Building a Rewarding Career - One Step at a Time
Merrimack alum Amy McDonough ’97, senior vice president and general manager of Fitbit, discusses her career path, the value of a liberal arts foundation and why to pursue a passion.
As senior vice president and general manager of Fitbit, McDonough is committed to empowering and inspiring people to live healthier, more active lives — and that includes members of her own team.
“When I have a meeting that doesn’t require a computer, we do what our team calls the ‘Amy Walk,’” McDonough said. “It’s a loop just outside our office that goes out to the pier and back. As a company, we work really hard to integrate health and fitness into our culture. We like to say that we walk our own walk.”
Despite her enthusiasm for the mission of Fitbit, McDonough’s original career plans didn’t involve fitness. In fact, they didn’t even involve technology.
Finding Her Path
A mother of two who splits her time between California and Massachusetts, McDonough has learned to embrace the unexpected. In her recent keynote address at Merrimack’s Professional Development Retreat this past semester, she shared how remaining open to new opportunities has helped her build a career she loves.
“I’ve found that oftentimes, a career path is more of a ‘jungle gym’ than a ladder,” McDonough said. “A ladder implies that you’re going to go from this step to that step. A jungle gym means that you can climb all over the place, start over here, then take a little divergence over here, and learn as you go. I think that’s more accurate.”
McDonough’s career path has been anything but a straight line. As a senior in high school, she wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted to do after college. But she knew she needed a school where she could explore her diverse interests in a supportive environment.
“At the time, I was very shy and a little bookish,” McDonough said. “Merrimack seemed like the perfect size — big enough that I would meet new people, but still manageable for an introvert! The size and feel of the community really drew me in.”
As a Warrior, McDonough majored in English and elementary education, served as a residential adviser, and tutored at the Writing Center. Encouraged by her professors and classmates, she began to come out of her shell and develop confidence in her own abilities.
So when she was offered a job as a content editor at web startup ZDNet, she jumped at the opportunity, despite knowing very little about HTML — or technology in general.
“Within two weeks I figured out HTML and it became a great job,” McDonough said. “The position really launched a career for me at the intersection of technology and communications and marketing, which led me to where I am today.”
McDonough stayed with the company through a number of acquisitions over the next decade, continuing to apply her liberal arts education in the tech realm. It was through one of those acquisitions that she met James Park and Eric Friedman, who would eventually go on to establish Fitbit.
Launching a Career that Helps Others
When Park and Friedman approached McDonough with a job offer, she was initially hesitant.
“I didn’t have any expertise in health and fitness, and the early stage of the company scared me,” McDonough said. “Ultimately, I looked at the relationships with individuals I could trust and work well with.”
In her current role, McDonough is responsible for helping businesses bring Fitbit technologies and solutions to health plans, employers and health systems — leveraging data and devices, personalized insights and human health coaching in a digital format.
“The liberal arts foundation I built at Merrimack has been very transferable to a business environment,” McDonough said. “Skills like being able to distill dense content into three PowerPoint slides or communicate effectively during meetings have been invaluable.”
Since its founding in 2007, Fitbit has sold more than 100 million devices and attracted 28 million users. But according to McDonough, the most rewarding part of being involved with the growing company is the opportunity to hear consumer success stories.
“We get to see how people use their Fitbit to improve their lives, whether it’s running a 5K or managing a chronic condition like diabetes,” McDonough said. “That’s always really motivating.”
During the lively discussion and Q&A session at the Professional Development Retreat, she encouraged current Warriors to remain open to opportunities outside of their initial career path and be willing to learn as they go. She hopes her story will inspire others to translate their passions into a meaningful career — even if it means taking an untraditional route.
“Follow what really excites you, even if it’s not what you originally thought you wanted to do,” McDonough said. “If you trust your intuition and pursue what you’re passionate about, that can lead to a lot of success — both personally and professionally.”