Beth Hill knows it’s strange that she likes yard work.
But she does.
“I love gardening, I love planting flowers, I love mowing the grass,” she says, laughing. The Senior Manager of Professional Services at IT solution company CDW even has a friendly competition with her neighbors about who has the greenest, thickest yard.
But Beth has always been a fan of hard work, and she recognizes the importance of putting in the effort to build something worthwhile, whether that’s a beautiful lawn for her wife and daughter to play on or a satisfying career in tech.
We sat down with Beth to hear about how she’s worked to find and nurture the right professional opportunities for her, and what advice she has for others who want to build a career they’re proud of.
Beth grew up in a small town, and her high school curriculum didn’t include exposure to computer science. She did like the hard sciences, so when she got to college, she pursued a biology degree.
“I graduated and thought, ‘What in the world am I going to do with this?’ Feel free to quote that,” Beth tells us, laughing again. She started looking for jobs, and a family member referred her to Best Buy, where she got an offer as a salesperson after successfully “selling” the hiring manager a stapler.
As it turns out, Beth was great at talking to people and helping them solve their problems. She was promoted from home theater salesperson to supervisor of computer sales, which required her to learn about a whole new type of technology.
“I enjoyed it so much that I then decided to go back and pursue a two-year degree in computer science,” she says.
Beth learned about CDW at a career fair. The company was hiring for their Associate Consulting Engineer program, which would allow her to use her people skills while also helping her apply and build on her technical understanding.
She was hired, and quickly became a full Consulting Engineer. Along the way, Beth continued to identify what she liked doing and what she was good at, which included mentoring and training others on her team. That set her up well to go for a technical lead position when it opened up.
“I knew I wasn’t the most technical, but I knew to position myself and say, ‘Here’s why I think I’m the best person for this role,’” says Beth.
That positioning paid off, thanks to Beth’s thoughtful approach. And now we’ve asked her to share that approach with you.
9 Tips for Finding and Earning Career Opportunities
As Beth has grown from that first promotion to technical lead to her current Senior Manager role, she’s followed a version of the same approach:
- Make sure your organization believes in supporting employee growth. Companies that show up at career fairs are companies that are willing to invest in brand-new, green college grads. That’s a good indicator that they’ll have space for you to keep growing, says Beth. “Companies that are willing to invest in you from the start, those are the types of companies you should say, ‘Yes, I want to work for them.’”
- Identify your strengths and interests. Beth knew she wanted to go down the technical lead route because she loved working with other engineers. Start by figuring out what you want to do more of, and then look for roles or careers that align.
- Be strategic: see all the possible ins. Beth knew she was never going to be the most technical, but she also knew she could distinguish herself via a long-term strength: her hard work. “I decided to step up to a new challenge. There was a whole new technology within our Microsoft solution space that no one else had been delivering on yet. So I went and learned it and became the best at that, and created all the documentation and collateral to be able to present it to customers and deliver on it,” recounts Beth. “That helped me position myself well for the next role, because we really needed people who could show others how to do that sort of engagement with our customers.”
- See your manager as a resource. As a manager herself now, Beth knows she can help her direct reports get their dream role a lot more easily if she knows what exactly that dream role is. “Ask your manager, ‘Where do you see my strengths that maybe I don’t see?’” she says.
- Ask to shadow people in the role you’re interested in. “The more you can ask questions about the role, the more you’ll know whether or not that role is the right role for you—and the better prepared you’ll be going into an interview,” says Beth. She provides some questions to start with:
- What do they enjoy about their job?
- What skill sets do they need to possess to be in that position?
- What are the challenges that they face every day?
- What does the future look like in their eyes for that type of role?
- Offer your expertise. If you’ve identified the role you want, see what you can do about getting hands-on experience in it right away. “Ask, ‘Hey manager, I’m noticing you’re really busy right now. What can I take off your plate to be able to assist you and give you some breathing room?’ By doing that, you’re stepping into the role, and you can later say it’s an example of something you’ve already done that’s required for the role,” says Beth.
