4 Tips for Continuous Learning & Success in Technical Fields
How Raytheon Technologies' April Sanders Has Built a 30-Plus Year Career in Aerospace & Defense
If you look at April Sander's LinkedIn profile, you'll see that it has just one entry: Raytheon Technologies.
Sanders has been at the aerospace and defense company for 32 years and is currently Raytheon Intelligence & Space senior manager of systems engineering.
She first joined Raytheon Technologies, then Hughes Aircraft, out of a sense of loyalty—a Hughes fellowship program had paid for her tuition at Cal State Long Beach. "That's really what drew me to the company. They invested in me and gave me challenging summer internship assignments so upon graduation, I didn't consider other companies," she said.
She stayed, though, because she realized just how meaningful her work was (and is) and how much she had to learn from her projects and her peers.
"I've had the opportunity to do many different things, from capture management research and development to payload systems integration and testing and even testing radar systems. What keeps me here is the innovation and the people," she said. "I've been with the company for over 30 years, and I still feel like I'm learning every day."
We sat down with Sanders to hear about her career and get advice—especially for other women who want to find success in highly technical fields like aerospace—on thriving in a male-dominated industry. Here are four of our favorite takeaways:
Tip 1: Seek out new challenges
Sanders has always been a hard worker. She said that she gets it from her mother, who worked two jobs to provide for Sanders and her six siblings. Growing up in south central Los Angeles, Sanders would tag along to help her mother with her second job doing custodial work after she'd finished her homework each day.
"The whole experience helped ground me, but it also gave me the vision to look for something different," she said. "I'd go to these different offices, and I'd see pictures of the employees on vacation with their families and it was inspiring; it exposed me to a different life."
She applied her strong work ethic to school, particularly in her math classes, which had always come easily to her. A school counselor noticed and told Sanders to consider engineering. She hadn't heard of the field before.
"I didn't know what an engineer was; I thought it was a train conductor," she said. Once she learned more about it, she knew it was for her.
She took all the math classes she could in high school and got into every college to which she applied, but chose Cal State, where she studied electrical engineering, because it was what she could afford.
"Seeing the price tag to go to USC, UCLA, I could not put that burden on my mother," she said.
From there, she found her way into aerospace.
Early on in her career at what is now Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business, Sanders was on a project that required her to learn something new.
"In college, I absolutely hated software development. I did not want to program," she said. "But I was working on this radar system where I had to troubleshoot special test equipment used to test the radar receiver module. I did all the hardware troubleshooting and couldn't identify any issues, so it forced me to delve into the software. And once I understood how the hardware and software played together, I developed a love for it."
Over the years, Sanders has continued to learn new skills and now approaches new projects with excitement about what she's going to be able to learn.
"I've had many opportunities to move to different areas of the company doing different things," said Sanders, whose work has included "software, integration and test, capture management, business development, and functional leadership." She said that it almost feels like "being in different companies, working on all types of products from airborne radar to space systems and wireless communication for ground-based systems."
"I've done things I never thought I would ever even have an interest in doing. And it keeps it fresh; it keeps it new for me," she said.
She encourages other women to do the same: "You really have to be open to new ideas, even if it is out of your comfort zone, because you just never know what may come out of it."
Even now, after having worked across her company and "getting in on the ground floor of the space program" at Raytheon Intelligence & Space and building it up into a large team—at one point she had over 30 engineers directly reporting to her—Sanders is still taking on new challenges. In her role as senior manager of systems engineering, she's responsible for a much larger team and using very different skills than she did in her more technical roles.
"It's a bit of a challenge because I'm used to setting goals for myself and checking them off," she said. "It's different, but I'm learning a lot about how we run the business and how we take care of our people."
"I always consider when I take on a new role, if I'm not a little bit nervous or scared, then it means I'm not going to learn anything new or grow from it," she said.
Tip 2: Let your reputation precede you and your work speak for you
After Sanders succeeded at her software troubleshooting assignment, a manager from a different project contacter her and asked her to join their team.
"This is true for just about every assignment that I've had at Raytheon Technologies," she said. "A manager who's seen the work I've done on a program will pull me to work another program."
Sanders said that she's really learned to "let [her] work speak for itself" because, especially early on, she often found herself as an "only" at work.
"I stood out in most meetings when I first joined, being the only female or the only African American," she said. "I know some people might have the impression that I'm in a role because I'm African American or female. I'm not offended by it. I see it as a challenge to demonstrate that I belong."
