For this month’s Aries staff interview, we sat down with Betsy Hopkins, Senior Project Manager. Betsy is well-known around the Aries office for keeping us all on track, her endless supply of dry humor, and kindly answering any question (no matter how far it may be from her purview). Read our interview with Betsy to learn more about how she oversees Aries projects big and small, from the Elsevier acquisition to the development of LiXuid Manuscript.
Tell us a little about yourself – how long have you been working for Aries? What did you do before joining Aries?
I have been with Aries for nearly 12 years. Before coming here I worked for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the Information Technology Division. My first job out of college was as a Purchasing Assistant for General Cinema Theaters in the purchasing department. The purchasing team was undergoing a software change from mainframe to PeopleSoft, and they knew what they needed it to do but had trouble communicating to the tech side. Somehow I was able to translate between “purchasing speak” and “IT speak”. Because I actually ended up being pretty good at the technical language, I eventually landed in the IT department in software support. From there I went to work as a contractor for the Commonwealth supporting PeopleSoft on their helpdesk. That path of software support eventually evolved into people management, and then project management – and that is how I discovered that project management is what I wanted to do. When a position opened up here at Aries in a project management role, I applied for that position. Instead, I was hired by Tony Alves as a Business Systems Analyst after he had met with me as part of the original interview. I ended up working for Tony for six years, handling documentation and coordination of the beta process. When the project management role within Client Services opened up again, I transferred to that position and was in that role for about 4.5 years. Last June I was promoted to Senior Project Manager.
How did you know Project Management was what you wanted to do?
I think I kind of just landed in it. One of the roles I had working for the state was working with their business continuity team, where we would travel off-site for timed restoration system restore tests. They needed someone to go onsite and document the restoration process, catalog the lessons learned, and record next steps. For me, this kind of evolved into a mini project manager-type role. I don’t have a technical background; I was an English and Theater Arts double-major. As it turns out, the theater piece is relevant because I had stage managed shows through high school and college, and I got back into it about ten years ago, and stage management is really just project management in a different category. I love it because the key is making sure that everyone is on track, and when they have roadblocks I can ask “What do you need, and how can you fix it for you?”
What have your roles at Aries been? You have a Product Management and Client Services background, but now your role is pretty unique. Tell us about that.
It is very unique! I am kind of spearheading what project management at Aries looks like. I credit Jennifer because years ago, she had the vision to know we would need something along those lines. Aries started as a small company, and the departments were small enough back then that projects really could be managed by their department heads. But as the company grew, Jennifer knew that there would be a number of larger implementations and things that would involve other departments, whether it was spec development or the rollout with engineering or working with QA – that having a central person that could work across multiple departments would be essential.
Now that we are going through the acquisition from Elsevier, this type of role is needed even more, because not only are we trying to meet the needs of our current customers seamlessly and smoothly without impact to them (which is our #1 priority), but we are also in the process of migrating a number of Elsevier journals over to Editorial Manager. Another big project I’ve been working on for the past 3-4 years is LiXuid Manuscript–moving it from just a concept to working with vendors and figuring out what this is really going to look like. Now, we’re getting to where the big rollouts of some of these projects are happening, and that’s been exciting to see.
How have your various roles helped you in your current position?
When I first started working for Product Management, it was interesting because Client Services and Product Management were in one building [with Engineering, QA, and Operations in another]. I sat at a desk at the time that was very visible and approachable, and as a result I ended up being asked a lot of questions by my CS colleagues. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to dig up information, and that kind of evolved into a consolidation project trying to get all of the documentation into a singular place. Now we have the corporate Wiki as a result. So if there’s a feature in EM, there’s now a central location where you can find that information. This transitioned me from a spec writer into more of a documentation specialist. As a result, I knew a lot about the process all the way through. So from spec concept in PM to the other end of the spectrum in CS, where it’s actually implemented with a customer, has been very useful for me to experience, especially now with my current role.
