When Darshana Gaokar has free time, you can find her on the court with a racket in hand. “I used to play badminton in India a lot,” Darshana explains. “After coming [to the United States], I continued playing and I even won a couple of tournaments.” A recent move to a new city sparked her interest in a new sport — squash. “It's a bit different than badminton, even though there's a racket and a ball, but I’m learning and I think I'm getting good at it now.”
Darshana’s drive and knack for learning has helped her off the court as well. This led her to move to a new country, pursue a degree in security and networking, and land her role as a Cybersecurity Solutions Engineer at Myriad360. We sat down with Darshana to learn more about her professional journey and her advice for women who are building their careers in tech.
From Networking to Cybersecurity
Darshana had a clear idea of her future career from early on. “I knew from when I was a kid that I wanted to become an engineer because of my dad — he’s an engineer.” she shares. “I never thought of exploring any other industry.”
She completed her undergraduate degree in her home country of India and decided to pursue a master’s degree instead of jumping straight into the workforce. “I had an internship with my university that was in basic networking and it really sparked my interest,” Darshana explains.“So I decided to get a master's degree in security and networking before I started working.” She ultimately decided to pursue that degree in the United States at George Mason University.
After graduation, Darshana secured a job at the university’s technology department as a network engineer. “That was my first full exposure [to networking],” she shares. “I learned how the industry works and the basics of network engineering.”
While that job provided Darshana with a strong foundation, she began seeking out a role that would give her more exposure to other aspects of the industry and sponsor a long-term stay in the States to gain more knowledge and experience. She was quickly hired as an associate engineer at an IT solutions company in New York. “My job was basically to learn different technologies and get certifications in different areas and different industries,” she shares. “That job actually turned out to be a really good point for me, because I didn't really know which part of networking I wanted to focus on, and I got exposure to all the areas so I could decide better which one I like the best.”
With ample opportunities to learn, Darshana started clarifying her career direction. “That's when I knew that I wanted to be a cybersecurity engineer,” she enthusiastically shares. She was able to grow in her role as a security implementation engineer, and after 3 years at that company, Darshana was ready to take her next career step.
“I knew I didn’t want to focus on one concentration, working on the same technology,” she explains. “I wanted to explore more. I wanted to learn and work on multiple technologies, because I knew I’d get bored easily.” So she reached out to a former colleague who worked at Myriad360 to learn more about the company and his experience working there. “I liked the stories that I heard from him and I thought that it would make sense for me to apply,” she reminisces. “So I did, and luckily I got it!”
Career Expansion with Myriad360
Darshana joined Myriad360 in July of 2020, and she’s been thriving in a role that provides her with constant learning and opportunities to work with new technologies. “I wanted to develop further on cloud security and endpoint security,” she explains. “After a few months [at Myriad360], I started getting put on those projects — both internal and customer-facing ones.”
Because of Myriad360’s vast vendor partnerships, their engineers are required to obtain certain certifications to maintain their connection with clients. “I get to choose which certification I do, and I’m supported,” she explains. Even when that technology isn’t yet needed. “I’m pursuing a certification that isn’t necessarily required. Even though we don't need this partnership level immediately, I get to invest my time in learning this technology and they are happy that I'm doing it because it'll help me in my career.”
Deciding on the next certification to pursue is a strategic decision. “First, I see what kind of technologies customers have and where they're struggling or need help,” says Darshana. “And I find a certification that will help me, help them.” She also talks to her manager for advice on where they see the industry going. “We talk on a weekly basis about what I should invest my time in.”
For example, Darshana has found two areas that she’s interested in — cloud security and automation. “Even though I like both areas, I decided to work on the cloud security part of it first, but I know that in the long term I want to be in automation, because that’s where the industry will go next.”
Continual Learning for Career Development
This quest for learning and growth has been an integral part of Darshana’s life and is what has led her to earning over a dozen different certifications to date. She encourages other women to push themselves further in their career by never ceasing to advance their skills. Here’s her advice on how to do that.
1. Be proactive and prepare for the future. Although it’s important to have expertise in your field of technology, Darshana advises women looking to advance their career to expand their knowledge and to not stick to one specialized area. “The industry is vast and keeps updating and changing,” she elaborates. “Knowing one thing may not be able to serve you after a few years.”
Being proactive by learning technologies will help your career and your clients in the future. “You have to skill up to learn those technologies,” Darshana encourages. “If you just stick to one technology, you won't be able to serve your customers or better your career."
2. Don’t forget to focus on the task at hand. With technology moving at such a fast rate, upskilling can be overwhelming. Darshana encourages others to not spread themselves too thin, but to remember to focus on completing one task at a time. “I think there should be a balance,” she says. “You don't want to just look at the future, you also have to stay in the present. Striking that balance is hard for me sometimes — I'm also still learning it.” But she assures that finding a balance between focusing on the present and preparing for the future is key to success.
