Arizona State University - Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology
University of Nevada-Las Vegas - Masters of Science in Biomechanics
In high school, Dana Forrest was the girl rocking the "weird and different" kicks; definitely not the same shoes as the rest of the crowd. Little did she know that love for footwear would become a career.
As a footwear developer at Brooks Sports, Dana works with departments across the company to develop high-performance running shoes. She works with designers to engineer their 2D drawings, she helps the color and merchandising team find materials and treatments that are trendy and fashionable and she helps the biomechanics team make sure the shoes are performing better than the competition. But the best part? Seeing people like you on the street wearing the shoe she helped create. "I immediately start reminiscing of all of the challenges and things I learned while working on that product," she says, "and it feels so cool seeing that someone actively chose it."
Life is short. Buy the shoes.
What drew you to your job?
Shoes! During high school I always was drawn to weird and different shoes and was very intrigued by odd colors and different materials on footwear. I went to a school where everyone wore the same "cool" shoes and I always stood out, but I never knew I would eventually get so close to the product.
My dream was to be an athletic trainer, but I couldn't handle blood, so I decided to go with strength and conditioning. I went to a tiny little college in Massachusetts known for this (Springfield College); however, in my Intro to Kinesiology class, I was given a physics problem that asked something along the lines of, "What would hurt more: an elephant standing on you or a high heel pump?" Immediately I totally nerded out and thought to myself, "Whoa, biomechanics is fun!" So, I transferred to Arizona State in order to focus on biomechanics in sports.
Once there, I still thought I was going to do strength and conditioning, but focus on biomechanics, so I did an internship at Athletes' Performance. I was working with some of the best athletes in the top facility in the world, but I was totally unmotivated -- especially once I had to start my senior thesis. I began learning how much research and time people dedicate to the biomechanics of running and shoes. It was then that I decided this was my way to have the best of both worlds: working on shoes and staying involved in the athletic world. The research lab was where I wanted to be until the day I learned about the development role. I quickly found that working in development was my dream come true.
I'm one of only a few people who can say that they do what they wanted to do in high school, but I do not regret one thing I did to get to where I am.
What does your job involve on a daily basis, and what types of responsibilities do you have in your position?
A big part of my job is always looking for inspiration to innovate amazing product. It also involves a lot of collaboration and teamwork. On a daily basis, I'm working with designers to engineer their 2D drawings, with the color and merchandise team to find materials and treatments that portray the latest trends and fashion and with the biomechanics team to make sure our shoes are performing better than the competition. We have an intense wear testing program and part of my job is to find ways to improve our product. I also work very closely with my team in Asia to work through any production and commercialization problems. Our job involves being organized, remembering a lot of specific details, wanting to learn how things are built and the desire to make good product. Developing high-performance running shoes is a challenge and it's always a task to find the healthy balance between aesthetics and great performance.
What is your favorite part of your job?
To be honest, the coolest part of my job is seeing people on the street wearing my product. I immediately start reminiscing of all of the challenges and things I learned while working on that product and it feels so cool seeing that someone actively chose that product. My other favorite part is that every day's a challenge. One day, I'm working through production issues and the next I might be picking meshes for the next season. Finally, I get to travel all over! Our factories are in Asia, so I get travel over there about two times a year. Plus, we're always taking trips for inspiration and consumer insight.
What challenges keep you awake at night?
My brain is always problem-solving and trying to come up with new ideas. Always. It's almost like being a writer or composer. I'll walk down the street and get an idea from seeing someone's shoes, or backpack, or cell phone or car ... the list goes on. But on a more regular basis, I'll see an email from someone on my Asia team at 9 p.m. with an issue and all I can think about until I get to my desk the next morning is how to fix it.
Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
Sometimes it's hard, especially because our Asia team shows up at work the second I head home. But even so, I work hard to stop checking email once I get home. I also can't go shopping without checking out other product and trying to figure out how they built it, if I can transfer that to one of my products or how I can do it -- and do it better. I wish I could turn email off on my phone sometimes, but I'm getting much better about not answering emails the second I leave work and now I can take days off knowing that the world will not end. It's hard when you're so passionate about your job, but it's important to remember that it's just a job.
Was there ever a moment in your career where you’ve thought, “I can't believe I have this job?" What was it?
I worked so hard in college and graduate school and ran into so many walls, but when I saw my first shoe on the wall in the mall I was blown away. My mother wanted to buy the shoe and I know I posted about it on Facebook!
What are some of the rules you live by?
There are two quotes that I live by:
1 / “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.” -Randy Pausch, "The Last Lecture"
2 / “Life is short. Buy the shoes.” I can list so many walls that popped up along the way, I feel like my life should be a documentary. But I made it; I have my dream job and I'm so proud of myself and the commitment I made to getting to where I am today. And I always buy the shoes!
What qualities does one need to possess to be successful in your line of work?
I work at an active running company, so running helps, but someone who's organized, can manage their projects (in terms of deadlines, costs, etc.) and someone who's abreast of the trends is a must. The job presents challenges every day; we need to figure out how to build new things and stay on top of the market trends. It's not an easy job, so you need to be passionate and motivated every day.
What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?
Stay strong. I thought about giving up on my dream so many times. I seriously considered just doing my back-up job and becoming a flight attendant and travel (which I still think is a cool job). But I stuck it out, and I can't imagine doing anything else. There were so many people who told me things like: "You're not smart enough," and "How do you really think you can handle this?" Even, "Why did I hire you?" Despite that, I just kept telling myself how badly I wanted it and how badly I deserved it and then finally, here I am today. I would also tell my 21-year-old self that you'll take a different route than you expected to and you will not make the amount of money you thought you would, but it's not about the money. It's about the happiness and destination. I would have told myself to take more vacations and take less summer/winter classes in college, because in the real world, you don't automatically get those breaks.
What's next in your career?
I'd say that there's so much for me to learn in my current role, as like I said, it's constantly changing. At work, the next steps for me are to work on higher volume product and then start managing a team. These are both at least three to five years away, but it's what I can start looking forward to. Being a developer and knowing the product creation process and how things are built gives me the opportunity to move to another product, i.e. fashion, backpacks, apparel, snow boards, etc. The opportunities are endless. We'll see where life takes me