Navigating Being an “Only” at Work: How NGA’s Ichesia Veal Learned to Be Her Own Best Advocate
First, she didn't know what NGA was. If you don't either, here's a primer: the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency provides world-class geospatial intelligence to policymakers, warfighters, intelligence professionals and first responders. Its work is used in disaster response, wars, and cellphone navigation, among other things.
Second, Ichesia didn't plan on studying anything STEM related when she began her undergraduate degree. She thought she'd pick a liberal arts major until the university reached out and told her they'd give her a scholarship if she studied physics. Although Ichesia liked science and math classes in high school, did very well in them, and was even encouraged by teachers to pursue that kind of major, she didn't think it was for her.
"I didn't know anyone that had focused on STEM. I definitely didn't know any women who had pursued that path. And so it wasn't something that I ever seriously considered," says Ichesia. "It just never dawned on me, and part of that is representation. It's what you see around you, what fields you know about, what jobs you know about," she says.
Being at the historically black college and university NSU helped change the representation she was exposed to. Half of the students in her physics classes were women.
"It was a confidence boost, being in an environment where you're able to see people that look like you. I was able to focus more on physics," Ichesia says.
Surrounded by smart, determined Black men and women, Ichesia leaned into learning and signed up to do a master's in material science at NSU after finishing her undergraduate degree.
Now, decades into a career, including 10 years at NGA, that has often seen her as the only woman, the only Black person, and almost always the only Black woman in the room, Ichesia has become an example of representation in the male-dominated field of technical intelligence and imagery science.
After just a few months in her biggest leadership challenge yet — running NGA's division in charge of learning about commercial geospatial technologies and innovations with a team of 23 reporting to her — we sat down with her to reflect on her professional path and how she's grown to be her own best advocate.
Measuring opportunities in terms of impact
When Ichesia started at NGA as an imagery scientist, she leaned on her physics and materials science background. "Understanding how materials in the environment interact with different things really translates into imagery science," she says. She did that for years and enjoyed it, but came to realize that she wanted to be able to make a bigger impact.
"I'd get a question from a policymaker that I couldn't answer, not because there wasn't an answer, but because we just didn't have access to the technology for whatever reason. It started to become a little frustrating, and I started thinking about the impact I could have if I was willing to step away from doing the science to advocating for the technology and the capabilities," remembers Ichesia.
She didn't set off to become a supervisor or a manager. Instead of thinking about a specific position she wanted, she focused on the value she could bring to the agency and to her team. By prioritizing value and impact, she found herself taking on jobs that didn't even exist beforehand, and she encourages other women to do the same.
"I've been the first person in a position because it was brand new. If I waited for a path, or the idea that you have to know exactly where you're going every minute, then I wouldn't have taken those positions and I probably wouldn't be where I am right now," she says.
Ichesia's strategy for planning her professional decisions involves evaluating opportunities by assessing the likelihood of three things: being successful, making an impact, and both growing and learning new things.
She suggests that women looking for their next opportunity ask themselves the following questions:
- What am I good at?
- What am I not quite as good at, but need and want to get better at?
- Where can I add some value?
Above all, Ichesia encourages women to start asking those questions early. She recommends, "not waiting until a job has gotten stale or hoping that someone notices that you might be right for the next position, but instead actually going and trying to get that position."
One way to do this at NGA, Ichesia explains, is to take advantage of the learning opportunities that are available, such as classes and conferences.
"At NGA, you're actually evaluated on your ability to develop your career and think about how to become better at what you do. I always tell my employees that it's not just about the job you're currently in. It's also about the things you want to do for the agency moving forward."
How she deals with being an "only"
"With almost every position I've ever had in any job I've had, I was either the only woman, the only Black person, or the only Black woman," says Ichesia. "I can probably more easily count the amount of times I was not in that situation than [the times] I was in that situation."
Being an "only" was hard, particularly in terms of networking within her field, she says.
"I didn't know how to navigate those kinds of activities. I felt like I was kind of standing on the outside watching it happen," says Ichesia of her first few years on the job.
She identified networking as one of the things she wanted to get better at; enlisted some help, including her husband and a male mentor, who coached her; and found a way to make it work for her.
"I learned how to get myself into that conversation and not allow myself to be an observer of it," she says.
Now, as a division leader and a conduit for connecting the organization's leadership and her workforce, Ichesia is paying it forward and actively seeking to include others.
"I'm not generally a person that likes to put themselves on the forefront, but I really do enjoy being an advocate, especially for women's issues and minority issues," she says.
Advocating for herself — with help
One of the most important things Ichesia has learned in managing her career is how to be her own best advocate.
"I am now willing to talk about my accomplishments. There's no effort to play them down. And if someone gives me a compliment about the work I've done, I own up to it," she says. "The idea that you sit back and hope that your work speaks for itself does not really work that well in large organizations, and for women and minorities in particular."
That has meant that Ichesia has learned to move beyond her introversion and be confident about her work.
