Engineering Sustainability: An Interview With Uber’s Head Of Information Technology, Shobhana Ahluwalia
Below is an article originally written by Molly Vorwerck at PowerToFly Partner Uber, and published on November 6, 2018. Go to Uber's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
Navigating hyper growth startups was standard for Shobhana Ahluwalia when she took the reins as Uber's Head of Information Technology in July 2015. Having led engineering teams at several rapidly growing technology companies over the past decade, she figured Uber would be much the same.
Once she came onboard, however, nothing could have prepared her for the whirlwind journey ahead as our company grew from 3,000 to 20,000 employees in less than three years. In her role directing IT strategy at Uber, Shobhana is responsible for leading the development and assessment of the technologies necessary to sustainably and efficiently grow our company at scale. And with operations in over 600 cities across the world—and counting—her team's role is ever more important.
We sat down with Shobhana to learn more about her journey to tech services, what she finds most challenging about her work at Uber, and how her team is setting the company up for success:
How did you first get interested in technology and engineering?
I grew up in India as the second female child in a very modest family. My father, amazingly, did not differentiate between my male siblings and me, and even four-plus decades ago, was an advocate of gender equality in a society that elevated men and limited opportunities for women. My dad was also very pro-education and always managed to fulfil all our education-related needs—books, tuition, etc.
Growing up, I was awkward and shy, and analytics just made a lot of sense to me. I liked when things fit well together, like in math and science, and my memory skills were pretty strong, so STEM was a good match.
Even though your family was supportive of your education, did you face any resistance as a woman in tech when you entered the working world?
No matter where you come from, it's always been an uphill battle for women in technology, but I've made amazing friends who have given me the support and guidance necessary to thrive. On the one hand, I found the industry very welcoming because I was fortunate enough to surround myself with peers who liked helping newcomers, and over the years, I've built up a strong network of really close friends and good mentors.
On the other side, obviously, there were some experiences that made me think twice. I haven't been the only woman in a meeting room in over a decade, but when I started working, that was very, very common. In my engineering school, 15 percent of students were women, and the school did not even have a women's dorm. Since I didn't study close to home, I had to find my own accommodation in a super-small and private (i.e. expensive) dorm. We've come a long way from there.
What are some of the best pieces of advice you received from mentors throughout your career?
I get a lot of leadership advice from my mentors, which is great. For the most part, their biggest takeaways are to be present and speak up.
In terms of fitting in, I have two strikes against me: I'm an immigrant and a woman. When I was growing up, I was too shy to verbalize my ideas and I had a very timid voice. One early manager in particular would consistently tell me to speak up. He told me that, although there was nothing wrong with my voice, that I could come across as being unsure of myself. He helped me develop my voice, find confidence, and learn to quickly process what other people were saying so that I could feel more sure of myself when I did speak up. His advice was not one-size-fits-all, and I'm not saying it should be, but it certainly helped me advance in my career.
I still keep in touch with my mentors from the past. We grab coffee and talk about our ambitions and work issue of the day. Sometimes you get so bogged down in the everyday that we forget the bigger picture. Such conversations are important to remind me of the big picture.
Before you came to Uber, you worked at Rocket Fuel, another high growth startup, and CBS. What are some of your key takeaways from growing the IT infrastructure of those types of companies versus a company like Uber?
There is no company like Uber. Now, when we interview people, we always make sure we don'tding people for not having that experience because honestly—and especially two and a half years ago—we were growing rapidly. I joined Uber from Rocket Fuel, which was a hot, fast-growing public company at the time, but it was no match for Uber's scale.
I came at a stage where we were growing fast, but we had stabilized. When I joined, Uber needed some structures, processes, and roadmaps for our IT strategy, but at the same time, we were still pivoting very quickly. For instance, if we were undergoing a data center migration—a process that takes most companies months—we would finish it in nine working days. It's a story worth telling when you brag at the end of the day with your peers over a mug of beer: "You took three months to do that? Well, we did it in nine days."
You took a break in your career to pursue an MBA at Wharton (the University of Pennsylvania). How do you apply this business education to your work leading an IT organization?