- Sell yourself and sell your vision. Once you’ve created a solid case for yourself, figure out how you’re going to deliver it to your manager or to other senior leaders. “Ask yourself what you’ve done to move into this new role, and remember it’s got to be more than doing the same that everyone else has done,” she says. “Share your vision and mission for the role or the team. How are you going to make the team better? What differences are you going to bring to that role to make it better than what it was yesterday?”
- Leverage internal affinity groups. Beth joined CDW’s Women’s Opportunity Network early in her career there. “It’s a great way to build your network and get to know your coworkers,” she says. She ended up joining a committee, and being in that smaller group gave her even more opportunities to learn from her peers. “I heard stories about how these women have grown, what challenges they faced, how they overcame those hurdles. That opportunity to network with other women really helped shape who I wanted to be and who I was going to be,” says Beth.
- Pay it forward. Beth loves that she could email anyone at CDW—even VPs with chock-full calendars—and ask for mentorship, and that they’d respond and happily make the time. She encourages people to offer their help and assistance to others when they can, as well as to approach others with an initial sense of empathy. “Assume good intent, be empathetic, and be kind, and you’ll be in a good position,” she says.
Are you in the market for a company you can grow with? Check out CDW’s open roles!
Donovan Brady knew he’d found the company he wanted to work for during the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
He was doing his first internship at cloud services company Logicworks, and his coworkers brought him to the dedicated conference room for watching the games.
“It was playing on a projector all day, everyday. People were getting work done and going to check on the scores in their free time,” he says. “I felt like I didn’t have to be just a cog. Logicworks truly embodied the value of ‘remember to always have fun.’ I didn’t have to wake up everyday not wanting to go to work. That was really meaningful.”
Now, seven years later, Donovan is the Director of Solutions Architecture at Logicworks and sees plenty more growth opportunities in front of him, whether that’s evolving the company’s diversity and inclusion group (for which he serves as chairman) or enabling his team to be more strategic partners to their customers. Donovan has come a long way from being an intern, and we sat down with him to hear more about his career path at Logicworks and his advice for others looking to make the most of opportunities in front of them.
Helping Technology Drive Business
As a kid, Donovan and his best friend Alan were big into video games. (Donovan still enjoys playing them; his all-time favorite game is Dark Souls, he says, because it’s extremely hard to play until you understand how it tries to trick you—just like life.)
Alan taught Donovan to program, and the two launched a business building computers and fixing Xboxes for their classmates. It sparked something in Donovan: “I decided that this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to start a technology conglomerate that’s going to combat Apple,” he says.
That dream stayed with Donovan until college, where he decided to study computer science and economics to build the core two skills needed for his business, but he quickly realized that other companies had filled that market. (Amazon and Microsoft among them.)
So he decided to pivot and find a role where he could apply his technological skills. His part-time job at his college’s career resource center meant he had an up-close view of the latest internships and job postings, and when he saw a role in cloud computing at Logicworks, he decided to apply.
“It sounded like that might be the direction the world was going, with ‘that cloud thing,’” he says. “So I applied. I had a giant afro at the time and I showed up in a suit. Everyone made fun of me [for being overdressed]—they were in sweatpants. But I had to look good!”
He got the internship (and wore the suit again for his first day—then put it in the closet until he became a solutions architect, but more on that later). His area of responsibility was network engineering, which he didn’t love. When he flagged that to his manager, she invited him back the next summer to try their DevOps and software engineering internship, which he did.
Immediately, Donovan knew he’d found his subject area. “AWS had just come out with Lambda, which was serverless technology and just mindblowing, game-changing stuff,” he says. “I was tasked with deploying our first Lambda function, and I felt really proud of myself for being a pioneer in this space.”
It was Logicworks’ commitment to his growth—listening to his interests and inviting him back for another internship that more closely matched them—that convinced Donovan to join Logicworks full-time after graduation.
In his career there, he’s found that commitment to continue.
First, it was with his coworkers and mentors, Dakota and Phil, who introduced him to solutions architecture. The company had just introduced the solutions architect role, and Phil was the first one to fill it. The combination of business strategy and on-the-ground technology fascinated Donovan.
