After graduating from Brown with degrees in history and international relations, Tanya Somanader tossed out her plan of pursuing a “professional” career and decided to “do something else” instead. That decision led Tanya to the grueling world of politics, a career path she didn’t exactly think of following when she was younger. Now, she works as the New Media Director and Deputy Speechwriter for the Office of the House Democratic Leader, helping politicians create online strategies to spread their messages and broaden their audiences.
The Internet allows for instantaneous information, which means that there is always breaking news to be dealt with on the job. Because of this, Tanya’s days are never set in stone—although brainstorming new hashtag ideas has evolved into a near constant to-do…While the unpredictable daily duties may be difficult, Tanya is truly amazed by the fact that local politics now has global reach.
Sometimes it might be hard for her to remain calm and focused in such a high-stress position, but Tanya thoroughly enjoys what she does. She lives for the challenge of working through new things on the job and is excited to see what the world has in store for her next—especially if it includes a well-crafted cocktail! Read the full story below
copy: Tori Latham
photos: Mallory Benedict
EDITOR’S NOTE: Tanya has recently made the shift to a new position since this interview, but still signs off on and lives by the philosophies described below.
Her Starting Point
Many people find the transition between college and “real life” a bit daunting. Can you tell us about your journey between the two? What was your first job post-college?
It was less a “journey,” and more an abrupt deathblow to my parents’ dream of law school. In the spring before I graduated, I decided to chuck my ironclad plan of being a “professional” to the wind in favor of “doing something else”—which, it turns out, is an ironclad plan for anxiety. I did not know what I wanted to do, and knew even less about what I was qualified for. But I knew what I cared about.
I knew that my blank slate—the ability and privilege to choose a future for myself—is not an opportunity that millions of people who worked just as hard and dreamed just as hard as I did ever get to see, let alone grasp. I might not know what to do with it, but maybe I could help make sure this opportunity would find the many who do.
So I went to Washington and began working for Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a person who firmly believes that one’s “real life” should be dedicated to bettering the lives of others, any way you can.
Did you always know that you wanted to be involved in politics? Have you always been interested in the digital media and writing realms of politics?
My high school government teacher told me I would go into politics. I told him, “Over my dead body.” I have a problem following through.
How has your college degree prepared you for your current endeavors? Do you recommend that people interested in digital media or politics embark on a streamlined path or explore a little more?
It didn’t and it’s my understanding that they rarely do. I don’t think there is a streamlined path into communications or politics in general—if there is, someone besides me should provide that map. I was all off-road and U-turns.
Her Big Break
Although many people have heard the job title Digital Director, only a few know exactly what the position entails. Could you give us a brief overview?
As more and more people create, consume and connect online, the digital space is becoming an increasingly important part of political communications strategy (see the Obama campaign, or the Obama anything.)
A digital director is someone who develops and executes an online strategy to broaden a politician’s audience and deliver his or her message in a consumable, creative way. A good digital director is someone who could’ve answered this question in 140 characters.
If we had the chance to peek at your schedule, what would an average day look like?
Being in a comms shop requires a degree of comfort with whiplash. You can be plugging along and planning ahead and then something pops in the news and you have to spin on your heels—or if you’re me, flats—and deal with whatever crisis may have occurred. So aside from a smattering of meetings and a couple of conference calls, nothing is ever certain. But mostly, it’s coming up with hashtag ideas.
What are your strategies for remaining calm and focused in what can be a high-pressure position?
Who said I remain calm and focused?
In what ways have you seen the use of media change? Where do you see the relationship between politics and online media going in the next few years?
I was in the camp that hoped the Internet was a fad. Then again, I wouldn’t really have a career if that were true. While one can definitively say politics and the Internet are hopelessly intertwined, it’s hard to say just how that will evolve. But what’s amazing to me is how the Internet has changed the adage of “all politics are local” to “all local politics are global.”
Translating passion into a career is tough. What advice would you give to women trying to figure this out?
This is cliché, but most rules about life are: Careers can change, passions rarely do. You may not start out where you want to be, but if you do what you love, you’ll be truly surprised where you end up.
How do you balance your own political affiliations with things you hear and see on a daily basis? How do you separate life and work?
Right now, my political affiliations dictate what I hear and see on a daily basis. But for most of us with buddies on the other side of the aisle, we find something unifying to talk about: like intern (or Congressmember) shenanigans.
What, if anything, do you wish you had known before you entered this occupation?
I like taking on roles of which I know very little—learning on the job can be the fun kind of challenging. However, I wish someone had told me how often I would have to learn about a new social media app. I don’t know what Flipbook is, but I guarantee you I’m going to have to know in a month.
And finally, what do you wake up looking forward to? What’s next for your career?
What’s next? If my career is any indication, I will be completely surprised by the answer. As for what I look forward to? A well-written line or a well-crafted cocktail.