Having just moved to DC and always on the career advice hunt, I instantly fell into an easy, inquisitive conversation with Jenny Abramson the CEO of LiveSafe, a mobile safety and security app/tool. After our chat, it only felt right to share the advice, life lessons and perspective she had imparted on me. Being just beyond her quarter-life years she gets what we’re going through, has an idea of what we need to hear and has an interest in keeping us safe. Read the full interview below:
Before we jump into the deep questions, tell us the five things we should know about you. What are two things we wouldn’t be able to find out about you with a quick Google search?
Well, I was born and raised here in D.C, which means I’m a huge Washington Capitals Fan. I used to be a dancer. I dressed up as Wonder Woman for Halloween this year. My 4-year old daughter invented the 2015 word of the year – temperfit (a combination of a tantrum and a fit). And finally, I work with an incredibly talented group of people.
Of the jobs you’ve held throughout your career, which has made the biggest impact on your career? Is there a decision that has shaped your journey? Is there one you regret?
LiveSafe! It’s a complicated job and a challenging one but also immensely impactful. There is no job that compares to getting to do something that influences everyday lives in the way LiveSafe does—whether that was saving a life last month or working on sexual assault prevention and reporting. But I think that my prior positions contributed to where I am now – I definitely made the decision to help create change and work with organizations that have a positive impact on the community. Once I made that decision, my journey from one job to the next was definitely shaped. At the Washington Post, I was not only part of an organization in massive transition (print to digital and beyond), but it also made me think a lot about how organizations can and must evolve while trying to keep the best of what exists within them. Similarly, at the Transformation Management Office at DC Public Schools, I thought a lot about how change occurs and how to make it happen. It was a thrilling and invigorating experience. Yeah, can’t say I have any regrets.
Did you have an intentional career path? How did you leverage your past experiences to land a job you strongly support?
No, I didn’t have a specific career path I was seeking—if anything I have been a pretty poor predictor of my own future steps. As I mentioned, I have been lucky to have interesting opportunities arise with a commonality among them related to doing something that makes an impact on society. Each role has taught me something useful for the next role and has led me to LiveSafe, where I can take all the experiences and skills I’ve obtained and put them towards a cause I so greatly believe in.
Career changes are common, but our past experiences and degrees may not apply to exactly what we now want to do in life. How can we talk about and leverage our experiences to show potential employers in a new field that we’re qualified for the role?
Share examples. They help make what you have done real. If you want to work at a tech start-up (purely for example) but have no experience per se in technology or start-ups, amp up ways you’ve shown creativity. Share instances where you’ve invented something – even if it’s a new way to sort the mail, you want to show that your focus is always on improving upon an idea or a product and contributing to organizational growth. And you can be honest – sometimes we’re not even looking for new types of organizations as much as we are looking for a specific organizational environment. If you’ve been working alone and crave to work with a team, talk about that. Really anything to show that your prior experiences both provided you with invaluable skills AND a sense of what kinds of environments will help you flourish.
Often we’re told to do what we love. How did you find your way to LiveSafe? What made you want to work in the tech field? Were there other causes you wanted to support?
I was fortunate to meet our board chairman at a dinner on how to evolve DC Public Schools. We started talking, and I was blown away by what they had built and the impact it could have on so many areas I care about and believe technology can change. I saw the education policy side of change – I thought it would be interesting to see the technology side of change (and one that helps students to boot). I find the idea of empowering people with the phones they use every day to make themselves and their communities safer to be a really powerful one. We are seeing such a tangible impact already. In such a short period of time, we have spread to universities and institutions across 19 states, and the demand is only increasing.
Job boards are intimidating. What are other avenues for making career contacts outside of blindly applying for roles online?
LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media outlets are helpful. And, of course, personal contacts, tech meet ups, and events at places like 1776, a D.C. organization that connects startups with the resources they need to succeed, all can be just as helpful. We are always looking for talent, so I am happy to hear from passionate people who care about our purpose and have relevant experience in tech or otherwise
What advice would you give to a woman ready to make a career change?
