Rosa Vega says that working hard is in her DNA.
"It was always in me that I wanted to work," she explains. "It has a lot to do with my background. I came from a Central American country, and the U.S. is the land of opportunity. Why not make it happen?"
Rosa emigrated to the States from El Salvador when she was six and a half. She grew up in Queens and now lives in Long Island, not too far from the first place she was ever employed.
Rosa started working at 14 as a volunteer at Flushing Hospital. Several decades of hard work later, she's the Director of Client Relationship Services for financial services and life insurance company Sun Life.
It's the culmination of a big goal she had for herself: to become a manager.
We sat down with Rosa to hear more about how she sets (and achieves!) goals and how she encourages and enables her team to do the same.
Step One: Identify Your Strengths
Put Rosa in a room of people—be it in a hospital room or a board room—and ten minutes later, she'll know the life stories of at least half of them.
"I've always loved people," she explains. Her first manager had noticed the same thing.
At the time, Rosa was in her second rotation of GE's leadership development program. She was reporting to a woman for the first time, and, inspired by seeing her manager's success in their male-dominated field, had brought up her goal to one day be a manager of others.
"[My manager] sat down and said, 'You know, you lead a lot of projects, and one of your strengths is that you lead people even though they don't report to you,'" remembers Rosa. "That stuck in my head."
Step two: be collaborative
Rosa was able to reach her goals because she shared them with her management team. Now that she herself manages a big team of client relationship executives and client advocates, she expects her direct reports to do the same. "I value people telling me what they feel should be the right thing [for the business or for their careers]," says Rosa. "They're the voice of reason, the boots on the ground, the ones who know exactly what's going on."
"I want them to know there's nothing they can't come talk to me about," she adds.
Sun Life's culture supports that collaboration, explains Rosa, which makes it easier. "It's such a diverse company, and I've worked with so many different people—all are amazing, motivational, go-getters," she says. "When you work with people who are successful and always hitting their numbers, that motivates you to win, as well."
Step Three: Be Flexible
The pandemic taught us all a lesson that's especially useful when it comes to goal-setting (and -achieving): you have to be open to change.
"I never would have thought that I would be homeschooling three kids and doing my job," says Rosa of 2020. "With goals, you have to be flexible in terms of how you get there."
That's especially true for sales goals, which make up a big part of what Rosa's team is measured against.
Rosa encouraged her team to come together and share what was and wasn't working. "Every year is a new challenge, so everyone brings something different to the table, no matter their experience level," she explains.
For instance, during the pandemic, Rosa's team realized that their customers needed hospital indemnity and supplemental life insurance, and that they could adjust their sales strategies to get those options into the hands of customers—helping them hit their goals and also helping customers stay covered.
Step Four: Stay Committed
Staring down the barrel of a big number can be a difficult thing for a salesperson, and Rosa recognizes that. She gives her team three pieces of key advice when it comes to sticking it out and making it happen:
- Don't give up—but do pivot. "Sales is all about your approach. If you're doing the same thing and it's not working, change it," she says.
- Don't be afraid to ask. "It's okay to hear that 'no,'" says Rosa. "It's difficult to be in a situation where you wish you could have, would have, should have."
- There's nothing wrong with starting over. "There are opportunities to recreate the situation you need," says Rosa.
Setting up others to achieve their goals
Now that Rosa is a Director, her goals look less like "achieve a certain title" and more like "enjoy work-life balance" and "create space for others."
On the work-life balance front, Rosa has been focusing on creating separation between work and family life. That has looked like taking vacation days to spend time with her children, even if the only thing on the agenda is to go out for ice cream that day, and prioritizing family celebrations along with work ones.
Rosa is also committed to creating paths and opportunities for other people.
"I hire people who might not have a lot of product knowledge," she explains. "I give them an opportunity when I see that they want to do something different. I hire people that I think will be successful no matter what background they have."
