Last week at the Grace Hopper Conference #GHC16 in Houston, as I approached the room to get mic’d up for the panel I was moderating, I found a long line of people snaking down the hallway as far as I could see. Clearly there was a lot of interest in our topic: Should I Stay or Should I Go? Navigating career ups and downs, and knowing when it’s time for a change.
This is the first in a six-part post on Medium where I’ll pass along some of the stories and insights our panel shared at #GHC16 on the topic of career growth for women in tech.
Panelists are pictured below (L-R)
Alexandra Tibbetts, Head of Brand Moments, YouTube
Liz Pearce, Chief Executive Officer, LiquidPlanner
Sumit Chauhan, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft
Rebecca Norlander, Co-founder & CEO, Health123
Gail Giacobbe, VP Product Management, GoDaddy
In today’s post, I’ll describe my journey deciding to leave a large company after 15 years and landing in a VP of Product Management role at GoDaddy.
How do you know when it’s time to go?
After a great 15-year run at Microsoft, I found myself in a fairly senior role — at the top end of the Principal band and very close to being promoted to Partner. I had worked in Program/Product Management leadership roles across the consumer division, Windows, and Office and I’d worked on a wide range of projects from v1 incubations to mature products with Fortune 500 customers. I had participated in the “bench” program for top talent, and I had found great mentors — and sponsors — from a number of CVPs across the company. However, as I reflected on what I had learned over the past year or so, I realized that while I’d been continuing to hone my skills of “working across very large organizations,” overall my learning curve was starting to plateau. When I looked around the company for new, more challenging opportunities, I did not find roles that would allow me to grow in the areas where I knew I wanted to be growing: leading product innovation in an agile, data-driven environment, identifying new business opportunities, and contributing directly to the bottom line of a company’s growth. It was time for a change.
Get clear on what you’re looking for
I started to explore opportunities outside the company and found a wide variety of opportunities — and some shocking disparities. One mid-sized company in Seattle told me I was qualified for a VP role, but they did not hire VPs from outside the company — they only promoted from within. One large Silicon Valley-based company told me I could find a role in Seattle (my home town) but I would need to be willing to relocate to the Valley if I really wanted to advance my career. I flew to Austin to interview with an exciting mid-sized company and went through an 8-hour interview conducted by a group of white men who each asked me a set of very narrow entry-level PM questions, and culminated with a “design problem” where I was left alone for an hour in a room to come up with a solution, and then presented my solution to a panel of white men, who politely let me know I had not arrived at the “right” answer.
All these experiences were extremely helpful — after several weeks of reflection, I got very clear on what I was looking for:
- An opportunity to have a big impact and develop new skills
- A company with a business strategy that I believed in, with enormous growth potential
- A mission that I was passionate about
- A CEO and Senior Leadership Team who shared my values, and whom I could learn from
- An inclusive culture where different perspectives were valued
Find the right fit
GoDaddy had initially caught my attention when I saw the Wired mag article describing how CEO, Blake Irving, was leading a major culture turnaround at the company as he put his growth plan into place. Then last year at #GHC15 I watched Blake own up to the company’s past poor choices on sexist advertising, and describe pivotal changes the company was making to become a leader in gender equity, and soon thereafter GoDaddy was recognized as one of Anita Borg’s Top Places for Women in Tech. From that point on, I started monitoring job postings on the career site and it took about six months before the right role popped up. The moment I interviewed, I knew I’d found the right fit. The interview process allowed me to show my knowledge and engage in problem-solving with my future colleagues. The role — VP of Product Management for Mobile — would allow me to leverage my past experiences and strengths, while learning new skills. And the work environment was incredibly friendly and collaborative. Still today — nearly a year after starting — at least once a week I’m pleasantly surprised at how everyone lives our value of “joining forces” and working together to bring new customer value to market as quickly as possible. I have found a sponsor who is providing me with amazing guidance and opportunities for growth. And most important of all, I wake up every morning excited to go to work.
This was the first of a 6-post series on topics covered at the #GHC16 panel: Should I Stay or Should I Go? Navigating career ups and downs, and knowing when it’s time for a change. In the remaining 5 posts, I’ll cover each of the topics that have been documented to be key factors for why women leave the workforce:
- Unconscious bias
- Supervisory relationships
- Promotion processes
- Competing life responsibilities