3. Find a mentor. “It's really important to have a good mentor.” Darshana states. She defines a good mentor as someone who knows where the industry is going and can provide training resources for you.
She has seen people succeed without a mentor, “You have people that are self drivers, they sign up for courses and do that,” Darshana admits. However, a mentor can provide you with stability. “Nothing can replace the confidence a mentor can instill in you.“
If you’re looking for your next career move check out the open positions at Myriad360.
Emma Jelley has her college prerequisite classes to thank for the career she now enjoys.
While she’s currently a Software Engineering Manager at Workiva, Emma went to college thinking she would study art or literature. But she took a Programming 101 class to satisfy a STEM requirement, and that’s when she found her passion.
“I was surprised by how much I liked it,” she remembers. “I quickly fell in love, but a bit begrudgingly, because I had prepped most of high school for something very different.”
Emma became living proof that prereqs serve a solid purpose, relishing in the challenge presented by programming. “It was challenging in a way I hadn’t experienced until then, and I really do wish I had come to it sooner. I fell prey to the gender stereotypes that plague STEM and I never seriously considered exploring it before,” she says.
Now, after years of experience as both an individual contributor and a manager on software development teams, Emma shares her knowledge and encourages others to explore STEM by serving as a mentor and counselor for tech camps and Girls Who Code programs.
She was gracious enough to share some of her top hard-earned tips for being a successful engineer with the PowerToFly community — read on for that insight!
Growing as an Engineer and a Manager
Emma’s first job in her field included placement in a technical leadership development program.
“I’ve always been a people-centric person, and I enjoy elements of project management,” she says. “It seemed like it could be a really good fit with my computer science degree.”
But the role didn’t have enough coding for her, so Emma ended up switching to a full-time developer role at another company. It took four years of day in, day out absorption in software development until she was ready to try management again.
“What pulled me back in that direction was seeing the impact some of my favorite engineering managers were able to have on me and my teammates,” she says. “They could see potential before I could see it, and were great advocates for me.”
She set out to become that kind of manager for others… and that’s when she found a posting for an open manager role at Workiva.
“I really liked the way they talked about their culture, and the way that people who worked there were talking about the company. It seemed like there were really cool engineering problems to solve, coupled with a supportive culture,” explains Emma about what inspired her to apply to work at Workiva..
Her Management Values
As an engineering manager, Emma is helping to shape and grow others’ careers just as she had hoped. There are a few pieces of advice that she regularly shares with her team, in line with the approach to management that she’s developed:
- Raising concerns early and often is good. “The earlier something is discussed, the earlier it can be addressed,” she says. “Part of fostering a healthy team is normalizing discussing issues openly. We can't improve things if we don't talk about them.”
- Imposter syndrome is normal, and it can be dealt with. “Recognizing it is such an important first step: there are so many resources, so if you recognize you're dealing with it, you can quickly build a toolkit,” says Emma. She also shared that she struggled with it until she realized how normal it was.
- Your manager doesn’t have a monopoly on career guidance. “Finding a mentor outside of one's immediate team sphere is important,” says Emma. “No matter how supportive your manager is, or your teammates are, sometimes there's just some stuff you'd rather workshop with a more removed, objective third party.”
- There’s a place for institutional knowledge and there’s a place for new ideas and growth. Working at a fast-growing startup can often feel like an overwhelming mix of the tried and true and the new and next, but looking at what’s come before is always a good starting point, says Emma. “It’s important to do your due diligence and explore what resources exist before jumping into new planning.”
4 Qualities That Make for a Great Engineer
Wondering if you have what it takes to succeed as an engineer, whether at Workiva or other tech companies? Emma has a clear set of qualities she’s seen lead to success and fulfillment in her field:
- Flexibility and empathy when it comes to technical disagreement. “When you undoubtedly find yourself at odds with another's technical views, it's really important to genuinely be open to those opposing views during discussion,” she says. “If you entrench yourself really deeply in your own perspective from the start, you're way more likely to miss valuable things others are saying, and even gaps they're highlighting in your plan that you may not have realized.”
- Seeing value in trying new things. “It can be really daunting to step outside of your comfort zone, whether that's in working on a different part of the stack or joining an entirely new team or stretching into a new role of foreign responsibilities. But all of that serves to make one the best contributor they can be,” says Emma. “It allows them to discover their personal strengths, their preferences, their limits, and what they don’t want to do. You have to try things to figure that out.”
- An appreciation for the greater good of the team. “When people are aware of each other’s goals, and are looking out for each other and for opportunities to further those goals, it’s like an all boats rise situation on a team,” she says.
