Professional Development

How I Got Here: From marketer to Capital One MVP, here’s how Marcie Apelt made the jump to tech

She started as a marketing professional for a small company in Seattle. Now, the AI and machine learning leader discusses the steps she took to overcome imposter syndrome and rise through the banking giant's ranks.

Marcie Apelt of Capital One.

(Courtesy photo)

When now-Capital One managing vice president (MVP) Marcie Apelt finished college, a 20-year career at a corporate fintech giant wasn’t quite in the cards.

Apelt graduated from the University of Virginia with a focus in marketing and a determination to work for a small company. Her answer was moving to Seattle, Washington to take a marketing job at a company called Sterling Communications. But before she knew it, she had moved through three jobs in five years, none of which fit quite right.

“I was definitely learning and I was getting what I wanted in some ways,” Apelt told Technical.ly. “I was the entire marketing department right out of college because it was a really small company — which was great, but I wasn’t getting what I wanted from the company culture.”

At the same time, as someone living in Seattle in the early 2000s, she had a bunch of friends working for bigger companies like Microsoft. She noticed that they had the opportunity to not only receive corporate perks, but move up within the companies to bigger and better jobs. So, she decided to try it herself, applying for and landing a job as a business analyst at Capital One. That’s where she’s worked for almost two decades.

Apelt held a few different roles at the McLean, Virginia banking giant, including those of senior analyst, business manager and business director. About eight years ago, she took the position of business director in the company’s card department, through which she worked in fraud detection. She was subsequently bitten by the tech bug while working with engineering colleagues to develop a new platform.

“I had the opportunity to partner with our engineering teams to build that [platform],” Apelt said. “That was really the first time where I had a role [in which] I was building something with our technologists.”

In that job, much of what she built was the infrastructure behind the company’s financial technology. And as someone with a non-tech background, Apelt was plagued by imposter syndrome during this transition. She completed a course at Capital One designed for product managers who wanted to move into machine learning and honed her tech skills by reading constantly, but she didn’t have the same formal training as other staffers.

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What helped, she said, was having a team that supported her along the way. One of her work partners actually spent a few hours each day helping and tutoring her, even designing a syllabus. Having that teacher within the organization — especially someone who knew what she was working on at the moment — was game-changing, she said.

Now, she’s the company’s MVP of machine learning and AI. She is based near Richmond, Virginia, and plans to continue learning and growing as both a technologist and leader. She recently expanded her team with a few data scientists working under her, with a focus on the infrastructure behind machine learning. Apelt said that what she loves about being in the same place for two decades is having the chance to build on what she’s learned and done along the way.

“We’re really at this moment where we can stand on the shoulders of those investments and really start doing some cutting edge things, which is exciting, especially for a financial services company,” Apelt said.

As someone that’s taken a 180 into the tech world, Apelt tells those looking to do the same to remember that it’s okay to take risks. But, if possible, she encourages trying to do it in a space you’re familiar with to avoid getting too overwhelmed or swallowed by imposter syndrome.

“I always like to say: Don’t change more than one big thing at a time,” Apelt said. “So, if you’re going to change into a more technical role, do it at the same company. If possible, even do it within the same portion of the organization where you’re already subject-matter expert.”

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