Guest post by Mimi Hills
Diana Nyad, the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage, amazes me with her singular goal orientation. She drove toward her lifetime ambition with years of training, numerous attempts, and multiple risks, until she achieved precisely what she set out to do.
While I may have ambition and drive, my own goals are far less focused, with less intense risks. I want to enjoy waking up in the morning, and I want to look forward to going to work. I want to be surrounded by smart people, working toward common goals. And I want to keep learning—I get bored if I don’t.
A map of my career shows many sidesteps, each of which has been interesting. I have rambled through college science textbook publishing, technical publications and online help, software project management, engineering management, and software localization and internationalization. While each step seemed logical to me, to others it may look like an elaborate dance instead of a straightforward career path.
Early sidesteps took me from text books into tech pubs, from tech pubs into online help, and from project management for online help into software project management. There were a few promotions along the way, but for the most part these were moves that brought me into new roles that fed my hunger to learn about new areas. They also brought me into growing industries. With each move I was able to leverage skills and knowledge from one area into the next.
Along with those career zigzags, I have taken on several positions in acting roles, which means I had the opportunity to step in temporarily as an interim director before a permanent replacement was hired. The first time I did this, I moved from Manager of a small team to Acting Director of an organization of 250. Others have cautioned me: why take on more responsibility without the pay? I felt well-supported by the manager and my new peers, but my biggest challenges came from my former peers, who wanted full participation in the decisions I was expected to make. Rebuilding the trust of former peers is a common issue for people who have been promoted from within. I learned quickly to apply change management, and in fact I’ve proactively managed the transition with each side step I’ve made since.
The next acting role I took on, moving from Software Engineering Manager to Acting Software Engineering Director, was something I really wanted. I had worked in the department for several years, and I knew the work and the people well. I had just completed a major negotiation that won kudos from my management. But the management chain wanted to bring in someone with broader industry experience, and I didn’t get the job. What I did get was a commitment from the VP that I was ready to take on a director-level position, and that he would recommend me when one came up. When one did come up, I had his support. I went through the interview process and eventually got the role.
It’s those lateral moves that have made my life interesting, and I encourage others to make sidesteps to gain experience and broaden horizons. In the end, make sure to be available for opportunities when they become available and do not be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and off of the predictable career path.
It’s funny to be thinking about this now, as I’m mulling over a new opportunity, another sidestep. It could sound on the outside like I’m taking two steps forward and one step back. It’s a project management role (which I used to do) for a large software program. Do I want to leave my current role, which I love, and head off into the unknown with an exciting new technology? Maybe. My career may be an elaborate dance, but I do love to dance!
Photo Credit: iStockphoto
This year will be Mimi Hills’ third year as a TechWomen Cultural Mentor, making her a participant in every year of the program thus far. She is Director of Software Localization at BlackBerry. Her team is responsible for delivering localized versions of the software and documentation, and also handles internationalization product management. The team works with software development, testing, documentation, marketing, training, and support teams in an agile environment. Previously she was Director of Globalization at Sun Microsystems, and she has also held numerous positions in software engineering and program management. Mimi has over 20 years of experience in the software industry, including engineering management and program management, and additional experience in textbook and multimedia publishing. In her spare time, Mimi serves on the Board of Directors of a non-profit corporation supporting music education, and plays guitar and stand-up bass.