While the makeup of Raytheon Intelligence & Space has changed greatly in the last 30 years, Sanders said, "They walk the talk."
"My very first year, they had a diversity team set up and asked me to be a part of it, even as an entry-level engineer," Sanders said. "Now, we're a very diverse organization, and I see it every day when I walk the halls"
Sanders still recognizes the weight of being an African American woman in a historically white and male-dominated field.
"I know that I [might be seen as] representing people of color or women," she said, "so I feel the pressure of wanting to represent us well and will go above and beyond."
Tip 3: Recognize your own limitations
While it's important to put your best foot forward and let your work stand on its own merits, said Sanders, it's also important to remember that you won't be perfect.
"I don't beat myself up if I stumble or make a mistake. It's OK to do that as long as you recognize it, acknowledge it and do better next time," she said. "I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and beat ourselves up if we don't perform. But recognizing your limitations and being OK with not being the best at everything is key, because we can't be the best at everything. We struggle a lot with just saying, 'You know, I can't do that' or 'That's not my area of expertise,' but that's really what we should be saying and doing."
Sanders suggests that people be unafraid to ask for help, rely on their peers to fill in their gaps, and acknowledge their relative strengths along with their relative weaknesses.
Tip 4: Coach, don't criticize
In her latest challenge of managing a big team, Sanders is learning what being on the other side of management feels like. One of the lessons she's learned from that perspective is seeing just how important it is to support her employees in a way that encourages their growth.
"Coaching as opposed to criticizing goes a lot longer; it's much more effective," she said. "Giving a pat on the back or catching someone in the hallway and telling them they did a great job goes such a long way to boost confidence."
Bonus tip: Learn from the best
Looking back on her long career, Sanders is most grateful for one thing: the rich learning environment she's been able to participate in for the last 30 years.
"I work with some of the greatest minds in the industry," she said. "We have people that are considered national assets for the knowledge that they have on some of our systems. Being able to work with people like that on a daily basis? That's what motivates me. As a lifelong learner, it's like being a kid in a candy store and every person I get to learn a little bit from, it helps me put the puzzle pieces together to understand the bigger picture."
If you're interested in a career at Raytheon Technologies and learning from the best, check out their open roles here.
💎Want to know what engineering teams are like at Workiva? Watch the video to the end to find out!
📼 Engineering teams at Workiva are constantly hiring. Marie Yue, Senior Engineering Manager at the company, tells you what they look for in a candidate and what the dynamics of teamwork are like.
📼 The typical path in the engineering teams at Workiva is that you grow into a senior, and then you move into a lead role. From there, there are a few different tracks that you can take depending on your interest. You can become a staff engineer, an architect, or even an engineering manager. What are you waiting for to apply?
📼In the engineering teams at Workiva every member should feel empowered to do their job effectively. For this, each has to understand how the work they do day to day solves customers’ problems. Managers will always seek to be aware of members’ career path aspirations so that they can look for opportunities and projects to help each person reach the next step in their career.
Engineering Teams At Workiva: A Safe Space
Marie Yue’s team is a safe space for people to make mistakes and ask for help, and each member feels a sense of belonging and inclusion. She wants to make sure that everyone is individually empowered to lead and make decisions. For this, the team has regular meetings where they do fun things like play virtual games or eat lunch together, and they also like to re-review and add to their team working agreement once a quarter.
🧑💼 Are you interested in joining Workiva? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Marie Yue
If you are interested in a career at Workiva, you can connect with Marie Yue on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Workiva
Workiva was founded to transform the way people manage and report business data with various collaborators, data sources, documents, and spreadsheets. Today, people all over the world use their platform to seamlessly orchestrate data among their systems and applications for transparent and trusted connected reporting and compliance. At Workiva, they are innovative in everything they do—from how they build their software, to how they serve their customers, to how they treat their employees.
We all have our favorite websites– the ones we frequent, bookmark, and recommend to others. You might even enjoy some website features so much that you’ve found yourself wondering why they aren’t more popular. Or maybe you’ve experienced times where you were frustrated with a website and wished you could add features or even design your own!
If you’ve ever found yourself intrigued at the prospect of designing and developing your own websites, then a career as a web developer might be just for you!
As a web developer you would be responsible for coding, designing, optimizing, and maintaining websites. Today, there are over 1.7 billion websites in the world and, in turn, the demand for web developers is on the rise. In order to figure out what kind of web development work best suits you let’s start with an introduction to the three main roles in web development that you can choose from.
