One of the events that I attended today at Grace Hopper was networking with CTOs for students. 15 minutes spent with one CTO and 6 students, 4 such meetings, and some networking over lunch. Some of the really cool people I met :
1. Sophie Vandebroek, Xerox
2. Rebecca Parsons, Thoughtworks
3. Per-Kristian (Kris) Halvorsen, Intuit
4. Greg Papadopoulous, Sun Microsystems
5. Nan Mattai, Rockwell Collins Engineering & Technology
6. Dan Reed, Microsoft
In 2006, I read and got really inspired by this article, and I was so excited to meet Sophie, that I stood in line 30 minutes in advance, to make sure I could find seating on her table. And I wasn't disappointed at all. Sophie was very relaxed, confident, and very much the image of an extremely successful woman. She even has a style statement ! (plain suits and silk scarves) One of the big messages I got from Sophie was to dream big, and talk to people about your dreams. Very often, I don't like sharing what I want to try because I am scared that it will fail, but her point that only when you tell people what you are doing, will they offer to help you, really hit home. She had told her interviewer in her first interview at Xerox that her goal was to be the CTO of Xerox, and that really impressed me a lot.
She also talked about working on a single project for 5-6 years to build your credibility as a technical person(depth), and then once you start advancing in your career, making lateral moves to ensure you have breadth across a wide spectrum of technology, that will help you advance further up the ladder.
Nan Mattai also talked about the importance of having credibility as a technical person, before aiming to be a technical leader, and about the importance of mentors. She didn't have the "ambition" to be a CTO before starting work, and she said it was all about working hard, and having fun, and not worrying too much about the big picture, and where you are going :) It was an interesting contrast for sure.
Rebecca Parsons was focused on the technological challenges, and keeping up with mega-trends in the industry, so your company doesn't get "surprised" by new innovations in the world.
Greg was the typical "successful silicon valley" person. Relaxed, tanned, "fun-loving", the "I don't know why/how am I so rich/successful" type of person. But that was true of all 3 male CTOs. The whole "its no big deal", "I just had kept having fun and suddenly I was successful" was what all three of them emphasized (and it was also something neither of the women mentioned).
All the CTOs I met talked about having courage, the ability to handle failure, dreaming big, perseverance, etc. However, all three women treated their position with "respect". Rebecca focused on technical challenges, Nan talked about how her success was unexpected, and Sophie of course spoke about ambition, but they all acknowledged all the work that they did to get where they were. The emphasis on the journey was present throughout, and completely missing from the stories of the men. It made me wonder why.