My nearly 81 year old mother is an opinionated, strong and resilient woman that has seen a lot of change in her life. She and I were able to spend a few days together these last few weeks, and she is even more sharp and engaged than ever. I have always thought that she had some unique insights and advice that did influence my choices in life. I have tried to pass them onto my sons and daughters but thought I would write them down. But first, a little about her.
My mother was born in 1934 and grew up in the Netherlands. Her earliest memories were of a carefree, comfortable and happy life. That all changed when she was six and Germany rolled over Holland at the beginning of WWII and started the occupation. Her life was defined by those years. She and her family suffered and witnessed many hardships that are very difficult for any of us to even comprehend. From watching the family shop having to close, to living in cramped housing with extended family members to make ends meet, to blackouts and curfews, to seeing your friends neighbors hauled off to camps never to be seen again, to starving during the hunger winter of 1944/45 in Amsterdam – none of us can truly appreciate how frightening and impactful this was for any of the children that survived this time period. My mother not only survived, but also now tells her grandchildren very vivid stories about this time so that we can all remember.
She is a creative, an artist. She worked as an illustrator before she got married and had a short career working for an advertising firm drawing ladies clothing ads. Her drawings are beautiful. She also took night classes, always trying to improve her skills. When she married, she quit her job and her education. She and my dad moved a world away almost immediately after their marriage to California where they started a new life. They became US citizens and were so proud to be Americans. They moved the family from one state to the next and also moved back to Holland for a short period. My parents seized the opportunity that America gave them. They raised four successful children and had a very good life. They started with knowing very little English and little money in the late 1950’s to today where my mother can live a very comfortable life without any financial concerns.
Above all, my mother adapted and encouraged her children to strive, to seize the opportunities in front of them, to never settle, to fight for what is right and to be happy. My mother spoke from experience and her insights were spot on, and her words ring in my ears almost every day.
- Get an education!
As my sister and toiled away late into the night during middle school, high school and college, our mother drove us on. She never really understood everything we were learning, but she kept saying to us over and over that we needed to keep learning, keep trying, and to keep getting an education. Without education, she told us, we would not be able to take care of ourselves and would never be independent. She kept stressing that education was the key to opportunity, to our opportunity. Education is something, she said, that no one could ever take it away from you. She valued independence through education. She was so right.
2. Work Hard!
Being a first generation American, the work ethic in our family was very strong. We all had jobs early in our lives and had to spend our own money to even buy clothes and supplies as teens. We had no money. Everybody pulled their weight and contributed to the family (chores around the house were mandatory). We all did what was expected. We hauled dirt, made gardens, dug holes, mowed lawns, washed cars, fixed cars, cleaned house (every day!), sewed our own clothes, the list just goes on and on. We were encouraged to get jobs and earn our way.
3. Have a Career (and never rely on anyone)
My mother gave up her career when she married, something she wishes she had a choice about. She encouraged all of her kids to have a career and make our own way. She wanted us to be independently successful so that if something went wrong in life, we could be self-sufficient. She kept saying that we should never rely on anyone else. That may have been her way of protecting us from an unknowable future, but she was so reliant on my dad, that she felt trapped. She never wanted us (especially her daughters) to be trapped.
4. Exclaim! (see the beauty)
My parents showed us the world. My mother would laugh at my dad because as she said, “Exclaim! Exclaim!” He was always over the top exuberant. We were taken on hikes in the mountains, taken to beautiful cities, listened to classical music daily, shown every day that the beauty of the world is all around us – in flowers, in gardens, in the mountains, in cities, in music, in art, in history, in monuments, in mountains, in museums, in stories, basically in the world. So, please “Exclaim!” (BTW: this drives my kids crazy!)
5. Keep it Simple!
Ok, this is really one of my dad’s insights, but my mother has fully embraced this especially since he passed away two years ago. We all deal with too much clutter and stuff. Let it go she would say. Throw it away! Get rid of it! Yes, she uses a lot of exclamation points when speaking and I use them a lot in writing. Makes me laugh!
6. Quit the job! Play hooky!
Whether we were in school or working, she wanted us to have fun. She would start some school days with this: “who wants to play hooky?”. She wanted to have us stay home and play. She wanted us to not be so serious and enjoy life. She also is very direct today if she hears that your job is no fun. Her advice, “quit the job!”. She always encouraged that the job should be fun, or why stay?
