A CEO shares her advice on how to rise to the top in the world of tech. By Sarah Isaacs (CEO, Conventus)
How did I break through a male-dominated field to become the CEO of an IT consulting firm? Basically, I found a niche, built expertise, and networked intelligently. Let’s dive deeper so I can share my thoughts for women who want to enjoy successful and fulfilling tech careers.
I’m currently the CEO of Conventus, an IT consulting firm that enhances the implementation and performance of various processes and products that help shield companies from security breaches and dangerous cyber-attacks. Before becoming the CEO, I worked as a technical consultant at Symantec and held other IT positions in different industries. I’ve learned many valuable lessons during my career, and am sharing three core tips for women that want to thrive in the technology field:
Find the Right Niche
One important lesson I learned early on was to find a niche within the tech industry that helped me focus my goals and energy. My career path was a natural progression as I developed a preference for a particular IT specialization and then devoted my time on becoming an expert. I started my career as a systems administrator at Tetra-Pak and then moved on to the security realm as a security engineer with Arthur Andersen. By specializing I was able to develop Conventus’ focus on one aspect of data security and take it to the market when awareness of the need for security was in the early stages. Tech continues to expand, with an ever increasing number of different technologies and apps available today which makes specialization a smart play.
Hone Your Expertise
With specialization comes the need for expertise. I knew to be successful I couldn’t just “get by” in my chosen field. There is considerable competition for jobs even in the most obscure niches of IT. I was able to move up to positions of increasing responsibility because I learned how to sell my own personal “brand” to all of the people I worked with including clients, superiors, partners, and any other stakeholder. My insights are one of my strengths, which are vitally important for running a consultancy. If you’re an engineer than perhaps you know the minutiae of certain compliance standards such as PCII. Being an expert means more than just knowing certain processes, you also have to know how to sell those skills to others, so you can’t miss any chances to demonstrate your capabilities.
Build Your Network
I’ve always tried to be my best promoter and to network with the right people. I surround myself with men and women that are in my field and outside of it who are successful and can offer me learning opportunities. I don’t have a formal mentor/protégée relationship with any of my contacts, instead I’ve built what I call a personal board of directors which can guide me through hard choices. The team approach works best because no one person can always help you with business decisions and also guide you on the right personal path. I always search for the thought leaders, people who I feel are smarter than me (let go of your ego) and who have a range of talents. Some of my contacts understand the broader trends and market strategies while guiding me on handling personnel. It does take work for me to manage a robust network of people, but the payoffs are immense as I gain access to skills that a single mentor could not possibly possess. And of course I act in kind for others that seek out my counsel.
Do you have other tips for fellow women in tech?
About the guest blogger: Sarah co-founded Conventus in 2006 after working as a Technical Manager for the central region at Symantec where she consulted on the implementation of antivirus and client security technology products for numerous corporate and government enterprises. In this role, she was an invaluable resource for 17 traveling and on-site consultants — providing guidance and professional development opportunities. Prior to this role, she served as a Principal Security Consultant at Symantec.