“It seemed really interesting. Just like architects for buildings, cloud solutions architects design the blueprint for what a customer’s cloud environment is going to look like—they're the producer and visionary, and the rest of the team carries out that vision,” says Donovan.
He couldn’t get the idea out of his head, so he talked to a few mentors in sales about transitioning into a sales and delivery role, and eventually to the company’s CRO and CEO about the solutions architect skillset.
“That’s why I love Logicworks’ culture,” says Donovan. “Who was this 23 year old kid talking to the CEO about his career plans? But they all made time for me and gave me advice.”
Stepping into Leadership
Donovan ended up joining as the company’s third sales solution architect. The team’s processes were undefined and messy, so Donovan raised his hand to build clear deliverables and processes. That set him up to step into a team lead role about a year and half into his new role, which gave Donovan exposure to cross-functional strategy and prioritization.
Two years into that role, Donovan was asked to take on a director role.
“It’s still a learning curve, but if you’re not learning, you’re in the wrong place,” he says. “We worked it out so that it’s a player-coach role, so I can still work with customers doing the work I love, but also be intimately involved with my team and their opportunities.”
The best parts of each week, says Donovan, are his 1:1s with his team. “I love helping people and solving problems,” he says. “I have a great team, and creating opportunities for them and allowing them to succeed is really a highlight.”
Now that he’s also the chairman of Logicwork’s diversity and inclusion group, Donovan is extra motivated to keep making the company’s culture one that works for everyone. Current initiatives include running solidarity sessions that take place every other week for underrepresented employees to talk about things that are bothering them or to raise awareness of issues they face, and creating cultural learning opportunities to share cuisines, history, and art from different groups.
“Things happen in the world all the time,” says Donovan, referencing the deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery last year. “That doesn’t mean that the world has to stop, but we should also acknowledge the current political and social climates and how they affect our coworkers with respect to their jobs. I wanted to create space for Logicworks employees to come together and discuss what they’re experiencing to raise awareness for those of us who are unaware of these struggles. I am a firm believer that the only way to grow is to grow together, and I wanted to facilitate that growth at Logicworks.”
5 Questions to Find a Company Where You Can Grow
Donovan’s internship at Logicworks grew into a return offer for another internship, then a full-time job offer, and then several promotions, all the way up to his current role of Director. As he navigated that path, he came up with a few guiding questions for other entry-level or new hires who are evaluating whether or not they see a long-term future at their first company:
- Do you like the culture? “Search for culture first. How do you fit in with the people, with the company, and with what they’re trying to accomplish?” he asks.
- Are they flexible when it comes to transfers and promotions? “Some companies say you have to stay in a role for four years before you can move,” says Donovan. “It’s very rigid and structured. At Logicworks, I said I wanted to do something else, and they said, ‘Great, let’s see how that looks.’ They’ve rewarded me for being hungry.”
- Are they on your side? Donovan was nervous to ask for a raise when he transitioned from software engineering into solutions architecture. “My heart was racing, and I didn’t know what to do,” he says. “I asked for a number that I thought was in line with the market, and my voice was trembling the whole time.” But Donovan’s manager took it seriously and told him they’d work it out.
- Are there people you’d want to learn from? Donovan has half a dozen mentors at Logicworks alone who have helped him determine his career path, and he encourages people to look for their own. “You need somebody you can turn to for advice when otherwise you’d just be alone in it. Find people in your corner that you can talk to and bounce ideas off of, because they’re going to help you go further faster.”
- Can you envision yourself succeeding at the company? “Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions in interviewing,” says Donovan. “You can ask, ‘What's it like to be a Black person at this company?’”
Christina S., Deputy Director of the Computer Science Skill Community at the National Security Agency, is a computer scientist by trade and an educator at heart.
Whether she’s volunteering, providing mentorship, or spending time with her husband and two daughters, Christina finds ways to infuse learning in every encounter.
We sat down with Christina to hear how she uses her love of education to help others grow in their careers through professional development opportunities and mentorship.
Coming from a long line of educators, it was only natural for Christina to start her career as a high school teacher. After graduating from NC State University, she began teaching math and computer science at a public high school. “I have had the pleasure of teaching a variety of learners,” Christina explains. “I taught students that were previously incarcerated, special needs students, and learning disabled.”