Pursuing an MBA was one of the better decisions I've made in my life. When you're getting started in your career, it's possible to become pigeonholed in one industry; in my case, technology is so broad but there's so much outside of it. Wharton actually helped me to think about different things, like how entire companies ran, how are all the cogs put in, and how they work together. So that was awesome for me because now I can see beyond engineering. For instance, when I talk to marketing, I understand what is important to them. When I talk to finance, I know what's important to them, but ten years ago, when I pursued my degree, that was all new to me. My MBA gave me the ability to put on different hats much easier than I would have otherwise. Despite the huge student loans, it was great fun.
Why did you decide to go into IT versus other areas of tech?
I did not necessarily choose that path, I think the path chose me. I started my career writing low level driver programs, which was pretty fun. Then, in the late 1990s, Enterprise Resource Planning(ERP) and via that, automation and optimization of internal corporate functions was on the rise. Oracle Applications was being used by several companies and I got interested in that and I started writing modules for them. That's how I started in IT and then I just grew into it there. IT is novel in the sense that every company needs IT to run efficiently so it is shielded from industry-specific recessions.
You joined Uber in July 2015. Why did you come aboard?
To be completely honest, the reason I joined Uber is complete vanity. I just really wanted to work for this brand name since it was growing so much. I didn't really understand what Uber was until I joined and spent some time with the products.
Only after I came to Uber—after I really understood it—did I realize how special it is to be a small cog in a large machine that has such a big impact. When you actually hear stories about customers who are able to put food on their table because of Uber, or get a ride to their doctor's appointment, you really get a sense of your impact. I talk a lot to our driver-partners and I hear so many amazing stories about women doing it because it affords them greater flexibility. They're caring for their home and kids and everything in between. It's very hard to get part-time jobs, especially part-time jobs where you own your schedule. If your child is home sick today, you don't have to go to work; you can just not turn on the driver app.
As I came to understand the depths of what this company does, it actually instilled a lot more pride and confidence in my decision to join.
What are some of the biggest IT challenges for Uber?
Scale is our biggest challenge, period. Because of our scale, we're not like any other tech company. We have over 600 offices right now and we're still growing. Just managing that scale is huge.
The rate at which Uber scales is also a key challenge for us. Even though we're bigger and more organized than when I first joined, speed is still critical because our growth is not slowing down. Creating efficient and sustainable technologies to support our employees is ten times more difficult when you're moving at the speed of light.
What is most rewarding about your work at Uber?
Definitely the people I work with. Most of my organization has been here as long as or longer than I have. We've grown together in the past three years. It's amazing to see my team grow and take on different roles. In my org, we've had especially smart engineers take on different roles or go into management, or we have developers who are amazingly technical, and they tend to go deep to create solutions on open source platforms which is rewarding for both Uber and the broader community. That's what makes my work interesting, and doing it with a group of people I respect and can learn from makes it that much better.
IT Engineering is responsible for building productivity tools and internal infrastructure to set our employees up for success. The better our IT, the better we can serve our customers. For instance, we built uChat to make communication at the company easier and more seamless. The Uber Kiosk, which was developed by our Innovation team, offers an alternative method of signing up to drive with Uber that both optimizes our efficiency and is engaging for consumers.
What are some of the bigger initiatives your organization is tackling in 2018?
My organization works on several internal solutions for the company. This year, we're focusing on building and fine-tuning our performance management tools, HR-related applications, and productivity applications. Another key focus is also compliance. As we grow and head towards IPO, we need to be ready to operate like a public company. The best way to approach compliance is to determine what the right thing to do is versus doing it just because it's written in the policy or procedure. All of this will play into how we grow our global offices and how we design our new campus' IT to make the workplace better and more efficient for employees.
You are a co-chair of Uber's Immigrants Employee Resource Group. What inspired you to take a leadership role in this group?
Our goal is to help build a more inclusive Uber by providing a welcoming forum for immigrants and to promote cross-cultural learnings. I came to this country 20 years ago. There are so many people in different phase of their immigration journey. Some are thriving, some are fraught with self-doubt and some are struggling to be successful in a different culture.
