GUEST BLOG: In this contributed blog post, Ana Gillan, senior solutions engineer at Cloudera, discusses why she believes putting authenticity at the heart of everything you do is the key to success.
Tech has been a part of my life since I was a young child asking my dad to let me press buttons on the computers he brought home for work. My other love of languages led me to study an undergraduate degree in German and French, but after I graduated, it was the job opportunities available in tech that drew me towards a career in the sector.
When I started working in what I’ll call my first “serious” job, there weren’t a lot of people around me who had also studied a non-technical subject. I often felt like I was on the back foot because I didn’t have the “right” background. When you’re surrounded by people who have perhaps had a more “traditional” route into their role or have been focused on a tech career from day one, it can be easy to doubt yourself.
But I’ve learned that coming from a different background can actually be a benefit rather than the thing holding you back. I might not know everything (fun fact – no one knows everything), but I do know how to ask questions to understand things better and this means I’m better able to understand my customers, their challenges and their desired outcomes.
I’ve realised that I have to take account of what my own background brings to the table and use that to present myself authentically at work. I don’t know how to be anyone else, so I might as well be the best version of “me” that I can!
Keeping honest and gaining trust
As a solutions engineer, there are two sides to my role. On the one hand I’m a trusted technical advisor and on the other, I’m a salesperson. There is a constant balance to find between offering the right product guidance (e.g. when something may not be ready or is not suitable for the customer’s needs), and upholding my responsibility to sell my company’s products.
This is where authenticity has been key for me. I will always advise my clients on what is right for them, even if it means guiding them in a different direction or extending the sales cycle. This changes the dynamics of our relationship to one that has trust at its core. They know I have their best interests at heart and in fact, they are more likely to follow my direction when I do present an opportunity that I think is the right one. A win-win for our relationship and for the company.
Faking it to fit in needs to stop
Keeping true to what you know, or perhaps don’t know, needs to apply to both external and internal communication. When interacting with your colleagues, there can be a tendency to ‘fake it ‘til you make it’. In the technology sector, I’ve found this is often sadly true for women, who are frequently in the minority — we still only make up 17% of IT specialists in the UK.
All too often women feel the need to justify to others why they are worthy of the job they are in. The same is true even for those in positions of leadership. There seems to be this idea that a leader needs to be aggressive, show “masculine” qualities and never reveal when they might be uncertain. This absolutely has to stop! It never works out well: at one extreme, pretending to know stuff destroys your credibility once you’re discovered and, at the other, remaining quiet in fear of appearing unqualified or inexperienced only leads to struggle and ultimately a lot of time wasted.
Speaking up – not being scared to ask questions – helps to promote a culture of honesty, which is good for everyone, not just women. I fundamentally believe this is what helps get the job done better. When we remain open to our knowledge gaps and, most importantly, keen to look for the answers, I’ve found it instils trust and makes people more willing to come to you as a leader and team mate.
Shout out your achievements loud and proud
Being true to yourself also means recognising your own successes. We must remember to big ourselves up and promote our achievements! I think this is something that everyone, especially successful women, would do well to remember. Throughout my career, I have seen women shy away from self-promotion, thinking it will make them look big headed. It’s all too easy to operate under the mantra of “keep your head down, do good work and the hard work will speak for itself” but that’s simply not going to happen. I have learned that it is so important to actively speak up and share the achievements I’m proud of: when you don’t share your accomplishments, the only person you are doing a disservice to is yourself.
In fact, the more you share the wins you are pleased about, the more you have an impact on other people and make them feel empowered to do the same. I’ve seen this be especially true within Women in Tech circles: women supporting women creates this wonderful virtuous circle in which everyone is supportive of one another and can feel more confident to share the work they are proud of. I’d love to see more of this, but it takes each and every one of us showing pride in our work to make it happen.
My advice for any women in technology — whether they are at the start of their career or in a well-established career — is that you are only going to feel satisfied at work, if you are true to yourself. We have to learn to accept our differences and recognise them as our strongest assets, rather than our weakest. It may take some time to learn this and to strip away other people’s expectations of how we should behave, but once you understand this, decide what you want and act authentically, the possibilities really are endless. It will help you build better relationships and also open the door to create this strengthening circle with fellow women in the industry. I think we’d all agree that this can only be a good thing.