Her time teaching at the high school level gave her a strong foundation for her current role as Deputy Director of the Computer Science Skill Community at NSA. “My teaching experiences helped me understand that acknowledging and emphasizing each student’s unique ideas, thoughts, and talents is critical,” she elaborates. “Every student's unique point of view and perspective matters.”
Helping Others Through Education
Christina joined NSA through a development education program and, nearly 20 years later, she’s the one providing professional development opportunities to other computer scientists that join the agency. In her role in the Computer Science Skill Community, she offers coaching, mentorship, and support to computer scientists who want to improve their knowledge and skills to prepare for their next position.
When a computer scientist joins the community, Christina typically starts their development process by asking them to answer a series of reflection questions. “I ask them to describe their dream job. Then I ask them what they are most passionate about. Lastly, I ask what is stopping them from pursuing their dream job.” She then creates a personalized action plan for the student so they can overcome the roadblocks that prevent them from reaching their professional goals. “We go down a path of identifying obstacles and come up with ways to get around each one until we arrive at a solution,” she explains. She encourages the participants in the community to take advantage of NSA’s tuition assistance and training programs. “NSA has excellent tuition assistance programs that even offer time off to attend class and study, and their National Cryptologic School offers hundreds of courses in various skill fields.”
In fact, NSA offers a number of development programs to help employees “enhance their skills, improve their understanding of a specific discipline, and even cross-train into a new career field.”
Giving Back to the Community
Apart from technical education and development through the Skills Community at the agency, Christina is passionate about furthering diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the STEM community. “Some of the ways I do that is by visiting Historically Black Colleges and Universities and conferences such as the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) to recruit, give tech talks, and conduct resume reviews and interviews,” she explains.
NSA offers numerous unique opportunities for employees to work toward furthering DEI efforts. “I volunteer through NSA’s K-12 Mathematics Education Partnership Program (MEPP) and Partners in Education (PIE) programs to give STEM talks, judge science fairs, and tutor at schools in underserved communities.”
She’s also served on NSA’s Graduate Fellowship for STEM Diversity (GFSD) Computer Science committee; she recently became the committee chair where she “emphasized recruitment of a diverse applicant pool.” She is also an active member of the African American and Women’s Employee Resource Groups at NSA where she is able to give back to the community in other ways. “I participate in events and activities for professional development, community involvement, and improving overall work life,” says Christina.
Finding Work-Life Balance at NSA
When Christina first started at the agency 20 years ago, she never imagined she’d have the chance to get involved with all of these extracurricular programs. Switching careers and moving to a new location, she didn’t know if she’d be able to balance her new job and take part in the community and professional development activities she always loved. “I was nervous I wouldn't be able to volunteer in my daughters’ classroom, chaperone field trips, or pursue graduate studies,” explains Christina. “However NSA is one of the best places to work if you need work-life balance and I've been able to do all of those things and more.”
Her best advice for newcomers to the agency is to “not be afraid to bring your true authentic self to the office and offer your unique perspective and ideas to solving problems. Whether you have been working at the agency for 30 days or 30 years, you are an asset to your office and you have great ideas, solutions, and insight.”
Christianne—or Tianne, to her colleagues—Yu has been her family's tech support for as long as she can remember.
Over the years, she has helped her family set up their cell phones, use their computers, and solve their wifi issues, along with fixing other technical snafus.
In so doing, she found her way into an overarching passion and mission that's guided her career ever since.
"My purpose in life is to help people, especially the elderly, make their lives easier with technology," explains Christianne, who is a Quality Assurance Engineer at Helm, a data and technology platform for community organizers. "It's fulfilling for me to be part of this company that creates an impact for their community, that creates more civic engagement."
We sat down with Christianne to hear more about her career journey, including how she landed her first job in tech after moving to the U.S. from the Philippines, how she's made the most of the opportunities at Helm, and what advice she has for other engineers looking to grow their careers.
When she was still living in the Philippines, Christianne realized that she wanted to live in a big city. She talked to her family and moved into an apartment with her aunt who worked near a big university campus, where Christianne ended up enrolling.