Several of us still go through that thought process of assimilation where we strive to become similar to masses here. But what are the boundaries of such assimilation? We might be a stronger nation if we find a balance between our immigrant culture and the new American way of living such that we bring out the best of both worlds.
We also answer basic questions like, how do I study for my citizenship exam? How might the political climate impact the immigration process for new hires or people waiting for their green cards? Or what should our financial savings strategy be? Where should we invest – here in America or also abroad? The immigrant community at Uber is big, and it's important to create an inclusive environment where we can talk about their concerns and problem solve. That's what we're trying to do.
What is the biggest piece of advice you'd give a young woman considering a career in technology?
Don't write off STEM without trying it first. In some groups, it might not be cool to study Math and Science, but I would encourage them to just try it to understand whether it interests them. It's the same thing you would do with anything else, right? You want to try snowboarding or skating etc to see for yourself how you like it. It's okay to not pursue a skill if you don't like it. But it's not okay to avoid a skill (like STEM) just because it's not cool.
Outside of your work at Uber, what drives you?
I do a little bit of a lot of things. I love TV. I draw strength from interesting stories. I am an avid fan of indoor cycling. I've wasted enough money on gym memberships over the years, but in the end, I think Peloton is what I've landed at. And in my opinion, it's actually a amazing piece of technology in the fitness industry.
If you look at life the right way, it will give you a lot of opportunities to be inspired. Sometimes, I'll be inspired by just seeing an amazing piece of art. Sometimes, I'll be inspired when I try to push my limits.
We asked 30+ women how you can make 2021 your best year yet.
Resolutions are one thing. Goals are another.
How do you move from vaguely hopeful statements about what 2021 will mean for you personally and professionally to thoughtful plans that are likely to come to fruition?
1. Make goal setting a ritual.<p>Sure, a new year is just a change of date, an arbitrary way to mark time. But if we create meaning around it, it can become something else entirely. Carmen Kelly, Training & Development Team Leader at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/quicken-loans" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Quicken Loans</a>, likes to see it as a real beginning. "I enjoy embracing the fresh, new year with hope of what could be, and a huge part of that is goal setting," she says. "Having goals in life is essential. Even creating goals for different areas of your life is key. This can help with making sure you are balancing out all critical aspects of your life that are most important to you."</p> <p>Starting with reflection can help make sure that your goals are well-connected to where you are mentally, personally, and professionally. "I always start with reflecting on my past to gain better understanding of myself," says Ankita Patel, Principal Software Engineer at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/clarus-commerce" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Clarus</a>. "What my capabilities are versus what I really foresee myself doing in next quarter or so. It allows me to see where I stand, what difficulties I have faced, and to shift my perspective from doubting myself to believing in myself. It forms the baseline of starting fresh and helping me plan for my future."</p><p>For Jess Tsai, VP of Business Operations at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/vts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">VTS</a>, the ritual of goal setting begins with a long journaling session. "I reflect on the last year and rate myself on a scale of 1-10 for how happy I am in these ten areas: health, emotional/mental, relationships (friends/family), love/romance, service, learning/personal growth, experiences, spirituality, career, and finances," she says. "In the areas where I scored lower, I reflect on why. Then I go through each area and write out in detail what my life would look like if I scored 10 in each area, and try to visualize that life and feel like I'm already there. Depending on my scores and what's most important to me right now, I set some intentions for where I want to focus for the year."</p>
2. Build around your values.<p>Disparate goals scattered across different aspects of life aren't as likely to motivate you as one set of goals that coalesce around a theme, says Jac Le, a Senior Territory Sales Representative at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/autodesk-inc" target="_blank">Autodesk</a>. "Whether or not you're conscious of it, values are the foundation of goals, dreams, character, and decision making," she says. "Instead of creating New Year Resolutions, I create a Theme that I want to focus on for the year, which is based on my values. It can be a word or phrase. From there, every goal set throughout the year is measured in alignment with that Theme to ensure that my goals are an expression and enhancement to my values instead of a stressor to check off."