How I Made It

Romila Barryman, Writer and Communications Manager

FLARE #HowIMadeIt celebrates 100+ talented, ambitious and driven Canadian women with cool jobs. Want what Romila has? Here's how she did it

Romola Barryman headshot

Romila Barryman; Sunshine Coast; @msromilab

Let’s say we’ve just met at a cocktail party. How would you describe, in a nutshell, what you do?

I chase stories of innovation and story-tell the people behind them in a way that makes them feel like your friends or your future self. That used to be “parsing tech into a human-based syntax” as a journalist in the tech industry, then it was running a magazine that compiled “textbook examples” of the intersections of innovation including news, art, science and even forms of protest.

This past year I put my heart into Aboriginal Business Match. It’s run by the most badass team of six based on Tla’amin Nation, and they use technology to connect Indigenous and non-Indigenous decisionmakers coast-to-coast to create opportunities for business.

There, I documented stories of diversification and self-determination that came out of its national network, resuscitated life into its website and managed a remote team of graphic designers, web developers, social media coordinators and photographers.

But my current and most exciting hustle is with Suncoast Solar, a Sunshine Coast-based solar energy company determined to make off-grid living an accessible and viable part of anyone’s future. Other than feeling like I live in a solar-powered future, getting to tell this company’s story is like putting a magnifying glass to the sun—the effects are powerful and sure to ignite something big.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

You know, you hear about the Mark Zuckerbergs and the Elon Musks of the world, the drop-outs that “out-smarted” the system, but the other side of that coin is less glorified. I didn’t finish university, but it was more out of a necessity to start building a base of wealth and feeling harmed by the systemic issues that this particular form of education presented. I now have a diploma in broadcasting from BCIT, a diploma in web development from Lighthouse Labs and I am five electives away from a Bachelor of Communications at Capilano University.

What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)

I was head of international marketing for the hoshiZora Foundation, an NGO headquartered in the village of Bantul, Java that provided scholarships for students across Indonesia. Together with the NGO’s president, we created a tour and travel social enterprise facet of hoshiZora, rooted in cultural preservation.

What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?

It’s hard to choose just one. That time my publication and first business, Textbook, fell short of surviving was pretty bad. Or when my podcast on gentrification, This Is The House That Gap Built, appeared on and then ended after one episode because my recorder got stolen. But I think the worst failure to date is probably that (short-lived) moment in time when I worked out of a cubicle. I was asked by the corporate conglomerate of a media company to bring their business newspaper “into the 21st century.” Unfortunately, the vision and enthusiasm of the top-level executives didn’t translate to the team on the ground who did not want their routine disrupted. The result was a harmful experience of racialized beratement and marginalization in an attempt to halt any changes in the pipeline.

After successfully setting up a morning radio station and creating social media consistency, I quickly switched my three-month review for an exit interview and traded the promise of the corporate ladder for my mental health and dignity. It was a hard lesson that taught me that sometimes the places that want us were not built with us in mind and as a result have no room.

Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out?

When I moved to the Sunshine Coast from the bustling city of Vancouver and the quiet out here allowed me to hear myself think for the first time. That’s when I knew everything was actually going to work out. I was finally somewhere I could push boundaries career-wise, reflect deeply on self, save up financially and build roots in a community that has space for me.

What was your BIG break? How did you land it?

I was asked to contribute some stories and buff up the tech section of VancityBuzz (now DailyHive Vancouver). I was just trying to break into the industry and I warned the editor that my angles didn’t always side with popular opinion but he was stoked to get me started with writing. Having my name out on a platform with so much reach was the catalyst into working with brands who trusted me to tell their deeper story.

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

A dear friend and mentor of mine advised me with these words of balance and I’ve been passing it on ever since:

1/ Never minimize yourself to one skill set; the need to choose one form of expertise is a lie. Instead, choose three industries/areas in life you want to actively be involved in at all times and make ridiculous goals for each of them.

2/Learn how to be financially literate, or hire someone to do it for you.

3/ Do the one thing everyone says is childish or stupid or dangerous and watch yourself get away with it.

4/ Find a habit that puts you in a state of peace no matter where you are. It cannot be your work. It cannot be another person.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?

“Think of the life you want to live and work out the financial cost of that end goal. Work backward to break down that dream through a monetary lens until you reach where you are today.” I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t able to distil my life to a budget.

Are you making a fair income for your work? Why or why not? Do you have a side hustle for extra cash? If so, what is it?

I’m always hustling extra on the side. Not for the cash but for fuller creativity (although, the cash also helps). Words are my living, but when I get the chance to switch it up and use voice or visuals—something delicious happens.

What’s the worst stereotype you’ve heard about millennials at work?

Not stereotype but pet peeve: I’ve seen full panel discussions on millennials and articles that act as a weekly staple for media—without a single millennial voice included. Everyone wants to talk about millennials, no one wants to talk to a millennial.

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