One of my favorite things about interviewing women in technology has been hearing all their helpful tips and insights. Many of these women spent decades in the tech world, moved up the career ladder, innovated in their areas of expertise, started new businesses, and created more opportunities for the next generation of women. Here are some of takeaways that resonated.
Tip #1: You can end up in tech from just about anywhere
Tanis Cornell, principal of TJC Consulting, offered this insight to young women and teens, “You don’t have to be an engineer to have a job in technology. What I discovered in my own career was an affinity for absorbing a technical concept, grasping the advantages and disadvantages, and becoming fairly technically adept quickly.” Her educational background in communications ended up translating well into the tech sector, where the ability to speak about complex ideas in terms business decision-makers can understand is a highly valued skill.
Jen Voecks, a former event planner and current CEO of the bride-to-vendor matchmaking service Praulia, found that jumping into technology gave her an advantage as a brand new startup owner. “I learned the ropes one step at a time, front end and back end.” she said. “For a while I was stuck in a learning curve, wearing all the hats and trying to build a product while running a business. Once I got into the ‘developer brain’ mode, I realized that it’s like a puzzle with a lot of pieces and things got a lot easier. But I also learned to appreciate what developers do and how to communicate with devs and engineers.” Now she has enough experience to make smart decisions about hiring specialists to handle the various aspects of her technology needs and can focus her own efforts on strategic growth. Her advice: “Just stay at it. Most women I’ve talked with are experiencing hurdles. We should stick together and push through. We are powerful.”
Tip #2: Communicate calmly and clearly
CeCe Morken, EVP and general manager of the ProConnect Group at Intuit, spoke highly of Raji Arasu, who is the senior vice president, platform and core services CTO. “She is an excellent leader, and she leads a lot of men,” she said. “She’s always very calm and never changes her demeanor. Raji takes in information and handles it elegantly even in high stakes situations.” Morken also pointed out that Arasu speaks in a language everyone can understand, translating concepts from software architects to business leaders in a way that makes sense.
Charlene Schwindt, a software business unit manager at Hilti, agreed that being able to customize communication for a given audience is critical for success. “You really need to be able to transition your communication style and tailor it to the level of understanding of your audience,” she explained. “When I’m talking with developers, I can be highly technical. With customer support, I talk about things at a higher, summary level. Business leaders want a conversation that’s results oriented, but I might drill down to more detail if questions are asked.”
Of course, being confident as a communicator doesn’t always mean you have to be right about everything. In fact, it’s completely OK to pivot as you grow. Mary McNeely, Oracle database expert and owner of McNeely Technology Solutions, shared this sage advice. “Don’t be afraid to change your mind. You have to decide something in order to move forward. But once you have more information and time to think, anything could change. You might reach a different conclusion. It’s OK to reconsider your decisions, perspectives, and opinions.” And when you do change your mind, remember to let people know!
Tip #3: Believe in yourself. Seriously.
What would it be like to grow up in a culture that simply accepts that women are awesome? Candy Bernhardt, head of design and UX for Capital One’s auto lending division, recounted her experience of being raised by her grandmother who is from the Philippines. “It’s a very matriarchal society, so I didn’t know any better. I just thought women ruled the world and our opinions mattered. I challenged authority because I thought it was my right.” That pluck and boldness served her well when she landed in a career she thoroughly enjoys.
For those who grew up a little less sure of themselves, it’s not too late to gain the confidence to grasp the brass ring. Meltem Ballan, a data scientist with a PhD in complex systems and brain sciences, encouraged this can-do attitude as well. “Get out in front and show that a female can do it,” she said. “Ask for mentorship and stand for your own rights. Women must support women.” For her part, she found that giving a presentation on short notice, even though she didn’t feel completely ready, was a turning point in her speaking skills. “It’s important to go out and have that moment where we leave our comfort zone. Then our comfort zone gets larger.”
Tip #4: Never stop improving yourself and helping others grow
Julie Hamrick, COO and founder of Ignite Sales, spoke about the value of continuous improvement for success as an entrepreneur. “The harder I work, the luckier I get,” she offered. “At first I had to work hard to make my product good. Now, I am still thinking every day about how to deliver even better results for my customers.”
What about lending a helping hand to other women? How can managers and leaders do better in this area? Morken offered this advice for those who want to be effective mentors: “Focus on developing the person first and then the goals.” It’s important to understand what energies someone because that is what fuels growth.
My own final tip is this: Grow your network starting today. There’s a wealth of information and insight available from the women in tech all around you, and they are happy to share. Start leveraging these resources to take you farther than you ever thought possible!