</p> <p>If you're having trouble thinking of a good place to start from, or naming the values that drive your everyday life, Dipabali Chowdhury, a Learning & Development Specialist at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/mongodb" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">MongoDB</a>, has advice that can help. "The more self-awareness you can build, the more specific your goals will be and the more motivated you will be. Sometimes, we set goals without understanding what's important to us. We follow someone else's compass instead of our own," she says. She suggests asking yourself reflection questions: "When I was happy at work, what contributed to that joy? When and why was I frustrated at work? What mindsets held me back from achieving my goals this year? What challenges did I overcome? What are my natural strengths? What skills, knowledge, or behaviors do I want to build in the new year?"</p> <p>Claire Lucas, Senior Manager, Services Operations at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/elastic" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elastic</a>, suggests beginning with an end vision in mind. "I work backwards," she says. "I journal about my vision for the end of the year, trying to think about it uninhibited from any constraints. I then focus on creating a declaration for myself that will help me break through to reach my goals. The declaration ties together who I am today, and who I need to be in the future to fulfill this goal."</p>
3. Consider making personal and professional goals in harmony.<p>You might have personal goals that are completely unrelated to what you do at work. That's okay! Great, even. But you do need to make sure that they are complimentary at least so far as how they'll be achieved, says Lee Ann Mangels, Senior Director of Program Management at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/clyde" target="_blank">Clyde</a>. "Your personal and professional goals have to be somewhat aligned. If you decide to improve your time management in the new year, it will only work if the practice or process you start applies to your home and work life," she says. She gives an example: "Several years ago, I started taking 30 minutes on Sunday afternoon to review the week ahead. What meetings do I need to prepare for? What are we having for dinner? Do I have to coordinate any personal appointments for our family? Investing 30 minutes on Sunday has been a game changer for me."</p>
4. Start big, then whittle down as needed.<p>Being aspirational when you make your goals is key—but so is creating a practical plan to achieve them. "I always try to look at the bigger picture [when goal setting]," says Beatriz Alvarez, Talent Acquisition Sr. Analyst - Recruitment Events Lead at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/lockheed-martin" target="_blank">Lockheed Martin</a>. "I try to set a long term goal that seems impossible, making sure it is measurable, down-to-earth, and real—and most importantly, that it is motivating. Once I have my eyes on the prize, I strategize by setting up a group of smaller goals that will help me achieve it."</p><p>That being said, it's important to not lose sight of those aspirations, either. Amanda Fennell, Chief Security Officer at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/relativity" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Relativity</a>, has advice for finding the Goldilocks moment between too-easy and too-hard goals, finding the just-right pace where you're pushing yourself: "You never know how far you can go unless you set stretch goals. If I only set goals that I knew I could ace, it would be stacking the deck. I want to know how far I can push myself and in taking this approach, I have achieved some pretty amazing things. As Captain Marvel says: 'Higher, further, faster.'"</p><p>Yasameen Raissinia, APAC Commercial New Business Manager at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/smartsheet" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Smartsheet</a>, is a fan of the stretch goal, too. "I always like to push myself either personally or professionally to hit smaller attainable goals that add up to a big audacious goal. For example, I always try to set the goal of getting to the Presidents Club which typically has a goal post of 130%, which is massively difficult to achieve. In order to get there, I try and break down my weeks and my quota to overachieve, and try to give myself smaller goals around numbers of accounts, or contracts I close per week, helping me get to the major and impressive goal!" she says.</p><p>Bridget Barrot, <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/chainalysis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Chainalysis</a>'s VP of Customer Success, has a three-step framework for getting that balance right. "The best lesson I've learned about setting goals is they need to be simplistic, realistic, and strategic," she says. "Simplistic: It's important to find things that are easy to measure, so that you can regularly assess them. Anything that requires too much work to analyze will set you up for failure. Realistic: Stretch goals are important, but it's also important to be practical about what you can complete in any quarter or year. When they get too lofty or too numerous, it's easy to just give up on them all together. Strategic: It's important to differentiate between goals and a 'to do' list. Goals can be a mix of big and small things, but they must be grounded in results rather than just a list of tasks to check off."</p>
