The Rediscover State College Podcast

Working a Big City Tech Job Remotely from State College

Season 1 / Episode 1

Trevor Calabro’s cool job in State College: Working remotely as the lead UX researcher for Bowery Valuation, a NYC based appraisal firm.

Trevor built up his manufacturing industry background at companies you’d be surprised are located right in State College: Minitab, one of the largest statistical software companies in the country, and  multinational technology conglomerate Siemens.

Trevor came to the area with no ties to Penn State or State College – he came to start his career, and ended up falling in love with the area as a place to stay and raise a family.

In this episode, Trevor talks about his career journey, the young professional networking opportunities in State College, and how he was able to negotiate for exactly what he was looking for in his current remote job.

Make sure you stick around through the end of the episode – we’ll enter our segment called “How to Do the Thing,” where Trevor will give you three actionable steps you can take towards working remotely in State College.

Brad Groznik: This is the Rediscover State College Podcast. On this show, we talk to locals about how they were able to find their happy place in Happy Valley. I’m your host, Brad Gronik. With us today, we have Trevor Calabro. Trevor will talk to us about how he landed his job this past May. As lead UX researcher for Bowery Valuation, a New York City based appraisal firm.

And he is still able to do his favorite state college thing, which is take random long lunches and go downtown just to walk around and enjoy the shops and restaurants. Hey Trevor, how are you?

Trevor Calabro: Good. How’s it going?

Brad Groznik: Thank you for doing this. You know, when we were starting this podcast, I wanted to have you on because I think I’ve just really been impressed with.

Your job hunting abilities over the last couple years that I’ve seen, um, you know, I’ve seen you go from having a job locally to then working for a consultant firm to now getting a, a really great job in a, in a really high tech field and remotely. So I’d love, I’d love if you [00:01:00] kind of laid that out, because I think there’s a low key fear that if you move to state college, there’s not gonna be those big jobs for you laid out and you’re gonna have to move.

I even have that fear a little bit, but then I see people like you. Able to get these land, these like really great jobs remote. And that’s something that’s new to me. So I’d love to hear about like how, how you were able to do that. Yeah,

Trevor Calabro: why don’t I just tell you my, my job progression because it, it really does, it’s very state college centric.

So I have no ties to Penn State or State College. I, I didn’t go to Penn State, but I got my first job in the area right outta college and this is like almost 20 years ago. And I got a job in like the manufacturing tech space doing. What I do today, which is, uh, user experience design, which is, uh, kind of the human behavioral side of tech.

It took a long, it took much longer. It took me about nine months to land that job. I was living in DC at the time too, so I was looking all over the place at the time. I was able to move. Um, it’s before we, me and my family put down [00:02:00] roots and we really love, you know, we fell in love with State College as a place to live, and I just started at a small company.

It was bore out of some Penn State professors in the manufacturing space. And then after a couple years there, I just kinda hopped through the manufacturing space until I got to the first true tech space, which was a company called Minitab. It’s a statistical software company for desktop software. It’s pretty hardcore stuff.

It’s really where I cut my teeth as a, as a professional, but at what I, I had to have started in those other places to then, uh, land that job. And like I said, I liked it so much. I stayed there for most 10 years. And I think,

Brad Groznik: I think that’s one, one of the things that’s interesting, there’s a lot of these little jobs around here, you know, that you don’t even realize.

So like how, how are you finding these little jobs, like on your way to

Trevor Calabro: Minitab? Yeah, so Socent was a little teeny company, but it was a very quality experience that I had there, especially coming right outta college. Right. And then, It was just like, there are many small quality businesses that you may not [00:03:00] know about that are just located right here.

And many tabs, like fairly big 300, some employees we’re talking like a hundred million dollars of sales a year. I mean, it’s not, it’s no small chump change. It’s, it’s, The world’s leading software in that space, the mini time experience was unparalleled. That, that is where I got to work with some of the, the world’s leading, most usability, uh, UX professionals that just happened to be in state college.

So the fact that that rich environment, I. Was right here locally. Um, it made it so we didn’t have to move. And by, by the time I was working at Minitab, I, I had children and, and we really fell in love with this area as a good place to just live and, and grow a family. And over those 10 years I went from mid-level, senior level to advisory level in which I really kind of upgraded my career.

And that’s when I had a ton of options. To pursue other things.

