By Heather Chapman (New York City)
Jennifer Flaa is a very busy woman. You might think that being the CEO of Vettana, a software quality assurance (SQA) company she founded twelve years ago, would be enough to keep her occupied. But, for this woman, it’s not. She has started a second company, teaches at the Silicon Valley Small Business Development Center, and has written a book. Oh, and in her spare time Jennifer sings in a rock band she started a few years ago.
Despite the passion she has for technology—Jennifer was a Technology Management student at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC)—this field wasn’t Jennifer’s first love. That was music. Jennifer says she sang throughout high school in choirs and musicals, played three different instruments, and was her high school band’s drum major and conductor. Still, despite how much she lived for music, Jennifer says that she consciously did not focus on that when she went to college. “I consciously turned the music switch off when I went to college and started an engineering curriculum. I loved music but did not want to be a ‘starving artist’. ”
After graduating, Jennifer went on to work at NASA, writing and researching test cases for an experiment that was conducted via space shuttles. It was her experiences there at NASA that led Jennifer to eventually leave and move to the Bay Area, working for several startups. It wasn’t until after she burned out working for various startups, spending all her time and energy there—literally sleeping under her desk at times—that she went back to music. Jennifer took two years off from her professional career and spent her time singing with a local garage band, belting out blues tunes, and performing for six months in a local musical, where she played four different characters. But then, as Jennifer says, “she did it again,” starting Vettanna and “deep ended into work again, shutting off the music valve that majorly fed my soul.”
It took a divorce for Jennifer to actually stop and take a look at how she was living her, realizing only then that she wasn’t doing what really made her happy. “That’s when I started singing again and sought out a rock vocal coach that would help me develop a professional quality sound.” She also became the manager of a friend’s band, teaching herself about the music industry from the inside. She took the knowledge that she learned from that experience and started her own band, Urban Fiction, with her friend, Francois Didier Bouvet. Planning only on singing the songs that other artists had written, the suggestion by her coach to write her own songs took Jennifer completely by surprise. Hesitant at first, Jennifer disregarded his suggestion, but her coach didn’t stop there. “He told me to come back next week with not one but four songs…and I did. Of course they were crap. But we worked with them and he really taught me the [song-writing] craft. I write the melodies and lyrics and Didier Bouvet [her partner in the band] adds the groove and the awesome guitar!”
Jennifer says that she still struggles to find an acceptable balance in her life. “I work best in bursts and still ‘deep end’ into tasks, looking up and [realizing] it’s 4 a.m. and I’m still on a roll! It’s not a long-term strategy but it’s actually fun and rewarding to do from time to time. The truth is, the balancing is a process. I haven’t figured out yet if ‘having a balanced life’ means that the ‘balance’ happens each day or in a week, or in a month or over the year!”
Balancing act notwithstanding, Jennifer is always on top of her life and priorities by forming a clear vision of what she wants to accomplish. Then, she says, she “take[s] it and get geeky with it. I write a plan, map out what it will take to get from here to there, how long and what the tasks are along the way.” By prioritizing her tasks and taking things one-step at a time, Jennifer says, “by the end of the year I find I’ve accomplished quite a bit.”
Jennifer has found that since she’s again made music a priority in her life, she’s much happier. “The singing is my passion and I get so much juice, happiness, and energy from playing in that sandbox that it really feeds my soul and gives me energy for other things.”
Jennifer has a website, with links to her four different blogs, and she’s also on LinkedIn and Twitter, where she can be reached at any time.