“While these are the actual job titles like teacher, lawyer, doctor, I should have instead been thinking about ‘given the fact that I like these things what are broader careers that I could do?”

Anna Roussanova is a calm, kind and engaging person who enjoys playing group games, cooking, hiking, and her job. She lives in Madison, WI where she regularly enjoys walks around lakes. Anna works at ZenDesk in IT support on client-facing issues.

Anna Roussanova in high school was kind, engaging, and social as well, but not quite as calm. There was a definite edge to her personality, a drive and ambition, that is not present anymore. The vantage I had as a friend of hers during that time was of a girl who could get it all done. She was brilliant in all subjects, progressive and worked hard at school. And she really was/is brilliant. To me, as a high school student, Anna had it all. Straight A’s, beautiful, funny, generous with her talents and her politics, Anna was the complete package. I looked at her and thought that girl was going to rule the world. And she, though modest and would never have said it, probably saw a bit of what I saw too.

You see when you’re in high school, and your world is composed of your parents, your friends, your parent’s friends, your teachers, and maybe your extended family, you have precious little to compare yourself to. And she must have seen she was getting A’s while others struggled. She finished Calculus 3 her Junior year of High School, and just sort of coasted through every AP class, and everything else was a bit of a fun diversion for her. I was so lucky I got to be her friend. It was never a competition to be friends with her, she made you want to try and do better. But of course, any competitiveness I might have felt would have been pointless, her genius is way beyond me. She was so kind and wonderful to everyone, she helped everyone in any way she could.

Anna Roussanova in a play at MIT

So with all that build-up, well of course she was going to go to MIT. And of course, she was going to wow the university, Cambridge, and the East Coast in general. Let them know what Minnesotans were capable of (though she is originally from Bulgaria and only moved to Minnesota at about 6th grade). She would thrive.

MIT turned out to be a great fit for her personally, though she did struggle with the academics and the sheer amount of work that was required of her. She really struggled, though with hindsight and an ADHD diagnosis in her 20s, much of that struggle was explained. Yet, she went for it anyway, and still I was amazed. She decided to study Physics because of the difficult problems it posed and the challenge of solving them. One weekend, our first year of college, I visited and stayed in her Cambridge dorm where we hung out with her friends all weekends. We played a lot of games that I could not understand like “Mao” and we went “hacking”, and did homework together. I remember her friends mentioning to me that if you have to add the word science to the subject, it is not really a science. Think “social science,” “computer science,” or “environmental science.” Physics was one of the ultimate, most abstract things to study, and MIT the ultimate physics department in the world. My respect for her always increasing.

Anna Roussanova in front of Big Ben

Anna Roussanova in front of Big Ben

Yet her career vision was still small. In her world of students and professors it seemed that “if you studied physics, the career path was a physics professor. There was not much discussion with what you could do with a physics degree outside of that.” So upon graduation and with an acceptance to grad school to study Astrophysics in Hawaii, she was set to do just that. Until, after going through two years in the program, she found out that she did not want to do just that. In-putting data was boring for her. Sitting in front of a computer screen to transcribe data was just not as thrilling as studying physics had been. Her resume describes her work in her grad program as follows:
Wrote software to analyze over 40,000 spectra and test new classification diagnostics for narrow emission-line galaxies at intermediate redshift. This showed that low redshift galaxies and intermediate redshift galaxies are two distinct populations.
Used 100,000 test-particle n-body simulations of galactic mergers to show that some observed mergers are not first encounters.

And with that discovery, even though she had never been a quitter before, she stopped her formal education and left school before finishing her Ph.D. Anna moved back home and tried to discover what to do next by just applying to different jobs to see what would take her. While she started branching out to new ideas and possibilities of careers and did not confine her search to a physics centered position. She wanted something technical in nature, and she wanted to work with people. She got a job at Epic in IT support and moved to Madison, WI. After several years there in technical support, she got a similar role at nearby Zendesk.

Currently, while she does still enjoy the work, it is becoming a little predictable for her. She was able to take classes from Udemy for free through her work and started learning about Internet Security where she hopes to work soon within the same company.

Professional Work Photo

“There’s this idea that is sold to high school kids a lot, and adults too, where your job should be your passion, which I think is kind of bulls***. I don’t necessarily think that the work that you do needs to be your passion. I think it sets a very high bar for a career. It causes people to do something for a while and then question, ‘Is this really my passion? What is my passion? What should I do that is my passion?’ So I studied physics and went on to grad school, because clearly this was something that I enjoyed, and if I want my career to be something that I enjoy, then I should keep pursuing that. But that did not work out for me at all.”

There was a disconnect from understanding what is enough to satisfy ourselves, have something be our all, and what really is enough to sustain our lives. Anna enjoys her work now because she can solve puzzles, she can work with people she likes being around, and she can turn it off at the end of the day where she has time to pursue other things she enjoys. The money is enough to sustain her Mid-Western lifestyle, and she is content with not being so rushed and driven all the time. To figure out the puzzles that come up in her work is enough and to be able to pursue her other interests is giving her a fantastic quality of life.

In hindsight, she wishes she could tell her Senior in High school self not to worry so much. So much pressure is put on high schoolers to do well because that leads them to the right college, and the right college will lead them to the right career. Instead, Anna thinks, more emphasis should be put on really discovering our strengths and pursuing what gives us pleasure. Not in a self-serving way, but in a way that sharpens our minds, interests, and capacities.

High School: Wayzata High School in Plymouth Minnesota, graduation 2004
College: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2004-2008
Grad School: University of Hawaii 2008-2010
Current Job: ZenDesk Technical Support Architect