I still remember receiving a little 2-octave electric keyboard for my 5th birthday. It was the perfect gift for me, and within a week I had taught myself to play all the songs in the little accompanying playbook. As I continued to explore sound, I figured out the concept of an octave, and all of the major, minor and chromatic scales. When I started to make up my own little songs, I soon needed more keys than I had. Within a month, I announced to my mother that I wanted a real piano. Years later, my mother told me that her real surprise was my intense concentration and obliviousness when I played my little keyboard.
The geek in me had found its way into the sunlight.
Introverted, analytical, logical, rather sensitive. Very focused on task. Happier at work than socializing. A few good friends along the way but never a large circle. Preference from a young age for deep conversations over small talk. A certain social awkwardness and utter bewilderment at how people could just intuitively know these social subtleties. There was no doubt that I would grow up to have geeky tendencies. And no surprise when I found my way into a STEM field. But there were no words for these behaviors back then. I was just, well, not a typical girl.
I majored in French Linguistics because there was no Computer Science major back then. In my senior year, I took a 17-credit independent study to research French adverb positioning. That research got me my first programming position – in burgeoning Silicon Valley. I argued that natural language had far more syntactical variables than programming languages and therefore programming would be easy for me. It got me in the door, but my boss always looked at me a little cockeyed. Girls just didn’t talk like that back then.
I thought I was so smart and savvy, and so after a few years, I started considering my next move. Hewlett-Packard was the most respected and coveted place to work at the time. And after months of networking, I finally landed an interview there. I was outside of myself with excitement because I knew I would find other women like me on the team.
But I blew the interview, completely. When asked where I saw myself in five years, I said at home raising a family. Not because I was married, or engaged or even thinking about having a family, but because it was the norm back then. I just articulated what my interviewers were no doubt thinking. And in doing so, I fell right into the stereotype and right out of the job I really wanted.
Smart and savvy? Not so much. It was a devastating setback.
But I managed to find my career trajectory without H-P. After several years as a programmer, I spent the first half of a 35+ year career in increasingly responsible roles leading teams that built large, complex, custom software systems. We experienced just about everything that could possibly go wrong and became expert at steering those monstrously large projects back on track. It was incredibly exciting times. My fondest memory is gathering my team around at the end of each day to share status and a few good belly laughs too. We really enjoyed each other’s company.
After a couple of decades, I needed a change and found my way to the Boulder, CO area. The software industry at that time was not very sophisticated. So I started a consulting practice that turned around software companies, projects and teams in trouble. I also helped clients make the big decisions around purchasing expensive enterprise software. I spent almost 20 years running this business, and loved both the work and the people I met on this extraordinary journey.
So how does career coaching play into this story? A few years before I left Silicon Valley, I found myself at the same company as a young, talented and very shy engineer named Jim. Jim had just been assigned a project that was more complex than anything he had ever done before. It was a management “test” that both exhilarated and terrified him. Jim asked me if I could coach him through it.
Over the next year, we spent considerable time together as I taught him everything I knew. Jim completed the project with much fanfare and success, and got the promotion. And sure enough, after a while, another company hired him away.
About eight years later, I ran into Jim at an industry conference. The incredibly soft-spoken and shy engineer was unable to contain his excitement and energy. He thanked me profusely because I had fundamentally changed the course of his life! In the intervening years, his career had sky-rocketed, his marriage was stronger than ever, and his relationships with his kids, neighbors, friends and religious community were richer and more satisfying. He was deeply happy in his life.
I had helped him find his own voice, he said. His exact words.
My life fundamentally changed that day too. I loved teaching Jim what I knew. And now I understood the incredible impact my words and insights had had on him. I decided that I wanted to coach as many other people as I could.
And so, still within the context of my IT career, I started to informally coach women considering high-tech careers; women re-entering the workforce after a long absence; newly arrived Asian and Russian immigrants; colleagues interested in getting into management; middle and high school students considering technical careers; and the sons and daughters of friends and colleagues. I did it to help and to make a difference. I also felt a deep and rich satisfaction that complemented my IT career.
Which leads me to why I choose to coach early-career STEM grads. Simply put, at this point in time, my life is purpose-driven. There is nothing more important to me than giving back to the next generation. I want to share my wealth of experience with the audience best positioned to benefit from it: STEM grads in the first decade of their career. I’ve chosen this age group for several reasons: First, because I love young energy. Second, the steep and challenging learning curve makes it the time of greatest need. And third, because the sooner you find your right path, the more success and satisfaction you’ll experience in every area of your life, over the long term. It really does work that way.
Let me help you discover yourself, discover your hidden talents, deepen your skills and completely transform your perception of your own potential. I guarantee you will never, ever view your career or job search the same again.