5. Write goals down.<p>"We're all familiar with the numerous studies that underscore the correlation between writing down our goals and our ability to achieve them," says Shavit Bar-Nahum, Senior Vice President of Leadership Development at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/moody-s-corporation" target="_blank">Moody's Corporation</a>. "The bottom line is, if it's not documented, it's less likely to happen, you are less likely to hold yourself accountable, and it's much easier to slip back into old habits and behaviors. So whether you are embarking on a new opportunity, learning a new skill, or increasing your sales objective, write it down. And not just for yourself. From documenting it in a system of record to creating a visual reminder for yourself, capture your goals in a way that you and others can see your intentions and can support you on your journey."</p> <p>Going beyond writing down goals can help, too. Mary Kay Evans, <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/pymetrics">pymetrics'</a> Chief Marketing Officer, recognizes the power of writing down her own story: "One of the most challenging and rewarding exercises for me was actually writing out my story. Not goals in a bullet point list, but rather in a story format as though it's already happened. I began the year 2018 by writing the story I wanted to tell by January 2019. It was a narrative looking back on my accomplishments and challenges faced and how exactly I overcame them. By being vivid and specific, like a good narrative requires, I really had to bring my vision of the year ahead to life. It went beyond simply listing my goals to describing outcomes and how I would experience them. This preparation made all the difference as 2018 was a year of tremendous growth and accomplishment for me. It works!"</p>
6. Find a way to track your goals over time.<p>The many women we talked to had different ways of tracking, but the unifying thread is that each had found a way that worked for them. Alisa Cash, Director of IT Solution Delivery at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/blue-cross-and-blue-shield-of-north-carolina" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">BCBSNC</a>, sums up the key approach: "Do not set a goal that cannot be measured. This does not have to be an emphatic measurement (such as achieving 100% on time delivery = x; 90% on time delivery =y), although the more you can do this, the clearer resources tend to be."</p><p>For Sarah Morningstar, Ph.D., Data Researcher at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/primer" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Primer</a>, breaking her goals into timely metrics helps. "I have found that I am more likely to achieve my goals if they include specific and actionable metrics; otherwise, it is hard to determine if I am successful," she says. "For example, one of my goals for 2021 is to practice more yoga. However, the term 'more' is vague and difficult to know when I have achieved it. Instead of more yoga, I decided I wanted that to mean that I will practice yoga at least two times per week. Over the year, I need to practice 104 times or 26 times per quarter to be successful. Each quarter I work backward from 26, I do more some weeks, and others it's less. I allow this flexibility because I know that being a mom and a working professional, I can't always control my schedule."</p><p>Amanda Sternklar, Marketing Director at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/state-listings-inc" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">State Listings</a>, agrees, and notes that she checks in on her progress every week: "The most important thing for me is ensuring my goals are measurable, through metrics directly related to my own activities. That means that if I want to increase our blog following in the new year, my goals would look something like 'Create 3 original blog posts each week' and 'Be a guest contributor on 10 blogs in 2021.' That way, I can create a tracker—mine is a physical page in my planner, but there are also various apps that help with this—to see my progress at a glance. I review my tracker on the first Monday of each month to make sure I'm on track and figure out any steps I need to take if I'm not."</p><p>Amy Luo, Senior Product Designer at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/lattice" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Lattice</a>, likes identifying specific behaviors that she can easily keep in mind. "Be specific and focus on actions or behavior when defining your goals," she says. "Try setting a number you want to achieve or a completion date. It'll help keep you on track and you can clearly measure your progress toward the goal over time. For example, if you want to work on your writing skills, a general goal like 'Become a better writer' would be too vague and difficult to measure. A specific and actionable version could be 'Write for 30 minutes every day' or 'Publish an article every month.'"</p><p>For Stacey Chase, Senior Manager Internal Audit at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/siemens" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Siemens</a>, adding a visual element to her goal metrics is what keeps her on track. "I use a Kanban board on Trello to plan and organize my activity," she says. "In my first column I list my goals for the year and assign them a color. As I work on things throughout the year and add tasks I tie them back by color to the goal the effort is in service to. This helps me multiple ways. First, it is a visible reminder I see daily or weekly of the goals I have set. Second, I am constantly tying back my efforts and time spent back to my goals. Third, it gives me early warning that my goals or my efforts may need to be reevaluated if I find most of my energy is spent on things other than my goals."</p>
