How women can excel in the tech sector

How women can excel in the tech sector

Ronda Cilsick, CIO, Deltek, shares her journey to becoming a CIO – as well as her top advice for women working in a male-dominated industry.

I’ve been obsessed with technology for as long as I can remember. As a child, growing up in the 70s, I learnt a lot from my mom, who was working for a start-up technology company and taught computer programming at Georgia State University. It’s fair to say that she was far ahead of her time.

I started coding at home in the 4th grade – long before there were computers in classrooms or IT was taught in elementary school. I have vivid memories of getting into disagreements with my mom about my education and the classes she wanted me to take. The first was in middle school, when she made me take a typing class (on a typewriter – remember those?) because she knew I needed to learn the skill and develop early on.

The second was in high school, when she strongly encouraged me to take computer programming.

I’m so grateful that my mom encouraged me to take these classes – it ended up being one of the best decisions I ever made. In college, I went on to major in Computer Science and have worked in technology ever since. I haven’t looked back.

I’ve been at Deltek for almost 13 years now. I was actively seeking a fast-growing organization where the executive leadership team had a clear vision to drive meaningful, ambitious change.

After my first few conversations with the Deltek team during my interview process, it became clear that I’d found exactly what I was looking for. I initially joined the company as the VP of the Enterprise Project Management Office, where I focused on establishing a center of excellence for Project Management, launching Release Management and creating an Acquisition Integration Program and Methodology.

Since joining, I’ve had the opportunity to work in a variety of roles alongside many different parts of the organization, including IT, Product Management, Engineering and Global Consulting. Throughout my journey, Deltek has continued to offer me unique experiences to learn about the business, which in turn has supported my career growth and personal development, preparing me for my current role, where I now lead our IT and facilities organizations and serve as CIO.

There are many opportunities for technology to drive organizational change – be it improving results, increasing productivity or ramping up efficiency. The pace of change has accelerated over recent years and cutting through the noise, finding and harnessing the right tools – at the right time – is always a challenge.

Equally, living in the connected world which we all inhabit, we have to worry about things like cybersecurity threats, which seem to be forever growing in sophistication.

Ronda Cilsick, CIO, Deltek

My biggest challenge as CIO, however, is delivering more value, in a faster way to the business, while balancing keeping the lights on and protecting our employees and customers. There comes a point when you have to accept you can’t do everything, so instead we must make sure we prioritize and focus on the highest value things and delivering them as quickly and efficiently as possible.

It hasn’t always been easy to work in such a male-dominated industry. But over the course of my career, I’ve witnessed so much positive change, and I love taking the time to applaud the women who have spearheaded progress. As a woman in technology, I feel a sense of duty to support other women in their careers and give back to them the same support I have received in my career journey.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to be surrounded by positive role models, not least my mom. She taught me anything was possible and that my gender shouldn’t be a barrier to success. For instance, the computer programming class at high school was a brand-new class and I was reluctant to take it because I would have been the only girl. Ultimately my mom convinced me to enrol in the course – the rest is history.

I was then lucky to meet my mentor straight after college. I learned by watching her develop her own career in technology. One of the biggest things she taught me was to find my voice and style, not mimic what I’d seen before. It took some time, but once I found my leadership style ─ that was authentic to who I was ─ that’s when I started owning my own career and gaining confidence in my skills.

I think my first piece of advice for women in tech is to find a mentor who you trust and value. Listen to their advice, use them as a sounding board and celebrate all your little wins with them. And if you feel that you don’t need a mentor yourself, then consider giving back. I’ve been a part of Deltek’s Mentor Program for the last decade and continue to learn from each mentee that I work with. As a result, I’ve built lasting relationships that have also helped me better understand other organizations and roles across the company.

Secondly, I’d encourage all women – working in technology or elsewhere – to truly embrace the feeling of discomfort and use it to fuel their ability to drive results and succeed. I remember early in my career when I was offered a Project Lead position. Having never led projects before I was hesitant to take it, but my mentor pushed me to apply for the role, knowing it was something that I could learn to do.

What I took away from that experience was not to let my own insecurities of not being 100% qualified define what I do ─ rather use it as a career growth opportunity.

So now, whenever I am faced with new challenges, the uneasiness is still there, but I don’t hesitate – the discomfort motivates and drives me.

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