Brad Groznik: And that’s, I mean, it’s interesting. Do you think State College is a good place to do that, or did you have to be particularly, uh, like you said, researching these jobs, making sure [00:04:00] that the right,

Trevor Calabro: the, the right step? Penn State, because of the university, it is kind of an incubator for new ideas and they’re, they’re really kind of like entrepreneur forward.

Every company I worked for before I started to work remotely was bore out of an entrepreneurial vision from a. Penn State professor. So I do think it’s uniquely slotted for that. It’s, it’s, you know, there’s pros and cons of living in a college town. That’s one of the huge pros. Right.

Brad Groznik: So then once you built your career at, at Minitab and you were ready for that, that next step, take me through that process.

What, what were you thinking and you know, with all the opportunities out there, what were, what were the kind of constraints that you put on your good job

Trevor Calabro: search through networking, through being in the area for, at that time, probably over 10 years, I got to meet some people. Uh, the tech space is, there’s another good part about being in kind of a smaller market is that you do get to know people and you get to learn people’s names or occupations, what they do.

And there we, I had a little network of people in the tech space here in town, so this opportunity arose. There is a [00:05:00] multi-billion dollar tech conglomerate, believe it or not, that’s home base is here in State College. It’s Siemens. It’s most notably for making like wind turbines and. Like MRIs, machines and stuff like that.

They also make software. So every single wind turbine has software attached to it, but they’re also deep in the manufacturing space. So Minitab was deep in the manufacturing space all the way back to that very first job, which was in the manufacturing space. So Siemens corporate headquarters for their software wing of their department is State College, Pennsylvania.

Um, believe it

Brad Groznik: or not, I mean, I believe you, ’cause you’re telling me this and I trust you, but if you, if, if it was like a trivia question, I’d just be like, there’s no way. That is, that’s,

Trevor Calabro: that’s true. I got to do some of the paramount work at Siemens around how humans will act in, uh, AR and VR right here in State College.

So who, who would’ve known? Uh, again, at that time I was not necessarily looking for opportunities and I would have been open to work remotely. But again, it just happened to be a [00:06:00] nice, another stepping stone.

Brad Groznik: Yeah. That’s fantastic. I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s really cool to hear the way you built your career and all the opportunities here that just kind of go under the radar.

Trevor Calabro: Yeah. And not intentional. This, this was about building real connections. I, I would not have had the Siemens opportunity if Minitab was located not in state college. That opportunity came simply because of this like tight knit kind of tech sector that we’ve been talking about.

Brad Groznik: So was it at this point you started to think, you know, maybe remote or what other opportunities were, you know, after you spent some time at Siemens?

Trevor Calabro: Yeah, so just like I realized Washington d c was not the place for me. I realized that huge corporate was not the right place for me. I, I kind of missed that mid-level, uh, that mid-size company where you could have a lot of impact. So I started looking at other opportunities and this is where remote really kicked in.

And this was pre Covid as well. So I chose to leave Siemens. And that was actually to pursue a consulting business. So again, the entrepreneurial kind of push in the area [00:07:00] gave me the bug. Um, and six months into my consultant company, a larger consultant business, uh, I was approached by them and they said, would you like to come and do what you’re doing?

And we can add usability and user experience as one of our deliverables. And this is where, this is where all that experience led up to my ability to be super picky. I’m curating my own life, my own career in, in a really like intentional way. So, I tried consulting ’cause why not? I, I, I’d only ever been in small, medium, or large corporate environments.

So what about consulting? That wasn’t for me. I, I, I really did love that job. I did that for about two years. I. And I learned a whole new set of skills that upgraded. So, uh, I learned how to speak about these things, super technical things to non-technical people, and that was a huge upgrade. And then after that I just started doing other remote jobs, you know, looking at startups and stuff like that.

Brad Groznik: And I think that’s where our paths kind of, our, at least career paths kind of overlapped a little bit because I had a a PR consultant business and when you were starting to head off on your own, I remember us chatting about like, [00:08:00] you know, should I move it out on my own? Or whatever. And, and we were both part of this, uh, group, CP squared, the central Pennsylvania Creative Professionals, they’ve been an amazing network.

Like it’s just this group of people doing high quality work in marketing, communications, graphic design, web development. We’ve all gotten work, you know, through that and work, got to work together through that. So I wondered if you wanted to talk a little bit about that,

Trevor Calabro: that kind of network. Yeah, absolutely.

