My Advice For Women Entering TechFeatured

Cybele Safadi is a Team Lead (Customer Experience team) at Betterment. As a third culture kid, she grew up surrounded by unique people and different cultures-- for this reason, she looks for opportunities where she can be a “connector.” She focuses on creating harmonious connections between the systems we build and the people we coach within them. Follow her on IG where she talks about what it means being a highly sensitive person in the workplace: @cybele.safadiWhile in college, I planned to take a year off and move to Damascus, Syria. My family is originally from there, and I wanted to teach English while learning Arabic. Then, the Arab Spring began. I was back at the drawing board, and I had to make new plans. I soon graduated from the University of Miami, and then I began to work. I worked in sales, hospitality, education, and policy. I worked in food and beverage, film, and international organizations. I went to graduate school and pivoted to learning about international development and public policy. And for the grand finale—I landed in the tech industry.It’s probably clear to you by now that I have worked and learned in many different spaces alongside mixed groups of people.
I have learned the importance of embracing diverse thought, being adaptable, and demonstrating grit.
Nobody’s career path is linear and predictable—not anymore. The truth is that there is no such thing as being ahead or behind, so don’t bother with thinking in those outdated terms. Now, there is only warmer or colder when navigating through your career and your life. Exploring the many different opportunities that come your way helps you quickly realize what you don’t want, and more importantly, what you do want. If my story sounds familiar to you, then you’re in the right place—keep reading. You belong here. Even if you have absolutely no experience in the tech industry just yet, that’s okay. There are many avenues that could lead you to your dream job within this space, but first, you need to do some deep reflection. We all can take hold of our personal growth by being resilient and a little creative.

Only You Can Define Your Motivations

The chance to execute and test solutions to complex problems is what motivated me to start looking into tech: an emerging industry that is still figuring itself out. I looked at different job postings at different tech companies, knowing that I needed an entry-level position that touched on both my strengths and my passions. Although I had a myriad of past experiences to choose from, I had to dig deep to connect the job duties from my past to the strengths that I have watered and grown over time.Beyond just defining my own strengths and motivations, I also considered what a company must offer me in return. Creating a positive social impact, being consistently challenged, and working alongside peers that encourage me to bring my ideas to life are all things that I care deeply about. It felt essential to find a company that needed what I could offer and could give me what I desired in exchange.
Be confident in what you can offer, and specific about what you want.
I looked at countless job postings and eventually stumbled upon an open Customer Experience role. At the time, I was working in a customer-facing role, so this opportunity seemed like the perfect entry point for breaking into the tech world. I studied the job posting for the required skills and strengths and paid special attention to major themes and keywords. I used the insights I gained to thoughtfully update my LinkedIn profile—and even paid for Premium—and constantly monitored my profile visits. Who were my visitors, and what keywords were they searching before they found me? I kept editing my profile to ensure that I was catching the eyes of the types of companies I wanted to join. Messages from recruiters started to flow in. They wanted to talk to me about open Customer Experience positions. When I showed up to the interviews, the dynamics were different this time. I felt as though no one had the upper hand and we were all genuinely trying to explore whether we would be a great fit together. Taking the time to define my motivations and develop a checklist of what I wanted had clearly paid off.When you are authentic in your responses and the way you present yourself, chances are high that you will:– Find a company full of other people that share your passions– Confidently share your ideas and opinions once you’re in that role.What does it mean to have provided “authentic” answers? Before the interview, think about 2-3 main points you want to make about yourself and your working style. Handwrite the experiences that exemplify these traits, and how each one relates back to your overall themes. Tech companies grow fast and are usually scrambling for top talent, so remember that when you walk into your next job interview. Make sure to set expectations from the start. If you can communicate your value, emphasize your eagerness to learn, and pinpoint exactly why they are the type of tech company you want to work for—well, I’ll be celebrating your new role with you in the comments section below.