She's more than willing to help foster the spark she sees in under-experienced but passionate hires. "I am in a role where I can coach, and I can mentor," she says. "And I have been doing this for a long time. When somebody has that capability, I don't want to penalize them [for lack of experience]."
Anne Do was recently visiting her cousin in San Francisco, California, for less than 48 hours. In that time, she made two cakes and a dozen French macarons.
"I told my family, 'You won't be seeing me for a while!' and packed up what I could for their freezer," says Anne, smiling.
The web analytics team lead for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or NGA, is accustomed to accomplishing a lot in a short amount of time.
With less than two years under her belt as a full-time employee at the Agency, Anne has already taken on the role of a team lead, became the co-lead of the NGA's Asian Pacific American Council (APAC), and collaborated closely with multiple components to successfully executed a five-person live broadcast panel event for this May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPHM).
We sat down with Anne to find out how she makes this all happen — and, importantly, how APAC has worked to support its members during a year of unprecedented racially-motivated attacks.
Driven to Serve
Anne says that public service is in her blood. As a first-generation Vietnamese-American whose father and grandfather both served in the military, Anne knew she wanted to follow in their footsteps by giving back. She earned her undergraduate degree in Information Technology (IT) – Network Administration and master's in Information Systems Technology Management, subsequently working as a systems, database and cloud engineer for various government organizations.
After working technical integration logistics management for the State Department, she was hired as a contractor at NGA while pursuing her graduate degree at GWU. After a few years in, she realized that one of her customers could modernize how they delivered map specifications to industry, military and international partners by moving from a local database to the cloud.
She wrote a proposal, including her own research and cost calculations, and it was approved. For three years, while managing her daily work responsibilities, she was also successful in learning achieving data and cloud migration accreditations. It was then that Anne realized she wanted to work as a NGA employee in a data science capacity.
"I have done the network aspect. I did the system and data engineering. I really enjoy dealing with methods of transforming data into a strategic asset, and seeing it come to fruition, so I figured, let's see what opportunity NGA has in the data field. I put my name into the hat without really thinking that I would get it," says Anne.
She did get it. And two months later, she was provided with an opportunity to serve as the web analytics lead.
Determined to Lead
When Anne started as a NGA employee, she ran into a challenging situation.
"I realized I needed to balance being organizational, tech savvy with being savvy at office dynamics", she explained. "I needed to extend myself beyond tackling specific goals and be the kind of leader, who could successful manage demanding situations."
That need for community and support drove Anne to join APAC, a Special Emphasis Program (SEP), NGA's employee resource group for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI).
At her first meeting, she met the APAC's co-lead who was serving food for everyone. She was shocked—and impressed—to see such gracious leadership.
Shortly after joining the council, that co-lead position became available. Anne took charge and raised her hand to become the new co-lead.
That was in February 2020. A month later, the COVID-19 pandemic began, and anti-Asian sentiment began to rise in the US.
"I have two elderly parents who take daily walks, and I had to wonder if I needed my parents to curtail their normal routine," says Anne.
Other members of APAC shared their concerns with the council: they found themselves looking over their shoulders in their neighborhoods and grocery stores, wondering if a violent attacker was near, and they struggled to focus on work amid news coverage of increasing violence. They wondered what kind of support NGA could provide them.
Anne and her co-lead focused on a three-part response strategy: listening, providing resources, and advocating. Here's what it looked like:
- Listening: "I had to learn to ask people I work with, 'How are you today? versus How things are going? I emphasize the 'you' part because that gives them a chance to open up and discuss how they're feeling," she says. APAC started sending emails, partnering with other agencies' AAPI leads to provide a platform that served as open forums for anyone who wanted to share their thoughts, fears, or reflections.
- Providing resources: Anne and the APAC & SEP team communicated the NGA resources available to employees, including counseling, monthly meetings, speakers, reminders about mental health and sick days, and access to the AAPI network in the greater Intelligence Community, for anyone who needed help. "It was about enabling them to feel that their voices were being heard and showing there are efforts put in place to help prevent any uneasiness with what was happening outside of the workforce," she says.