So when I worked at Minitab, it was very insular. I absolutely loved my life, I loved my job. I had the same like six friends, and we just hung out all the time. And then I was like, I should expand my scope a little bit. There was this professional club, creative, you know, CP Squared. I went to a meeting and I immediately found kinship with many of the people there.

It was just a whole bunch of people that. Thought and, you know, they experienced the world in very similar ways that I did. And, and this is another beauty of it. So I was a, I was only a strict consultant, like that’s how I paid my bills for six months. But I still have that consultant company, so I still do work this month.

[00:09:00] I have two projects that I’m doing out, like moonlighting outside of my work hours. With two organizations that I met at CP Squared. So two of the local design firms, they, they want some help with the usability stuff and they, they thought of me, I came to their mind like that according to them, which is great because this is exactly, exactly the opportunities that I was afforded earlier.

I can now help afford other people. And it’s, it’s just been a great kind of like, Virtuous cycle. Yeah.

Brad Groznik: Yeah. It really helps you like spread your network. When you work for big, big corporations and big companies and big agencies like I did in New York, like you end up hanging out with just your coworkers and you, like, I really didn’t know what, understand what networking was until, you know, I came here and you meet some people outside of your job, outside of your company, uh, and realize, oh wow, like there’s just so many people doing so many cool things, you know, I’ve benefited

Trevor Calabro: a lot.

Yeah. Like I’m a like a. I’m a people person, so one thing that I, I don’t love about remote work is that lack of human connection. So I absolutely loved when I could go into the office. So one of the things I [00:10:00] started to do was go to to CP Squared events, and that’s where I got to kind of like scratch the itch of the human connection and the nothing beats it totally.

Brad Groznik: So that kind of brings us to this latest job hunt. Uh, the one that I kind of watched you go through over the last year or so, Trevor. I just like gotta say it was like super impressive to see this happen ’cause you were interviewing with some of the biggest tech companies. I’ve, I’ve heard of you knew exactly what you wanted out of this job and you were telling some of these, the biggest tech companies in the world.

Like, this is what I want. You know how much you felt you were worth, you know, what kind of influence you wanted on in the, into the C-suite or the founders. I just thought that was all so inspiring to see someone, you know, just, just jump in and, and do that. It’s, and, and then especially from a like remote position, it was just really interesting for me to watch that.

Can you one, kind of step us through that last year and that job hunt?

Trevor Calabro: So just like the rest of the story, every step of the way, every, like, I’m gonna say progression in my career, [00:11:00] I mean, you just get more experience and more leverage. So you, you get the ability to ask questions, to dive deeper. I learn more about what I want and I don’t want, and this is what I mean by curating a career.

So at this point, um, I was really able to just look at all different opportunities, especially because being remote, it’s like the world is now the searching. Uh, radius. So, um, with all those opportunities, even in an economy now that seems like it’s slowing down a little bit, I was able to kind of. Really sift through.

And again, I targeted very, very specific jobs that fit the criteria. The list of criteria you just gave was exactly what I was looking for, so you can tell, we’ve had a lot of conversations about this that I, for me, and, and you can do this on your own, anyone can do this. You have your own list. I’ve just curated a list over time and I’m intentional about it.

I write this stuff down and I think about it deeply and I talk with my family about it. But yeah, I was looking for a place where I could have a large impact, so larger impact than I had at Siemens. Just ’cause Siemens was so big that ruled out a lot, a lot of large organizations. So the big, the FANG [00:12:00] companies and stuff, I, I wasn’t really looking at those, uh, those organizations I currently work for, the, my last two jobs have been with startups, mid-size startups around.

200 to 300 employees. Um, and both were pre-revenue. So this is the fast-paced environment of startup. Again, I got to, I get to choose. I’ve never been in that environment. It’s something I’m looking for. So very high on the impact score. So it, it is been fun to be there. So if, if you’re to have a job in a large organization, like, like let’s say Google, for example, Google has user experience jobs that get so finely defined, so, It just really narrows down the kind of stuff I would be doing, which is great for some people.

For me, my current job at a startup, I get to do all kinds of stuff. I work with the operations team on, on an doing business level analytics. I, I work with the C-Suite and the C E O I. I talk with the c e o once a week at least we have a standing one-on-one meeting where we get to talk literally about high level business strategy.