"Speaking up and saying, 'Yes, I worked hard on that, and that's the kind of effort I bring to most of the things I do' is one way to advocate for your own career," she says.
She didn't learn how to do this alone. A year or so ago, when Ichesia was up for the big promotion into her current role, she found herself stuck in a competitive and challenging process and wondering if she deserved the promotion. A friend of Ichesia talked it through with her and walked her through all she'd done to deserve it. A grateful Ichesia named that friend her "confidence champion."
"The further you progress, the more competitive things may become, and when you're having those moments of self-doubt of whether or not you really can do something or whether you really deserve that promotion or award, [a confidence champion] can help you take that step back and say 'of course you do,'" says Ichesia, who's now appointed herself as a confidence champion for her friend, too.
Having that peer support is key, but so are mentors, says Ichesia, who didn't have any early on in her career, but counts several as her key advisors now.
"I learned that you can have mentors for different needs and purposes," she says, highlighting that she has one mentor that provides technical guidance and another she goes to for politically-savvy advice.
As Ichesia continues to grow her career, she's looking forward to continuing to be a mentor and confidence champion for others, including the "passionate civil servants" she works with.
"The people who work at NGA care about this country. They care about our mission, and they want to do a good job," she says. "We're all in it to do the best we can, together, for our country."
If you're interested in learning more about NGA, you can sign up to follow their job postings here or reach out to Ichesia in the comments below!
Approved for public release, 20-588
💎 “What are you passionate about?” In an interview, you may have to answer this and other personal questions. Watch the video to the end to succeed in your job interview at Ribbon.
📼If asked “what are you passionate about?” in an interview you need to show how your passion can make you a good candidate for a job position. Ryan Key, Talent Partner at Ribbon, shares some tips and tricks for you to stand out!
📼Answering what are you passionate about in an interview is not the only thing you need to know how to do to succeed. You should try to make sure that you express your experience in a way that shows your interest in Ribbon’s mission. Also, prove that you did your research and demonstrate to the recruiter that you understand exactly how your role affects Ribbon’s purposes. Don’t forget to share some ideas on how you intend to fulfill the company’s mission!
📼 You are asked what are you passionate about in an interview, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t ask as well. You should feel empowered to ask any question you want during your interview process. It may be helpful to save certain questions for certain people. If you're in an interview with your potential manager, you should take that time to ask about their assessment metrics for the role and their management style. If you're speaking with a potential peer, this would be a great time to ask about their experience during training and to learn a little more about the team and culture.
What Are You Passionate About? Show In Your Interview That You Are Aligned With Ribbon's Values
The mission at Ribbon is to make homeownership achievable for everyone, especially communities traditionally left out of the homeownership story. One way Ribbon addresses diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace is through its support of employee resource groups. Remember to show that your passion is aligned with these core values!
🧑💼 Are you interested in joining Ribbon? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Ryan Key
If you are interested in a career at Ribbon, you can connect with Ryan Key on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Ribbon
Ribbon is a first-of-its-kind real estate technology company transforming the real estate transaction by delivering certainty, transparency, and joy to the home buying process. Consumers and realtors deserve a better experience, and they have designed an open platform that welcomes everyone in the ecosystem to participate.
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.
💎 Partnerships in remote environments is one of the most important aspects to construct in a company. Watch the video to the end to get good tips on how to do it successfully.
📼Wondering how to create partnerships in remote environments? Play this video to get three top tips that will help you to achieve it. You'll hear from Olga Shvets, HR Business Partner, and Viktoriia Litvinchuk, People Team Operations at Unstoppable Domains, who will explain the essentials of this process.
📼How to build partnerships in remote environments? Tip #1: Communicate Effectively. Communication is the key to enabling your remote team to be successful. Choose the channel that works best. For this, chat with your employees and see what they use to communicate, that's how you find the best solution. Also, make sure your team is on board with your internal tools and they know what, how, and where they need to use them.
📼A requisite for building partnerships in remote environments is Tip #2: Show appreciation. Appreciation is shown through your actions. Let your employees know that you value everything they do for the company. Create a special gratitude channel where everyone can share their appreciation for their colleagues for some contribution. Celebrate some wins, promotions, and everything that is important for the company. If you appreciate the employees, employees do the same for the company.
Create Partnerships In Remote Environments Using Trust - Tip #3: Give Honest Feedback
Use engagement surveys! They are a quick and effective way to receive honest feedback from your team and you can see what's working well and what needs to be improved. Your main priority is to create spaces where managers and employees can share honest, relevant feedback.
📨 Are you interested in joining Unstoppable Domains? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Olga Shvets
If you are interested in a career at Unstoppable Domains, you can connect with Olga on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Unstoppable Domains
Unstoppable Domains is bringing user-controlled identity to 3 billion+ internet users by issuing domain names on the blockchain. These domains allow users to replace cryptocurrency addresses with human-readable names, host decentralized websites, and much more.
By selling these domains direct to consumers for a one-time fee, the company is making a product that will change cryptocurrency and shape the future of the decentralized web by providing users control over their identity and data.
💎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.