I came to the United States from India in the late 80’s to complete my education, and while finishing my master’s degree in Computer Science, I was also juggling the demands of motherhood. This was a time when there weren’t many women in the technology industry, and ever fewer who came from India.
In the early 90s, I moved to California during the start of the tech boom, and found work as a junior software programmer. Not an uncommon story at that time. But for me it was a little different. This is because for the first two companies where I worked as a programmer, I was the first woman in my group.
Throughout my career as a programmer, and now as the VP of Sales for MecSoft, I have had to overcome being intimidated and make my voice heard, while gaining acceptance in the field of CAD/CAM software.
While there has been improvement in the past 20 years, as a woman working in the field of technology, I still often find myself to be the exception rather than the rule.
To all women out there, whether you are interested in technology, sales, or any other field, I’d like to share some important lessons that I’ve learned in my life that helped get me to where I am today.
- The Details Matter
When you’re the first of any position at a new company, your co-workers need to know that they can trust you. The way to earn this trust is to pay attention to the details. When you demonstrate a deep knowledge of your subject matter, it instills confidence and earns the respect and attention of your peers and clients.
This still applies for me today. As a sales professional for a CAD/CAM software company, I interact with clients who are most often skeptical of my ability to help. It isn’t my title that demonstrates my ability, it is in the fact that within 30 seconds of conversation I can change the skeptic into an interested listener. As a consequence, they are more willing to talk to me as an equal, and trust me in the future.
- Speak Up
Knowing the details isn’t enough. You must be willing to express your opinion on things that are important to the group and the company. Unfortunately, many women do not share their opinions because they are afraid of coming off as abrasive. Be assured that your expertise and knowledge, make your opinion important.
Speaking up is especially important when you need help. Again, many women are often unwilling to ask questions, fearing a loss of respect or standing. In fact, the opposite is true. Asking questions when you need help, will actually earn you respect. First, you are showing them that you trust and value their judgment; second, by asking the right questions, you demonstrate your understanding of the details.
- Be Open to Change
When I started working at these companies, one thing I quickly learned is that you need to adapt to new circumstances and demands. I learned that success in the environment of technology companies called for someone who could speak up and be proactive. Having come from a culture where women are taught to be reserved, I had to make a conscious effort to change my habits and natural tendencies. I did not change who I was, I simply adapted to meet the needs and expectations of my workplace.
- Strengthen Your Weaknesses
Later, when I started working with my husband to build our company, we quickly realized that we needed to know how to sell our product. My husband was focused on building the business and developing our product lines, so the task of sales fell to me.
As a programmer, I had never really understood sales, and felt that I lacked the necessary skills. To remedy this, I started taking sales courses. In the process I gained more than an understanding of the process and methodology of sales: I came to understand that selling is not about forcing prospects to buy something they don’t need. It is about recognizing the customers’ needs and providing the solutions that satisfy those needs.
- Find a Mentor
When I started out in the software industry, I was able to find mentors at the companies I worked for. These professional relationships were very important to me, and I take great pride in the role that I play as a mentor to the sales professionals who work for me today.
As a mentor, I see myself as more than a boss. I see myself as someone who is invested in her employees’ futures.
Not too long ago, a woman started working on our sales team. She started out unsure of herself and her capabilities, she now is one of my most successful sales person on my team. I take special pleasure in the fact that I helped groom her into an experienced sales pro.
- Attitude Is Important
Whether you’re writing software or running a business, a “Can Do” attitude is most important. Such an attitude, combined with knowledge and experience, will naturally engender excellence, which in turn can mean the difference between success and failure.
Whether you’re the exception to the rule, or one among many women in your field, I encourage you to take these tips to heart, and let them guide you on your path to success.
Anita Anand was born, raised, and educated in India as an electrical Engineer, and earned a Master’s Degree in Computer Science from University of Alabama at Huntsville. She worked as a programmer at CMD Technologies and Printronics, where she rose to the role of Senior Software Engineer. She is currently VP of Sales for MecSoft Corporation, a leading CAD/CAM software solution provider, now used in over fifty countries.