So I really love the ability to be able to jump around a little bit. So this is, this is the kind of stuff I was looking for when I was looking for [00:13:00] opportunities. And as far as the negotiation side, the beauty of being remote too is, and especially in the tech space, it’s much cheaper for most especially in the startup world, um, to take national averages because they either have, Outsourced the hr, or they have one person doing hr, or in many cases there’s someone doing HR and other things.

There’s not one dedicated HR employee. So instead of doing all this kind of segmenting around the world of regional, what’s the, what’s the average? For someone that lives in the central Pennsylvania region who’s got 20 years of experience doing user experience research, what’s their average salary? And that, by the way, you’re not gonna find that data, right?

That data doesn’t even really exist be, and that’s another beauty of, of living here. So instead of having to do that all around the world to segment and do these averages, there’s a shorthand in which they do the average over. Usually by country or by continent. So when you look at the average, um, the, the cost of living in state college is so low, yet [00:14:00] I’m, I’m being paid as if I’m a a, a a, lead user experience researcher.

I. On average, like you would in Silicon Valley and corporate headquarters is in New York City. For my current job, I work at a place called Bowery Valuation, so it’s in the real estate space and the beauty of it being on the East Coast is I can, I’ve gone to New York City a couple times. I’ve been at this new job for about eight months, and in the last eight months I’ve visited a couple times already.

It’s the beauty of the location here is I can live in State College and within a four hour drive be there. In person to get that one-on-one kind of interaction. So it’s, it’s, it’s been a really nice, again, these are all things I try to curate. So you’ve landed this,

Brad Groznik: this big new job that fit a lot of your criteria.

How’s it going and what are the benefits to, to doing that job in living in State College? One of

Trevor Calabro: the other things that I learned when I was a consultant was I really liked public speaking. I really fell in love with going to conferences and giving talks about user experience. So one of the criteria I had was, Um, and this is how I picked, I got four job offers.

So what I did was I, I asked the [00:15:00] recruiters, what’s the willingness for this organization to sponsor me to do this kind of thing, which is thought leadership. And there were pretty much three different buckets that all the organizations fell into. One was, we’ll just let you take the time off. Don’t worry about it.

You know, like, we won’t charge it toward your pay time off. The other was, we’ll kind of sponsor you, but informally, meaning you have to vet it through us, which conferences you go apply to talk to. We’ll pay for maybe some of your expenses, but keep the company name out of there. You can use it as your job title, but that’s about it.

And then the third level was full sponsorship. You know, go, you know, have the company name on all your slides, you know, wear the pin, wear the shirt, and um, and use this as an opportunity to also kind of enhance the profile of the company itself. I had no idea that that was gonna happen. I just kind of asked the question and the beauty of having the experience that I gained in, in the state college area was that, first of all, that helped me stand out.

I believe no one else was asking [00:16:00] those kind of questions. No one said, Hey, would you sponsor me to speak at a conference? So I think that for the types of opportunities that I curated that I was looking at, This was very desirable. It showed some type of initiative and the thought leadership, um, and out of the, out of those four jobs that I got an offer for, it immediately eliminated one of the opportunities because it gave me great insight on the way they think this one organization was just not, absolutely not.

Like why would you spend time doing that? So that, you know, it was just a really nice litmus test for the type of environment that would, I think I would fit in nicely with. So, and my current, my current job, it’s literally written in my job paperwork that they will sponsor me to go to at least three conferences a year.

I know for a fact part of this is because the cost of living and state college is so low. The organization and the operations people were ecstatic when they found out I lived in State College, Pennsylvania, like, oh, you don’t live in New York City, you don’t live in Toronto, you don’t live in Silicon Valley.

That’s great. You know, so this was a, a clear concession, so I was actually able to negotiate a higher salary [00:17:00] as well as these kind of like perks that I, I felt, really gave me insight on what kind of organization it would be and what kind of job it would be once I started. So, how’s it going? This opportunity’s been exactly what is set on paper and that I felt during the interview process.

Well, I think

Brad Groznik: your story is super inspiring. Like I said, I think there’s this little bit of a low key fear about starting a career here or growing a career here that you’re gonna have to, you’re gonna have to leave and with remote work and with, you know, your advice about curating exactly what you’re looking for and really looking at all the opportunities that are here that you just, you, you’re not aware of.

So to, to kind of sum up everything that we’ve talked about, I’d love to go to a segment that we’re like, We’re calling how to do the thing, and in this case it’s how to work remotely while living in state college or how to find a remote job while living in state college. So if there were three actionable things that our listeners could do to, to start that process and to kind of have an [00:18:00] outcome like you did, uh, what are those, what are, what are three

Trevor Calabro: things they can do?

