Blog > May 2021 > 13 Lessons from the Start of My Career

13 Lessons from the Start of My Career

Thirty years ago, I was hired by a female manager (Carol) of a large call center, my first "professional career position." At that point, I had a two-year community college degree and no tech experience. I had moved 2.5 hours from a town of 7,000 people to Minneapolis. I put my head down, worked hard and mirrored the leaders in my immediate view. Most of these leaders were men, but I can tell you that it was the advice and support of the female leaders that I remember the most.

Carol taught me to jump at every opportunity regardless of whether or not I thought I was qualified. I worked late shifts, mornings, weekends, holidays – it did not matter to me. There were more sacrifices made than I can remember, but I still managed to have a life and raise two amazing kids.

Carol promoted me several times – she said that I had "a fire in my belly." The last promotion at Dataserv was removing me from the call center team and inserting me on a team of 12 leaders, compiled to migrate all current technology to an ERP system. This was an enterprise "re-engineering" process and failure was NOT an option. I did not even know what an ERP system was – and really questioned her pulling me from everything I knew and was trained on – but she said this was a rare opportunity, and she could not have been more right. Four of the 12 team leaders were women, and the project manager was a 5-foot-nothing, feisty woman leader who led the team her own way – with let's just say enormous grit and tenacity.

These leaders intimidated me, but Carol told me that all I needed to do was represent the call center where I had worked for four  years and knew inside and out. The two-year project was a mass re-engineering of all process across the organization and mapping requirements to the new system. Akin to the book "Everything I Learned in Kindergarten", all for the lessons that would guide the rest of my career were from that migration project, the team and the leaders. I learned how to listen (really listen), how to brainstorm without judgement , and how to manage change from the current paradigm. I also learned:

  • “Done is a team thing”. If one team stayed until 11pm at night we all stayed with them helping out where-ever we could.
  • Always start with getting everyone in the room on the same page.
  • When the elephants begin to dance, get out of the way!
  • Forget the "why." Who cares why someone thinks or does the things they do? Accept it, deal with it and move on.
  • Always be hyper focused on what's best for the business (versus yourself) and what you can do to move the ball forward.
  • Use "let it go intervals" of four or six months. Set a date in the future and let it go. If it's in the same state despite all your best efforts, revamp or jump ship.

When the two-year project was over, they asked me to stay on in IT and help build a data warehouse with the new ERP data, and I was responsible for its metadata. Again, another fortunate opportunity that benefited me for years to come that I never imagined myself in.  The company sponsored my business degree, “Organizational Change” which eventually shifted me into working with large corporate change initiatives. What company doesn’t need leaders that embrace and foster change? You may not understand the direction your career is taking you in the moment and that’s ok. Just trust that all your accumulated experiences are leading to that place of passion and go with it.

It has always been important to me to always take risks and remain teachable. If you're just starting out in IT,  learn just one thing really well, become the expert and expand from there. Take risks and don't be afraid to fall on your face; the rewards far outweigh slight indignities. Here are my day-to-day best practices:

  • Extraordinary outcomes involve risk.
  • “Great” is the enemy of “good”.
  • Don't just trust your gut, listen for it and take action on it.
  • When you can see the problem minus the emotion, you can begin to solve for it.
  • Accomplish at least one thing, with great quality, every day.
  • You don't report to your inbox!
  • Remember my favorite quote from Wayne Gretzky: "Don't just skate to the puck, skate ahead to where the puck is going."

To hiring managers, be patient and look for that non-traditional candidate; be intentional about hiring for diversity. Remove the barriers and unabashedly feed them opportunities to grow and flourish.  It's your garden to grow. Happy Spring everyone!

And I’d like to do a shout out to Carol Willeck, my first boss who took a chance and invested in me.