7. Never marry someone for pity. (find your equal)
Sometimes I wonder on this one, she said it so many, many times. She recommended that you find a partner that was your equal. This means that you and your partner must have an equal education, upbringing, background, religion, intelligence, morals, interests and passions. She stressed time and time again not to fall in love with someone because you felt sorry for him or her, and for goodness sake, do not marry someone out of pity. Do not marry someone that isn’t your equal. “It will end up all wrong.” Yes, mom.
My mother was a stay at home mom. This was great for us, not sure if it was great for her. But she did exceptional things for and with us. Every week we went to the local public library. We would ride our bikes to the library and we would each check out stacks of books. We went home with our new treasures ready to enjoy the next adventure or learn something new or read history and become more and more knowledgeable. (Ok, then she would wash the book covers so we wouldn’t catch germs!) She read everything about Lincoln and the Civil War when we lived on the East Coast. She became immersed in Lincoln and still to this day can talk about Lincoln, the Civil War, his Cabinet, everything. She taught us all to love to read. Dream through reading and read for the pure joy of it.
9. Be an American.
My parents were emigrants and were intent on becoming Americans. They applied and became US Citizens in the early 1960s. They were so proud. They believed we needed to be patriotic and celebrate everything about America. My dad was a big believer in Veterans and gave to the Veterans. It really was his way of thanking them for liberating Holland. My parents both believed in all the Freedom that we Americans enjoy. They believed that we should only speak English in our home. We visited Washington DC many times and took an East Coast tour of significant historical sites when I was a teen. They believed deeply in America and the opportunity that they enjoyed as being Americans. They voted. They hung the flag with respect. They were true Americans.
10. Exercise! Be Healthy!
My mother was always on the run, literally. She was and still is in great shape. We were shown that we should move and keep a healthy active lifestyle. We hiked the Sierras every summer and we played tennis, soccer, baseball, rode bikes. We were told to run – my mother loved to walk – FAST, and she talked about running. She maintained her pre-marriage weight throughout her lifetime. She ate small portions. Over eating in our house was simply not done. We did not have that luxury. No snacks. No junk food. None. To this day, we all are pretty healthy and active. Thanks mom!
I feel like I could write so much more, but these are the key insights and wisdom that I learned from my mother (and my dad). My mom still has her ups and downs as we all do, but overall she has great insights on what is good, what is right, and what we should all do.
As a kid, I certainly wasn’t any good at math, or so I thought. I actually struggled with math until my last two years of high school when it suddenly all clicked. Why? Well because I had heeded the advice of a senior classmate who said, “you have to practice, and then do it again and again.” She was right. And as it turns out, so was my math teacher. I started “getting it’, and my math scores soared. So, when my math teacher (thank you Mr. Lehman), told me I could do anything with math including being an engineer, he opened my mind to new possibilities. I quickly applied to San Jose State University as a math major, since it was late in the application process and I needed to land somewhere. As an aside, I was also accepted as a EE at Santa Clara University, but could not go (that’s a story for another day).
So, math it was. And math launched me to where I am today – a senior executive in marketing. The career journey to today was not one I could anticipate, predict, plan, or even dream of. It just happened. One step at a time – in a very unexpected journey.
I graduated from SJSU in 3 years with a BA in Math and a concentration in Computer Science. I thought I would do something with math, like teach, but my math buddies and professors quickly sent me to the Career Fair, and it was there that I met with numerous companies that wanted me as a software developer. A whole new world of possibilities opened up for me.
I developed code for nearly 6 years at the beginning of my career, and loved every minute of it. It was fun, rewarding and very satisfying to piece to together software to solve problems. I couldn’t get enough of it. One thing I did do when I started at the then “up start”, Sun Microsystems, was to develop 3D demos to showoff the capabilities of the new 3D graphics workstations. I thrived in the environment and was more than happy and proud to show potential customers the new systems. I was quickly noticed by some very smart marketing people as a potential new recruit into marketing. My initial reaction: “marketing! You got to be kidding me! I’m never going into marketing!!! I’m an engineer!” Well, they convinced me that I should try out technical marketing, so I figured why not?. One thing led to another and I went from writing code, to writing whitepapers, to writing PRDs, MRDs, and launching new products, new ideas into the market.
I rose quickly, and moved fast through an organization that encouraged diversity of ideas and skills. From workstations to servers to software, I managed to always increase my knowledge, solve new challenges and make a difference. I thrived in an environment that valued creativity and content knowledge and didn’t hold anyone back. I was fortunate enough to work with some of the smartest people on the planet and started marketing new technologies and innovations coming out of the CTO organization: including Jini and JXTA technologies. I worked closely with distinguished engineers on open sourcing these technologies to gain adoption, build communities, participate in new ecosystems, and drive our thought leadership even further.
