Secretary to CEO: 6 things I learned about building a career in tech

The success stories of tech leaders are often so unreachable for those aspiring to build a career in the tech industry. Although many of us have garages, there is nothing practically useful about how Steve Jobs or Bill Gates got their start.

There are tons of inspiring stories we hear repeated regularly in the media about the world’s infamous tech leaders — and they serve their purpose to transform our mindsets, to push us to reach for more, to help us dream big (I’m often genuinely inspired by them).

But rarely do we hear the accessible stories of individuals who built careers in tech the traditional (i.e. less “sexy”) way: by working hard, climbing the “ladder,” and by learning and failing in almost perfect succession.

Today I’m proud to serve as CEO of an award-winning, rapidly-scaling tech startup — but my start was far from the world of software engineering or marketing. My proverbial “garage” looked more like a secretarial desk: I earned my degree in Translation and began my career in Administration (essentially, I did coffee runs and filed paperwork for executive teams).

Dreams of joining the Marketing team of a technology company began to take over my mind — but I repeatedly found myself “blocked” at every turn. There was nothing inspiring about this part of the story: a stream of rejections seemed to come from everywhere, and I felt stuck. These were tough moments.

Eventually, I did claw my way into Marketing in tech, making my way to serving as CMO. From there, I stepped into the CEO role — and it marked the beginning of a wonderful new journey that has barely begun.

Looking back, I have realised that I know a thing or two about climbing the career ladder in tech.

But the truth is I don’t have a single piece of advice for up-and-coming individuals in tech —

I have MANY.

Whether you’re thinking of a career in the tech world or whether you’re halfway up the tech ladder already, here are my top 6 tips:

#1 Surround yourself with other values-driven and ambitious people.

There’s a power to proximity by networking with successful and honest people in the tech industry. If you befriend and learn from people who are smarter and more successful than you, you’ll more likely achieve your own goals. That’s because the people you spend the most time with, converse among and share journeys with shape who you are. It’s also a great motivation factor.

#2 That being said, don’t compete with others.

Your only competitor should be yourself. Avoid that trap of comparing yourself to other people and only measure your success against what you are capable of achieving. Nothing beats hard work with focus and passion. I always tell my staff that “competition brings out the worst in people and the best in products.” It exists to compete with products so that we can elevate them to the best of their abilities but when we compete with each other internally, we create a toxic environment.

#3 Focus on execution rather than strategy (especially in the beginning).

Your strategic mind is going to develop by doing–not by reading or completing an MBA or a PhD. The advantageous strategic mind is born from a history of getting sh*t done. If your execution is poor, nothing matters. I’ve met a lot of people in my career who spoke eloquently, always said the right things and looked top of their game, but when you glanced under the hood, there was chaos. After those people are done impressing others with presentation, the rest of the company is left picking up the pieces of their poor work. Don’t be that person.

#4 Be open-minded.

Expose yourself to new ways of thinking. Having a clear set of views on things is not ideal for the startup environment. Ambitious people like to break away and distance themselves from group thinking by exposing themselves to new ways of thinking. If you’re open to new dialogue with acquaintances or anyone that has different perspectives than you, your own perspectives and ideas will surely expand. Being open-minded will force you to grow in unexpected ways.

#5 Be willing to take risks.

Some people are better equipped to swallow this fear. Others have PTSD from working for micromanagers or bosses that instilled fear of making mistakes. If you want to be a changemaker and grow the business, you have to get comfortable with taking leaps of faith, trusting yourself and putting faith in those who work with you. I won’t lie: sometimes the risk won’t pay off and you’ll fail. But the glorious thing about failure is that you can learn from those mistakes and ultimately be stronger for it.

#6 Lead with Kindness.

Always be kind to others. If you lead with kindness at every stage of your role then even though people might take advantage of that and you might not win every time, you’ll always feel good about who you are and the things you’ve done. And hopefully, that will eventually lead to a good place. Most importantly, be kind to yourself. In today’s world, and especially the tech industry, it can be so easy to perceive a mistake as the final nail in your coffin. However, you’re allowed to — and you’re going to — make mistakes so please be kind to the person you were, are and will be along the way.

Ultimately, no matter where you start, you can climb the ladder successfully and build an amazing career in tech. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself time and space to learn, try and fail. Surround yourself with people that share your values. The CEO role is within reach — I am cheering you on from the sidelines.



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Sonia Dorais

Sonia Dorais

CEO & Automation Economy Expert. Former CMO & Marketer at heart leveraging 20 years in scaling B2B technology & SaaS businesses.