From MOPS practitioner to manager: it’s all about mindset for Jessica Kao

Meet the Experience Makers: Jessica Kao.

“People have asked me, ‘What is the secret to getting certifications or awards?’ But it’s the other way around. It comes from my heart, the source emanates from my passion for wanting to help others. I don’t do it for the awards, I do it because I know the difference and the impact.”

– Jessica Kao, senior director of demand operations, F5

Jessica Kao is a six-time Adobe Marketo Engage Champion, the 2018 Adobe Marketo Engage Champion of the Year, an Experience Maker 50 marketer, and most recently, the winner of the 2021 Adobe Experience Maker Ambassador Award.

But, she’s quick to tell you, “I don’t do it for the awards.”

Kao embodies what the Ambassador award celebrates — an expert in the technology and process behind digital transformation initiatives, who also goes above and beyond to give back to the community of her peers in similar roles across other organizations.

You’ve likely seen her on-stage at Adobe Summit, giving webinars to help Marketo Engage user group members, or answering questions about marketing operations (MOPS) on a discussion forum.

Lost and confused

Her altruism stems from the reality of anyone on a MOPS career path, and the reality that, a few years ago, these roles largely didn’t exist.

This growing career path has developed and matured along with the technology that enables it. For Kao, this is where her motivation comes from. Despite all her accolades, she’s never lost sight of where she began.

“I remember it clear as day, my first Silicon Valley Marketo Engage user group meeting. I was lost, I was confused. I didn’t know how to implement Marketo Engage, I didn’t understand what was going on. So, I sat there in the front row, raised my hand, and asked questions. Someone took the time to show me the way. Many someones. The mentorship and advice that I’ve gotten from the community along the way has been pivotal,” Kao said.

That community is at the core of her passion for giving back, she says, because she knows that she can make a difference to others pursuing a similar career path as herself.

The role of marketing operations has always been the backbone of any digital marketing initiative, but with the changes brought about by COVID, this role is more in-demand than ever.

“What makes marketing and digital marketing go? Marketing operations. So, everyone is scrambling to get the best marketing operations. That’s why the job market is so hot right now,” said Kao.

Making the transition from practitioner to leader

As the MOPS career path has matured over the past decade, former rock star practitioners like Kao are now in management positions, overseeing teams and serving as trusted growth advisors.

But that same pioneering spirit that paved the way for the MOPS career path is now guiding a more senior, strategic role.

“You have these people that have pushed the envelope from a practitioner standpoint, because we are a bunch of marketing nerds that just want to build and do new things — that’s the science in me coming out,” Kao said. “How can we go and build into uncharted territory? And we’re taking the same spirit but we’re doing it at an organizational level, carving out people on our teams, finding the skill sets we need. Now we’re innovating at a whole new level. It’s a completely different world.”

For Kao, the biggest difference between her life as a practitioner and her current management role is a change in mission. Now, her focus day-to-day is on promoting the value of what MOPS does internally — and translating it to broader business impact.

That shift from practitioner to manager can feel daunting. But, as Kao points out, the most important part of the transition to leadership is about changing one’s mindset. Kao is also a yoga instructor, and gives her students similar advice.

She tells them that even if this is their first day in her yoga class, they can choose to be advanced – because all it is, is a change in mindset.

Jessica Koa practicing yoga.

What’s next for Jessica Kao?

Kao’s career is a template for so many who are entering the world of MOPS, and when asked what’s next within her pioneering career path, her response echoed the spirit and the heart of The Ambassador award:

“My next phase is helping others make that transition from practitioner to leader and how we have to change how we speak internally to upper management about what it is we do. Everything needs to translate to impact,” Kao stated.

The impact Kao has had on the global community of people who work in the fast-growing field of MOPS is undeniable. She tells me after every speaking engagement or user group presentation, her inbox is filled with messages of gratitude.

Those messages are why she is this years’ Experience Maker Ambassador Award winner.

Note: Kao is conducting a first-of-its-kind salary survey for the Adobe Marketo Engage community. Click here to take the survey before Sept. 30th. The anonymous data gathered will be used by Kao to produce a report available on the Marketing Nation Community to help Marketo users benchmark their compensation. This survey is not endorsed by Adobe.

Honoring the Movers and Shakers. Learn more about the Adobe Experience Maker Awards.