7. Don’t keep your goals to yourself!<p>Many of the women we spoke to highlighted how important it is for your goals, personal and professional, to exist outside of your own head. "Be sure to share your aspirations with others and ask for feedback along the way—don't assume your supervisor knows your near and longer-term plans," says Wyetta Morrow, Executive Director, Human Resources at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/raytheon-technologies" target="_blank">Raytheon Technologies</a>. That's particularly true for goals that can be advanced at work, she notes, adding, "Our career journey includes a village and it helps to have others that can advocate for you when you may not be present."</p><p>And there's no need to limit that sharing to just your manager—what about all of the other people that care about you and want to see you succeed? Janet Higgins, Vice President of Regional Sales at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/ciena" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ciena</a>, suggests broadening your circle. "Build a support group around you. Share your goals and your thinking with your trusted mentors and friends. Actively think about who you can leverage in this way. Chances are they would be more than happy to reciprocate. Seeking the perspective of people outside your industry who only have your best interests at heart and are willing to give you straight honesty is pure gold," she says. </p>
8. Considering making your goals three-dimensional.<p>Writing down your goals is a classic approach, but if you have a creative bent or are a more visual learner, maybe going a step farther and making a concrete representation of your goals will help you focus on them. "Try creating a vision board that includes pictures and words of the mini goals and milestones you want to focus on to help you achieve your bigger picture goal," says Gursharn Dhami, Senior Global HR Business Partner at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/stack-overflow" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Stack Overflow</a>. "If you make it visible, you may just feel more accountable to accomplish what you've envisioned for yourself!"</p><p>Brooke Kaylie, Program Manager, National Security Group at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/primer" target="_blank">Primer</a>, agrees with the power of seeing your goals around you. "Visualize it. Decide what it is you want to do and make it so real you can touch it, see it, taste it. When I decided to change my career completely, I put things into my workspace that reminded me of where I wanted to go. Articles, photographs — anything that kept my focus on my goal," she says.</p>
9. Tackle the hardest things first—if that’s possible (ribbit).<p>There's an argument to be made for starting with easy wins, but Laura Ripans, <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/datadog" target="_blank">Datadog</a>'s Director of Channels & Alliances, won't be making it. "Get the important things done first," she says. "For me, this is early in the morning when I have no distractions. Stay focused and concentrate on the things that matter most." She suggests reading <em>Eat That Frog </em>by Brian Tracy. "There's an old saying that if the first thing you do each morning is eat a live frog, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you're done with the worst thing you'll have to do all day. For Tracy, eating a frog is a metaphor for tackling your most challenging task—but also the one that can have the greatest positive impact on your life," she says.</p> <p>As it turns out, Claudia Petrocchi, Executive Director of HR Operations for <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/csl" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CSL</a>, is a big fan of the frog approach, too. "Years ago, someone shared a Mark Twain quote with me: 'If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.' This quote clicked with me—it's so visual that it really helps me. Normally I would wait the whole day and think how awful this frog will be. But now, I'll eat the frog right away. For years I had a sticker of a frog on my laptop. So, if I had that crazy email or that crazy project, that would be my frog."</p> <p>Sasi Murthy, VP, Product and Solutions Marketing at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/netskope" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Netskope</a>, has a visual trick to help you remember to keep that big, hard goal front and center: "Invest time in thinking about what you want to achieve, not how you will do it. Then find a jar and place a big rock or a few that represent these goals inside, and fill the rest with smaller rocks. This will be a reminder that we are most effective at anything we set out to do, when we give it the space in our 'mental jar' first, and follow it with the smaller goals."</p> <p>That being said, make sure the hard thing you're going after is even possible. For Shelly Anderson Bodine, a Chief of Staff at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/software-one-inc" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SoftwareONE</a>, remembering that she's operating in an environment where she can't control everything is key. "I once had a leader tell me you needed two things to get promoted," she says. "First, a position had to be available, and second, you had to be ready for the role when it was available. That feedback has always stuck with me throughout my career. I realized I really only had control over the latter. So each time I would move into a new role, I gave myself 6 months to acclimate. At that point, I evaluated what I could do to be better than the next person in the role I have and where do I want to go next. From there, I would create a list of things that would bring me closer to my end game, narrow down to the 2-3 most impactful, and those became my goals."</p>
