By Jeané Blunt. Amid the fun and excitement of UC Tech 2023: Resilient, Rising, and Reinspired, members of University of California Women in Technology (UC WIT) gathered in a packed room of nearly 100 attendees, to share insights, experiences, and advice for navigating the tech career landscape. The session, held at the MLK Student Union on the UC Berkeley campus on July 18 was titled “Leveling Up: Women in Tech,” and it was part of the Cultural Strategies track at this year’s conference. Watch the full session.
Carolina Manel, Co-Chair of UC WIT and Senior Applications Developer at UC Irvine, introduced the panelists:
- Patricia Juárez (Moderator), Lead Business Systems Analyst at UC Berkeley.
- Rashmi Umdekar, Lead Human Resources Generalist at UCLA.
- Charron Andrus, Associate Chief Information Security Officer at UC Berkeley.
Juárez opened the session by asking the individual contributors in the audience to raise their hands, and quite a few responded. She went on to say that individual contributors are the backbone of our campuses, yet they are often the most undervalued – which speaks directly to the theme of this session.
Management or Individual Contributor
Andrus explained that she had a traumatic experience in her first days as a manager, and after that experience, she decided she never wanted to be responsible for anyone but herself. But after working at UC Davis Health and spending several years advocating for mostly underrepresented staff, she had a realization, “If I wanted to see certain changes, I needed to be at a certain level. I needed to be ‘in the room’ to make those things happen.” Even though the idea of management wasn’t particularly attractive to her, she started taking steps to become a manager again by taking classes, engaging in different projects, and learning as much as she could on the topic.
Umdekar has worked with management and staff throughout her career to help them find career paths that best fit their passions and skill sets. She pointed out that management isn’t for everyone, “I’ve seen folks transition from individual contributors to management roles and not be successful. It’s what people think is the only next step to further their career, but there are other ways to further your career. Also, one thing that people don’t always think about is that going into the management path can take you away from the technical hands-on work and if that is something to take into consideration.” Umdekar also pointed out that there are many different career paths and job families in IT to explore.
Making the Choice
When deciding between remaining an individual contributor or pursuing management, Umdekar encouraged attendees to ask themselves, “What do you like about being an individual contributor? Do you want to be a manager? Do you think you’ll enjoy it? How can you work with your manager to advocate for yourself? Also, put together a list of tasks that excite you and drain you. From there see if there is a pattern and that can also help you figure out if you want to go down the management track or continue as an individual contributor.”
Andrus had similar advice and encouraged those contemplating management to “Find the why. For me it’s people. I like to help people, I like to serve people. If you don’t have some true foundation of why you want to get into management, it’s going to get tough really fast.”
When Andrus was considering management, she took classes provided by the University. “I took those classes to get the information on how to be a good manager and leader. But I also wanted to hear from people who were already in management and what they were struggling with, or what tips and tricks they were sharing…it’s like homework. Management and leadership is a skill set. If you’re not willing to invest in educating and training yourself, then it might not be for you.”
Juarez spoke about her journey in IT, which began in 1989 with setting up networks in Mexico. She has been an individual contributor ever since. During that time, she contemplated going into management, but she felt the question was really, “Do I want to get into politics? When I set up my first network, I loved it! It’s actually pretty creative.” Juarez decided a life in management would mean following a more standard way of doing things, but she prefers creative work. She also talked about how there can be a stigma around individual contributors who decide not to go into management positions. Sometimes making this decision, staff can face attitudes reflected by leaders who may look down on the person as if they do not want to challenge themselves, climb the ladder, or maybe lack the skills needed to progress to management and supervising people.
The reality is that many individual contributors actually do often have to manage others in an indirect way which can be even more challenging than direct reports. Working on collaborative projects is a good example of this for those who need to build consensus among sometimes divergent viewpoints. It gets tricky since collaborators have no authority or supervisor lines over each other. Leading with influence to get work done and arrive at decisions in a group setting especially when collaborating across teams on big projects is a skill often overlooked by leadership.
There are other ways to “level up” your career, without pursuing management. “I’m in security,” says Andrus. “There’s not a lot of women in security and barely any Black women. I’m very much about advocating. I think it’s a great opportunity for someone, who maybe doesn’t want day-to-day supervisory responsibilities but still wants to leverage their management skills, to get involved in different advocacy groups. We have a plethora – like UC Women in Technology (UC WIT)!”
To learn more about a certain position or what someone does, Umdekar encourages requesting informational interviews. She also encourages job shadowing, training, attending conferences and info sessions, and exploring being a work lead. Umdeker also points out that these are also networking opportunities, “Grow your network. You never know where that connection may take you.”
If you want higher pay, Umdekar says, “Being open with your manager is fine. Advocate for yourself, but also make supporting reasons as to why you should be making a certain amount and be willing to take on additional responsibilities and/or higher-level duties. And if it’s not enough to take you to that next level and get re-classified, there might still be opportunities to adjust compensation. Or even reach out to your HR folks. They’re usually happy to discuss career paths.”
Andrus closed the session with a powerful message, “Educate yourself. Not all of us are in situations where our managers are actively looking out for us, making sure that we are being paid equitably, or bringing forward reclassification opportunities. It’s up to you. Our salaries are posted, so you can always see what others are making. The UC career track info is out there, and the salary scale (varies by campus) is out there. Make sure you’re educated about the process. Ask yourself, ‘How do reclasses work? Do I have to wait for my manager to start the process? Can I start the process?’ Make sure you really understand and take ownership of your career and your salary. And the last thing, and I know a lot of times as women we do not do this, please please please…negotiate your salaries. It’s not the manager’s money. It’s not coming out of their wallet, it’s not coming out of their paycheck. You need to be educated and understand what that role is paying, and ask for it. Because they will not always offer you what they have available to pay you, and they will bring you in inequitably – and it is so hard to get out of that space. So please advocate for yourselves.”
We ran out of time for panelists to answer all the questions we had for them, but they were kind enough to provide answers to a few additional questions that were submitted to them during the session. If you weren’t able to attend the conference this year, you can still access all the keynotes, session videos, photos, and more on the UC Tech website.
Leveling Up with UC WIT panelists (from L-R) Patricia Juárez, Rashmi Umdekar, and Charron Andrus; with Carolina Manel at the podium. Photo: Jeané Blunt
A packed room of UC colleagues, including UC WIT sponsor Tom Andriola, listen to panelists Patricia Juárez, Rashmi Umdekar, and Charron Andrus share their experiences as women in the tech industry. Photo: Rita Rosenthal
IT Communications Specialist