- Openness about non-work responsibilities. “I love when engineers openly discuss and normalize the care responsibilities they have outside of work, whether that be childcare or elder care or any other sort of labor,” she says. As a new mom herself, she’s even more aware now of how important this is: “It's a huge part of people's lives and frequently it just can't be neatly contained outside of working hours. I've been lucky to work at companies where those responsibilities are recognized and supported, not just in word, but day-to-day, with flexibility and formal policies, like solid parental leave policies. The more people acknowledge this type of labor within workplace discussion, the more it will permeate public discourse, and the more it will drive workplace policy widely.”
Good engineering cultures support and encourage those qualities, notes Emma. “Workiva’s values, specifically collaboration, inclusion, and trust, encourage that growth. I’ve seen a lot of rigorous technical discussion and debate and active listening. People have opportunities to move between teams, and are good at sharing experiences and growing together.”
Auna Walton designed her first website in high school.
She later built on that skill set while studying computer science in college.
But it wasn’t until her first Silicon Valley internship where she learned what it really meant to be a software engineer, which is her current job title at data platform company Splunk, Inc. It was less of neat assignments and more of pushing out features, and Auna rose to the occasion.
“In the classroom, all the parameters are set up nicely for you. In the real world, things aren’t set up perfectly. You may not have this, or that, and projects are undefined. You have to figure out both the problem and the solution,” she says.
But Auna is comfortable tackling problems and speaking up about how she solves them, which has been a boon to her work. We sat down with Auna to hear more about how she’s built a satisfying career, and why she’s excited to keep growing at Splunk.
Tip 1: Ask for what you need
Auna was sitting through a presentation in college about an alum’s startup when she realized that she had a lot to learn from him.
She went up to the founder, Michael, after the presentation, showed him the website she’d built for a local nonprofit during her senior year of high school and asked if she could work with him on his company’s site.
Michael said yes, and Auna credits that early professional experience with setting her up for success with future internships.
“It’s hard to go to someone and say, ‘Give me this,’ if you don’t have anything to offer,” says Auna. “So put in the time first. I know it’s not easy—you have schoolwork and you’re a human being and you need to rest—but spend time working on side projects, because it shows people what you can do.”
Having that experience on her resume prepared Auna well to do her school’s semester in Silicon Valley program, structured like a co-op model, where she worked at a startup and took classes in the area.
“It was stressful in that it was a lot of work with only six engineers. They actually used their interns. The training wheels were off, and Michael was no longer there for mentorship. But it helped me move at a faster pace and figure things out on my own,” says Auna.
Tip 2: Work to understand, even if it’s uncomfortable
Auna’s first exposure to Splunk was at the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), a global women in tech conference, where her school sponsored her to attend. Splunk had reached out to meet with Auna before the conference began, and upon arrival, Auna says she was immediately impressed with the company's witty t-shirt taglines and warm energy.
She got an offer to become an intern, and was placed on the company’s engineering productivity team. She helped build a tool that measured productivity, identified roadblocks and bottlenecks, and showed which stage each feature was at so that teams could make improvements based on real data insights.
When she was first assigned the project, though, Auna didn’t quite see the value in it—and she decided to tell her manager that.
“I remember thinking, ‘Okay, there’s a lot of ways this can go wrong, because I’m an intern, I’m a Black woman, and I don’t want to come off aggressive; I don’t want to step on any toes,’” says Auna. “But the culture at Splunk is truly collaborative. I knew my manager was an open-minded person and a really nice guy. I felt like I could go and give him my perspective.”
The conversation with her manager went well; he appreciated her questions and shared some of his own doubts about the project. “It was interesting to hear that managers don’t always know everything, either, and that they’re looking for their team members to contribute ideas,” says Auna.
She shifted her mindset into how she could improve the project, and ended up working with other engineers to make a tool that was more useful to them.
Tip 3: Do your best on all your work, even what seems small
After finishing her internship, Auna accepted a full-time offer at Splunk and moved to the Bay Area to start work. While she’s been mostly remote because of the pandemic, she’s happy to have made the move and to have stuck with Splunk. (Though she is now on an external-facing team—a move that her management fully supported.)
Auna says she feels taken care of by Splunk, citing benefits like extra time off called “pandemic days” that employees can take to deal with health concerns or family responsibilities and a “power hour” each day in which employees are encouraged to spend 60 minutes of each workday focused on their mental or physical wellbeing.
“Sometimes I tell my parents about these benefits and they’re like, ‘Are you guys working over there?’” says Auna, laughing. “It truly feels like we’re all a team. If we have the mentality that we can take breaks, we can keep working towards our goals. And it’s about all of us. If I’m successful on my project, we’re all successful as a company.”