The Three Types of Web Development Jobs
Front-End Web Development: The Creative Side
In addition to programming skills, front-end developers need to be detail oriented, creative, willing to keep up with the latest trends in web development, cyber security conscious, and geared toward user-friendly designs. The median salary for a front-end developer can reach well into the $90,000 to $100,000 range.
Back-End Web Development: The Logical Counterpart
While a house can be beautifully decorated, it’s incomplete without a solid foundation and efficient infrastructure. Similarly, a well-designed website depends on logical and functional code to power the features of that website. Back-end web development is code-heavy and focused on the specifics of how a website works. If you enjoy the analytical challenge of creating the behind-the-scenes code that powers a website, then back-end development is for you.
Full-Stack Web Development: A Little Bit of Everything
A full-stack developer is essentially the Jack (or Jill)-of-all-trades in web development. Full-stack developers need to be knowledgeable about both front-end and back-end roles. This does not necessarily imply that you would need to be an expert in both roles, but you should fully understand the different applications and synergies they each imply. In order to work in this position, you will need to know the programming languages used by front-end and back-end developers. In addition to these languages, full-stack developers also specialize in databases, storage, HTTP, REST, and web architecture.
Full-stack developers are often required to act as liaisons between front-end and back-end developers. Full-stack developers need to be both problem solvers and great communicators. The end goal for a full-stack developer is to ensure that the user’s experience is seamless, both on the front-end and on the back-end. In return, you can expect to earn a median salary of $100,000 – $115,000 a year for this role.
Taking the Next Step
Web development is both in-demand and lucrative! All three roles described above contribute to specific aspects of web development and the scope of each one can be customized to the industries and positions you feel best suit you. Regardless of which role you choose, all of them need a foundation in programming.
To gain the programming skills needed in each role, you can enroll in courses or learn independently. Coding bootcamps are a great way to boost your skillset quickly and efficiently.
Click here for some of our highly rated programming bootcamp options! Make sure to check out the discounts available to PowerToFly members.
Joseph Arquillo doesn’t work in Human Resources — he works in People Operations. And the distinction matters.
“It was named ‘human resources’ because it saw humans as resources, utilized for certain tasks or behaviors. But that’s not really what it’s about,” says Joseph, who is a Senior Manager of People Ops at Clyde.
“Calling it ‘people ops’ adds back what you lose with ‘HR.’ My philosophy is that I am there to support you. I am there to work with you, empower you, and enable you so you can be your best self.”
For Joseph, a key element of helping employees become their best selves is making sure that the workplace, whether in-person or virtual, is an inclusive space for all. That doesn’t happen by accident — it requires a dedicated DEIB strategy and leaders who are committed to asking hard questions of themselves and others.
We sat down with Joseph to hear more about his professional journey, and the practices of leaders who create environments where everyone feels included.
More Than Just a Number
As a college freshman, Joseph planned on sticking with liberal arts when it came to choosing a major. But then he took a class in Boston College’s School of Education, and loved its holistic approach to applied psychology.
This inspired him to switch his major to psychology and human development, and select minors in political science, and management and leadership, where he enjoyed learning about organizational psychology.
After graduation, he explored the consulting space to put theory into practice, but found out during an internship at a multinational consulting firm that finance or accounting weren’t the places he wanted to build his career.
“Since Big Four companies have 250,000 employees, you become just a number,” he says of the experience. “It wasn’t my cup of tea. Too corporatized.”
That kicked off Joseph’s interest in startups.
“It’s always fun to get in the weeds! One thing that’s very interesting to me is a challenge,” he says. “When you’re helping a company like Clyde grow and scale, joining when they’re at a Series B and helping them get to the next level, you really get to focus on the interaction between people, process, and product,” explains Joseph. “You need to hire the right people to work towards increasing efficiencies in all areas, but also make sure that we’re enabling them to create a strong product.”
6 Keys To Building Inclusive Spaces as a Leader
Across the different industries and companies that Joseph has worked in, he’s identified the behaviors that create truly inclusive environments — as well as those that discourage them.
Here’s what he’s seen:
- First, recognize your own privilege. “If you’re a man, you have privilege, even if you’re a gay male. If you are a white woman, you have racial privilege. It’s really important that you’re cognizant while you interact with somebody how they might interpret the interaction based on your identity.”
