Career Advice From Women in Tech Navigating Change

Aug 2, 2021 9:50 AM ET
Campaign: VMware Culture

Many return-to-work conversations have centered around work styles and environments. Fewer around career progression and advice. Against a backdrop of reports about the outsized negative impact of the pandemic on working women, CIO Exchange shined a light on three successful women in tech who are rocking their careers.

Here’s some of the advice they would have liked to share with their younger selves:

  • Ask questions.
  • Take calculated risks.
  • Get mentors and team members around you to help you succeed.
  • Be your authentic self.

Adapt and Move Forward

vonne Chang, director of Business Operations for Disney Vacations Development, admitted that hers has been a pretty “unconventional career trajectory.” She has done everything from being an engineer designing missile guidance systems, to developing translation systems for Disney attractions’ character voices, and most recently to leading Disney timeshare compliance and regulatory affairs.

What she knows now is that people should “have confidence that your point of view and what you have to say is always meaningful. Don’t be afraid to ask questions because you often learn more and add more value by asking good questions than by having the right answer.”

Yvonne believes a philosophy that has served her well can help others, too. “Whatever role you’re in at the time—whether it’s your ideal role or a steppingstone to the next—you should approach it with fervor, with passion and the belief that you’re going to learn valuable lessons,” she said.

A lack of diversity in the culture of her first career choice as an electrical engineer pivoted Yvonne to a different path. Yet inclusion has always been important to her. “I had the privilege and honor of serving as chief diversity officer a number of years ago,” she said, “and I continue to try to live the values of respecting, appreciating and valuing everyone—and every voice, in every role.” She is currently supporting initiatives related to inclusive products and services, diverse representation, and leadership accountability.

“I truly believe that you need to surround yourself with a diversity of mentors and sponsors. Not people just like you or who you aspire to be like, but great allies of diverse backgrounds—people in all different areas of your field, your industry and throughout the community,” she said.

Among the biggest lessons Yvonne said she has learned: Don’t be afraid to take risks and make mistakes. “A very wise leader once told me that if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough, and you’re probably not doing what you’re supposed to be doing,” Yvonne added. “So take more calculated risks, while engaging smart people around you to help minimize those risks along the way.”

Grow Skills and Relationships

Lisa Nielsen, who for more than eight years has been serving customers and employees of more than 1,200 Publix Super Markets as IT delivery manager, was enamored by technology from the get-go. And that enthusiasm remains to this day.

When her mom brought home a laptop with Lotus Notes 123, she was sold on tech. “What an application could do with math was just so much fun to me. We make Excel dance, and that’s what I love.”

Lisa believes she was “always kind of drawn to be a manager of engineers and solve complex problems using data and analytics.” She credits an “amazing team of engineers who are just the best professionals I could ever ask for” for getting so much done. And her approach to management, she said, is simply: “Tell me what you need, and let me get it for you and get out of your way.”

Mentorship and a supportive management team have encouraged her to grow both her technical and leadership skills. Lisa is simultaneously working on her MBA and certifications from VMware. “I want to grow those technical skills so I can be a better support system for the engineers on my team. But I’m also hoping to grow into a more modern infrastructure with cross-functional engineers that I can support as well,” she said.

What’s her best career leadership advice? “Find a mentor,” said Lisa. “Someone you look up to in your department, your division or your company. Someone you can ask questions. They will give you tips and tricks—everything from how to summarize for senior leadership to how to ask the right questions in advance of a presentation to how to schedule things to make it easier for people.”

Build Personal Characteristics

A transformational leader, Sandy Hogan, senior vice president of Worldwide Commercial and Partner Sales at VMware, shared insights into three constants she has carried from job to job:

  • Have a growth mindset. If you have insatiable curiosity, the questions never end. You are always digging to uncover what is really important.
  • Be a collaborative problem solver. Everybody is so overworked—especially in a distributed workforce—so work to connect the dots across people interested in trying to solve the same problem.
  • Say what you’re going to do; do what you say. Constantly communicate. Set context and use knowledge because in the absence of information, people assume. Communication has to be a big part of any transformation.

And finally, “Don’t let anyone make you think you need to be a certain way to be successful,” said Sandy. “Being your authentic self is really important.”

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