With her renewed energy, Auna is able to dedicate herself fully to her work, and encourages budding engineers to find ways to do the same. As an example, she cites a collaborative side project she built with two engineering productivity interns during a Splunk hackathon—and put her all into—that has grown into something that the company uses every day.
“Try to do things that you may not think will bring value, but very well might,” she says. “Even if it looks small, it could really blossom into something huge.”
Lupita Carabes was interested in understanding why the company she was working for was having a bad quarter.
As a software engineer, her plate had been full for months. She and her coworkers had performed well against their expectations and kept code moving through. So what had happened?
“It piqued my interest. How are we allocating resources? How are decisions being made? How are we producing revenue?” says Lupita, reflecting on what would become a major career shift. “That put me on a path to a customer facing role; what’s known as a sales engineer.”
She asked her then-manager if she could explore the sales side of the business, but Lupita was told she needed more experience first. A few weeks later, she got a note from a Veracode recruiter—and met a hiring manager who was more than open to helping Lupita transition into tech sales.
We sat down with Lupita, who is now a senior account executive at Veracode, to hear more about her career journey, how she made the transition from engineering to sales, and what advice she has for those who are considering following in her footsteps.
Learning How Businesses Really Work
Growing up, Lupita got her first taste of entrepreneurship when she worked with her family on their business and was inspired to one day launch her own.
“I felt inclined to go the entrepreneurial route because I enjoyed the ability to control my own outcome and make my own way,” she says. “I quickly realized I didn't really have the resources to scale.”
That realization led Lupita to pursue a career that was in high demand—she had won a full-ride scholarship that would apply to a STEM degree. She majored in electrical engineering, minored in computer science, and completed the university entrepreneurship scholars’ program.
During her time as a software engineering intern, Lupita realized the abundance of job opportunities she would have if she went to work as a developer. She also saw it as an opportunity to gain more business experience that would help her later down the line. So, she stayed in engineering roles up until the Veracode opportunity came about.
“The hiring manager asked if I was prepared to be less technical,” says Lupita of how the tech sales job was first presented. “But I’ve actually needed to be more technical. I talk to engineers with various levels of expertise about different technologies, and technology is always changing.”
When Lupita joined Veracode, her title was associate solutions architect. She took a pay cut for the role, then spent the next couple of years proving herself earning promotion after promotion.
“In order to keep moving up, I had to build a case, with metrics, and proof points to show my value and contributions I made to help the business,” she says. “It’s a lot of responsibility—it’s your own franchise. I call the shots, and that’s been a huge learning curve but extremely rewarding.”
Now, as a senior account executive, Lupita regularly talks to engineers and security analysts, and closes deals with CTOs, CISOs, CIOs, and CMOs (say that five times fast!). The exposure to business leaders and technical talent has given Lupita the exposure she was looking for to build her own entrepreneurial toolkit—and has taken full advantage of her background.
3 Key Messages for 3 Key Groups
Reflecting on her career so far, Lupita is happy to have made the shift to sales, where she can continue to bridge gaps between groups and further develop multiple skill sets.
“I was once a girl who didn’t know about the engineering role, and now I’m consulting engineers to think about security and their process,” says Lupita. “That’s the most exciting thing for me, being able to use my soft and hard skills, while interacting day-to-day with C-level decision makers.”
Here’s the advice she would give based on this experience:
For her engineering peers: consider sales engineering. “If you’re looking for more social interactions, having a fundamental understanding of the problems we are trying to solve makes for a much easier conversation with prospects,” she says. “You get to talk to tons of like-minded people, and sometimes conversations turn into partnerships. Sometimes they turn into friendships, or even mentorships. I think that’s really cool—and I wouldn’t have access to that if I was just sitting at my computer coding away.”
For her sales peers: be genuine and add value. “Customers sometimes aren’t open to sharing a lot of information up front,” she says. “So earning their trust and understanding the outcomes they are looking to achieve is really important. I ask open-ended questions and try to understand and not assume exactly what their challenges are. There’s a lot of ‘debugging’ in learning what the business is actually trying to accomplish—leverage your network because the more people you involve, the better chance you’ll have of truly solving their business problems.”
For her prospects: application security is worth it. Several years into selling Veracode’s services, Lupita has learned that a common challenge companies face is fear of slowing down developers, even when there’s a lot (read: customer data, regulatory fines, and reputational damage) on the line. She often hears, “‘We've always done it this way and we've never had a breach,’” but Lupita is a firm believer that secure code is valuable code.
“More and more companies are using security as a competitive advantage and customers are no longer willing to accept the liability for software that sees security as an afterthought. Application security requires people, process, and tech,” she explains. “I enjoy taking the guesswork out of building the right approach.”
For now, Lupita knows she has much more to learn at Veracode and is looking forward to doing so. Who knows, though—in a few years, maybe she’ll find herself on the other side of the C-suite table!