On February 28th, Accelerate Her Future (AHF) hosted our first pilot ‘Ask Me Anything’ (AMA) session, an initiative for the AHF community members. This AMA aims to help AHF members learn from the extensive expertise in our community to address career development needs and bridge the networking gap by connecting industry leaders to the AHF community.
This month’s session theme was Strategic Career Navigation as a Woman of Colour in Tech with Anne Steptoe, Vice President of Infrastructure at Wealthsimple. Anne is a tech leader with over 20 years of experience in product development, enterprise architecture, quality assurance and infrastructure operations. She is passionate about coaching women in STEM and is one of our influential Mentors from AHF’s 2022 and 2023 Fellowship Circle.
Here are a few of the questions our community posed to Anne and her perspectives.
Tell us about a time you had to do something out of your comfort zone that has helped you progress in your career. Growth requires a lot of change, reflecting on either your career or personal experience. Have you ever felt challenged with how you’ve had to change but still juggle being an original, authentic version of yourself?
Anne: I go out of my comfort zone all the time. Most often, it happens when I volunteer for a project I’ve never done before. It’s always scary, and I always doubt whether or not I can actually do it, but in the end, I learn so much – regardless of whether I was successful or if I failed.
One example of a failure: I worked at a company where they wanted to build a new Point-of-Sale (POS) system. I so wanted to impress everyone that I volunteered to lead it (be the Project Manager and Technical Lead), on the condition that they give me my dream team of developers. They agreed to give me that team. Early on, we ran into a few requirements debates, the project went slower than planned and a few months later, it got cancelled. I was devastated, but I learned so much in that short time.
That experience made me change the way I approached projects, people and my approach to communication with others. It forced me to change my wish to control everything and be right all the time. I was still my authentic self, but better, and more aware of the consequences of my words on others.
How does one balance the opportunities to become a manager vs deepening their technical expertise? Any suggestions for paving a career path that incorporates both aspects?
Anne: It’s definitely possible to do both. As a software developer, I was always looking for opportunities to gain new knowledge and skills in different technologies and programming languages. Once I became team lead/manager, and started to manage people, I continued to work on projects that enabled me to improve my technical skills. I would ask to be put on tasks that weren’t on the critical path, that way I wouldn’t be blocking anyone in case my management duties prevented me from finishing my project tasks on schedule.
As my career progressed to senior manager/director roles, I didn’t have time to do as much coding, however, I always stayed on top of technological advancements and ensured I knew how our systems worked. I continued to read books and articles that allowed me to help my team make decisions on the right technology to adopt. At the same time, I actively led leadership development training and DE&I initiatives to become a better and more inclusive coach and mentor.
Your ability to manage your time is a key factor here. You have to be intentional in making time for both types of work and learning. You will need to be able to delegate and trust your team to do the things you might normally do. Some weeks, this will be easy. Other weeks, you have to prioritize one over the other.
What kind of transferable tech skills do you recommend learning, for someone who is trying to break into the tech industry and has very little experience?
Anne: Automation is something that you should be familiar with in tech. This could be working on a continuous integration/continuous delivery pipeline (CI/CD) that allows code to be built, tested and deployed with little friction and get your products out faster. It could be automating onboarding of new hires so there’s very little manual touch points for the IT team. Automation leads to efficiency and higher effectiveness for teams and it’s something that all companies will value.
Cloud technologies is another skill to learn. Companies are either migrating from on-premise deployments to the cloud, or they are fully running their workloads in the cloud. Being aware of the cloud platforms out there, how to navigate them and what kind of services they provide will help you make better architectural decisions.
A big thank you to Anne Steptoe, for your helpful tips and wonderful insight. And thank you to the AHF community for participating and asking such enlightening questions.