- Advocating: On a personal and professional level, Anne believes in advocacy. "The more you open yourself up and have these hard conversations, the more you can educate people on the AAPI experience and move past the model minority myth..." she says.
As important as Anne knows her work with APAC to be, she acknowledges that it's not easy to heal from the threat of violence and experiences of everyday racism. "I don't know if I'll ever be able to go back to my pre-pandemic comfort level," she says.
Finding Inspiration to Keep Going
Anne didn't meet her APAC co-lead in person until this May, well over a year after becoming an advisor to the council. They were working together virtually up until broadcasting rehearsal for the AAPHM observance event.
"It hits a little closer to home for a lot of us," she says of this year's celebrations. Anne signed up to be the logistics manager for the event, and found herself designing a speaking panel that was the agency's first all-Asian-American-descent panel. The event's keynote speaker was Huan Nguyen, the first Vietnamese-American Rear Admiral of the U.S. Navy.
"We couldn't have asked for a better keynote," Anne says. "He addressed the community about the events that had happened, saying, 'It's real. What can we do to make sure that not equality but actual equity gets taken care of?' and 'It doesn't matter what your heritage is — you're American first.'"
The event was the highlight of Anne's tenure at NGA, she says, and she knows she's not the only one who felt the power of coming together as a community.
"A coworker who has been in federal service for over 30 years told me that was one of the most honest, genuine addresses that she ever had experienced in her career," says Anne.
Anne wants to pay that feeling forward, and has one last piece of advice for anyone considering stepping up and becoming a leader in their own organization: "Be more willing to take part in the change that you believe in, even if it scares the heck out of you. I definitely never expected to be where I am now, but I'm so glad that I raised my hand."
Approved for public release, 21-823
Insight from Commvault's Sarah Bricker
What do pastry chefs and UX designers have in common? A lot, if you ask Commvault's Sarah Bricker.
The Senior UX Designer has been working on research-based design projects for the smart data management platform for the past two years, but before she transitioned into the field, she was turning out beautiful desserts as a pastry chef.
"There was a science to it, and I liked blending that with creativity and working with my hands. I'm very right brain/left brain, and it's set me up for success as a UX designer," explains Sarah.
It's not just the processes that overlap. (Though kitchens and companies certainly do share a focus on efficiency and speed.) It's the overarching goal, notes Sarah, adding that good dessert can delight someone the same way that good UX can. "Dessert brings a smile to people's faces; it's used to celebrate things. I do get joy from making people happy. And when I heard that UX was this practical application of that science, I knew it was for me," says Sarah.
We sat down with Sarah to hear more about her career path, what she's working on now as part of the cross-functional team behind Commvault's first SaaS product, Metallic, and how she shares the goals behind UX to people less familiar with the field.
Building a Foundation
Sarah transitioned from pastry to UX after talking to a family friend who was in the field.
"She was explaining to me that UX is all about empathy, about understanding who the user is, about design that's based in research," remembers Sarah. "It's not this open-ended, 'How do you create something?' I'm someone who likes to have a box around that creativity, I like to have those constraints; that's where I work best. And I can't stand inefficient systems," says Sarah.
It sounded like something that was custom-made for her, so Sarah made her way into UX via General Assembly's 10-week course, then joined GA as an instructional associate for that same program. "I learned more teaching than I did as a student, which I think is common," says Sarah, who still considers the instructors she worked with there as her mentors in the field.
She learned not just how to apply UX skills and methodologies, but also about what kinds of teams she would thrive in. "I learned how I'd want to be treated as a coworker, as a colleague, and how I'd want to treat anyone on my team as a manager: like an equal, and that their opinion is valued, and giving them ownership of what they're doing," she explains.
When she joined Commvault, it wasn't because enterprise software and data backup and recovery was inherently appealing to her.
