About the Women Warriors series: As part of our Women in the Data Center series, this is first of several personal stories of women who have successfully navigated careers in the data center industry we’re planning to run.
About the author: Over the last three years, Carrie Goetz, global director of technology at Paige DataCom Solutions, has seen the industry shift from mainframe to Windows/Unix, to virtualization. In her 30-year career in IT, she’s also experienced the flip-flop in trends from centralized to decentralized, back to centralized, and then to decentralized again. Over the next three years, Goetz expects significant changes as data centers work around latency, cloud, and the immediate need for data. She also loves meeting people all over the world and mentoring young women entering careers in STEM. At Data Center World Global 2017, she spoke on the “Women in Data Centers” panel, providing valuable advice for those entering a career in data centers. Goetz is an AFCOM member and belongs to the NYC/NJ local chapter. Both AFCOM and Data Center World are sister organizations of Data Center Knowledge.
Here is Carrie's journey, in her own words:
If someone had told me 30 years ago that I would be heavily involved in the data center industry, I probably would have laughed (after I figured out what a data center was).
Back then, the idea of networking was more sneaker-net than anything else. We transferred information from large floppies and disks by wheeling them around on dollies from one machine to another; and phone lines were incredibly slow.
Fast-forward some, and a project came up to tie several campuses together. I guess, like a lot of us, being able to spell computer and not being afraid it would take your arm off at the elbow made you the resident expert. To me, it was a fun way to learn something new. I even went back to school in my spare time. Fast-forward a little more, with that project having ended up a success, I went to work for a consulting firm, spearheading its networking division. From there I moved over to running IT departments and data centers and then on to a global role for a manufacturer running data center design services.
I have been blessed to be around some amazing people, and at this point in my career it is easier to say where in the world I haven't been than where I have been. That's one thing that people miss when they think of IT careers and data center careers. IT is global, and the possibility to see the world is a perk those working in the industry enjoy.
There are also many different positions and specialties available within the data center space. I’m a bit unique in that I have worked in three sides of IT: programming, networking, and data centers. Today, you can certainly add security as its own vertical in IT. Point being, if you don’t like one spot, you can always try another one.
To say that there have not been challenges from time to time would be a stretch, and I'm certainly not unique in this respect. Raising a family and balancing work, life, and quality in both is more difficult with children, but not at all impossible. It’s important to surround yourself with a support structure in both.
As we all know, there's no shortage of differences between men and women. Culturally and by habit, women tend to bear more of the child-rearing and home duties. Statistically, more women will be harassed or discriminated against at work and drop out of the industry than their male counterparts. While changes are happening, they are not happening fast or often enough.
I can remember the first day on the job as director. My boss told me that he was going to bring in a male instead of promoting me, because he wanted to hire a CCIE (Cisco Certified Network Expert), and that CCIE refused to report to a woman.
Another one of my bosses kept a calendar on the wall, and any time a woman was in a bad mood, he would mark a red X on that date to predict cycles of “behavior.” The sad part is that was years ago, and yet similar stories still exist. Litigating is a long and expensive process. In many cases, it is easier (and far less stressful) to walk away and find a better gig.
On the other hand, it's unwise to blame every problem on being a woman. Truth is, not everyone likes everyone else. It's one thing if behavior is truly abhorrent and identifiable as harassment or discrimination, but every little misunderstanding or quarrel cannot be blamed on simply being a woman in a male-dominated field. Maybe the person with the behavior problems is just a jerk. In some cases, women are harder on women than men in the same circumstances. There are lots of reasons that things can go wrong.
The solution, I believe, is support. And support doesn’t necessarily have to be from like-minded people. Rather, support needs to come in the form of people of several mindsets with the common thread of trust.
Don’t focus on the problem, focus on the solution. Sometimes it’s better to cut your losses; sometimes you can fix things. As a mentor, sometimes the best mentees are completely different than I am. There is more give and take that way. If you don’t have a formal mentor, take advantage of online groups like those on LinkedIn or professional associations like AFCOM. There are lots of us eager to help. Learn how to say, 'I’d love to hear more.' Free knowledge is cost-effective! Don’t be afraid to say, 'I don’t know, but I’ll find out.'
Ironically, as technology professionals with balancing act problems, we often fail to use technology to solve problems. While collaboration is important, it isn’t always necessary to collaborate in person. Both fathers and mothers can benefit from remote working, varied work hours, online collaboration, and a wealth of solutions that the very technology we support can enhance our quality of lives. Let’s face it; we are not in an eight-to-five industry. But that doesn’t mean that we must live in the office. We need to be part of the solution to bring about work-life balance. Learn how to say, 'no.' (I’m still learning.)
Lastly, I would say that as women, we need to support each other. Be receptive to picking up the phone and lending a hand to a peer, and others will begin to do the same for you. Every networking relationship is give-and-take.
Be grateful, be supportive, and most of all, carry the torch for those that will follow. Be active in STEM programs. Buy toys for little ones that open the “techie” neuro pathways in forming minds. Toot your own horn occasionally and enjoy your career. If you need some training, try a massive open online course (MOOC). Like anything in life, you get out what you put in. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself, and find the humor in things.