Then came Java Marketing – oh what a ride! The software leaders trusted me to help Java reach even further and we created java.net (an open collaborative site for all things Java), java.com (a massive consumer touchpoint to get Java), refresh the brand itself, monetize it and ultimately open source it. From there I was tapped to head up corporate marketing for Sun. Brand, advertising, global communications, everything to drive the brand reputation and deliver results for the business. It was fantastic! The journey at Sun ended roughly 5 years ago when Oracle acquired Sun. It was had been an amazing ride with an amazing company. An unexpected journey for not only me, but everyone that was there. So, now 5 years later, and after having held several CMO and senior marketing positions, I still get the question….. math to marketing? How, why?
Let me try to answer with three simple thoughts:
Math taught me to think through problems methodically. Math also taught me to be creative in my approach to solving a problem. Math taught me to see the beauty in the answer. Math made my heart soar as a very complex problem unfolded into a simple answer. The ceaseless step-by-step approach to solving problems has lent itself unbelievably well in all of my roles as a marketer. A marketer must be relentless in thinking through problems. See all sides of a challenge and turn it into opportunity. A marketer needs to be disciplined and drive for a conclusion. Approaching marketing whether it is a brand reputation challenge, rising to the task of digitizing marketing, or measuring the ROI of marketing, is very similar to approaching a math problem. And the results will make your heart sing.
Marketing is a blend of art and science, but it is a business! When it comes to marketing, numbers matter. The entire customer engagement model can now be measured, refined, analyzed at every step. It is important for a marketer to understand the model and to determine the next path forward. ROI of every marketing activity, program, campaign, etc can and should be analyzed. Helping the company make their number by using marketing to drive business outcomes is an imperative. Numbers have never mattered more to a marketing person than they do today. Math people love numbers, love them!
Engineers, scientists, mathematicians are creative! They are artists of a different kind. They invent what is next in the world. They are the creators of the future. They dabble in music, photography, painting, creative writing on the side. They use their skills and their discipline to look at the world differently, to think of new ideas and to dream big. They always have to take that step back to see the bigger picture. And then have to use every angle to solve a problem, create or design something new. Marketing needs that creativity to think different, to distinguish a product or technology and to create new ways to go to market. Creativity is at the core of marketing, and I would argue creativity is at the core of math and engineering.
So, this unexpected journey from math to marketing, was not so unexpected. It now all makes complete and total sense.
As the Thanksgiving weekend came to a close, I thought again and again about how thankful I am for all that I have.
I am thankful for my amazing husband. He is a wonderful partner, friend and love of my life. He too works in the same crazy technology industry and understands the world I live and work in. We are an amazing team.
I am thankful that I am a mother of not just my four kids and three stepkids, but for every child I come in contact with. I am very proud of each and every one of my kids. They are all incredibly inspiring young adults. I am thankful that I have a passion to be a mom and love every minute of it.
I am thankful that I am in great health and strive to push myself physically. I love to run and walk, hike or backpack, cross country ski, downhill ski, mountain bike, horseback ride, kayak and anything that gets me outdoors and moving. It helps my mind, my body and my soul.
I am thankful that I love what I do, that I was made to be a leader and to think big and make it happen. I am thankful that I am able to use my brain, every day.
I am thankful that I push myself harder no matter what. I want to try to do better every day. I want to do good for my family and the world at large.
As I think about it… I am thankful for everything in the world – I am amazed by the people I meet, the places I visit, the books I read, the music I listen to, the art I experience, the beauty of the natural world all around us, in fact everything. My heart and life is full and for that I give thanks.
About a week ago, the company hosted “Bring Your Parents to Work Day”. It was great to see all of the parents walking around with their “kids” (the employees) and learning about the company and experiencing the environment. It’s a great idea built on “Bring Your Kids to Work Day”. Our companies’ kid day actually coincided with a World Cup match, so the company was buzzing with energy and excitement as we watched a fun match and munched on snacks. I remember that day because it was a turning point for me personally, and hopefully for many others that I am able to connect with. Let me explain.
It all started when a fellow employee asked me to talk to his daughters that were attending that day. He wanted me share my experiences as a woman in technology. You see, they were both very smart young ladies (grades 7th and 11th), good at science and math, but the 11th grader, in particular, was not thinking about majoring in STEM. Yes, they were taking math and science classes in school, but their reaction was “no way” to being asked if they wanted to be an engineer or scientist some day. He needed help in opening their minds.
