I believe engineers alone cannot deliver the new innovations our world demands. The consumer connection is more important than ever. Tech needs bartenders at the table to innovate, and I am going to tell you why.
I started my career in tech twenty-nine years ago. It’s a funny story really. I was happily bartending at the Jersey Shore (long before that show existed) as well as working as a respite consultant for autistic children. I loved both jobs. I was using my college degree and making money.
Then I met Bill, an engineering executive at Bell Laboratories. He questioned my long-term career goals and apparently wasn’t satisfied with my answers. So he got me an interview at Bell Labs. To say that I was not interested, would be an understatement. My gut instinct was confirmed after setting foot in the iconic Holmdel facility. It resembled a prison, and I was sure people might jump down into the atrium to break the deafening silence. Despite all this, after a second interview I accepted a job in technical publications in the Quality, Engineering and Software Technology department.
I kept thinking, how could I, with a mere psychology degree and mixology skills join a legacy organization of mostly male engineers with PhD’s, patents, published books and possessing impenetrable social skills, find success? Here is where it gets funny. They assumed I was dating Bill and that’s how I landed the job. In reality, Bill was dating and subsequently married my mother. I knew my work and reputation had to stand on its own. I was oddly confident I could do this. But how?
Here is my simple recipe:
You must have a desire to learn, be a good listener, build trusted relationships and love to help other people reach their goals by showing them the big picture.
Tech is consumed by learning the lingo and diving into the latest trends. The industry keeps changing, just like the dress code. However, knowing the words is not enough. You need to be able to partner with engineers, suppliers, and clients and really understand what they need and how you can help. Early interactions felt foreign to me. But, I kept learning and found people who could help me translate the technical into the publishable word — and before I knew it, I became a translator. That was my first tech victory! I was now at the table contributing in a meaningful way!
This pattern of learning + doing what I have never done before is the story of my career. I accept roles for which I may not be initially fully qualified (if technical acumen and coding experience are accepted as the only measuring stick for qualification). Yet someone sees in me something I do not yet see in myself. “You will learn” they say. And I do.
Bill once told me my primary job is to “make good things happen”. That has remained my internal mantra. My “aha” moment was when I realized I had the skills needed to ensure the good could and would happen. I am not an engineer, but I help engineers see the big picture — I am a translator. I develop leaders with diverse backgrounds, skills and perspectives (like many of you and myself). I bring levity to intense environments. I easily share a smile and remind everyone things will be OK. I ask lots of questions and am acutely aware of the things I do NOT know. My advice is to not internalize “not knowing” as a shortcoming and revert to the imposter syndrome. Instead, seek out those who do know, and trust them. They are the secret ingredient!
Today I lead teams of fantastic engineers. I even have “Engineering” and “Technology” in my title!
So, how did you find a home in tech and what has led to your success?
P.S. my name is in a published book (see pics) where I contributed in my early tech pub days!