AWIT Speakers Promote Mentoring, Planning and Networking Throughout Your Career

Tree_editWant to be somewhere else in your career? Create a roadmap with short- and long-term goals to get you there. That’s the advice from Melissa Murillo, senior brand marketing manager for ConnectWise, who said it took longer than she’d hoped to get to the second phase in her career — mostly because she didn’t have a mentor to tell her the importance of an internship during that first phase.

“Not getting an internship while I was in college is one of my biggest regrets,” Murillo said. “If you are a mom or a mentor or have people in your life who need help, get a mentor.”

Murillo’s advice came during her TED Talk-style presentation during CompTIA’s Advancing Women in Technology Community meeting at AMM in Chicago. Four women took the stage for the panel discussion, “Technology Careers: Ages and Stages,” and attendees later split off for roundtable discussions of each phase.

The themes at any stage of an IT career include planning, networking and finding or being a mentor. It’s advice Murillo finds valuable now, even after 10 years in the channel.

“Take risks and step out of your comfort zone,” she said. “Each career move I made was an opportunity to learn different skills, work with different people and advance my career further down the road.”

 

Early Career Planning

Murillo encouraged the audience to seek out projects that will gain visibility and to network as much as possible. “Go to those after work happy hours, get to know people on a personal level,” she said.

That got an amen from Jessica Nava, director of business development for Finger Lakes Technologies Group, who kicked off the panel with a talk on early career planning. Mentors need to take the lead and invite their new colleagues to networking events and show them the ropes.

“Teach them how to network. ‘Put down your phone and start doing this and this,’” Nava said. “And mentors should learn something from millennials about how to do social networking.”

Mentorships are important early on, because you need an accountability partner who is not your boss.

The best thing a new employee can learn is to ask “How can I help you?” and figure out what they bring to the table, she said. “You need to own who you are,” she said. “Trust your gut and at the same time know your audience.”

Mistakes will happen, she said, but it’s expected. “That’s how we learn as human beings,” she said. Mentors need to help their mentees develop a framework for short- and long-term and strategic goals.

Overall, she said, enjoy the ride. “Love what you do. Don’t let men derail you. Appreciate everything you have every single day,” she said. “Find your balance. You don’t have to work 12 hour days to feel successful.”

 

Management

Mentoring is key at the managerial phase, too, said Karen Drewitt, general manager for the Missing Link, who heads up AWIT in Australia. “They can help us assess and be aware of our habits — the good and the bad.”

Women need a reality check because they often undervalue their contributions. “They’re good at underestimating their abilities. “Females have a tendency to discount their performances,” said Drewitt. “They’ll take praise for the team, but not individually.”

The confidence gap between men and women is pretty major, so Drewitt advised the audience to take on new challenges before the inner monologue of negativity can tear down the idea.

“Say yes before you can talk yourself out of it. Put your hand up for new assignments, even if you don’t feel 100 percent ready,” she said. “You’re never going to feel ready. The feeling will come once you’ve done it.”

To boost confidence, managers should adopt flexible work schedules, outcome based projects and challenges to company “heroes.” “Make sure the people you’re celebrating within the organization are displaying the behavior they want to display,” she said.

It’s also important to review your company’s recruitment practices so you’re asking unbiased questions and can tell an honest answer from an overconfident one. Ask those who are undervaluing themselves pointed questions: What did you contribute? What difference would it have made if you weren’t there? It also helps to encourage them to ask for what they want.

“Ask for what you need, and don’t always assume the answer is going to be no,” Drewitt said.

 

Getting Ready to Retire

Planning your retirement can be a bit like planning your own funeral, said Amy Babinchak, president of Harbor Computer Services, who used her panel talk to discuss the final phase of a career or business.

“Looking to step away to get to retire means that I leave these people behind. It’s like you’re making sure your affairs are in order so you can feel comfortable leaving,” she said.

Instead of getting wrapped up in the emotional side, she said making a plan helped her break retirement down into more manageable ideas. “When I thought about retirement, it was scary, but then I started thinking about it as the decisions I had to make, and those weren’t as scary,” she said.

The options are brief – selling, folding or fading, she said. Folding isn’t ideal — it’s your business, and it’s got value — and fading away isn’t for everyone, she said, relaying an anecdote of a couple she knows who went into the office every day into their 90s, until they died.

“Most people will choose to sell or have some time of succession plan,” she said. If that’s the route you choose, a good plan is your best weapon. Talk to a financial adviser and get a real estimate the value of your business, cross your fingers that the economy is in good shape and start negotiating with potential buyers.

“We’ve all done this before — maybe you haven’t gotten to retirement, but you’ve made decisions,” she said. “Deciding to retire is just another decision. If you’ve been making decisions along the way, you can make that final decisions, too.”

The reality of retirement starts with your ability to accept it, she said. “It starts with imagining yourself not being that tech or tech manager, imaging yourself not being part of your business,” she said. “It all requires you to make decisions along the way, and as a business owner, making decisions is what you do. Retirement is just another set of decisions.”

Michelle Lange is a writer and designer living in Chicago.