Navigating The Culture Once You’re In

By now, you have verbalized how you would be an asset: you’re ready to be both a student and a teacher at the same time, and have a wealth of experience you can pull from when projects arise. No matter if you’re coming in as a fixer, an innovator, a builder or a creator, from day one, you will be set on a steep learning curve. Checking in with yourself and jotting down your accomplishments helps reinforce what positive changes are taking place in your role. Learn to roll with the punches.I know that it sounds easier said than done but bear with me. Try this: Every time you think you’ve made a mistake just sit, breathe, and think over what can be improved for next time. Then, go take a break or do something else for awhile. Maybe even reminisce over how far you’ve come, because the “you” of just a few years ago probably wouldn’t even be able to imagine yourself here. In the tech world, there are so many things that need to get done, and so many changes taking place everyday, that it’s easy for things to slip through the cracks. Remember to practice being compassionate with yourself and know that mistakes that may occur at work are not about you or tied to your overall value as a person. They are about work, and about the expectations that we have of one another while working within systems that can fail.
You are more than the sum of your parts.
I have learned that I will never know every answer. For some people, not knowing the answer may seem like a type of failure. In the past, when I was confronted with a question I did not know the answer to while leading a training, I would immediately get flustered, crouch into my seat, and feel that perhaps I was unqualified to be in my role. I would leave that training, red in the face, only to have my boss pat me on the back and say, “great job!” Since then, I know that it’s okay to not always have the right answer, and it’s even more okay to confidently say, “I don’t know. Let me get back to you.” Upon reflecting, if I know it’s something I should have seen coming, I sit, breathe, think about how I can do it better next time, and remind myself how far I have come. Don’t be afraid to show your work. You obviously don’t have to show all of your work—this isn’t 10th-grade geometry class. But, it is important to show your work on projects that you think are worth sharing. What does showing your work at a tech job look like? It depends on what tools you have at your disposal that allow you to write, draw, or archive your accomplishments and projects. This can create opportunities for greater collaboration, and allow people to see in greater detail how you’re contributing to your team or even the overall organization. At my company, we use something called “blurbs.” It’s an internal tool that you can use to write about your day or week, and people can “follow” you, much like how Twitter works. Even if no one reads your blurbs, keeping a record of your work allows you to reference how far you’ve come and what to communicate during performance review time. Using blurbs, I am able to document the various customer cases that I’ve learned from, the progress on any of my projects, and the pathways I envision for my success—all in one place. Because of my blurbs, I now receive more specific feedback from the director of my department. Through my transparency, he’s learned to trust my instincts even more, and more frequently offers up affirmations concerning my positive contributions to the team. If your company doesn’t have something similar to blurbs, asking your managers to accept weekly memos from you is the next best thing.
You’re not in this alone—find your support group.
Places like Elpha include rich examples of women navigating tech and that have ideas to share: in other words, people are engaged with one another. Find and form these kinds of groups, whether online or in real life. Think about it in terms of needing a “board of mentors” when it comes to your career. Who can you bounce ideas off of? Finding people within and outside of your company and industry that you trust is key. Then, making sure that you connect with people from all walks of life in terms of age, experience, and cultural background, allows you to pull from experiences and lessons you don’t need to go through yourself. I once happily volunteered to be a facilitator for a women’s connect group at work. We meet twice a month and loosely structure our discussions around our recent accomplishments and personal obstacles. It’s a great way to establish closeness to those that can one day be your biggest champions and helpful challengers. Ready to explore tech?If you find yourself in a workplace that feels stagnant and roles are strictly defined, ask yourself if operating in that kind of structure will help you meet your personal goals. Try to define what motivates you. Perhaps it is the case that routine is something you thrive on and you can grow within set parameters. If that’s the case, a job in tech may not be for you, and that’s okay—everyone is different.If you are a problem solver and you thrive in an environment that asks you to do this every day, tech is a great space for you to explore.Dig into what it is that you can offer and find that matching job title. You may even choose to attend classes and boot camps to get certifications for more technical roles. Generally, tech companies are open to hiring people from varying backgrounds that are curious and eager to learn, but certain roles require additional educational advancement.Think about browsing LinkedIn for people and job descriptions, and taking boot camps/short-term courses in the subjects that pique your interest, (some places offer free, 1-day courses or free online courses). I believe in you and I can't wait to hear about your journey in the comments section.
