Early Life

Elana Congress is a product marketing manager at Adobe Inc., working on their Creative Cloud education team. The primary function of her role is to help students and teachers, on a global scale, learn how to use Adobe products to advance their creative application within the classroom. This position is the culmination of each bump she has faced in her career, of each job that didn’t work out, or college choice that seemed all wrong at the time.

Elana grew up in Westchester, New York, a large, affluent suburb of New York City. Her parents were keen on education, both holding advanced degrees, and chose the town for its strong educational reputation. “It had a really prestigious public school, well-funded with really excellent teachers. So I grew up, working hard academically, doing all these extracurricular activities, especially in high school. It was like a pressure cooker, I took six AP classes my senior year – it was really intense.”

Despite the competitive environment of her schooling, her family was less overbearing about Elana’s pursuits. While there was an expectation she would attend college, they encouraged her to explore her interests in becoming a writer or teacher and overall be in tune with her instincts.

With that in mind, and after hours poring over the Princeton Review, she narrowed her college search to eight small, liberal arts schools where she could expand her horizons, academically and socially, without being on the rigid professional track typically offered by larger institutions. “I wanted to get a really excellent foundation and learn how to learn…And was like, I’ll figure it out…If I have a good college and resume, I’ll find a job. That was my approach.”

University and Beyond

Elana landed at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, which promised 300 days of sunshine and some of the happiest students around. This campus culture  was just the change-up she needed from the rat-race back home. It was certainly slower paced, with a small student population under 2,000 and a limited offering of 15 majors. “On the printed course catalog, I crossed off all the majors I knew I didn’t want, which were biochemistry, physics, astronomy…and then I went through and really just methodically did a process of elimination, because there were so many things I was interested in at that point.”

After much consideration and exploration, Elana decided on philosophy. She credits this choice in  advancing her critical thinking skills and expanding her mindset in ways she otherwise experienced. While invested in philosophy, a teaching career remained in the foreground, alongside a budding interest in bioethics. The two began to marry, and she spent one summer teaching science at a camp, and another, tutoring for a program that prepared first generation college students for school.

The summer going into her junior year of college, she landed a research internship at Columbia University’s Center for Bioethics, after reading about the field in a New York Times article. “I was just really scrappy…I found the people in the article online and emailed them cover letters. And I didn’t know what I was doing.” She then searched online for bioethics centers around the country, appealing to as many as possible for an internship, and took advantage of the stipend available from Whitman to cover the cost.

Upon graduation, Elana knew she wanted to give teaching a genuine try; she loved learning and working with adolescents, and it allowed her to engage her passion for the sciences. She was accepted into the fellowship program Teach Charlotte, in Charlotte, North Carolina. The program was unpaid, and ran as an eight-week summer intensive, where participants taught summer school from 9am to 2pm, then spent the afternoon in class learning how to be a teacher, and upon completion, received their provisional licensure. 

Every week, the program coach evaluated Elana’s work. Seven weeks in, she received abrupt feedback: “The coach says, ‘I don’t think you have what it takes to teach in a high-need school. You can’t pass this program.’” That one coach’s opinion, so late in the process, instantly shut down Elana’s endeavors, and the teaching job she had lined-up upon completion of the intensive, was revoked.

Maneurving her Early Career

Three months out of college and an entire summer spent studying and working, Elana found herself jobless in a new city, and without any prospects. She remained invested in teaching however, and came to learn about a clause in the program – Elana had still passed the exam and completed the coursework, so was granted a provisional teaching certificate, which was eligible to use in a rural district, 25 miles outside of Charlotte.

Here, Elana taught seventh-grade science. She enjoyed the job, especially her students, but it was a tough gig, with frequent twelve-hour days, and work that carried over into the weekends. And unfortunately for Elana, it was a contracted position, which by the end of her term, the school didn’t have the funds to renew. So she once again found herself jobless within a year after graduating college, but despite this, she remained determined to teach.

She was hired next at a Charlotte public school, where her tenure was ultimately cut short as well, but this time on Elana’s own accord. She struggled with behavior management in the classroom, and the school did not have the systems in place to support a young, new teacher. Elana was exhausted so early on, she quickly came to realize teaching was not a career she could sustain for the rest of her professional life.


After four honest months, she was on to job search number three. It was a dry start until a friend invited her to volunteer at a fundraising event for a healthcare-centered nonprofit. The introduction turned into a part time job, supporting the organization’s broader fundraising efforts, and eventually Elana was brought on full-time as an administrative assistant.

The role turned out to be a terrible fit; the work was unengaging, and Elana didn’t get along well with her boss. About four months in, she transferred to another department where she supported individuals’ enrollment in health insurance through the Affordable Healthcare Act, an opportunity that was far more fulfilling for Elana.

She worked in this position for two years, during which she learned the non-profit space was not one she wanted to ultimately occupy long-term. Elana was frustrated by the low salary and lack of opportunity to apply her core interests. And resentment grew for her collegiate decisions as well; what was the value of her degree and stellar transcript if she couldn’t advance in her career? Elana considered graduate school as the next step; she wanted to continue learning, and perhaps with a more refined focus, her luck would change. 

Using A Coach to Help Align Herself with Her Goals

Elana put this idea on hold after connecting with a life coach who advised her she didn’t need advanced education to propel her goals, and together they explored alternative avenues. Elana reflected on how much she loved her time abroad in college and her fascination with Eastern Europe. She had been itching to return, and the timing, she decided, was now right. 

She packed her belongings in storage, quit her job at the nonprofit, and took off to a small Russian town to teach English, with just a little savings in tow. Elana’s posting ran for six weeks, after which she spent the next several months frugally traveling across a dozen European countries.

After exhausting her funds, Elana returned to Charlotte and immediately reached out to her previous employer. They took her back on in a new opening, where she recruited and managed the relationships with healthcare providers.

Elana gave the nonprofit one final year in this role, before determining she was now ready for graduate school. She felt this was the best path forward in advancing her career prospects and exploring her numerous interests. She considered pursuing public health, public policy, public administration, urban planning, or an MBA, ultimately heading back west to the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. “I decided that I’m more of a generalist than a specialist, and that having an MBA would allow me more opportunities and higher salary potential. And the coursework would be things I hadn’t done before. And then if I had an MBA, I could go into any of those industries with a business bend.”

While studying, she worked for Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, as a marketing intern. Upon graduation, she took a role as a customer success manager at an ed-tech startup. Elana loved the customer relationship aspect of the job but struggled with the growing and shifting administrative demands. When the company restructured and issued mass layoffs, she was relieved to be included and saw it as an opportunity to find something better suited to her interests and goals.

A Whitman networking event led her to reconnect with an old classmate, who looped Elana in on an opening for a product marketing manager at Adobe. It was a contracted position they were trying to backfill and not advertising online. The position was the perfect blend of technology, education, and marketing. 

Elana has now been with Adobe for almost three years and possesses relaxed confidence in her role and in her overall value to the company. She knows she’s effective at communicating the product’s impact and supporting its creative use in classrooms. At times, though, she’s felt stuck relying on their go-to branding. Elana doesn’t just want to be a steady team player, she wants to try to push herself to emerge as a creative leader to evolve the vision of the product. It’s the attitude she would have wanted her younger self to adopt; to dream big and believe she can do anything. Elana’s a bit more realistic these days, but if she can imagine it, her track record shows it’s well within reach.