Yoga Instructor Turned Project Manager, Jen Muller, Discusses Self-Growth, Mentorship, and Life at Demonware

A gamer and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for self-growth and learning, Jen Muller brings her diverse skillset to a position that helps hold up the infrastructure of every Activision game.

Jun 13, 2022

While in college, Jen Muller was in a car accident. Suffering whiplash, pain, headaches, and limited mobility in her right arm, she attended physical therapy to heal and regain her strength. It wasn’t until she began taking yoga classes, however, that she started making significant progress. This led to a momentous shift in her life as she decided to pursue a journey to become a yoga instructor.

After a fulfilling decade of teaching yoga, it was time for a change. An avid gamer, Muller landed a job as the receptionist at Demonware’s Vancouver, B.C. office, while attending project management classes at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Five years later, through a dedicated focus on personal-growth, continued learning, and mentorship, she’s now one of the studio’s senior technical project managers for the Platform department. Muller was also invited to give a presentation at this year’s Women in Tech Summit, detailing her own journey through mentorship.

In the following conversation, Muller discusses her role at Demonware, how she got there, the growing mentorship initiatives at Activision Blizzard, and the most helpful yoga stretches for gamers and office workers to keep their muscles loose.

 

“If you give people the opportunity to prove themselves, they will surprise you." - Jen Muller, Sr. Technical Project Manager, Demonware

 

Tell us about your role on the Platform and Infrastructure team at Demonware.

 

What my team works on touches every other department in our company. Essentially, we take the raw equipment in the data center and create environments that all our games and services live on. It’s kind of like a sandwich layer between the data center and game features. We make it possible for games like Call of Duty, to run at the scale it does. Demonware builds services for players to play together, tracking one's  progression, managing payments and inventory, and so much more.

As a project manager, it’s my job to keep the teams organized. I’ve worked with about half the teams across the platform department now. We’ve got a lot going on, with generally multiple game launches in a year. We run active 24-hour coverage around launches, and part of my job is to be the point of contact and keep everything organized during launch shifts.

 

What benefits do you see in employees who enter gaming from careers outside of tech?

 

Partner balancing - combining skill and trust in a formidable pose.

I always find it valuable to chat with people who have different backgrounds who bring different perspectives. As a yoga teacher, I was running my own business. If I wanted to support myself teaching classes, I had to prove that I was reliable. I had to put in the work and time and build relationships within the community, so that people would trust me to teach them. I even taught ‘partner balancing’ in the circus. My parents are much happier with my career decisions now.

At Demonware, I started as a receptionist while taking project management classes in the evening. The studio covered part of my schooling, which was amazing. Because of how I had to build my business in the yoga space, I was willing to just jump into projects and do the work. I wanted to show that I could do the job before they gave it to me.

 

The reception desk at Demonware, where it started for Jen Muller.

Tell us about your current mentorship initiatives at Activision Blizzard.

It started with an optional mentorship program at the end of my yoga teacher training. I was paired with a more senior yoga instructor who was well established. I went to their classes, they came to mine to give me feedback, and we talked about the general business of being a yoga teacher. That was very important to my becoming established. Once that happened, I then participated as a mentor to new teachers. Through that I discovered there’s lots of opportunity to learn and grow as a mentor, too.

At Demonware, I thought a mentorship program needed to exist. It was clear from conversations I had, and from people asking for it. So, I read up on it and wrote up a plan, then talked to managers and leaders about it.

 

How does mentoring help to diversify the workforce?

My mentor at Demonware, Hamad Deshmukh, vouched for me when a junior project manager role opened up. Essentially, “Give her a chance, she’s proven herself to me. I know she can do this!”. With mentors, particularly more senior mentors, they’re going to have access to those higher-level conversations. They have insight into the opportunities that are available, and they can step up and vouch for a person, and the skills and mindset they bring. I’m sure Hamad’s support helped me secure that initial toe-hold in the Project Management organization. That’s one of the most valuable things about mentorship.

 

Why is self-growth and development so important to you?

 

I get bored easily, and I hate being bored. If I’m bored or spacing out, it’s a signal that there’s something stagnant there. I always want to be learning something, and I embrace moments of discomfort. That’s really a yoga thing, finding that line between pain and stagnancy. You need to explore the areas where you’re not necessarily comfortable, because that’s where the growth is. There are always opportunities for growth, and sometimes you need to go look for them, or ask for them, or create them yourself.

 

What do you like most about the Demonware office and the surrounding Vancouver area?

 

I moved to Vancouver about a year before I started working at Demonware, and it’s a hard city to make friends in because everybody’s super busy all the time. It wasn’t until I started working at Demonware that I really started to make friends. On my first or second day we played a game of Carcassonne and I crushed it. They said they’d get me next time, and I knew then that I’d found my people.

The lunchroom at Demonware’s Vancouver office.

We have a lunchroom with a log cabin in the middle of it, and a virtual reality system in the library upstairs. We have a rooftop patio where you have an amazing view of the whole city and the mountains. I miss hanging out there and I miss the people. That’s why I’ve been going back in for a couple of days a week. 

About Vancouver itself, it’s stunning. Everybody here mountain bikes or climbs or hikes. In my spare time you can find me either hiking or on my standup paddle board, or snowshoeing and skiing in the winter. I can walk out my front door in Squamish and be on a trail in the woods in five minutes. I live in an amazing place. Getting outside makes it easier to sit inside in front of a desk every day.

 

Which stretches do you most recommend for gamers and office workers?

 

The typical things you hear from desk workers are pain in the hips, lower back, shoulders, and neck. Basically, you need to reverse those sitting positions. A standing lunge is great to stretch your hip flexors. For your shoulders and neck you need to open up the chest, place your hand on a wall and turn away from it to press them back, which is great for anyone who works at a computer all day. While standing you can also place your hands on your desk about shoulder width apart and step back and bend at the hips so your arms are alongside your ears to stretch out the shoulders and the back. Those are probably the three best ones you can do for hips, shoulders, and neck. Essentially, just move more.

 

 

 

Jen Muller at work, Demonware, Vancouver

Any parting statements?

 

We recently had our second round of the mentorship program at ABK. In addition to Demonware, we’ve added Activision Global Analytics, Activision Central Tech, and Beenox. For the next round, we’re looking to pull in some of the Activision game studios as well as some of our employee resource groups like the ABK Women’s Network and the LGBT+ Employee Network. As people build these networks and relationships, they feel more like they’re part of a community. This is how we develop leaders.

 

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