Oct 09 2020

Three Lessons I Learned From Working in Tech for Over 25 Years

By Meta Careers
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Growth can mean something different for everyone. For some, it’s learning a new skill or stepping out of their comfort zone, and for others it’s taking on a new responsibility. Most of the time, we don’t know what growth looks like until we can look back and see our progress. Catherine S. has been working in the tech industry for over 25 years. Today, she leads a team of production engineers who build platforms that support the services and servers that power Facebook’s products. We spoke with her to get insight on what lessons she’s learned in personal growth throughout her career as an engineer.
“We have a saying at the Facebook company: ‘What would you do if you weren't afraid?’ I hadn’t heard this phrase before, but it’s a philosophy I’ve lived by throughout my career. Over the past 25 years, I’ve worked with companies of all shapes and sizes—from financial services and telecoms, to startups in health and data. I know what it feels like to have imposter syndrome, to be one of the only females in the room, or to feel like I’m much older than those around me. My hope is that by sharing my experiences, I can empower others on their journeys.
I’ve always been energized by trying something new, which is why I decided to join Facebook as a production engineering manager two years ago. What attracted me most was not just the opportunity to work with innovative products, but to blend my experiences working with startups with my passions for social good and women’s initiatives.
"Catherine on a small stage with a presentation on screen"
Catherine presenting at the Dublin Women in Tech conference
My path to Facebook hasn’t been linear. My journey in tech started while I was at university studying applied mathematics. A lot of the work we did was computing, and after graduating, I ended up working as an IT programmer at one of the leading banks in Dublin. Working in computing then was a bit like working in the Stone Age. We were using technology that was still in the early stages of computing, but I was fascinated by how much power you can have with a small computer program.
This curiosity propelled me throughout my career to work at companies across a variety of industries. Along the way, I’ve learned a few valuable lessons that have shaped my career as an engineer.

1. Always look for opportunities to learn from those around you

At Facebook, I am constantly inspired by the engineers I work with and the people around me. If you want to tackle a new challenge, there’s always someone willing to jump in with you and share their expertise. I like to say that we are surrounded by a gold dust cloud of opportunities and people just need to grab one and ask lots of questions.
If I can think of one piece of advice for our future generation of engineers, it’s to always look for opportunities to build relationships and develop your own technical skills by learning from others. We get stuck when we think we have to do everything on our own, but there is so much value in the experiences of others. When we work together, we can learn from one another and open ourselves up to new possibilities.

2. Empower others

I’ve had many mentors and managers throughout my career who have helped me build relationships with people around me, celebrated my successes and encouraged me to try something new when I failed. What I learned from them is the best way to continue growing is to empower others and help them shine.
As a manager today, I focus on helping people discover their passion and interests, and translate them into the work they do. When it comes to women, I encourage them to not be afraid to put themselves out there or speak up. As women, we tend to overthink tough experiences or critical feedback, and we lose our voice in the process. This is often our achilles heel. But if we can learn to move on and take what we can from these experiences, we can thrive.
At Facebook, there is plenty of opportunity to get involved in initiatives that support and empower other women in tech. Last year, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak at Grace Hopper inaugural event in Dublin and at Women In Tech Dublin to a room of hundreds of women in tech and share my experiences. I’m also a part of the Women in Infrastructure group at Facebook EMEA, where we empower women to speak up, have a voice at the table, and lean in. Finally, I facilitate a few of Facebook’s ally circles in our Dublin office that promote allies in the workplace across diverse communities, including LGBTQ+, women, and people with disabilities. There is no better feeling than seeing communities of people lift one another up.

3. Be willing to try something new

Throughout my career, there have been times where I’ve felt like a square peg in a round hole—like I had to mold my personality to fit the culture or the work I was doing. The thing that kept me going was knowing I had the opportunity to switch direction whenever I wanted. I’ve always been willing to take a leap and try something new, and over the years, I’ve realized this is the best thing I could have done for myself.
Never be afraid to move on from what you’re doing and try something new. If it doesn’t work out, you can always change course. There will always be another opportunity—you just have to take the leap to get there."

At Facebook, we respectfully speak our minds, we challenge the norms, and we aren’t afraid of making mistakes. We are all different, and we appreciate that everyone brings something unique to the table. It doesn’t matter whether someone has been here a week or 10 years, there’s a space for everyone to be heard. It is this open culture and community that allows us to learn from one another, empower each other and be unafraid to take on new opportunities.

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