Setting a Deliberate Path to Principal Engineer

Establishing a technical career path

I ran into Cathy Spence (@cw_spence) at the Intel IT Leader’s Summit in San Jose. She mentioned she had just found out she was promoted to Professional Engineer. I realized I didn’t know much about the process or what that really means, so I interviewed her recently after everything was announced. Here’s our conversation.

Tell me about what you do at Intel.

I have two jobs.  First, I’m the Hosting Portfolio enterprise architect and my domain expertise is in Cloud Computing.  One area where I go deep is in Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) where I am the technical domain owner and have overseen the path to production. In short, I provide direction on how Intel IT can use the cloud to better run Intel’s business. Continue reading

Igniting Social Communities of Women Leaders

Young business woman in social network

Originally posted April, 2014  on Women’s Center for Leadership

For Women’s Center for Leadership (WCL), we are, at our core, all about community. Our mission is about our members.

 WCL is a consortium of professional women joined in developing leadership skills, sharing knowledge and building community in the Pacific Northwest.

I’ve been a member of WCL for about 10 years. My participation has evolved: from sporadically catching a monthly breakfast event at first, then attending more regularly as my daughter got older and could do more to get herself ready for school, and ultimately joining the WCL Board of Directors. I think many of our members have times when they are active, and times when they have to check out for a while to attend to other things. Many just do their best to stay in touch, even if it’s only reading the email updates and checking out a blog or two.  Having to make tradeoffs like this is just part of the reality for a lot of professional women.

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On Humble Confidence

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This blog is more of a short story about a leadership lesson I learned.

One summer when I was in college, I came home and took Thermodynamics at a community college. When I had some free time so I helped my mom by taking my grandfather, her dad, on his errands. One day when I picked him up, I had my Thermo textbook on the front seat. He went to get in and put the book on his lap. As I drove, he thumbed through it, then closed the book, looked up and said, “Kelli, I really like you because you are smart but you don’t show it.” Hmmm, was that a compliment? Oh yeah, it was. You see, my grandfather was a machinist who never went to college, but he was naturally smart at math. I know this is where my mom and I got our aptitudes for math. He knew it too.

Then he went on, “When I worked in the shop, I would get plans from the engineers. Sometimes they’d be wrong. You know I could figure it myself, so I knew if those numbers were wrong. I would go back to them, but they didn’t want to hear it from me. I was only a machinist.” I stopped the car at our first errand and my grandfather looked over at me and said, “I am so proud you are studying these books and going to be an engineer. Just never act like those fellas.”

I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was urging me to be competent but not arrogant or too full of pride. He wanted me to act with humble confidence.

Over the years, I have realized that my grandfather gave me some really solid leadership advice. We all know leaders need to be competent and confident. But a leader who is that and also humble, is more human, more approachable and maybe even more respected.

Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.  -Thomas Merton

A humble leader listens because they can learn from others and they also own up to their mistakes (unlike those arrogant engineers my grandfather had to deal with).  This is the kind of leader that inspires me. The kind of leader I aspire to be.  And I think my grandfather would approve.

Time to Reinvent Yourself for 2014

reinvent yourself

It’s the end of the year in a few days.  Just before I went out on holiday break I finished documenting my accomplishments for the past year. I actually like taking some time before the New Year to take stock – not just of my own work, but also of the broader landscape. A friend forwarded me this timely blog, “2013 was a lost year for tech” by Christopher Mims. His assessment of the tech industry is that it was a dud in 2013. Whether you believe things are really this bad or not, it’s still a pretty good wake up call for those of us in tech who want to continue to do amazing things with technology.

And with any wake up call, some sort of change on the part of companies and individuals alike is required. Change is a funny thing. It is hard, and the less you embrace it and the more you resist making the minor transitions in your work (or any part of your life), the harder it gets to make the really big, important changes.

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What about My Needs!

screaming woman

Recently, I watched an Omega Institute for Holistic Studies live webcast “Strength, Courage and Wisdom” with TED icon Brene’ Brown and Zen priest Joan Halifax Roshi.

They were talking about finding your strength and how important it is to know your capacity and own it. I loved that Joan Roshi said, “Remember to take an in-breath.”  Then she posed the question “How can you take care of the world, if you don’t take care of yourself? You must love and show kindness to yourself.”

“The female identity is being a care-giver or a do-gooder,” added Brene’ Brown. The conversation went on that it’s unfortunate that if a woman does take that in-breath, in our culture she is viewed as narcissistic. What I pulled from that part is that to have power, we also need to take care of our needs and not care how others perceive us. Sometimes you have to enlist the help of others and put down that do-it-all shield.

Talk is cheap, right? To really do this, you have to overcome your fear of what others think or any other feelings of inadequacy that you harbor. For women, it takes courage to take some of those “in-breaths” in our lives. And to really have power, you have to be your true self and speak your own truth. You have to speak up for yourself. If you have a supportive family and friends, it may be a little easier to do this kind of woo woo stuff in your personal life, but what about at work?

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Why We Should Mentor Millennial Employees

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When I graduated from university in the late 80’s jobs were hard to come by – even with a technical degree. You had to get experience wherever you could. I knew when I graduated that the easiest way to find a job was to work through the campus recruiters, but I ended up moving to Japan and doing some backpack traveling for a few years instead.

While I was in Japan I worked in a translating company that specialized in technical documentation. I checked and corrected Japanese product/service manuals and research papers that were translated by native Japanese speakers. I read all kinds of things: scientific papers on the effects of electromagnetism on cockroaches, recommendations on which potatoes to plant in SE Asia to prevent famine, computer user manuals, and lots and lots of documentation about tool die casting equipment. I’m talking tool die specifications, product installation, service manuals and marketing brochures. Did I say a lot? There were so many tool die casting manufacturers in Japan at the time.  Tool die casting was not sexy, but it was my big opportunity to get some technical experience that I could take back to The States when I was ready to turn in my backpack for a real job.

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Three Tried and True Ways to Let Your Inner Leader Shine

Summer landscape: beauty sunset over sunflowers field

So you are not the CEO, not even the manager, but you can hone your leadership skills and start behaving like a leader no matter what you do or what level you are in the company. The HBR article “Act like a Leader before You Are One,” author Amy Gallo outlines several strategies to start acting like a leader.

I have been employing a few of these over the past few years. Here are the ones I know work.

  1. Knock your responsibilities out of the park
    This one is a given. You have to be a rock star in your current job. Which means you have to pick jobs and assignments where there are meaty project you are passionate about. Make sure they are challenging enough to keep you engaged and that there are clear key performance indicators, so it’s obvious when you have nailed it. Or hopefully over-nailed it. And don’t be shy about letting others know what you have done. A great way to do this is to send a thank you to the people you worked with on the project thanking them for making the project successful. Build visibility and good will at the same time.
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