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Passionate Mind: From hair stylist to web designer and dream job (Includes interview and first-hand account)

Web building and communication

That’s because for 14 years now Duguay has been the owner and operator of her own web design and development company, JenTekk Web Solutions. Building and managing websites is what she was meant to do, she says, and she is ecstatic to wake each day and do the work she’s passionate about.

The internet was not part of our daily lives when Duguay hit the job market. She began her professional life as a truck driver – yes, a truck driver – a dairy farm worker, a singer and, for 15 years, a hair stylist. There were still other jobs as she took a circuitous route, and not always an easy one, to get to where she is now.

During a childhood of frequent moves that began in Alberta but was mostly spent in B.C., she was, in elementary school years, the victim of bullying, that before it was popular to do much to help kids like her. The callous nature of some children and her being, she says, a bit “chubby,” were behind the name-calling and being spat at and pushed around.

However, while suffering for a time – initially she thought there must be something wrong with her – it didn’t make her withdraw or turn her into the kind of brooding and taciturn adult that bullying often produces. Instead, once she came to accept that part of her past, she used it to develop an ability to empathize with others, and to help her develop a passion for communicating. She’s been a talker and listener ever since.

Reaching out for excellence

A job which helped her get beyond that past was telling her story and singing in a touring show that went across Canada in the mid-nineties. It was called the ‘The ROX Games’ (Reach Out for eXcellence) and their goal was to “give junior high school students a message about reaching out for excellence, along with addressing peer pressure, substance abuse and suicide.”

There were celebrities on the tour, such as CFL football players Danny Barret and Jamie Taras of the B.C. Lions and Mike ‘Pinball’ Clemons of the Toronto Argonauts. Duguay not only sang but each performance told the kids her story of overcoming the trauma of bulling; it was a cathartic experience that serves her well to this day.

That experience and those years as a hair stylist became of benefit when she moved into web designing and building. That might seem unlikely but she notes singing and hair styling each require creativity and communication, two essential components in the creation of websites.

That’s because listening to her clients, asking them the right questions, and making informed suggestions and decisions based upon knowledge are critical for achieving the best possible outcome – a website that serves its purpose, and accurately reflects the company’s personality.

A leap into web developing

She started her new career by enrolling in a web building program at the Universal Learning Institute in Vancouver. She loved the curriculum at ULI and was able to keep working part-time while studying because their Richmond campus was near her workplace. Duguay graduated in 2001 and began her web designing journey by starting her own company.

Running her own business was replete with learning experiences and initially with successes…followed by work shortages, followed by more success; it was fits and starts at first and it was not until 2006 that she was able to let her hair styling work go completely and jump into the ocean of being an independent entrepreneur full-time.

She’s hardly the stereotypical nerd sitting behind a desk, but that’s akin to what she thought her new career might turn her into. “I imagined I was going to be a geek in a cubical,” she told DJ recently.

“Then, when I started working I was surprised at the range of skills required to be a designer and to run a website development company,” she continued. “Thankfully, the blending of my artistic abilities with my technical aptitude turned out to be a perfect combination, with the client relationship building skills I’d honed as a hair stylist transferring to my new career.”

Many of her clients come to her with little knowledge of the style of website they want and she loves going over the options and helping them discover what’s best for them. She works in Joomla and passionately believes in it but if for some reason she feels it’s not the best program for a client, she will do what many other businesspersons will not do – refer them elsewhere.

“If I discover that Joomla CMS is not the ideal solution for a client and see something that may be a better fit, I’ll point them in that direction even if it means losing the job,” Duguay said. “I do this quite often. We all want to be treated with this level of respect and honesty.

“At the end of the day it’s great to be able to close my eyes knowing that with each potential or existing client – I’d given them my very best.”

Building a portfolio

She began doing websites for family and friends but soon enough got jobs for companies and government agencies, early websites include B.C. Academic Health Council, Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, Vancouver Community College and the B.C. Library Association’s Kids Summer Reading Club (nine years as their yearly web developer).

“The initial website jobs were three parts thrilling and one part scary,” she said. “Moving into a new career and building my portfolio was great fun, but doing it all on my own – finding new clients and keeping up with technology – was at times daunting. But I was fascinated by the combination of art and technology.

“Fortunately today, with years of experience behind me it’s all thrilling,” she continued. “The feeling I get now as I begin a new project is much like going on a road trip. We’ve planned it for months and now we’re buckled in our seats and filled with anticipation, finally heading down the road to our destination.”

Before getting to her dream job, the designing, developing and managing of a website that helps American armed forces veterans find meaningful work, of note is a website that she built for the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine that shows how far she’s come since that course in 2001.

Challenging website gets results

The year was 2011 and while she felt ready for the complexity and challenge it offered, she was nervous. But Duguay said she is continually learning that her “spectrum of abilities,” even abilities she wasn’t aware would serve her as a web developer, are forever there to help her along. And once again the ease with which she communicates with clients left the web designer with ample information as she readied to build the site.

And away she went.

“The Boucher Institute website is the largest and most complex project I’ve taken on to date,” she noted. “It required the amalgamation of 3 separate websites into one site. First there was lots and lots of content.

“Then there was the large number of user types: potential students, current students, adult students, alumni, faculty, staff, donors, media, and medical clinic patients. The information architecture needed to be built in such a way each user could locate their desired information easily, within only one or two mouse clicks.”

“I liken that project to a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle,” she added. “When every piece is in the correct place and each user is able to quickly see the big picture and identify the area or areas they’re looking for, you’ve created a work of art. ”

National Cyber Partnership

The Boucher project “came with big challenges but also with big rewards” and she credits it with giving her a “huge boost in confidence.” So when the next big job came along she was ready for it.

One day a call came from the U.S. A Florida based organization contacted JenTekk Web Solutions to build and manage the National Cyber Partnership website. It has and still is providing a wealth of experience and satisfaction, and her description of it shows the passion she has for contributing to the lives of others.

“It’s about providing veterans a way to get high-paying jobs in the cybersecurity field, and gives them back that purpose they had, the purpose of protecting their country,” Duguay said. “It is by far one of the most exciting projects I’ve undertaken. I’ve been able to utilize my creative, technical, and communication skills, work with incredibly talented people, and help transitioning US veterans get back into the workforce.”

The measure of success

That project is taking up a lot of her time but there are still others, and more web designing challenges to come; the completion of each of them gives her an increased level of confidence and leads to ever-more challenging and satisfying opportunities. She said the common denominator in each job is the opportunity to work with others and build quality web sites.

“I believe life is about caring and building relationships, and along with the creative and technical skills, that’s really the crux of my business,” Duguay said. “Caring means that I am constantly improving my web design skills, staying on top of technology, listening closely to my clients, and putting my heart into every aspect of the project.

“For me, caring becomes the true measure of success.”

There are no shortages of careers in our world but the trick is to find the one that challenges you, the one you are the most passionate about. It took two decades for Jeanette Duguay but she managed it and now she’s not looking back.

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