I’ve always believed in following your passions, not just a paycheck. I think writing down short- and long-term goals is helpful – and what you hope to get out of your next role, whatever it may be. Seeing it written out can help you visualize what you really need to go after the career you want…and deserve. It shouldn’t be something to sweat over – in fact, making a career change can be quite empowering (a word we use a lot around here). And in today’s society, women going after what they want is applauded, not condemned. Go for it!
By giving us options on how to make seamless and quick contact with the authorities, LiveSafe is evolving how women (and men!) are able to report suspicious activity and crime. How is it different from any other safety reporting app or service?
Great question! I think the biggest difference is the ability to have a dialogue with both safety officials and really anyone in your contacts is huge. LiveSafe provides services that tailor to any situation – a multipurpose technology infrastructure that connects users with each other and with safety officials in the ways that they feel most comfortable – whether they’re a young woman walking home late at night on a Saturday night or a graduate student who sees something suspicious on their campus. Our partners are saying that they’re receiving information they never would have gotten without LiveSafe – information that is helping prevent incidents in the first place, not just address them after the fact. This is what is empowering real change in communities. We address the needs of the digital native and the law enforcement official alike.
Sometimes we get comfortable in our surroundings and develop a false sense of security (ie. eventually feeling very okay with running along the Hudson River in NYC at night). What advice would you impart on our audience on how they can maintain their independence while keeping themselves safe. Should we be taking different actions based on where we live? How about when we’re traveling and not as familiar with our surroundings?
The most important advice I could give is to find a way to keep safe within your comfort zones. For example, LiveSafe is a great tool for students who are terrified of being identified as bystanders or victims by campus police because they can report tips anonymously. I think this feeling of not wanting to call attention to ourselves or to a situation goes well beyond our college years – many of us can feel hesitant speaking up if we see something suspicious. Whether or not you’re familiar with the neighborhood or environment, I think feeling like you have a plan, and a way to enact it, is crucial. In fact, I think young women are much more sensitive to their safety when they’re traveling because you’re forced out of your comfort zone. It’s the times, as you say running in NYC, when you don’t think about it. I recommend saving emergency numbers in speed dial– or using our SafeWalk feature for that matter, so a friend or family member can watch your path on their phone when you ask them too! Make safety cool – talk to your friends about it. If you’re out at night with a group of friends make a pledge to contact each other when you get home or SafeWalk each other home. Just these little changes can get you into a routine, making safety systemic to your daily life.
What is the strongest impact you have already made with LiveSafe?
Oh gosh. I can name only one? Obviously the biggest impact to date has been the tip to LiveSafe that saved a life. But “impact” can mean many things – it can relate to LiveSafe’s record of responding to emergencies as drastic as this or the man who was arrested at Georgetown for flashing a student, but it can also relate to an overall culture change that’s happening on the campuses we work with. We’re seeing student leaders and campus chiefs of police alike promoting LiveSafe to the whole community and helping to integrate it with existing safety procedures so that using the app becomes an integral part of campus life. This is how we increase bystander intervention – especially when it comes to sexual assault and violence prevention. Students are taking ownership of their safety and connecting with campus police in new ways – and that’s in impact in and of itself.
What is the one product, device or tool you can’t live without?
My iPhone. I use it for everything—actually type faster on it than on my laptop.
What’s one way for women to feel like they’re rocking it?
Is it too obvious to say keeping safe? In all seriousness, being a part of this incredible journey I’m on with LiveSafe has taught me that women who are aware of their surroundings – who make a concerted effort to surround themselves with people who make them feel safe – are rocking it. There’s such a sense of powerlessness that comes from uncertainty and discomfort. One of my main goals is to help women feel powerful even if things in their life are not going as planned. At the very least, we should all be keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe.
What is something you wish you had known in your quarter life? What is something you would tell quarter-life women not to sweat? Any other advice?
Something I wish I had known: Careers are long and zigzags are not a bad thing.
What I would tell quarter-life women: Don’t worry about knowing where you will be in 5 years or 10 years…just do the best you can at what you are doing now and what role you are given and the rest is very likely to work itself out.
What’s next for you?
Living (safe) in the moment.
Photo Credit: Emily Long