The university had strong programs in IT, computer science, and education, and Christianne followed a process-of-elimination path to decide on IT: "I do not know how to deal with people, and I don't like math as much, so I chose IT!" she says, smiling.
She'd found her way to the city she wanted to live in, and to the field she wanted to study, but when it came time to apply for jobs, she hit a roadblock. She was applying for software engineering roles, but the only company that gave her an offer wanted her to work in a quality assurance (QA) function.
So Christianne took the opportunity and learned how to QA. She figured she could build a meaningful career there—but then when she was 21, her family moved to the U.S.
"I had no contacts, no connections to tech [in the United States]," says Christianne of what it felt like to start fresh in east Texas—Nacogdoches, to be exact. She knew she wanted a big city again, and on a trip to visit an aunt in New York, she knew she had to move there.
Her first job in New York was at a Japanese curry restaurant, where Christianne quickly took on extra responsibilities doing administrative work and running the register.
She was behind the register on a slow Saturday when a customer came in. Noticing that he was wearing a t-shirt branded by a big database company—one Christianne was familiar with from her QA job in the Philippines—she asked him about his work. Their conversation turned into him offering to help Christianne with her resume and introduce her to someone on the Hillary Clinton campaign who was looking to fill a QA engineer role.
She fixed her resume, applied, and was hired by Tuesday Company a few weeks later.
Finding Room to Grow: 3 Tips
It took Christianne some time to get used to a new work culture—like meetings that ended on time, and managers who didn't glorify staying extra hours—but she settled in well to her first QA role in the States. She was in charge of release management, including troubleshooting issues for the sales and customer service teams.
When that company was acquired by Helm, Christianne had to go from being the only QA engineer on a team of 20 to being one of several engineers in her function serving a team of 70.
"I wasn't exactly overwhelmed, but 70 was big for me," says Christianne. "It was great to be a part of lots of different groups and hear lots of views from people in different states. Being new to this country four years ago, I got to meet a lot of interesting people [from all over thanks to] remote work."
Working for a company with an increased scope has meant that Christianne's opportunities for impact and growth have increased, too. Here's what she's learned along the way that has helped her make the most of the options available to her:
- "Your goals and purpose go hand in hand: put your energy towards something you feel good about." Knowing that she cared about finding ways to help people make their lives easier with technology made it easy for Chrstianne to get excited about the Helm acquisition. She couldn't have stayed on to work for a company whose mission wasn't aligned with her own.
- "Challenge yourself. Don't let yourself get bored." When Christianne's former manager used to check in with her, she'd tell him that things were good, that they were consistent. "He'd say, 'Consistent means there's no progress, it's a flat line,'" she remembers. Then Helm asked Christianne to take on a new responsibility, doing database testing instead of web application and mobile application testing, she was nervous. "I thought I was going to have to do a side step in my career. It wasn't the automation testing that I was trying to go up in my career later," says Christianne. But she talked to her manager about what she could get out of the challenge and came around to being excited by it: "It was a way to expand my career and grow. It could help build my career in the future," says Christianne.
- "Be open to anyone you trust. Connect with people." Christianne recognizes that the whole reason she managed to kick off a QA engineering career in New York City was because she struck up a conversation with a kind-hearted and generous customer one random weekend. And now she's working at a company she believes in and enjoys, one that she feels values her, listens to her, and cares about her wellbeing. Christianne now tries to pay forward the connections that have helped her find a role she loves by helping other young engineers with their resumes so they have the best chance of finding good jobs in their fields.
And Christianne is excited to keep seeing how far she can grow her QA career. "It's an art," explains Christianne, who is currently working on database testing and universal ingestion pipeline testing. "I thought software engineering was this big, whole thing, and QA is small, but QA is so much bigger [than I realized]."
Pursuing a career in the States does mean that her grandparents back in the Philippines are without their favorite in-person tech support, but Christianne makes do with video calls. "I get kind of frustrated that I can't help them as much as if I was there, but working in civic tech is great for me," she says. "It's sustainable. We're not burning money for the benefit of ourselves, we're actually helping people."