Product manager sees endless opportunity at Viasat
A suggestion from a friend in 2003 changed the course of Anna Kepler’s life. Today a technical product manager with Viasat, Kepler was a 19-year-old university student in her native Russia when a friend recommended she consider a work-abroad program in the United States.
Kepler took the suggestion to heart, and never returned home.
While working in the U.S. – just months before she planned to return to Russia – Kepler met her future husband. He was bartending and she was waitressing for a summer in Ocean City, MD.
She’s since earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in computer science, had two children and is climbing a career ladder at Viasat.
Through it all, she still thinks about the friend who set her on her life’s path.
“Being a very optimistic person, I think I could have made a life anywhere,” she said. “But I think how lucky I am that she told me about the program. We have lost touch, but I’ve always wanted to thank her for what she did for me. It was the initial trigger for a lot of changes in my life, and I’m proud of all of them.”
A tech path
Kepler traces her love of technology back to childhood. While she excelled as a student, her family lacked the money to get her into the best engineering schools. Her experiences in the United States were different.
“Here I was able to achieve a lot because of hard work,” she said, adding that a lot of the technology books are from the U.S. and some are not translated. “So living here was very helpful.”
Viasat was among three companies that offered Kepler a job after earning her bachelor’s degree. She was immediately struck by how comfortable she felt at Viasat.
“It was always stressful to interview, but when I interviewed at Viasat, I didn’t feel that was the case,” she said. “It was almost like a conversation. I felt at home already.”
Kepler, then a mother planning to soon have a second child, was also struck by the company’s benefits.
“It was very important for me to find a company that respect me as a parent,” she said. “The schedule was flexible, so that I was able to be a mother, while also building my career. Sometime it’s hard to balance that, but at Viasat, my managers supported me so that it was easy to do. I was able to volunteer at my kids’ schools.
“My kids love what I do; they’re proud of me. They call me, ‘the boss of the internet.’ And it’s nice to see they don’t feel like the job is taking their mother away.”
Kepler works in Viasat’s Germantown, MD office, a location that keeps her close to her husband’s family. But in her role, she interacts with people from Viasat offices around the globe.
Initially employed as a full stack developer, she moved up recently to become a technical product manager for Viasat’s analytics platform. In her new role, Kepler is responsible for building products that continue Viasat’s focus on using data to improve efficiency and products. That requires a great deal of research, design and planning with teams throughout Viasat.
“There are many days when I get up with the India office and I turn off with the California office,” she said. “The goal is for the entire company to have easy access to quality data, and to minimize any intimidation of using data. In this position, I have a lot to learn in terms of product management, but after nine years here, I have a lot to offer in terms of technical expertise.”
Kepler thrives on the challenge of a new position, and says it’s one of the things she loves most about Viasat.
“Every time I’ve approached the point where I think I’m ready to grow further, there has always been an opportunity for me to grow within the company,” she said. “I didn’t have to leave the company for it; I didn’t have to rebuild relationships and prove myself in a new company.
“I like that stability. My kids are still relatively young. I have the support of my team and my manager. The fact that I’m still challenged every day, and finding mentors left and right who are willing to contribute their time along the way, is really amazing.”
Kepler’s says her greatest struggle during the coronavirus crisis is not seeing her coworkers in person. Her team is split between Maryland and California, and COVID-19 has put a halt to work trips as well as the regular routine of life in the local office.
“I’m an extrovert, and I miss everyone,” she said. “I miss traveling to California. My team is kind of my second family; it’s hard not to see them. I’m also a big planner and not knowing when we’ll be able to travel again is tough.
“I do a lot of virtual coffees, and I’m on video chat a lot. Work is a balance and it’s a much harder balance than when we were in the office.”
Thankfully, Kepler’s husband is a teacher who has been helping with the children during the summer.
Those issues aside, she believes Viasat has responded well to the crisis.
“I think overall we’ve done the best we could,” she said. “It’s been really great to see how supportive people have been, the surveys and all the communication.
“As a manager, I’ve taken part in that with my team, too, trying to make sure my team didn’t burn out. These are tough times but if we all lend a hand, we will get through it. It takes a village.”