The Road Less Traveled: Kim Janney’s Unorthodox Path to Self-Driving Tech

Welcome to The Journey is the Destination. This new monthly series celebrates extraordinary Torc’rs and illustrates how they made their journey to Torc. Read on to discover what the journey looks like as we plot a course for success and learn what it means to be a Torc’r.

This inaugural edition of the series is titled The Road Less Traveled: Kim Janney’s Unorthodox Path to Self-Driving Tech and focuses on Kim Janney, Director of PMO at Torc, who sat down with us to discuss her journey to Torc and share valuable insights about challenging yourself and societal norms.

How did you become interested in technology?

Kim: My dad was an electrical engineer, and my brother is a mechanical whiz. I was inundated with science and math growing up but rejected it, chalking it up to something that I just couldn’t relate to or understand. That changed when I started working at a software company. I was forced to face my fear and in doing so realized that it wasn’t so scary and was actually quite interesting and enjoyable.

What career path led you to your position at Torc?

Kim: To quote Robert Frost, I’d say my career path has taken a “road less traveled.” I graduated from Roanoke College in 1993 with a BA in English (and additional studies in Communications and Music). If someone had told me back then that my career would be in the technology space, I would have laughed and asked, “In what universe?”

The Monday after I graduated from college, my dad woke me up early so I could find a job—no rest for the weary. Thankfully, I landed a job that summer as a call center representative with a bank, but then stumbled into training and development when I gave feedback that the new hire onboarding program needed some help. Sometimes when you point out a problem, you get rewarded by being asked to fix it. 😊

My remaining five years at the bank were focused on training, training design, and documentation management. That job served as a nice bridge between my degree and my entry into the business world.

In 1998 I joined Meridium, Inc.—a small technology company in Roanoke, VA that needed help to create an onboarding program. In creating the training, I realized that we needed help communicating between and within departments, most notably Engineering. I began focusing largely on Engineering and worked on better connecting them to the rest of the organization. Written and verbal communication was the key skill needed for that role, but I learned that I also needed to understand what the engineers were saying enough to translate that to others, so I started to pay more attention to the technology and learning more about the product.

From there, I moved from a “communications” role within Engineering to a development team lead, to a release manager who was responsible for coordinating all the moving parts to get a release out on time and ultimately into Program Management for the product development functions.

After more than 20 years with Meridium (including a few years at GE after they had bought Meridium), I found out about Torc from former co-workers. The field and the corporate culture really interested me, so I made the leap to Torc in January ‘21.

What was your first impression of Torc?

Kim: Torc is genuine. The mission of “saving lives” is real. The focus on safety is palpable. The people are hard-working and driven while also being easy-going, friendly, open, and honest. I feel blessed to be here.

You mentioned that you studied English in college, what skills from your studies do you use at your job in program management?

Kim: Communication. All businesses need people who can communicate well.

I would add that being able to review a book and identify plots, key themes, and major characters have helped me when reading and deciphering emails to identify key messages and action items.

How does a team benefit from a diverse background of experiences? What about engineering specifically?

Kim: Groupthink is a scary thing, especially when you’re trying to be innovative. When you bring people together who come from different backgrounds, it naturally provides a diversity of thought.

What advice would you give students who are curious about a career in STEM?

Kim: Do not put roadblocks in front of yourself. While societal norms have played some part in defining the space for women in technology, I would say that we – as women – have equal responsibility in changing the course. For years I created a mental roadblock between myself, math, and science. I had the support of my family, and my dad would have loved for me to go into an Engineering field, but I shut it out because I just didn’t think I could do it. I was wrong. Give yourself permission to step outside of your comfort zone and believe in yourself.

What has it been like transitioning from remote work to in person?

Kim: At first working remotely was a struggle. I was used to seeing people in person, having impromptu meetings at the coffee machine, or quickly getting people into a room to solve a problem. You must think differently to be successful in working remotely. However, I’ve grown to like it. It gives me the flexibility to be there for my family, take real brain breaks when needed, and avoid the time spent commuting in a car.

What is your advice to people who are joining the tech industry?

Kim: Learn, constantly. Challenge yourself by reading up on new ideas and ventures. Talk with people who share your interest and ask them what they think. Whatever way of learning works for you, just do it.

Join us!

At Torc, we’re looking for people to join our winning team and provide different perspectives and skillsets on the path to becoming the industry standard in self-driving trucking.