Career advice from top women in tech

21 May 2012

Women in powerful positions in technology today, namely Ursula Burns, Sheryl Sandberg, Virginia Rometty, Marissa Mayer and Caterina Fake, have spoken out about career success and what it takes to claim the corner office. Here, reveals their career advice.

Career advice from Ursula Burns

Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox, is the first African-American woman CEO to head a Fortune 500 company. In an interview with Marketplace, she was questioned about her management style, which has been called ‘hard-charging’. Burns’ response reflects what it takes to get to the top of a company.

“You have to have a very strong opinion with some facts and data to stand it up, you have to prove that you are right more times than you are wrong, and then you better walk into the room with something to say because otherwise you don’t really add a whole lot of value to the group.

“So if you are going to be in the group, I want you to actually come in … and have an opinion. And I don’t mean just opinion like, ‘I like blue or I don’t like blue.’ This is, ‘We have this problem. Here is my take on the problem, here’s what I’ve learned. My experience is telling me this and this is how I would approach it.’”

Career advice from Virgina Rometty

For IBM Corporation president and CEO Virgina Rometty, the career lessons began early, at home.

“Remember that you can do anything you want to do,” Rometty said in Fortune.

“Don’t let anyone say, ‘You’re not smart enough … it’s too hard … it’s a dumb idea … no one has done that before … girls don’t do that.’ My mom gave me that advice in 1973. And it allowed me to never worry about what others were saying about my career direction.”

That advice certainly seems to have served Rometty well – she has been named to Fortune magazine’s “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” for seven consecutive years.

Career advice from Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at the recently IPO-ed Facebook, talked about women taking a backseat to men when it comes to career at the 2011 IGNITION conference in New York. She poo-poos that notion and hints that if women want career success, they have to make it happen themselves.

“Men always lean forward in their careers, no matter where they’re going, and women more often lean back,” said Sandberg. “And that’s a huge mistake — because the person leaning in will one day be your boss.”

Career advice from Marissa Mayer

Over at Google is the company’s first female engineer Marissa Mayer, who is now vice-president Search Products & User Experience. In an interview for the Campaign for the American Conversation, she offered this bit of career advice: “find your rhythm”. She is referring to a management tool, using the example of a father who needs to pick up his kids at a certain time every day.

If Joe needs to pick up his kids every day at 6pm don’t make him late,” she said. “Make sure your employees have room to keep their rhythm – it’ll make them happier and much more successful.”

You can’t have everything you want, but you can have everything that matters to you,” she said, and added there’s no such thing as burnout.

“Burnout is about resentment. It’s about knowing what matters to you so much that if you don’t get it that you’re resentful.”

Career advice from Caterina Fake

Entrepreneur Caterina Fake, the founder of Pinwheel and co-founder of Flickr and Hunch, advises people to “make mistakes rapidly, learn from them, and move past them.”

Fake expands on her advice by using the early days of Flickr as an example in an interview with

“George Oates (a Flickr employee) and I would spend 24 hours, seven days a week, greeting every single person who came to the site. We introduced them to people, we chatted with them. This is a social product. People are putting things they love – photographs of their whole lives – into it. All of these people are your potential evangelists. You need to show those people love.

“We did all kinds of dumb, stupid things. But our unofficial slogan was, ‘F— up fast.’”

Tina Costanza
By Tina Costanza

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic. She came to Ireland from Canada, where she had held senior editorial positions at daily newspapers in Ottawa and Toronto. When she wasn’t saving dangling participles, she was training for 10K races or satisfying a craving for scones.

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