10. Goals aren’t set-it-and-forget-it.<p>If you set goals in January and ignore them from then on out, your chance of marking them "achieved" at the end of the year is low. "Try not to think of goal setting as a yearly activity," says Sarah Burke, Senior Director of Software Engineering at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/ciena" target="_blank">Ciena</a>. "Achieving goals requires continual review and reassessment of priorities. Book some personal time in your calendar once a month to remind yourself to check in on how you're progressing and hold yourself accountable for re-adjusting. You are responsible for your success!"</p>
11. Go beyond a 12-month horizon.<p>Many of the things you're most interested in—be it <a href="https://blog.powertofly.com/how-to-become-a-vp-2644977654.html" target="_self">becoming a VP</a>, launching your own company, writing a book, finishing an advanced degree moving to a different country, or any other number of goals—might not happen in just one year. Tami Early, VP and General Manager Sales—Major Accounts at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/ciena" target="_blank">Ciena</a>, suggests breaking down your goals into "digestible and achievable bites." She uses the VSEM method: setting a 5+ year vision, a 2-4 year strategy, a 12-18 execution plan, and 12-month rolling metrics. "This method of goal setting allows me to think about my long- and short-term objectives, while holding myself accountable to measurable outcomes inside of a year," she says.</p>
12. Treat yourself with grace.<p>You won't achieve all of your goals, and that's okay. As Megan Sykes, Contracts Manager at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/elastic" target="_blank">Elastic</a> reminds us, "Don't set overbearing expectations on yourself. Afford yourself grace. While it's important to progress personally and professionally, we have to be adaptable to the circumstances around us (which can change over time) and live with integrity."</p> <p>That's never been more important than after the year 2020. "I'm very goal orientated both personally and professionally," shares Amanda Eleuteri, a Sr. HR Business Partner at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/cargurus" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CarGurus</a>. "Early on in my career, I would feel defeated if I didn't achieve my goals for the year. I try to be mindful that sometimes a goal is not achieved because priorities change. That was certainly the case in 2020 as needs in the business evolved and what I was focusing on shifted in response."</p><p><a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/national-security-agency-nsa" target="_blank">NSA's</a> Meredith D., PhD, echoes the importance of revisiting, and revising, your goals: "Your goals are not meant to be set in stone! There are several factors that can require them to change, even dramatically at times. Be flexible and willing to change your SMART goals. Sometimes we can foresee that the goal is not going to be achieved in our original timeframe. Or we change our mind completely! This is not a failure. It is an opportunity to reflect and revise the goal given the new information at hand."</p> <p>After all, it's about the journey, not the destination. "The process of working toward a goal is often more important than achieving the goal itself," says Stephanie Cheng, Product Engineer at <a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/folsom-labs" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Folsom Labs</a>. "The shape or timeline of your goal can change as long as you check in with yourself and continue to consistently work toward them. It's okay if you don't achieve your goal on the first try. Working toward goals is really about building the muscle memory to form slightly better habits each year. With consistency, patience, and positivity you can build the tools you need to succeed."</p>
One of Jennifer Martin's first jobs was working the front desk of the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, where she got very good at asking one question: "How can I help you?"
Nina Unger, Talent Acquisition Specialist at SoftwareONE gave us a behind-the-scenes look at SoftwareONE's Application process, culture, and values.
Learn about the company and how you can make your application stand out!
To learn more about SoftwareONE and their open roles, click here.
Interested in pivoting to tech?
Lisa Tagliaferri, Senior Manager, Developer Education at DigitalOcean, shared her top tips for breaking into the industry, from the best open source tools to key transferable skills.
Have more questions about launching a tech career? Let us know in the comments! And learn more about DigitalOcean's open roles here