Far from being a thing of the past, the American Dream is very much thriving as far as one female founder is concerned. Opportunities for success are still there for the taking.By Victoria Livschitz (Founder & CEO, Grid Dynamics and Qubell)
Around the turn of the 20th century, millions of European immigrants poured through Ellis Island in pursuit of the American Dream, lured by the promise of a fresh start, plentiful employment and personal freedoms.
Fast forward 100 years: We’ve endured a credit crisis, housing crisis, job crisis, health care crisis and a recession. Jobs are moving overseas to China and India, and more recently, Eastern Europe and Latin America.
Amid this turmoil, many have begun to question whether the American Dream is still alive, or merely a fairy tale perpetuated by movies, television and books.
But, for me and many of my colleagues and friends, the American Dream has never been in question.
Escape to America
I arrived to America in 1991, with my husband and our infant daughter as Russian Jews escaping the collapse of the USSR. We were young, eager and adventurous – America was the perfect place for us to build a new life.
We settled near a relative who lived in Cleveland, Ohio, and reached out to our parents, grandparents, brothers and cousins who also came with their extended families. Like so many generations of immigrants before us, everyone had to learn the new language, acquire marketable skills, get a job and adapt to the American lifestyle.
For my parents and their generation, the change wasn’t easy. But for my generation, everything happened naturally and logically: a college degree, securing a first job, embarking on a corporate career, finding a house in the suburbs and having more children.
On the Cusp of the Cloud Revolution
I started as an engineer at Ford in the mid-1990s during the heyday of the U.S. automotive industry, when automakers were still the largest corporations in the world. There, I learned to design complex systems and software to extreme specifications for speed, reliability and scale.
Within a few years, I joined rising technology giant Sun Microsystems in their automotive practice and later worked on building next-generation computing engines, including a real-time stock trading platform, a credit card fraud detection engine and a super-computer for the U.S. government.
As far back as 2004, our team at Sun envisioned a time when developers would use publicly-available computing resources instead of their own servers to develop, test and deliver applications via the Internet. Intrigued, I joined the team as the lead architect responsible for building the “developer cloud.”
I instantly saw the enormous potential of the cloud to impact everyone in IT, and this became a turning point in my career. I’ve since built two startups harnessing the power of the cloud.
Independence is Still at the Core of the American Dream
As a woman who built a successful career in a male-dominated field, I’m frequently asked whether I’ve ever felt discrimination or encountered the “glass ceiling.” Despite usually being the only woman in the room, I’m comfortable in that role and can honestly say that being a female has never been a limiting factor.
I’ve also been blessed with three incredibly bright, motivated and independent children: two daughters, ages 18 and 23, and a son, age 14. While it has been immensely rewarding to pursue my dreams and still be a part of our children’s lives, it has not been easy.
As women, we’re expected to choose: Have a career or a family (or both) and live with constant stress, guilt and anxiety over trying to balance the two. That needs to change. While the gender gap is diminishing in corporate boardrooms, it is not shrinking fast enough in the kitchens of our homes.
Women CEOs lead powerful corporations like IBM, HP and Lockheed Martin, and men in corporate America are becoming accustomed to working with women as their peers, bosses and subordinates.
But, let’s face it – how many successful men want their wives to be the CEO? Not many. And, how many female CEOs have a supporting husband to take on the lion's share of the burden in caring for the kids and the household? Again, very few.
Conversations We Need to Have
With all of the talk about encouraging more young women to pursue careers in technology and leadership, I’d argue that we should also be having parallel conversations to:
- Convince men and society that it’s perfectly acceptable for males to bear the family and child care responsibilities
- Encourage ambitious young women to seek a life partner who is comfortable in that supportive role
Executive careers are demanding regardless of gender. For years, successful men have relied on a spouse dedicated to raising the family to achieve their work/life balance. Why shouldn’t female executives have that same support? But, I suspect such role reversal is far outside the norms of modern society.
The Essence of the American Dream
And yet, for me, this is what the American Dream is all about: the ability to realize your full potential based on your own energy, determination and accomplishments, rather than some pre-determined notion of your status as native or immigrant, gender, social status or chosen field.
It’s about your own talent, perseverance and drive, not any outside influence. While the career path for both immigrants and women may have changed dramatically from a century ago, America still offers more opportunity for success — whatever that might mean for each individual — than any other country in the world.