Been There, Done That: Progressing in Tech Careers

This past Thursday, Kansas City Women in Technology held their November TechTalk at DST Systems’ corporate offices. We had over 70 people in attendance to hear our panel discussion on how to make good career choices.

Our panelists included:

  • Wendy Blackburn, Executive Vice President at InTouch Solutions
  • Katie Briscoe, Director of Client Services at MMGY Global
  • Vera Burdt, Systems Development Officer at DST Systems
  • Sarah McElwee, Vice President of Client Operations at KBM Group
  • Lyla Perrodin, CEO and Founder at The Perrodin Group

The discussion, entitled “Been There, Done That,” took aim at many of the questions women in technology have about navigating their careers and our panel was filled with brilliant leaders (see the end of this post for more). We intentionally left out any questions about how our panelists initially started their careers (we all know that the issue of gaining experience can be a discussion to itself). Instead we focused on what it took to make major career moves once you’re already there. Below are some of the best answers we received over the course of the evening.

KCWiT panelists give career advice.

Women in leadership from Kansas City companies give career advice.

The night started with questions about The Imposter Syndrome and how these women handle it. For the most part, all of our panelists agreed that it’s something you have to learn to move forward in spite of. Vera pointed out that part of it is being willing to “Challenge yourself and then surround yourself with a network of mentors and support.” Katie also shared with us some poignant advice she’d once received: “Your job is not to prove them wrong.”

The next round of questions was about the best processes for deciding what your next career move or opportunity should be.  Although there is not a silver bullet solution for making the right decisions, there were a few things that resonated with the audience.

  • From Sarah – “When making professional decisions, don’t just look at the next choice. Look at the choice after that, too. If Step 2 can’t take you to Step 3, is it the right step? And be sure to ask yourselves the questions that aren’t the most obvious. It’s important to make sure that professional decisions work with your personal goals.”
  • From Lyla – “If you have made a choice and then you realize it’s not the right one, don’t be afraid to take a step back. If it can get you where you want to be personally and professionally, it’s just a step in a different direction not in reverse.”
  • From Josepha – “Don’t ever run away from a situation; make sure you’re running to a situation that’s better.”

Then we addressed some buzzwords of the year: Mentor Relationships, Work/Life Balance, and Millenials.

Mentor Relationships
Contrary to what popular books of the moment claim, most notably Climb and Lean In, mentor relationships are still rooted in an organic base. While you can’t simply work diligently and wait for someone to offer you a mentorship, you should really only ask people to mentor you if they’ve shown interest in your work and in advocating for you. All of our panelists had one or more mentors, but only about 10% of our audience did, a phenomenon attributed to difficulty in identifying who is genuinely interested in your success.

Lyla had this great tidbit to share from the mentor perspective: “As a mentor, I’m not looking for someone who is going to do everything I tell them to do. I don’t know everything. I always expect to learn from my mentees.”

Work/Life Balance
We asked our panel whether work/life balance is about proving something to ourselves and if there is danger in trying to be some magic superwoman and the answers were surprising. I was expecting to hear a long list of ways to make sure you “have it all” and how to cut corners in all areas to make sure you can sort of cover any area. But what we heard was far more reasonable and refreshing.  Wendy Blackburn put it best when she said “Work/life balance isn’t about proving anything. It’s about knowing what you want and making sure your priorities match. In the end, if you’re comfortable with the choices you’ve made, then your work and life are balanced.” Katie addressed the superwoman question from her own experience saying that “[women] are naturally wired for guilt. It’s time to accept our choices and be proud of them.”

Many of our members, as well as many serving on your board, are considered part of the Millenial generation. When panelists were asked if they had noticed any major differences in what motivates this generation, most said that they hadn’t other than wanting to be treated like adults (that is generally expressed as flatter hierarchies and teaching for the purpose of empowerment). Vera did have this to say about a team she lead while overseas:

“They wanted to learn. Wanted all the newest technologies. When I equipped them with the right tools and the most current technology, they did some truly amazing things that I wouldn’t have thought to direct them to do.”

The takeaways of the evening are:

  • TRUST in both yourself and those who invest in you
  • THINK of the bigger picture
  • DEFINE  your idea of success and own it

And a last word from Wendy. “Keep your knees bent,” because you never know what’s coming next.

Thanks again to DST Systems, BlueWater Distillers, and all of our members who joined us! See you all on December 12th!


Those book recommendations I promised you!

  • Wendy Blackburn recommends The Power of Nice by Linda Kaplan, Robin Koval
  • Katie Briscoe recommends The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
  • Sarah McElwee recommends Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman
  • Lyla Perrodin recommends Get-Real Leadership by Harry S. Campbell
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