Diva Tech Talk interviewed Wanda Castelvecchi, National Practice Manager for Security and Enterprise Networking at ePlus, (https://www.eplus.com/), responsible for over $500 million, annually.
Wanda did not enter the technology industry in traditional fashion. In the mid-1980’s she was a law librarian, using Lexis (https://www.lexisnexis.com), and Westlaw (https://legal.thomsonreuters.com/en/products/westlaw) research databases before most attorneys became adept in them. “I worked for a large law firm in downtown Richmond, Virginia, until my son was born,” she said. During her maternity leave, the law firm closed. “So, I found myself as a brand-new Mom, with a brand-new baby at home, with no job. I had to figure out how to make this work!” She became the “Renaissance Woman” at a smaller firm, doing reception and recruiting duties, working in the law library, handling billing, marketing and more. That firm acquired their first computer. So, she evolved into becoming the firm’s internal computer expert. Wanda saw this as a strong learning challenge, which she mastered.
From that firm, Wanda was hired by a technology systems integrator. She proceeded to obtain both Novell certification, and Microsoft certification, within the first 6 months and “thus launched my crazy career in IT!” After entering the field, she noticed the paucity of women. “It felt like a huge challenge to me not only to be accepted as a newbie in the technology field, but to be accepted as a woman.” At the company, Wanda was promoted into sales from systems analyst but immediately encountered a resistant manager, who stated she would probably “be gone in 90 days.” Wanda decided to prove him wrong. Through sheer persistence, she wound up as the top salesperson of the quarter, during that very first quarter. “As women, we could let those words crush us, or we can take those words and say ‘I’ll show you what I can do…”
Having moved from a technical role into sales, Wanda counseled that the path is not for every technologist. “What people don’t understand are all the mundane tasks” with which sales professionals cope, including paperwork. The role requires empathy for deeper psychological issues underlying customer satisfaction, as well as the need to acknowledge and attempt to rectify mistakes when they are made. She also emphasized that being honest, genuine, reliable, considering yourself an advocate for the customer, and never losing the tendency to ask many questions of a client, as part of sales discovery, is key to success.
Wanda moved from the smaller system integrator to Sycom Technologies (https://www.sycomtech.com/) where she spent the next decade. She performed at a very high level, becoming Professional Services sales leader of the year for multiple years and then “I became a sales manager. While I had a really good run at it, what makes a good salesperson doesn’t always make a great sale manager!” But she learned valuable lessons from sales leadership: patience with a diverse team; understanding that individual motivation is different and not all team members are driven to excel; and how to listen, set expectations, and create plans with achievable goals. But above all, Wanda “learned to keep moving and always learning.”
From Sycom, Wanda briefly did a short stint at another Cisco partner company, and then moved to ePlus, (https://www.eplus.com/), an engineering-centric technology solutions provider working in key technologies from data center to security, cloud, and collaboration. She has been with ePlus for 9 years. There she was fortunate to get her “best boss” and is absorbing more leadership lessons. One is selflessness. “Nothing he ever talks about is about himself. Imagine that you wake up every morning and you have the ability to create your own path. And you have a manager who is 100% supportive of that, who has always got your back!”
Selfless, herself, Wanda has been active in several nonprofits giving back to the overall community including a role on the Board of Directors for the Richmond Animal League (https://www.ral.org). But her newest endeavor fills her with the most passion. GRIT (which stands for Girls Rock’In Tech) introduces middle school girls to various tech careers, with a specific focus on cybersecurity. “In addition to there being an overall shortage of women in technology, there is a huge shortage of experts in cybersecurity,” according to Wanda, up to 1 - 2 million jobs going unfilled each year. So, from her vantage point, it is logical to encourage girls to explore the field. She noted that women are often more risk-averse, have excellent project management skills, and a concern for safety, so the field could be attractive. “Organizations who don’t have women in their cybersecurity practice are probably less secure,” as a result of the deficit, according to Wanda. Currently active in 4 schools, with plans to be at 6 by 2020, and then growing even more rapidly, the GRIT program’s name has a double meaning since “one of the things we want to be able to develop is grit” (the ability to persevere against all odds) in the young women it serves. “You can be really great at math, engineering or science, or anything you want, if you work really hard,” is GRIT’s mantra.
Wanda shared other additional success tips. Among them are: as you progress, pull people up with you; honesty and integrity are paramount; learn to laugh at yourself; and take your vacations. Most importantly, she emphasized: “Always be learning. Every day, learn something new.”
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