Successful Women in Technology: Mandy Chessell, IBM
To describe Mandy Chessell as anything less than a technology guru would be something of a crime. Having worked at IBM since graduating University, Mandy Chessell’s role as a Distinguished Engineer has been one that has seen her progress up the ladder at a very steady pace, leading to awards and recognition within the industry. So how did this successful woman in technology get to where she is today?
We recently caught up with Mandy to learn how her ever-changing career in the technology industry. Her bold achievements and the various accolades she has collected over the years prove that a career in technology is most certainly one that is exciting, challenging and diverse. Below she explains how working in a fast-paced industry can be gratifying for anyone wishing to take on a hefty challenge.
What swayed you to forge a career in technology?
I’ve always enjoyed producing software and related materials that enables people to use technology in a positive and productive way. It is tremendously satisfying when my work has made a difference to someone. Having been with IBM since graduating University, I have worked on an array of projects throughout this time, switching technical area and growing my level of responsibility every 3-5 years. It has now been 25 years since I started working at IBM and I feel my career has been one that has progressed in the most positive of ways.
What have been some of the challenges throughout your career?
It is certainly hard work. IBM expects its Distinguished Engineers to have a wide range of experience. This enables them to adapt to the constantly changing market and to lead cross-organisational teams with influence to inspire people to take risks and move in new directions. So I have been continuously set new challenges that have helped me develop my leadership and technical skills. For the last 15 years I have been able to look back six months at a time and realise that I have improved some aspect of my skills in those six months.
I’d say the hardest struggle is to learn to say no to additional work when I am already overloaded. I like to be busy, working on multiple projects at any one time – particularly when there are synergies between them. But I have discovered over the years that no matter how hard you are working, someone will often ask for more from you. Taking on too much leads to missed deadlines, and this can damage your reputation for reliability. The easiest way to say no to more work is to justify your priorities and schedule to yourself, and suggesting alternative people to potentially delegate the task to.
Have there been any moments in your career when you’ve thought “I’ve made it”?
Careers are built from many little successes rather than one moment of brilliance. So looking back, I see my highlights as collections of related activities. For example, I am proud of my patent portfolio, of the innovative technology I have created and the books I have written.
I also mentor some outstanding people and I love to see them succeed and grow their careers. Inside IBM I am a member of the IBM Academy of Technology’s Leadership Team. This is a cross-organisational group of technical leaders that tackle special projects and lead the schemes that develop professionalism and technical vitality in our technical community.
Recognition & Achievements
Where do you see yourself progressing in the future?
I enjoy teaching and writing about software engineering, along with designing new systems. I hope to continue to do this for a long while. I do believe that personal motivation is key to maintaining momentum in my career. I am an innovator, which means I am an agent of change. This can make me unpopular with people who have vested interests in the status quo. It may also take some time and a lot of work to explain a new vision and convince people of its value. All of these situations require me to maintain a positive attitude to keep pushing forward with the change.
How important is it to be confident in the industry you work in?
As a technical leader, I need to be confident that I can find a solution to an issue or an opportunity, but not so confident that I assume I know all the answers. Technology changes and new situations arise so I need to consult widely at all levels of the organisation. Leading people is a key part of my role and has been for a large percentage of my career. My leadership focuses on influence and enabling people to achieve their goals through collaboration. I see promotions and job roles as enablers to achieve my goals.
What are some of the key applications, tools or business gadgets you use to get by?
I use the Pomodoro technique (www.pomodorotechnique.com) to regulate my work when I am working on a large document, presentation or design. I also use www.TheBrain.com to organise multiple projects. It allows me to correlate what is happening, who is involved and where and in which context that activities are occurring.
Are you a woman making an outstanding contribution to the technology industry like Mandy? Nominate now for the 2013 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards >> (Nominations close Monday, 19 November 2012)