But when she learned more about the team she'd be working on—the team that would launch the company's first SaaS offering, made up of 25 people across engineering, marketing, business operations, and sales—she was sold.
"I would learn so much in the role; I'd have exposure to so much—how exciting of a learning opportunity would that be?" asks Sarah.
UX's Role in a Cross-Functional Team: Four Common Misconceptions
When Sarah joined Commvault, she was Metallic's first dedicated UX designer.
"That's the blessing and curse of an organization being new to UX: we can learn together," says Sarah, who quickly realized that she needed to clarify what she was there to do.
There are a few misconceptions about UX designers, says Sarah, all of which she came across in her early days building out the function for Commvault:
- "UX is here to make things pretty." Not quite, says Sarah. "It's so much more than that! It's research-based design, so yes, there's that tactical application of improving the usability of the experience, but UX is also a strategy and a process," she says.
- "The 'user' in UX is always the end user." Nope. "Just as important as your external users and your end users are your internal users—your stakeholders whose buy-in you need to make positive changes internally," explains Sarah. Because of that aspect, she sometimes calls UX a "public relations role," where she has to be easy to collaborate with and work with so that she can have the access she needs to help make better products that work for more people.
- "UX slows things down." This isn't quite true, says Sarah. "I ask the questions that yes, might end up in more work, but we're making sure all stakeholders feel heard and that we're solving the right problems," she says. That means that the final result is more likely to be one that everyone is in sync on, actually saving time in the long run.
- "Engineers and UX don't mix." There's a conception that engineers and UX designers don't speak the same language, explains Sarah. But she's built a great relationship with the manager of frontend development, for instance, and the two of them have learned to speak each other's languages so that each can understand each other's processes and work together.
5 Tips for Keeping UX Top of Mind at Your Organization
Over the years, Sarah has developed her own toolkit for making the relationships she needs to do her work. Here's what's worked for her:
- Get buy-in early. Commvault's product team has quadrupled since Sarah has been there, and whenever she gets an email about a new hire, Sarah reaches out and sets up time with them. "I need to champion the Metallic user at every touch point in their SaaS user journey, so establishing relationships with cross-functional stakeholders makes sure UX has a seat at the table for important conversations," she says.
- Know your product roadmap. There are countless places in the business where user experience could improve, says Sarah. To prioritize her work, she maps it to business objectives for each quarter. "I have open conversations with my managers and other PMs about where UX needs to make an impact," she says.
- Say yes often. To make sure UX is top of mind for all the different teams Sarah works with, she tries to be as accommodating as possible to all the different places they may need her help. That can mean helping the marketing team with email design, looking over sales' messaging, or working with the head of support to come up with a creative title for an internal newsletter. (All of those really happened, and all in the last month!)
- Standardize what you can. To make sure she's maintaining as well as improving UX, Sarah has been working to create standard processes and templates for things like wire framing. "By streamlining the UX team's workflows, we can ensure consistency in our designs and save time to accomplish more," she says.
- Learn to compromise. "Sometimes I have to say, 'Ok, we have this targeted launch date. Am I 100% happy with the experience? No. Does it work? Yes,'" says Sarah. "And then it's advocating for that promised phase two, to making it better later on."
Creating Delightful Experiences
When she was a UX instructor, one of the things Sarah would always tell her students is that they didn't have to be subject matter experts in the space for which they are designing. They just had to trust the UX process, build connections, and ask good questions.
Two years into her career at Commvault, Sarah is doing just that, bringing a curious, relationships-focused approach to Metallic, the product she works on, as well as to the whole team.
Sometimes, that friendly extroversion ends up becoming a part of team lore, like when Sarah created Talli the unicorn, a character played by Sarah's Senior Manager of Business Systems for a conference as a way to promote their product Metallic, and later kept her alive via digital assets and videos shared during the pandemic. Sarah even produced a 30-second spot explaining what Talli was up to during lockdown, from walking on the beach to painting and reading.
"At the end of the day," says Sarah, "it's all about bringing people joy."
