A Coming Home Story: Kelly Bergeron
Kelly Bergeron is a Canadian web developer from Cornwall, Ont., who spent 2 years in San Francisco working at Salesforce as the Web Experience Manager. She moved back to Canada in 2016, and founded the Cornwall startup Code Heroes, which teaches digital literacy, coding, game design and digital marketing. She spoke recently with Heather Galt, Communitech’s Vice President of Talent Initiatives and Executive in Residence, about the experience of working in the U.S. and then moving back to Canada.
What made you decide to move back to Canada?
To be honest, there were several factors that I took into consideration when I decided to move back. My intention was to catapult my career by moving to San Francisco but I found that I was a small fish in a big pond, since moving from a much smaller marketing department in Toronto. My game plan was originally to move to San Francisco for 2 years, to see if I'd like it and consider applying for my green card. However, back in the Fall of 2015, I started getting restless and looked to what was happening in the north - our new government was pushing innovation and diversity. I had an idea that I tried out with some volunteer hours, and saw there was a need for what I was wanting to do back in my community of Cornwall and Eastern Ontario (more on that in a bit).
What kind of role did you have in the US?
I worked in the Creative Department at Salesforce, mainly with the App Cloud product and creative marketing team. I was a Web Experience Manager and learned so much, certainly grateful for the experiences that I had. I was responsible for building web assets for the App Cloud team and managing web strategies. It was part coding/graphics/analytics/digital marketing. The people I worked with were the best. We worked and hung out, a lot. It was a healthy work culture because you wanted to be there, working as a team, and really enjoying it.
What kind of role do you have here?
Being at Salesforce, you get to appreciate the philanthropic culture quite a bit. I was one of the top volunteers in San Francisco because I made a habit of getting all my volunteer hours and then some. So, I decided to come back home to Cornwall for a week to teach code with Mel Sariffodeen from Ladies Learning Code. Cornwall had never seen this type of programming, so I asked one of the SVPs at Salesforce to sponsor the code:mobile to drive to Cornwall. This was the start of my idea of bringing learn to code programming to this region. I’m now the Founder of Code Heroes (www.codeheroes.ca) - an initiative I built that was inspired by Ladies Learning Code (we are also a regional chapter as well). I was also inspired by taking classes at General Assembly and Stanford, where I continued my education and built on my knowledge of digital marketing. Part of my job is running learn to code programming under the Social Development Council which is a poverty reduction organization. The Ontario Trillium Foundation has provided us with seed funding to reach as many youths as possible. The youth we are teaching haven’t seen anything like this before, so I feel like we’re making an impact.
What surprised you about your move back?
The only thing that surprised me was finding that spark and drive to follow this path and vision. The opportunity to work with such an amazing team in San Francisco shed light on a lot more than I thought at the time. It gave me the courage to seek a path of entrepreneurship and risk-taking.
What challenges did you face in moving back to Canada?
It was a difficult challenge for me to not move back to Toronto. Many of my friends didn’t know my long-term plans (I don’t think I really explained it to them), and many were asking me when I was coming back. Saying goodbye to a city that I love so much, was truly difficult. I’ll miss Parkdale/Roncy, the bike rides along the lake, the live music, the art galleries, the coffee shops, and so much more…
What has made you happy about your move back?
Reconnecting after so many years with so many people I haven’t lived near has been the best. Being away from my hometown for 20 years, there’s a lot of things to get caught up on and now, I get to spend time with my friends and family. With the political climate being as it is, I felt that I needed that sense of togetherness.
Also, getting the support I have received from the community has been wonderful. In coming back, I found many young entrepreneurs and visionaries who I have formed bonds with. We have formed an Innovation Task Force to help our community develop its potential in tech, running things like hackathons (www.hacktothefuture.ca). We share a pretty cool space in downtown Cornwall and are working to transform the community to attract talent and increase the youth population. Also, paying one quarter of the rent I was paying in SF, with 3 times the amount of space is a huge perk.
What advice would you have for someone considering coming home?
I’d say, come when you’re ready and bring everything you’ve learned with you. Your experiences will go much further than you think. Canada is flourishing with investment, opportunity, and ideas - your talent could be used to create the next big thing here. Because of our population, you will feel like you have more of an impact. Don’t get me wrong, you will miss some things from being in the US, but you’ll also take those amazing experiences with you.