How to succeed in your career in tech: a female perspective by Nadine Thomson

From top left: Nadine Thomson CIO/CTO, Sabah Carter CIO News Corp, Judith van de Pas CIO Shell Retail & May Yap Global CIO Jabil.

I recently chaired a panel interviewing inspiring women from different countries and backgrounds who have become recognised technology leaders in their fields. There was a lot of collective wisdom about how these women had navigated their careers and succeeded in becoming technology leaders. Here are three highlights from our conversation with the talented Sabah Carter, CIO of News Corp, Judith van de Pas, CIO of Shell Retail and May Yap, Global CIO of Jabil.

Career paths are not linear

There is not one right way into a career in technology and career paths are rarely linear. Many people fall into technology by accident and find they love the breadth of opportunities open to them.

Judith van de Pas studied Literature in the Netherlands and her first job was in Customer Operations in publishing in the UK. Her aptitude for technology was spotted by a leader in the company and she quickly joined the technology department. She is now leading technology for Shell’s 48,000 retail stores and tells us the reason she still loves her career

“Technology is so much broader than it used to be, there is so much to it. Technology and business is converging. We can’t do business; we can’t live our lives anymore without tech.”

May Yap knew she wanted to study Maths and Computer Science at University in the US and Singapore as she always loved Maths and this seemed a logical route for her. As May says a career in technology is “fun, it’s creative, it’s important.”

Sabah Carter started her career as a junior reporter writing articles for a local newspaper called The Voice in the UK. Sabah took a role in advertising technology (adtech) initially as a way to get into a career as a journalist for a Newspaper. This started her journey in technology.

I also came upon technology by accident. I went to University in Australia to become a Vet only to discover that my teenage romanticised ideals of spending the day with animals bore little resemblance to the (for me) squeamish reality. I picked up computer programming to replace one of the science subjects I wasn’t enjoying and I found a whole new world of creativity and solving problems. At the same time, email and the internet were just starting to come into popular use! I could see that technology was going to change our world, so I switched degrees. Fast forward to today, I’m leading global technology teams for great brands and creating some amazing technology products. I have never looked back.

Mentors, Sponsors and Role Models - you need all of these to succeed

“They are really fundamentally different,” says Sabah Carter. The key to success in any career can be finding the right combination of these powerful three. It’s critical to understand that these are different roles and often different people and you will only get success by combining them.

A Mentor is like a coach, someone that will help you solve a problem or grow and develop further. May Yap says “Find a good mentor in the organisation. It is somebody you can talk to and actually discuss options, discuss opportunities, discuss difficulties. I was very fortunate to have a few mentors to guide me along the way.”

A Sponsor is an advocate for you internally within your organisation or even externally in the wider world to further your career. Sabah says “They identify what you are great at and shout about it,” Judith says about a memorable sponsor, “She empowered me. She got out of my way but she was always there, she had my back.” Sabah reflected “A lot of my sponsors have been men and that’s been great. To have people who can champion you and move you forward in an organisation and in what is a male-dominated global market.” Sponsors are now becoming more mixed as more women move into senior roles and we all have a responsibility to sponsor the next generation.

A Role model is someone you can see. An aspiration of what you could be.

“I had a working mother. She’s been my role model” says Sabah.

I can relate to this. I’ve also had role models of women I’ve looked up to throughout my career although not necessarily in technology, as I’ve often been the most senior woman in technology in a company. I have looked to women in senior roles in other functional areas to model myself on.

Confidence is key

One of our audience asked a great question about maintaining confidence in times of adversity that sparked a lively discussion amongst the technology leaders. Judith reminds us of the simple but powerful physical cues which can help you look and feel confident.

“Nothing beats a couple of minutes of a good power pose.” “Shoulders back, chin up and take a deep breath.”

You don’t have to know everything about technology, but to be confident you do need to be able to find the right answer for your organisation. If you need help or advice, reach out to your network internally or external to your organisation. May says “There are a lot of good communities of practice out there. Don’t be shy to ask questions.”

Many women won’t take a new career opportunity unless they believe they have all the skills and experience needed. They are usually overqualified for a role. Have confidence in your own abilities and that will enable you to believe in yourself in a challenging or stretching situation. If you are close to being able to do or achieve something, be bold and take a leap of faith.

Listen to the full panel discussion here:

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Nadine Thomson is a digital business leader with international, cross-sector experience and a track record of delivering technology transformation. My passion and strengths are bringing business and technology strategy together to drive business growth and creating high performing, motivated teams to shape digital technology solutions.