I didn’t follow a straight path to my career in technology. I was always a science geek (especially biology), so of course I wanted to be a doctor. After one year in a pre-med program at Johns Hopkins (have you seen the size of an organic chemistry book?), I decided I’d rather go to law school and I took all my science credits from my Bio major and switched to Psychology. I finished my degree requirements a semester early but I wanted to stay in town with my friends while I waited to hear back from the law schools I’d applied to. I’d been interning at the juvenile court in downtown Baltimore and they offered me a paid job for six months. The only way I could stay in my university-owned apartment for that last semester was if I took at least one class. The only class that worked for my work schedule was a programming class. I wasn’t thinking about a career in technology; I was thinking about continuing to hang with my friends before I went to law school! As it turned out, I really loved the class – much more than I’d expected to – but I also realized that I was pretty sick of school and I started to wonder whether I really wanted to go to law school right away. I decided to defer my law school admission so I could figure it out. (At the time, Georgetown Law let you pay $400 and start school a year later. I don’t even know if they still do that. If they didn’t, I might be a lawyer today!)
I got a job in a bank as a management trainee – my one and only job offer despite my highly marketable Psychology degree and Phi Beta Kappa pin. Trainees got to spend a month in each of the bank’s major departments and during my turn in IT, I finally got assigned projects that were both challenging and interesting. I asked if I could drop out of the trainee program and just stay where I was and fortunately, everyone agreed. I worked on data center capacity planning and several work automation projects that were focused on improving the efficiency of back office operations. I have always loved trying to find the optimal way to solve problems and these assignments were perfect for me.
One day, I was asked to participate in a stakeholder interview conducted by a business analyst from one of the “Big 8” accounting/consulting firms. His firm had been hired to do some major strategic project for the bank. The consultant was meeting with my team and then his next meeting was with the president of the bank. I was amazed (and annoyed) that he had the type of executive access that I was not likely to ever get – even though we were doing the same type of process improvement work. It seemed to me that the consultant had an ideal job. He was working on a project to design a software solution and he got in front of the top business leaders in the bank to really understand their key issues. His job seemed to involve everything I’d by now figured out that I was pretty good at and he was getting a lot more recognition (and pay) for it than I was as an employee. I became convinced that I had found my dream career – consulting!
The consultant had an MBA. So, my graduate school intentions became business school. Yes, in a matter of four years, I’d gone from planning for med school to applying to law school to applying to business school. My MBA program offered concentrations and I chose “information systems management.” Unlike my job hunting experience at the end of college, my experience in my last year of graduate school was different. Instead of one job offer, I had 20. It was a very good time to have a technology-related business degree and an even better time to be a woman with that degree.
That’s how I got started. It’s been an incredible journey. My path to IT was a little wiggly, but it’s been fantastic for me. I’m still fascinated by a good medical or legal story, but I love hearing someone say that the system I worked on has made their work much easier – or made it more interesting or more fun – and that the organization has saved money or time or all of the above. Here’s one of the best parts. Most of the time, the role of a business systems analyst does not have to take place 9 to 5, every day. This fact allowed me to work flexible hours when my children were little and still work on projects that were interesting and engaging. My IT career has allowed me to have a job where I can achieve the type of work-life balance I want. And, even when it wasn’t as common as it is today, I was able to work at home when I needed to. There are many paths to get to the end game. If there is one thing that I’ve learned it’s that it is always good to be flexible enough to change both your path and your mind, because when you are, you may find that you are exactly where you should be.