This was beautifully written, thank you for sharing! All of this rings true as a recent grad trying to "connect the dots" on my career path
Thank you Lauren. I know this will sound like a line from a cheesy self-help book, but you have to create those dots now (work, explore, learn) so that you can later connect them (job, career, focused passion).
This is such a moving and inspiring post - for all of us, no matter where we are in the trajectory of life. Thank you
Thank you Ellen, that is so kind! How many times have you had to "start over" when it came to your career?
Wow, thank you for taking your time to share this. This is really powerful. Empower yourself and don't expect others to hold you up. Take the first step to be who you want to be. I really believe that being a student and a teacher is how leaders move people. There is a balance of vulnerability and inspiration. That's what people want, someone who recognize that they, like everyone else, is not perfect, but they push forward because the best part about not being perfect is that there is always more space to grow. I help companies innovate and improve engagement through design thinking. I work with leaders and teams, and the most frequent thing I hear is that people feel like they can't change their boss, their corporate culture, their teams. They feel stuck because they are always discouraged/disappointed when they trust, and make themselves vulnerable. Of course people can leave, and they do. But many times, their new roles/teams/etc. are no better. That's what I want to change. Give people more space in their jobs to take ownership over something they want to do. Innovation is a great way to do so, and we see people excited and empowerd after design thinking sessions. Not everyone feels ready to share, but with the right prompts, many do share their brilliant thoughts. So thank you for sharing! It's a good reminder that we should continue to create our own paths.
Thank you for your thoughtful post Vicky. I 100% agree with you-- trust is the foundation of any healthy, growing relationship. Being a leader means you have to be vulnerable first. Would love to hear more about your journey. Have you worked for a great boss before? How did they show up for you?
Thank you! This spoke to me and I absolutely love it!
Thank you Amanda! What spoke to you the most? Would love to learn more about your journey
Great post! I especially enjoyed your comment on "There is no such thing as being ahead or behind" - especially since many girls/women in STEM feel they are behind with techbros who have been "coding since they were 8". Growth mindset is key.
This resonated so much with me too! I have had many different very jobs in very different industries since graduating college and I am really trying to not let that be a negative thing in my own self narrative anymore. I'm nearing the end of a web developer bootcamp and am super excited, yet super nervous, about what the future holds for me career-wise. Thank you for all the thoughtful advice; I will try to take it with me while I make this transition!
Thank you Christine. I am excited for what's to come for you! Pivoting careers/subjects is hard, but worth it
Thanks Lucky! I get it. Keep being challenged and pulling from all of your experiences. You have a lot to contribute from there.
Thanks for sharing this, Cybele! I can relate in that my background is also full of what I once thought were many disparate, divergent industries+skills. I've recently made a career pivot into tech and ux/product design, and I'm learning to leverage all my past experiences into valuable assets. Your story spoke to me at the right time.P.S. I've been a Betterment customer for quite some time now and love it - great service and UX :)
Thank you Celia! Buried within your experiences are lessons and breakthroughs. Glad we could connect.
Thank you so much for sharing! My path into technology and within the technology industry has also been a series of trial and error. Each time, I try to frame it in a way of "what can I take away from this experience?" and focus on the types of skills I can acquire. I like how you approached your transition into technology leveraging on your skill sets and the immediate value you can bring. Would you be open to sharing your story (even from this post) and strategy with women in Hawaii through a live webinar? I am the Economic Development Specialist at the Hawaii Technology Development Corporation, a state agency dedicated to driving the growth of Hawaii's tech economy and workforce. We are putting together a "Women in Tech Series" and I am sure many women here in Hawaii would benefit from hearing from you.
Hi there! Thank you for your kind words. I would love to learn more. Feel free to email me at [email protected].