This Yahoo Senior Director Shares 7 Big-Picture Secrets for a Successful Tech Career

Tenni Theurer, Senior Director at Yahoo, has  focused on finding ways to challenge herself and broaden her scope, which has ultimately helped her carve out a rewarding career in the tech industry. She shares these tips with us.

When you're just starting out in your career, everything is new and there’s so much to learn. It can be easy to stay heads down and focus only on your assigned projects. While everyone wants to excel in their current role, it’s never too early to start thinking about your long term career path.

From my early days as an engineer at IBM, to managing a product portfolio at Visa, to my current role as Senior Director of Product Management at Yahoo, I’ve focused on finding ways to challenge myself and broaden my scope, which has ultimately helped me carve out a rewarding career in the tech industry. Here are seven steps I took that can help you master your own career path.

1. Be present and engaged. 


Don’t get swept up in the daily grind. Remember to remain present and focused on how each day is impacting your overall career.

I’ve spent over 16 years in Silicon Valley working on technology products, platforms and services. I always keep a notebook (nowadays a phone) handy to quickly jot down notes, ideas, doodles, learnings, and things I want to remember to do. On a day to day basis, my notebook helps me stay organized and focused in the present moment. Longer term, my notebooks help me reflect, learn and draw upon my experiences.

At the end of each day, write out a few things you accomplished that you were proud of, or things you need to work on. Be engaged with your team and manager by asking relevant questions, learning from your mistakes, and connecting to prior knowledge and experiences.

2. Create a 30-60-90 day plan.


A great strategy when you're starting a new job is to have a 30-60-90 day plan. I’ve personally found this a better strategy than to start by “hitting the ground running”, as it helps to ensure I'm running in the right direction. Keep in mind that the plan doesn’t have to follow exactly 30-60-90 day (it could be 15-45-60), the point is to break things up into stages.

Start the first 30 days by making a good impression, getting to know team members, asking questions, learning the organizational structure and processes, reviewing the overall business and strategy.

Spend the next 30 days understanding the industry or market landscape, building the right relationships, setting goals and getting feedback. Make sure to share the plan with your manager and colleagues to align goals with the broader team and organization, and refine the goals as needed.

By the time you’ve been on the job for 90 days, you should be executing and getting the big wins, driving innovation, and making an impact. Look for opportunities that drive the team charter forward, impact the users and customers, and make a rallying point for the larger organization.

3. Gather real-time feedback.


Don’t wait for a quarterly or yearly review to receive feedback. Use your manager and take every opportunity possible to meet and talk about expectations for your role, both short and long term. Asking for continuous feedback can help you quickly improve and empower you to set new goals.

I’ve had over a dozen bosses over the course of my career and I always took away important learnings that have helped me grow. One boss taught me the value of playing to your strengths to be more effective and successful. Another boss taught me how to slow down to avoid mistakes. One taught me how to lead and manage high performers. Another taught me the pitfalls of being too collaborative.

Over the years, I’ve found ways to keep in touch with many of my former managers, and am supported by the knowledge that they are only a few keystrokes away when I need them.

The relationship between you and your manager is a two way street, and each street is unique in terms of its challenges and opportunities. Take the time to cultivate and develop the street, as it will last longer when you are further down the road.

4. Prioritize continuous learning.


Time is your most precious resource. Make the effort and prioritize continuous learning to achieve your goals.

First and foremost, spend energy in learning and doing the things that will make you great at your current job. Absorb as much information as possible about the business, strategy, products and technologies.

Second, spend time continuously learning on the job, and through formal training courses, networking or attending conferences. Setup informal meetings with stakeholders across various departments, such as marketing, business development, sales, public relations, and design, or see if you can shadow people on different teams.

Finally, take the time to develop and acquire leadership skills. Leaders inspire and make things happen. Take advantage of introductions and networks outside your company to gain new perspectives. After a few years, one idea to challenge yourself is to try working at a different sized company, whether it's bigger, smaller, more recognizable or unknown.

This continuous learning process enabled me to innovate and transition across consumer and business, as well as engineering and product domains at Yahoo, Visa and IBM. 

5. Practice, and practice well.


Find ways to informally practice your skills. You know you’re in the right industry when you have fun practicing relevant skills.

As an engineer, I always found ways to get closer to the customer to learn more about the problems they were solving, as well as how they were using the products and features we were building. I brought those learnings back into the organization so we can come up with even better ways to help solve their problems.

Through those experiences, I found ways to practice the responsibilities of a product manager without actually being a product manager.

6. Dream big.


Growing up, I was surrounded by the latest technologies. My father was a small business owner. I learned early on that businesses need to be aware of their customers and constantly adapt to remain competitive. I was encouraged as a child to embrace technology and science, and to follow my dreams.

To me, success meant never looking back and constantly moving forward. Try to picture where you want to be in a few years and aim for incorporating the skills you’ll need to build into your day to day role. Make sure your manager knows about your long-term goals.

On LinkedIn, search for people who used to have a similar role and track their career to see the various paths others took to get to where you want to go. Attend conferences to listen, learn and connect with others in your field, especially people who are at various stages in their own careers. 

7. Identify a role model and find mentors. 


My grandma is my most influential role model. She grew up during a time of war and poverty, lost her mother as a young child, and immigrated to the United States in search of a better life. She was smart, capable, loving and incredibly nurturing. She created a foundation and new life for her family, sometimes through tough, painful decisions. She was a perfect example of what a woman’s strength and determination could achieve.

Take a look at the people in your life and identify your role models. Perseverance and grit is crucial in your career. Surround yourself with smart, talented and motivated people. Go to local meetups and seek out people who are excelling in a role or industry you’re interested in. Reach out directly to people you admire and ask for help.

Everyone has started a new career at one point, and most people are happy to provide guidance or mentorship. When you leave a job or internship, make sure there are at least two people you can follow-up in six months time. Use this metric to guide you through your career, you never know when you’re going to need a reference or a networking contact. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tenni Theurer is the Senior Director of Product Management for Yahoo Homepage and News. She also helped lead the recent transformation of Yahoo's Commerce, Entertainment and Lifestyle verticals. Prior to Yahoo, she was a Senior Business Leader at Visa responsible for consumer product management and strategy for Visa's digital wallet and checkout service. Prior to Visa, Tenni was the product lead for Yahoo's Universal Header. She also held roles in engineering before transitioning into product management leading Search distribution initiatives across the Yahoo! network.