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Insights - Apr 11, 2018

How to advance your career at the speed of technology

How authenticity can help tech professionals adapt to a fast-changing industry

Predicting how technology will advance and shape the world, even five years down the road, is a challenge. So how can tech professionals possibly prepare for decades of work in an industry guaranteed to change?

Recently, four tech leaders shared lessons from their successes and challenges. In a series of candid speeches at a Toronto networking event, each offered advice on how to keep up with the rapid pace of innovation in the tech industry. Interestingly, these speakers barely mentioned expertise or technical knowledge. Instead, they all focused on the importance of people-skills, authenticity and positive attitudes in helping tech workers adapt as quickly as companies innovate.

Establish a reputation for trust

“You need to do you,” Nyla Ahmad encouraged the audience of twentysomething professionals attending Lessons in Leadership, hosted at the offices of OneEleven, an innovation hub for high-growth start-ups. As Senior Vice President, Enterprise Marketing at Rogers, Ahmad knows firsthand about staying true to her own vision, having successfully navigated a rapidly shifting technology landscape of the 1990s and 2000s. She has built a career on following her interests—applying a love of science to the publishing world—and forging new opportunities by always looking forward.

Becoming a leader in innovation requires more than vision, however. In Ahmad’s experience, true leadership comes from cultivating “followership”. “If people don’t want to follow you, you will never be a leader,” she said. Build trust and loyalty by proactively asking teammates how you can help them, and by working to understand their challenges and team dynamics.

“Colleagues should always say nice things about you, not what you do,” Ahmad said. “It’s all about who you are. In the final stretch of your career, those coveted top spots go to people who never compromise their reputation.”

Create your own journey

Ahmad set the stage for three other tech leaders, all women of diverse personal and professional backgrounds, each of whom blazed their own paths. Their advice echoed Ahmad’s: take risks and embrace your individual interests.

Pragashini Fox, Vice President of Human Resources, Technology and Operations at RBC Financial, recalled her grandmother’s wisdom: you always have the choice to define success on your terms.

For Fox, this means continuously challenging herself, bringing to every new project 40 percent knowledge and 60 percent willingness to learn. “Just say yes!” is one of her mantras, using fear as motivation and turning it into confidence. “Put your hand up,” she said. “Take the initiative and create your own opportunities and your own journey.”

Similarly, Kerri-Lynn McAllister reflected on lessons learned during a rollercoaster eight-year tenure at financial start-up RateHub.ca. Now Chief Marketing Officer of Lift Co., McAllister stressed one must hope for the best, but always be ready to change plans. “You have to be willing to kill ideas and pivot to make things work,” she said.

Finally, Eva Lau emphasized how diverse experience can help define a career in tech. Lau, who is currently Managing Director and Co-Founder of Two Small Fish Ventures angel investment firm, was a driving force in Wattpad, a social platform for fiction writers that reaches 70 million people. As Head of Community and Content, Lau used her unique perspective as a woman, an engineer, and her cultural background to nurture and scale the Wattpad community.

“I strongly believe that to build a successful company, we need a diverse product development team,” Lau said. “We need people from different cultural backgrounds, different genders and different experiences so as to build great products for everyone to enjoy.”