We sat down in my office, and they were chatty, funny and really smart. I liked them both immediately. I asked them about school, what they might want to do when they grow up, what did they love to learn, what are their hobbies, what did they want to be when they grew up? One wanted to be a vet (7th grader), but the older one just didn’t know. They were both hesitant to consider engineering or science, even though they said they actually liked math and science, but it wasn’t for them. Why? “it’s too hard”, “not for me”, “not interesting”.
So I started discussing all the great things you could do in the world with a technical degree. We had a very open conversation and the 11th grader admitted that she did actually like math and was getting really good at it. I could relate to that and told them about my career and journey. How I got a math degree, then started my career as a software developer, worked my way through marketing which had resulted in being CMO and head of marketing at four different technology companies. I told them that I had an amazing career that is not only highly energizing and fun, but also highly rewarding. The light bulbs went off in their heads.
The next week, their dad thanked me. The 11th grader had come home, said great things about our conversation and signed up for a Python class (a programming language, not the snake). He said, that my conversation excited her to the possibilities of a really great future and it had made a difference.
I too was completely energized by the discussion and decided, I need to help where I can to guide and encourage young people, one at a time. I have since spoken individually to young students of both genders in several states about their love of math and what to do with it.
One was on a college tour with her dad, ready to get her math degree and advanced degree and she was applying at the top tech universities including Cal Tech, Harvey Mudd, UC Berkley and Stanford. I was very excited for her and we chatted about all the possibilities in front of her.
Another very smart young lady talked to me at her college orientation. She exclaimed to me that she “loves math!” I shared my love of math and computer science with her. We both talked about how fun it is to solve problem, how satisfying, how it makes your heart sing. But when I asked her what she might want to do with a math degree, she responded with “oh, I don’t know. Become a teacher?” She admitted her interest weren’t really in becoming a teacher, but she had no idea what to do with math. So I talked to her about the massive amounts of opportunity in front of her. I encouraged her to think bigger and broader. The world of technology needs people like her. Silicon Valley needs her. Every day we all use technology and it comes out of the brains and passion of people just like her. I gave her a number of tips on what to explore including taking CS classes while getting her math degree. She lit up and was beaming with the idea of a new and exciting future.
Since then I’ve spoken individually to a lot of high school and college kids and all of these conversations have opened their minds. They all need more of us talking to them, encouraging them, and guiding them. We can all play a part especially those of us that are in the midst of technology today. I believe that we need to pay it forward and that we can make a difference, one at a time.
Last week, was a great week. Tim Cook, CEO Apple, publicly declared “I’m proud to be gay”. He goes on further to talk about diversity in his Bloomberg piece by stating, “Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with everyday.”
What a great perspective from a great technology leader. His position and that of Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, couldn’t be more different. In fact, I’m still scratching my head over the unfortunate remarks that Nadella made at the Grace Hopper conference last month. I actually went back to watch the video to make sure I heard the remarks for myself.
Unfortunately for Nadella, but more unfortunately for all of us in technology whether we are in a diversity group or not, his “answer” not only didn’t address the underlying concern that we all have to seek fair and equitable treatment, but he tried to sweep any issue under the rug of the HR systems. I know he has since apologized, issued a letter to all Microsoft employees, stated his real opinion now, etc. But the bias that nothing is wrong with the system from a lot of technology leaders has existed for decades and it is even more disturbing that the bias still exists in 2014. Maybe Tim Cook and leaders like him can help change this.
I believe that doing a great job, getting results, and performing at the highest levels will help you achieve your career goals and should result in equitable treatment. Mary Barra, CEO of GM says she has never asked for a pay raise or the next role. Interesting, I didn’t until just a few years ago. I ended up asking for it. I finally made a direct ask for fair compensation because someone coached me. Their view was that this is business, and similar to doing a deal with a customer or partner, you should make your points known to the other side. It actually worked. The company gave me more then I asked for.
I’ve now passed on this great advice and coach people (men and women) to “Ask for it.” This isn’t just about money. This is about interesting opportunities, professional growth and taking charge of your career. Everyone should engage with their manager and other leaders to discuss development opportunities, to ask for honest feedback and assessments of performance, and what it will take to get to the next level. Compensation should be a part of these discussions, but not the center point, but again, an opportunity to ask for it. Ask to be treated fairly, ask for the next level, the next assignment, the next opportunity. Don’t wait for any HR system or manager for that matter to point you out and make it all right. It may not happen.
My point is that it doesn’t hurt to ask for it. In fact, you may actually get it, but you have to at least try and ask. Please do not give up and certainly do not rely on the “HR system”. It’s all up to you as the main advocate of yourself. So please do yourself a favor and ask for it.