International Women in Engineering Day: 6 Lessons Learned for Owning Your Career

Careers, Engineering, Tech Leadership, Technology International Women in Engineering Day Header Image, 6-15-20

“If code is the expression of your idea or solution, then your career path in tech is the expression of your passion and drive.”

That’s my mantra. Looking back at my 19 years at Intuit, I never could have imagined a career journey that would allow me to explore, experiment and grow, all at one company. But, that’s been my experience at Intuit. 

The seventh annual International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) is a perfect occasion to reflect on the many ways a career can take shape. For women in particular, the journey isn’t always an easy one. In the U.S., just 14 percent of engineering professionals are women. In the U.K., that figure is only 12 percent. Worldwide, it’s a paltry 9 percent. As of 2019, Intuit reports that 27 percent of our global tech workforce is female (41 percent in the US), with 28 percent holding technical jobs. While we’re ahead of the industry, we aspire for greater gender diversity.

The theme for this year’s INWED is #ShapeTheWorld. If that’s your passion and drive—to help make our world a better, safer, more innovative and exciting place to be—then engineering is a great place to do it, for a woman or anyone else. 

While some people have always known what they want to do for the rest of their lives, my path hasn’t been so linear. Writer and artist Emilie Wapnick uses the term “multipotentialites” to describe people who have a range of interests and jobs over one lifetime.  I can relate. 

Since joining Intuit after grad school, I’ve had the opportunity to be a systems engineer (and one of only eight women in a building of 350 employees), a program manager, a product manager, a dev manager, and a social media manager. Today, as a tech evangelist, I get to work with an amazing team on the Intuit Tech Culture program, with a goal to create an amazing tech ethos at Intuit where engineers can do the best work of their lives. 

How did I get here? It’s been a combination of taking time to learn about myself and understanding what energizes me, along with being open to taking on roles where I may not be a subject matter expert. 

Pursuing a path of fulfillment in your career—or in anything else—means that you don’t just settle into your current role as if it’s all you’ll ever do. Instead, you’re always asking, “What’s next?” “Where can I add the highest value?” “What’s the next big thing I want to learn?” By asking those questions, I’ve learned a few important lessons about what it means to own your career trajectory: 

  1. Shift your mindset to embrace lifelong learning – By being open to learning, you are open to what is possible—and to new possibilities that haven’t even emerged yet. Many roles today did not exist 11-15 years ago, including the one I have today. When I started at Intuit, it was about hosting in data centers and managing rack space. There was no cloud computing. No Amazon Web Services. By embracing lifelong learning, you can learn new skills you wouldn’t be able to by staying on the same path. Each one will help prepare you for your next role.
  2. Own the driver’s seat – You get to decide where to take your career. You declare the path you are taking. To me, this is the most exciting part of designing your own career—because you get to define where you want to go and how fast you want to get there.

    Tech Women @ Intuit at San Diego Magazine’s “Behind the Brands” and DeveloperWeek events
    Tech Women @ Intuit at San Diego Magazine’s “Behind the Brands” and DeveloperWeek events
  3. Get comfortable with the idea of writing your own job description – I’m now on my second role where I’ve done this. It can be daunting, but if you get over the ambiguity, this is how you get the opportunity to design your own path. You can declare what success looks like. You can determine what skills are needed for the role (which is also super-helpful when you write up your professional development goals).
  4. Take a bigger risk for a greater reward – I learned this from Kiran Patel, former Intuit CFO, GM of TurboTax, and GM of QuickBooks He was one of my mentors, and I learned from him that if I can deliver a high benefit for the customer and drive growth for the business, I will always have a role and my skills will always be valuable.
  5. Be open to having multiple mentors aside from your manager – In my career at Intuit, I’ve chosen mentors at various levels in their career. I’ve had mentorship from a peer, from senior level leaders, and from external community members. The wisdom of the mentor collective, as I call it, will offer you a lot of inspiration and guidance.
  6. Finally, be open to taking every opportunity that comes your wayKrithika Swaminathan, Intuit VP of Artificial Intelligence, taught me this: whether you’re hosting an external tech meetup or being asked to lead a short-term mission team, every opportunity offered to you is a chance to show up and learn—to grow your portfolio of skills and your network. 

Now, on the flip side, it’s important to know that pursuing a journey that you design yourself can bring shadows along with it. The biggest is that, because you didn’t follow a linear career path in a defined box, other people might not know what your next level is. This means that as you grow in your career and responsibilities, opportunities for advancement can feel slower. What I’ve learned is that this makes it even more important to have thoughtful and intentional conversations with your manager about where you want to be next. I’m always considering the duality of being able to advance in my current “job band” vs. the continuing pursuit of what fulfills me.

The second shadow is that, because people see the many kinds of things you’re capable of accomplishing, you may get overwhelmed by requests from different groups and different leaders. Take the time to understand the priority of each request so you know what’s really urgent and important. I still struggle with this, and I constantly check in with my manager to ensure that what I am working on is critical to the goals we’ve set. 

So, as you look #ShapeTheWorld in your own right this International Women in Engineering Day, keep in mind my career lesson learned #7Take the time to mentor other technologists.  Help them to pursue something beyond their current role by connecting them with opportunities—whether speaking, leadership, or even writing a blog like this. None of us can get “here” without the help of others, and taking the time to elevate others is one of the most fulfilling things you can ever do. 

And who knows—maybe you’ll be their inspiration to own the design of their career trajectory. 

Are you someone who has followed a non traditional path – or wants to learn more? Leave a comment, share your story, and let’s connect! You can find me on Twitter and on Linkedin.