Kristina shares her journey from Discover Intern to Application Development Director. Read about her biggest career mistake, how she learned to self-advocate to set boundaries, and why she’s no longer afraid of change.
High school: Small town living
I grew up in a small rural town in Illinois. Population of 800 – yes, just 800. As a high schooler, I wasn’t familiar with computer science. My small school didn’t offer any computer classes. I loved math and I knew I wanted to do so something with that side of my brain. But I also knew that I didn’t want to be a math teacher, and I wasn’t sure what else you could do with a love for math. My high school math teacher encouraged me to pursue actuarial science— so that’s exactly what I did.
College: falling in love
My freshmen year of college, I took computer science 101. It was a required class for math majors and everyone dreaded it. It was a hard course, even for a typical math nerd.
I, however, instantly fell in love it. I got a 100% as a final grade and became a quick favorite of all the other freshman math students who struggled with the class. By the end of my freshmen year, I tacked on Computer Science as my second major.
When I took more Computer Science classes, I noticed I was a minority. Not only was I a minority, but I was the only woman. It didn’t bother me, and it certainly didn’t hold me back. If anything, I was subconsciously proud of it. I was trail-blazing, successfully.
Internships: effort and passion
Fast forward 3 years, and I landed an internship at Discover. The internship class was 40 people. 36 men and 4 women. The gaping ratio felt familiar to me. However, where my gender wasn’t a disadvantage, my small-town upbringing was. My internship colleagues weren’t just smart. They were very smart. And they’d been coding on the side for years.
Looking back, I learned more in my 9-week internship than I learned in all 3 years of college. I learned how corporations work and how different projects were from college assignments. I learned about collaborating in teams. I saw firsthand how we’d succeed and fail together.
I leaned on my teammates for technical support. All I could really give back was 110% effort. I certainly wasn’t the best coder, but I was a learner. I proved I could do anything I put my mind to– even if I had to work a little harder to get there. I saw firsthand that there are some traits that are equally, or more important, than simply being a good developer. Soft skills like passion, positivity and communication are very important– and not everyone possesses them.
Early on in my career, I made the mistake of getting too comfortable in my positions. I didn’t advocate for myself. Deep down I knew I was doing a good job, but I expected my work to speak for itself. I never vocalized my desires. Instead, I waited for someone else to tell me what I should do.
I stayed on my first team for 9 years before I got nudged into a management role. Looking back, I should have moved around more, learned different areas, confidently explored. But I felt comfortable and happy with my team and my role, and I became afraid of change.
I know now that my thoughts and opinions matter, and that I need to voice them. Even if people don’t agree with my opinion, talking through differences helps me learn and grow. Change can be scary, but it can also be exciting. It’s important to be able to handle change and get past the initial discomfort.
I’ve made 2 career moves of my own in my 16 year career. Both were scary, but both were tremendous opportunities that increased my network and support system.
Mid-career: workaholic meet motherhood
Before I had kids, I was a workaholic. I had no issues working early, late, or weekends. I was in a role that required off-hours support and I never minded the late-night pages or weekend sessions. I had my personal life, but work came first.
When I had my first child, I realized that being a workaholic wasn’t healthy. Putting in more hours didn’t make me a better employee. It actually did the opposite. It added stress, caused problems with my personal relationships and didn’t make me any happier. Alternatively, when I cultivate a healthy work life balance, I felt more energized both as an employee and as a mom.
As my 3 kids got a bit older, I realized that there were a few, very crucial times, that my family needs me each day. Dinnertime, homework time, family time, and bedtime. Before kids, it didn’t matter what time I came home. I’d try to be home by 5, but it didn’t matter if I was late. With kids, everything changed. I need to be home at a certain time. I have three hungry humans who depend on me.
So, I adjusted. I enforced sacred family time. I became vocal in the office about my need to leave at a certain time, and I stuck to it. Anything that still needed to be addressed, could be done after bedtime. Working after 10pm when the kids were asleep was easier for me than staying after 5pm. Being honest about my needs helped my team work around my schedule. If there was a task that wasn’t done before I left, they were confident I’d get it back to them later that night.
Directorhood: Leading with balance
Now that I’m in a leadership role, I consciously make an effort to cultivate a balance both for myself and my team. When we need to put in extra time during the week, that’s okay. I try to not feel bad asking my team for support. And when the people on my team have similar needs, that’s okay too. It’s a two-way street of stepping up when we can and speaking up when we can’t.
While my children may have taught me these lessons, my kids aren’t why work life balance is important. Not everyone has kids or wants kids, and that’s okay. Work life balance means keeping your life in equilibrium. It’s important for people with kids, people with pets, people with partners, and people that just love to go to concerts. What we do with the work life balance isn’t important. What’s important is that as leaders we recognize our people in full.
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