- Leaders should always speak last. This is important always, but especially in in-person spaces, where it might seem even more nerve-wracking to speak up in a crowd, says Joseph. “You want to make sure you’re creating that space for employees who aren’t as senior to feel comfortable voicing their thoughts.”
- And, leaders should use check-ins liberally. “You need to ask yourself how you’re supporting your employees. Are you checking in on them as people before you ask about certain tasks? You want to foster a workplace where employees from all walks of life can feel supported,” he says.
- DEIB isn’t just about adding new initiatives — sometimes it’s about removing barriers. “You need to remove unnecessary bias,” explains Joseph. “That can mean making sure you have appropriate policies and practices that don’t hinder people depending on who they are or where they live.”
- Maximizing participation requires planning with a diversity lens. Joseph has helped the Clyde team gather together and bond as a group. Along the way, he’s been careful to consider physical and psychological safety for everyone involved. “For instance, if you’re doing an event, do you have someone who’s not drinking? Have you set up the environment for people who might have a physical disability, or carefully planned the flow of activities for people who might be neurodivergent?”
- Saying you want to be better isn’t enough — articulate actions you will take. “Pride is a great example,” explains Joseph. “Yes, June is a time to celebrate. But it’s also a time to march. And beyond that, how do you show up and celebrate with the LGBTQIA+ community throughout the year?”
Embracing the Unknown
If you visit Joseph’s LinkedIn profile, you’ll see his personal motto: “Without challenge, change, and a bunch of unknowns, it’s no fun.”
That belief has led him to study what he’s passionate about, to take on new and exciting roles at growing startups, and now, at Clyde, to help formalize what world-class people operations looks like at a fast-growing company.
“I view myself as a connector that really empowers people, challenges teams, and helps drive us towards what I consider to be an improved future,” he says. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to be the chief advocate for each of our employees, and remove any barriers in the way of their growth.”
Insight from SoftwareONE’s Jeff Cannon and Chris Lecosia
SoftwareONE’s Jeff Cannon Business Development Executive US) and Christopher Lecosia (Senior Consultant) share a similar adventurous and brave spirit, which has led to a long trajectory of creative experiences for both of them. From taking care of two new puppies to backpacking across Europe — neither of them back down from a challenge.
As members of the LGBTQIA+ community, Jeff and Chris spent a large portion of their careers fighting for inclusive workplaces where they feel a sense of belonging, and opportunities to use their experiences to serve people, no matter what career stage they’re in. And they’ve both recently found that in the global provider of end-to-end software and cloud technology solutions SoftwareONE.
We sat down with Jeff and Chris to hear their stories on how they navigated mid and late career changes and their journey to finding a company where they felt valued. Keep reading to the end for four major tips on how to successfully pivot careers.
The Journey to SoftwareONE
Jeff Cannon was born in Tacoma, Washington, but considers both Texas and Georgeia his home. After graduating from college with a bachelor's degree in English and History, “I wanted to go to graduate school for history,” he explains. But upon arrival, he realized graduate school was not the right path for him, so he packed his backpack and set out for a trip through Europe instead.
This adventurous spirit led him back home to pursue exciting challenges, such as opening a hotel in Austin, working as a flight attendant in New York and Hawaii, and eventually pursuing a sales career at Dell. “I was an account executive for large university systems and large K-12 systems providing information technology to students to be able to further their education. It really fit in with my mantra around how important education is in society,” Jeff explains.”It's kind of my thing.” But after nearly 20 years at the company, he decided to look for new opportunities. “I was tired of doing the same thing all the time.” Enter SoftwareONE.
“This was an opportunity to do something completely different and take the information that I learned and use it to help build a practice that can accomplish some of the same things,” Jeff explains. He joined the company as a Business Development Executive Executive where he works to build the company’s education practice within the public sector in the United States.
SoftwareONE is a company where Jeff can thrive professionally and personally. He specifically cites the company to be people-first, which his coworker Christopher Lecosia agrees with. “SoftwareONE is a place where you can thrive as an employee, and where your creativity can flourish,” says Chris.
SoftwareONE is a leading global provider of end-to-end software and cloud technology solutions, with headquarters in Switzerland. The company itself prioritizes people as their “greatest asset” and advocates for life-work harmony. Their company’s core values are Employee Satisfaction, Customer Focused, Speed, Passionate, Integrity, Humble and Discipline, to name a few, and they ensure that they have “a welcoming – and constantly evolving – work environment for all”, no matter the racial, ethnic, religious, sexual or other preferences.
