our staff have been with us for over a decade. Community IT is an employee-owned company with a positive, sustainable workplace that promotes professional development, a nonprofit IT career path, and a healthy work/life balance. We have been 100% employee-owned since 2012. Check out careers with us here.
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