How do you stay up-to-date in your field?
I actually got my Project Management Professional certification in September of last year. A lot of times there are certifications and programs and you wonder, “Is it really worth it?”, but through this process I’ve learned so many things. Intuitively, I knew a lot of these things already, but you do gain so many tools and processes that really do help. Through the Project Management Institute, as a certified member, they have videos, tutorials, webinars, local chapters, etc. I do try to take some time about once a week just to go on the website and just check and see what the trends are. But I actually really enjoy reading up on project management stuff–and I never envisioned myself really being that person.
Tell us a little about your department and the people you work most closely with.
Working for Jennifer as Senior Project Manager is great because, in a way, it officially makes me more of a corporate-wide, holistic project manager. So I certainly work to get all of the departments on the same page–getting all teams aligned and starting conversations between various people.
Describe your typical work day.
Filled with meetings. Then filled with writing up the notes from the meetings. Then filled with keeping track of the tasks everyone needs to keep up with outside of the meetings. You know, it’s funny, because when I try to articulate what I do as a project manager it sometimes sounds like “Well anyone could do that.” But it really isn’t! There’s a lot more to it than that. So on any given day there could be some “gotcha” that comes up in a meeting. It’s somewhat a new concept for us at Aries to have a designated project manager whose job it is to take on barrier tasks like this. For example, let me handle the follow-up conversations or connect people and help understand what is happening on all sides and the impact it will have on the project. It’s about understanding the challenges from all angles in an objective way. I’m not here to be an advocate for a specific department, my objective is to be sure the project runs smoothly. It’s as much relationship management as it is project management, which is also something that I really enjoy.
How do you keep track of all the content of the various projects you manage?
The real trick I find is that I can recognize when I do and don’t need to retain a deep level of detail. I try to maintain a high-level overview instead, and not get too bogged down in the in-depth detail. I have project team members that I can go to if I need to understand more detail on a given task. I keep a lot of lists. A LOT of lists. Having a system and having a way to compartmentalize helps. It’s like a big puzzle, and I love puzzles!
What do you most enjoy about your job?
You know, there’s something about Aries that keeps people here for a long time. I mean the majority of the people who work here have been here for many years. It’s a small enough group that everyone knows each other, there’s just something kind of homey about it – it’s family, you know? When Lyndon and Sandy were running the company, it truly was a family, and it was important to them that everyone felt like part of the family. And now with Jennifer running the business, having been in that for so long, she’s continuing to keep that feeling here.
I do think the people who work for Aries feel that we are all working to help progress research. Our staff may not all know the exact details of how our clients use our software, but they do know that it is helping move us in a forward direction. Aries is also just a relaxed place to work. Even when it’s tense, it’s a relaxed place to be; we just know what needs to get done and we all work together at the end of the day.
What are you currently reading, listening to, or watching?
I’m currently binge-watching the Great British Bakeoff! Half of these desserts I have never even heard of! I love it. I do enjoy watching cooking shows. I don’t cook, but I guess I hope that someday it’s going to penetrate my psyche and I’ll become a brilliant chef.
I also watched a ton of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee this weekend – I just laughed hysterically because it’s great. I’m currently rereading The Thorn Birds, which is a great novel that I read many years ago. I actually have the miniseries on DVD and it is SO cheesy and I love it!
Tell us about some of your hobbies/interests outside of work?
As I mentioned, I stage manage for a community theater out of Lawrence called Acting Out!, and it’s owned by a very dear friend of mine. I do perform with them sometimes–I was in their production of Little Shop of Horrors a few years ago–but I stage manage more. I have been an avid crochet-er for about 20 years now, and have made baby blankets for a number of coworkers over the years. I also recently got into playing ukulele, so I’ve been trying to learn that. I dabbled in guitar a few years ago, because I love to sing, and I would have loved to be able to play an instrument and sing. So now I’m thinking I have a fighting chance with the ukulele.