Yeah, so the number one thing I would recommend is, and this is kind of an overarching thing, so everything is. Predicated on doing this one first. So if there’s a order of operation, it’s spend time to like craft a narrative around your own story, your own career path. This is a conscious thing that I do.

I spend time outside of work. Writing down how I’d like to curate this, the next steps, and by doing so, it gives me a very, very clear kind of understanding of where I’ve been, how these things have been good and bad, and how to leverage that moving forward. The second thing is do not do the spray and pray method.

If what you’re trying to do is make a resume in a profile perfectly is optimized for the algorithm for recruiters. That’s a failing strategy, unless you went to some fancy. University and you were the top of your class. I didn’t go to a fancy university. I was not top of my class. Um, I had zero experience in user experience before I got the job, and I only have a bachelor’s degree.

So my last job, one of the, one [00:19:00] of the minimum requirements was PhD, but it didn’t matter. And here’s how, here’s how that works is I, I do a really weird thing, go and actually respond to recruiters on LinkedIn. So set up your recruiting profile if you’re open for jobs. Tweak every single setting possible to be as picky as possible.

This, I, I advocate this, even if this is your very first job outta school. And when recruiters hit you up, respond, many of them are bots and they just go into the ether, that’s fine. But the ones that aren’t bots, their job is to help you find work. So what I do is the ones that respond, and by the way, almost always, they hit you up with pretty bottom of the barrel jobs, right?

So they’ll say, Hey, here’s a great opportunity for you. It’s not a great, it’s most likely not a great opportunity. And respond by saying, this isn’t exactly what I’m looking for. Here’s what I’m looking for. Because you’ve done the, you’ve, you’ve written the narrative about your career. Here are the criteria I’m looking for.

I do have a network of people. Do you mind if I reach out to them and see if they would be, I. Interested in this job. [00:20:00] The recruiter will always say yes and then follow through and actually reach out to some people, see if they would like it. And then I say, I reached out, I put some stuff on this forum. Um, no responses.

I’ll re respond here. This is all in the chat in LinkedIn. I’ll respond here if, if I hear anything back. But it starts this dialogue and now you’re open. And so, so you say, what I’m looking for is this kind of job. Feel free to reach out if you find anything across your desk, and I guarantee you no one is doing this.

It’s a way to stand out. It’s, you are no longer in a race to the bottom. You’ll be the first one that pops in their mind when an opportunity like that arises. And that’s exactly how I got the last four to five opportunities remotely, uh, through LinkedIn was one-on-one touchpoints with, um, actual.

Recruiters that responded back. And then the last one is just seek out networking opportunities. So once you start to work remote, if you’re anything like me, you’re gonna kind of long for that, like one-on-one personal experience. So we talked about CP Squared earlier, but it has been literally life changing and career changing.

[00:21:00] For me, it’s part of the curation process and it’s one of the big reasons why me and my family love living in this area.

Brad Groznik: That’s fantastic. That’s great advice. Stuff that I’ve never heard, like I’ve never, I’ve never went back and forth with LinkedIn recruiters before. But I will, I will say that, you know, networking groups like CP Squared from for my own career have been life changing here.

People there have just been fantastic. So, Trevor, thanks for, thanks for sharing your insights again. It’s, it was really inspiring to watch you go through the, this last, uh, job hunt. I had no idea that you were crafting your, this ability over the last two decades, but, uh, this last round, you know, being able to, to hear all the success that you were able to garner was awesome, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to have you on this podcast.

So, the other people around town and or people thinking about moving to state College can, can kind of learn from. That experience and, and hopefully replicate it. So thank you.

Trevor Calabro: No, yeah, you’re welcome. And, and I just wanna [00:22:00] leave on this one last note is now that I’ve been in the, in the tech space for almost 20 years, I have had a great opportunity to help mentor younger people coming into this space, or, or not even younger, but people earlier in their career path.

And I. Everything I just talked about is absolutely relevant and scalable even at step one.

Brad Groznik: Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Rediscover State College Podcast. If you like what you heard and want to hear more, please subscribe to the Rediscover State College Podcast. Wherever you listen to podcasts. Episodes will be released every month. If you want to connect with Trevor about anything that we just talked about or you just have some thoughts.

On your own about working remotely in state college that you’d love to share with us. Email us at