Christopher works as Senior Consultant for SoftwareONE. He entered the field of IT in 1974. “Back then it was called data processing,” he jokes. “But I kind of fell into IT consulting.” He enrolled in college as an accounting major, but quickly realized that was not the path for him. “I drove into the parking lot of this college for the first day and I got very scared,” explains Chris. “I turned around and went home and I found a job.” And he was able to pursue jobs that allowed him room to change and grow with the market. He began as a systems programer and, progressively, he scaled to managerial data processing roles at multiple software companies, including IBM. He played a key role in leading and growing software asset management programs, directing support for configuration and asset management, and serving as a senior project manager for multiple teams in his previous companies.
His successful 40+ year-long career led to the start of a well-deserved retirement. “I turned 65 last October, and I thought, ‘okay, I think I’ve had enough,’ and I decided to retire in full.” But his retirement was short-lived. “A few months before I retired, [my company] had put out an RFP to the street, which SoftwareONE responded to, and I'll never forget,” says Chris. “I was hearing them respond to me and I thought, ‘Wow, these people know what they're talking about. They're really sharp and I really believed in the value that they could bring.’” So when he was offered a position as a Senior Consultant, he didn’t think twice about coming out of retirement. “In November, a recruiter from SoftwareONE called, and I started in January of 2022.”
Changing jobs after working for a company long-term can be risky, especially later in your career. But both Jeff and Chris agree that the benefits of working at a company like SoftwareONE are well worth the risk. And for the first time, they’ve felt like they can show up as their full, authentic selves at work.
Jeff recalls past workplaces that, when push came to shove, “had an undercurrent of non-acceptance.” This undercurrent brought many challenges, but he credits them for his confidence today. “I have no issues whatsoever showing up originally as myself. And at SoftwareONE, everybody's been really lovely.” Even remotely, he finds ways to connect with his coworkers, and he feels like he can do so authentically.
Chris reiterates this in his own trajectory at SoftwareONE. “When I started, my Regional VP asked me for a bio. In my bio, I talked about my husband and my two dogs and how long we've been together. That got sent out to everybody in the organization. So when I onboarded, everybody already knew,” he explains. “It was the first time in 65 years that, right from the get go, there was no pretense at all as to being something different than I am. And that's how I came out at SoftwareONE. It was good to do that. I feel truly authentic.”
Advice for Mid-Career Pivoters
Both Jeff and Chris have successfully pivoted roles and companies later in their careers. They offer four tips to consider before making the jump to a new role or joining a new company.
1. Find a place that values service to the client. “Have the mindset of service,” says Chris. “ I'm a service oriented person and part of being of service is to share my experience, strengths, and hope with other people. Whether that's on a, social, spiritual, mental level, or on a professional technical level, this helps bring growth to you, and to the company you’ll work for.” Jeff shares that, “with this mindset, we see the challenges that customers face, so we're able to better articulate to customers what our value proposition is. We can help clients achieve their goals, and everything comes a lot more easily and naturally.”
2. Believe in what you have to offer. Chris and Jeff share that aligning with the company’s mission is another key aspect to consider before changing companies. “I never thought that anybody would want to hire me at 65 years old,” Chris shares. “I had been in my former job where I saw many opportunities that I thought I was perfect for, in terms of advancement, but I wasn't given those opportunities because of my age. I started to feel dried up a little bit. When I got the offer at SoftwareONE, I felt I really wanted to come back, be of service, keep my brain sharp, and do something. I do believe I have something to offer to many clients, as well as colleagues. And that's what made me make the move.”
3. Think of the experiences you bring to the table. Jeff shares how he transferred his knowledge to his new role. “I was able to take everything that I had learned about building an organization and bring it over to a company that needed that expertise specific to the United States. Being able to have the opportunity to do some of that background work and build on alliances has been, and continues to be, a great opportunity.”
4. Find a workplace that prioritizes diversity. “Each one of us brings a certain set of characteristics with us that sit well with our clients,” explains Chris. “The diversity we bring to the company — whether it be age, gender, color, educational background, intellectual capacity — all of that color makes us more relatable to our clients and our customers.” This leads to the company’s overall success.
SoftwareONE is constantly looking for dynamic employees like Chris and Jeff. Check out their company page to find out more about their roles!