Sarita D. Rao shares tips on how to succeed in the constantly changing technology workforce.
Not interested in science or math? Hone in on your business skills. If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s the fact that things are going to change. It can be hard to know when or how to jump into the waters of a career in technology, or take the next step in developing your career, when the waters are always swirling—both in your own life and in the workplace.
I’ve been through a lot of changes throughout my career at AT&T. I’ve been fortunate to accept about 15 different opportunities in departments across the company. And through it all, I’ve found that there are certain skills that help you not just to keep afloat, but swim ahead of others. These skills can help develop you into a strong female leader in the technology industry—even if you’re not interested in science or math.
Be Flexible – And Proactively Try New Things
I’ve done a lot of different things throughout my career. I wasn’t always sure where the next opportunity would come from, what the next project would be, or even who I would be working with next.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from growing up in a family of entrepreneurs is that you have to be flexible. Your attitude during change can make all the difference. Do you view change as a burden, or as an opportunity?
Flex all of the different muscles that you can when you get the chance. You’re good at more than just one thing—show off your skills across different teams and projects. Whether you’re coordinating a multi-million dollar deal, running a staff team, or brainstorming a new product idea, you’ll have something to contribute. Jump on it, even if it’s not your regular role. Trust yourself, and the people that are giving you opportunities.
Just as important as being brave enough to try new opportunities, you must be comfortable in the environment that enables you to do that. And comfortable enough with yourself to fail, because not every new endeavor will be a success.
Be Competitive – But Build Friendships, not Rivalries
Be yourself. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re dedicated to succeeding in your career. I wasn’t interested in science or math when I began my career. I was dedicated to succeeding no matter what was thrown my way, and new opportunities presented themselves because of that. You want your passion to show, and prove that you’re capable. Just make sure you’re not doing so at the expense of relationships.
Connect with people on a personal level. One of the keys I’ve found to building relationships is simple, but effective: thank people. Show appreciation for their help on projects, or their support during a rough time.
I’ve kept in touch with a number of past colleagues. It’s a whole community that I can go to, or that can come to me for advice. This community has been the rock among so many of my career changes, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.
Always Ask Questions – And Listen Carefully
Nobody knows everything, but everybody knows something. And everybody contributes to the vision of technology.
Don’t know something? Ask. Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions—there’s no such thing, and the long-term benefit of knowing trumps the short-term discomfort of appearing uninformed.
Also pay attention to body language when people answer your questions. You can learn a lot by reading how someone says something, not just what they say. If a colleague gets excited about answering a question, you know they can be a valuable resource and build on that relationship.
An extension of this concept is to surround yourself with a diverse set of people. As you grow in your leadership role, it will be important to look at problems from all the different angles—and it will make you approachable to people outside of your regular working group.
Here’s the one question I’ve always strived to answer, no matter what project I was working on: How can we solve a problem for our customer?
That’s not a technical question. Sometimes, the best answers come from an outside perspective. My family of entrepreneurs helped me keep a keen eye on how we can keep our products simple, easy to use, and approachable. So even without a technical background, I have been able to bring great value to my teams and build a successful career.
Whether you’re just jumping in, or you’re looking to make the next step in advancing your career, you don’t have to be a technology wizard to succeed in the technology industry. I’m not an extremely technical person, but I’ve been able to build a successful career at a major technology company by honing business skills, which can be applied to any situation you find yourself in—no matter how quickly it changes.
Sarita D. Rao runs global sales and operations for AT&T In-Building Solutions and Wi-Fi. In this role, She leads a large team to create innovative Wi-Fi and data analytics solutions that deliver valuable insights to business customers. Sarita is passionate about innovation and helping develop others through mentoring. She champions “big thinking” and professional development as a mentor and coach to emerging leaders.