Insight from Rain Hu, RVP of Sales at Elastic
One of Rain Hu's favorite moments of the day is her early morning run. "I run six kilometers minimum daily, rain or shine," she says. "I enjoy the time alone because it allows me to have time for self-reflection and self-conversation."
The discipline that it takes to maintain a healthy lifestyle is carried throughout her life. As a wife, mother of two young boys, and sales leader, Rain optimizes her time so that she can show up fully and authentically in all aspects of her life.
We sat down with Rain, Regional Vice President of Sales (ASEAN and Hong Kong) for global tech company Elastic, to learn how she has built a career she loves. Read on to learn about how she grew her career in tech sales and what advice she has for others looking to do the same.
Launching a Career in Tech Sales
Shortly after graduating with her MBA, a headhunter contacted Rain about a position in sales. "When they pitched this sales job to me, I found it very interesting," she says. Although she didn't have any sales experience, she liked the idea of helping clients find solutions. "And at the same time they talked about the commission piece, and as a fresh grad, I also found that very attractive."
Over fifteen years later, Rain has earned her stripes in sales and team management. After holding executive positions at various well-known companies, Rain began to seek more opportunities for growth. "I wanted to join a growing company where I would be able to build and grow with the company," she says. And that's how she found Elastic.
Apart from the job description, Elastic's culture and values were what won her over when she decided to join three years ago. "Elastic's source code says we are not here to strive for perfection, so when I saw that, I immediately knew that this is the company that I would like to join, because we are not perfect — we are human."
As a salesperson, quality human connection at work is major for Rain. "[Sometimes] I see my colleagues more than I see my family, so liking the people I work with makes a big difference."
Equally important, however, is having the support required to maintain those connections at work and at home. "Elastic's culture gives us the flexibility to find that balance," says Rain.
Building and Growing Alongside Elastic
When Rain joined Elastic in 2018, there were only five employees in ASEAN and Hong Kong Singapore headquarters. She now manages over 10 countries with more than 10 languages spoken in the APJ and ASEAN regions. "It has been an amazing journey," says Rain.
Rain attributes this success to learning from her fellow colleagues. "I would say the secret recipe is being able to connect the dots and learn from other Elasticians." She makes sure her team has the opportunity to connect and learn from one another to accelerate growth and ensure optimal business outcomes: "Together, we make the difference."
How to grow your career in tech sales
Whether you're new to tech sales or are looking for ways to advance even further in the industry, here's Rain's advice for growing your career in tech sales.
1. Enjoy what you do. Being passionate about your career will give you an extra boost of motivation that could help take your career to the next level. "Today is the youngest you will ever be again, so that's why you should enjoy it to the fullest."
2. Get a mentor. "With a mentor, you will be able to bounce ideas, know your shortcomings, develop your strengths, and learn something new." Rain has personally benefited from mentorship and always encourages others to do so as well. "You need to be able to speak transparently to this person so that he or she will be able to give you the advice [you most need to hear]."
3. Be a team player. "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." While sales may seem like an individual effort, success wouldn't be possible without the rest of the team. "People always say, 'Rain, you are number one', but to me this is just a name tag, because there is a full village behind the scenes and they are the heroes actually."
4. Get constructive feedback. Ask your supervisors, clients, and fellow team members to comment on your work. "Don't be afraid of asking for feedback," Rain says. "It might hurt sometimes, but that is what will help you to improve and become a better version of yourself."
5. Have resilience. Rain learned the value of resilience from her 7-year-old son who competes on Singapore's national chess team. "He started competing at a higher level and realized that he wouldn't always win," she explains. But he learns from his mistakes and that keeps him motivated to continue learning. "I see that [resilience] is very important when it comes to your career, because it's not always roses and rainbows, and you will hit roadblocks. But how do you overcome that? That's where resilience comes into the picture."
Want to be a part of the next phase of growth on Rain's team? Check out Elastic's open roles here.