Seeking Opportunities and Taking Risks

This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)

This piece was originally published July 31 on Diversity Unscripted.


I started my career in pure sciences, specifically in chemistry. My husband worked in the technology sector and talked about his work endlessly. It was through hearing about his passion that I realized technology was mine as well. That was when I decided to switch from Chemistry to Computer Science. Once I realized I enjoyed learning about technology, I decided to pursue my education and career in technology as well. I was fortunate to also be in the Bay Area surrounded by the tech industry. But when I finished school, I didn’t know where I wanted to work, I just knew I wanted to do something hands-on in tech. I ended up working for Nortel Networks as a Technical Support Engineer. At the time, I really didn’t understand the role, but I took a risk and kept an open mind. I ended up loving what I did, which was solving technical issues for our clients. By keeping an open mind, I was able to work my way to becoming a Systems Engineer at the top Cybersecurity company, Palo Alto Networks. I would’ve never been able to get into the cybersecurity industry if I didn’t follow my passion surrounding technology.

Career Tip #1: Don’t limit yourself. There are so many opportunities out there. Be open to new tasks, projects, and roles, even if it’s something you’re not interested in.

There is something new to learn in every role. The most important skill set I got out of my first position as a Technical Support Engineer was how to help my customers when they need us the most without getting frustrated during the conversation. The experience helped me learn patience, which I believe has helped me advance my career. I went on to work in the Technical Support Center at another tech company. I spent 8 years in various roles in a similar type of industry. Once I started to feel comfortable in my role I started asking myself, “what else can I do?

Then one day, I took a training course on new emerging products. One of the facilitators there was a woman Systems Engineer, opening up a new career path of possibilities. Seeing her made me realize that this career field was open to someone like me. I spoke with several Systems Engineers to find out what that role entailed, and it turned out that I already had some skills that were necessary to become one. I went on to ask for advice from other women in that role. I found that I needed to have soft skills while being able to simplify complex technology. I needed to be able to explain the technical concepts to someone without the background in product or industry. It wasn’t something that I was comfortable with yet, but I knew that it was something that I wanted to try.

Failure should not stop you from your desire to find what’s next in your career. If you fail, it’s okay, because you still know what you know, and you’ve learned something new while trying. When a Systems Engineering role finally opened up, I took the leap and applied to the position. Fast forward to today and I am now a Systems Engineer at the top Cybersecurity company! If you try out a role and it’s not for you, then so be it. But don’t be hesitant to try something else, something new and interesting. No one is going to force you to continue that role for a lifetime.

Career Tip #2: “Don’t be afraid of new opportunities. Embrace it with open arms. Be confident in the skills you have and be willing to learn new skills. It’s your career and you need to be the one in charge of it.”

Systems Engineering is different from the other engineering roles I’ve held. For one, this role is on the Sales team. The role requires that I sell the product to potential customers, but just saying the product is good is not enough — you have to be able to show the customers that the product works in their environment. You have to be a trusted advisor for your customers, which is a common term in the industry and one that I take that very seriously. I really want to help them by showing them what the product can do and how it can help their business succeed. I take pride in the solutions I provide to help fit the customer’s security needs. This role is a nice balance between tech and sales. I get to do a bit of both and I really enjoy that.

Career Tip #3: Get to know your product well, and research it heavily so that you become the subject matter expert.

Fear often stops people from pursuing the next step in their career. Don’t be afraid. It may sound cliché, but you need to know that not everyone is perfect. The person sitting next to you may be on the same boat as you. Don’t be afraid if you don’t know the answer to something. If you need to do more research before providing a solution, then let the person know. It shows the confidence you have.

Career Tip #4: Don’t be afraid. If you fail, that’s ok. Failure isn’t the end of the world.

When you’re in college, you don’t always think about where you’ll be in 10 years. If someone asked me years ago if I wanted to work in cybersecurity, I wouldn’t have known what that was. The industry didn’t exist back then. It’s better to be able to pivot in any direction. More importantly, you need to be happy with what you’re doing. I have 3 kids and they’re all still young. My eldest daughter is 16 and she’ll be entering college soon. The industry is going to be different in 4 years from what it is today. Who knows what the industry will be like after my other kids finish school. So take baby steps, then take the leap when you think the time is right and pursue your passion.

Not all opportunities land directly at your feet. You have to seek them out when you are ready. The Systems Engineering role didn’t come to me — I found it because I was driven and curious.

Career Tip #5: “Think about your passion and pursue that. The industry is constantly changing, just make sure that you’re able to adapt to changes.”

Taking the leap is a challenge — it’s daunting but you’re not alone. Connect with me on LinkedIn if you’re looking ways to find a career you’re passionate about.