As the tech industry continues to evolve, it’s important to recognize leaders at the forefront in order to make meaningful strides in career opportunities and advancement for others.  In this article, I explore career advice that delves into key “mindsets” to achieve one’s desired goals.

Hearing the experiences of successful people before us is an important aspect to the learning process. As such, I was fortunate to speak with three leaders in different stages and roles in their careers who are unabashedly open to sharing their experiences to help others – each providing a unique perspective:

  • Jessie Adcock, CTO at the City of Vancouver, well known visionary and champion for Smart Cities and mentoring the next generation of leaders.
  • Karen Sandhu, Director, Cyber & Technology Risk Management & Data Privacy of IT Security at Absolute Software and President of SheLeadsTech Vancouver
  • Rebecca Fitzhugh, Principle Technologist at Rubrik and Named Top 40 under 40 in Silicon Valley

Interestingly, a common theme is present in their insights that is sage advice for those at various stages in their career and life aspirations.

Brian Clendenin: When you are mentoring women starting their careers in the tech industry, what is top of mind?

Jessie Adcock: “Confidence plays a key role in what we do. Women should focus on building skills that allow them to assert themselves and tools to ensure that their voices are heard. I also advise women not to look for solutions outside themselves, others cannot carve your full path for you, you have to take a steering role in your career.”

Karen Sandhu: “To believe in themselves. I’ve spoken to quite a few women that doubt themselves, and their ability to take the next step in their career journey just because they do not meet a certain checklist. In an industry heavily dominated by men, women shouldn’t doubt their ability. Instead, I encourage women to change their mindset where they say to themselves, I can do your job but I’m going to do it 10 times better.”

Rebecca Fitzhugh: “Don’t be a passenger in your career. Often early in our career, we wait around for our company to tap us on the shoulder and tell us which path to pursue. Instead, take action! Partner with your manager to make your goals reality.”

Brian: What challenges have you faced in your career and what strategies did you use to overcome those challenges that others may benefit from knowing and applying in their own lives?

Jessie: “This is a tough question as it’s hard to pinpoint a few specific challenges because we face so many in the normal course of life, and even more when we are women, or women of colour. I would say that the challenge I overcame that is the most empowering is when people have underestimated me, my knowledge or the contribution I can make based on their superficial judgements of my capabilities. I take these as opportunities to assert myself and demonstrate by example so as to show, unequivocally, how wrong these first impressions can be. I try to lean on my skills and let my deliverables do the talking while trying to avoid the trap of letting emotions take over.”

Rebecca: “I, like other women, are constantly underestimated or relegated to busy work. Earlier in my career, I found that to be extremely frustrating. Maybe it’s confidence or getting older, but I certainly enjoy being the underdog these days. I may still be underestimated, but I use that to my advantage to deliver unexpected results and be more creative in solving business problems.

Karen: “I have so many examples that I could probably write a book on it. Throughout my international experience, I’ve gone from being at the top of the mountain and pushed right back down. When I talk about my experiences, I see the shocked expressions but I’m humble enough to say, hey, thank you for the experience and it’s never going to happen again.  You have to remain thick skinned in this industry and never let the behaviours of others make you feel less of an individual. Rewire your thoughts and writing certain points down onto paper to understand why a challenge has occurred, really helps. It’s the next part on how you deal with it, is what becomes of your own strategy.”

Brian: Are there any traditional career advice misperceptions that you feel strongly about?

Jessie: “I believe we have placed too much focus on mentorship as a pre-requisite for career growth in the tech industry.  I believe that mentors manifest in many forms and that we don’t always need to develop a 1-1 relationship.  I get approached by lots of women who have bought into the idea that without a dedicated mentor, they cannot progress.  These women are at risk of missing key learning opportunities when they present themselves.  I believe that continuous education and the development of skills sets is what we need to succeed.  Keep learning.  If you find something you love, learning in that area becomes easier.”

Rebecca: Mentorship is never guaranteed and is typically not formally assigned in most organizations. Be proactive, keep learning, exploring new technical areas, and don’t be afraid to speak up. Carve out time to network and proactively cultivate relationships outside your current role.

Brian: What are your organizations doing to support the next generation of women in information technology?

Rebecca: “Our company has transparency policies, training, diversity initiatives, and a networking group called Women @ Rubrik. I often speak at conferences and in recent years it dawned on me that there may be some women in the audience who are looking to me as an example. That terrifies me but also is a forcing function for me to use whatever influence I may have to advocate for gender parity, better STEM education, etc.”

Jessie: “We could always do more.  There is no silver bullet – gender equity will require a generation to achieve.  We have corporate programs, open door policies, training and network opportunities, and a gender equity strategy – but we can always do more. I take opportunities at every event I attend, whether I am attendee or a speaker to advocate for women, try to provide suggestions on how more could be included and generally call out the disparity.  I believe our education system is key and that it must adapt to the inherent differences in how men and women learn and grow.”


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