Dietetic Career Spotlight: Joanne Larsen MS RD LD, Technology Guru
By STACEY DUNN-EMKE, MS, RD on OCTOBER 14, 2014
Meet Joanne Larsen, one of the most intelligent and innovative dietitians I know. I first worked closely with Joanne on the Nutrition Entrepreneurs Executive Committee while we revamped and redesigned the entire NEDPG website. It was a huge task and she tackled it in an amazingly professional and efficient manner. Joanne has made a perfect niche as a tech-savvy dietitian where she has paved the technology road with websites, apps, and computer software. Read on to get all the data. – Sarah
What attracted you to the field of nutrition and dietetics?
I love everything about food – growing, cooking, feeding family / friends and eating. So when my high school counselor asked what I liked to do, I said cooking and she suggested Home Economics. After seeing so many people go into teaching my freshman year, I switched to dietetics thanks to a friend’s dad who was president of Cellu Featherweight Dietetic Foods who encouraged me to talk to their dietitian. Throughout my career, people have encouraged me and pushed me along with opportunities. Luckily I have been naive enough to jump at every one.
Your Job Title:
Owner of Nutritional Data Services
Company you are with now:
Nutritional Data Services
– Twitter: @AskTheDietitian
– Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/askthedietitian
A typical (or not so typical) day-in-the-work-life for you:
Computers rule my workday while maintaining 2 websites I own – Ask the Dietitian www.dietitian.com and www.MyFoodRecord.com which is going thru a major software overhaul. When I am not developing software, websites or phone apps, I write / edit content or market nutrition products. Granted I spend a lot of time alone because my clients rarely see me face to face and infrequently talk on the phone. Email and skype are usual communication tools.
How did you get your current job in dietetics?
When a technology company hired me as a consultant, I started Nutritional Data Services. It was a case of being in the right place at the right time. Since then I have worked for 4 technology companies including 3 start-ups and started 2 companies. Typically I mothball my consulting company when I am employed by companies.
What skills were you born with and what skills have you learned along the way?
When my live-in grandmother asked me, I started baking in high school. After undergraduate and graduate nutrition programs filled my head with nutrition facts, I developed an intuitive skill in connecting for patients what they were eating at home to their health issues. I’m good at solving problems; relating unrelated concepts to create new products. Next step was college lecturer. Education was a leap from educating a single patient to large lecture hall of students. I walked into my first class without a syllabus or book after I was hired just 3 days prior. I had 2 career goals – clinical dietitian and teach nutrition to medical students who eventually would become doctors who ordered diets yet knew nothing about nutrition. After achieving both by the ripe age of 37, I wasn’t sure what to do next. Most of my skills have been developed inside companies by people who nurtured or challenged me with projects. Opportunity came knocking. When I started working for the first software company, I knew nothing because my experience was limited to using a word processor and nutrition analysis software. Through the patient tutoring by programmers and trail / error, I learned how to develop software then websites, then phone apps. I was usually in over my head and out of my comfort zone in technology, but I found it thrilling. I’m still not sure why my head clicked with computer logic.
What advice do you have for others wanting to be just as successful and fulfilled as you?
Follow your passion otherwise it is hard to get out of bed in the morning. Listen to your gut; it will never lead you in the wrong direction for you when your head (logic) or heart (emotion) may. Be brave and jump into opportunities especially when you are in over your head and out of your comfort zone. Find a mentor to share their wisdom with you as you travel your career path. Realize you will fail sometimes, but succeeding is well worth failing. Take a leap of faith in yourself that you have everything you need to succeed.
If you could be paid for your job with something other than a paycheck, what would it be?
Benefits like travel anywhere and working from home to be immersed with family. The most important job I had was raising my children with my morals, values and ethics. I did not want to hand that over to a child care provider and when asked have said the same to new mommy dietitians torn with leaving a baby to return to work. Many felt relieved to hear what their gut was telling them because they wanted to stay home with their baby. Until my children enrolled in school, I worked from home as a budding author of a syndicated newspaper column called Dear Dietitian with aspirations of being the Dear Abby of nutrition. My eight grade writing teacher would be shocked!