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How To Show Up In Corporate Culture When You Don’t Look or Think Like Everyone Else.

Juatise Gathings
Chatham Operations Director
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

It takes a village

When I think about growing up, I think about how it took a village. My neighbors babysat me, family-friends drove me to school, friends hung around my house. I came from a community. In my adult life, I love to “do life” with other people. I work within my communities to ensure each person has what they need to thrive. Life isn’t meant to be done alone.

The only one in the room

But in the corporate world, that’s not always the case. It’s tough to be a woman in leadership. It’s tougher still to be an African American woman in leadership. I know how foundational representation is for women, including African American women. Yet often times, I’m the only one in the room. Not only am I the only one in the room who looks like me, but I’m also the only one with my background.

Fitting in

In the past at work, I entered a room and made it my goal to fit in. That meant saying as little as possible or finding ways to align with the group’s overall direction, even if I thought another direction was better. It became excruciatingly hard to suppress parts of myself. But I thought this model was the easiest way forward.

Becoming a disrupter

I quickly discovered that assimilating to fit into the dominant group takes more effort, not less. Standing out to show up authentically is so much healthier than continually suppressing myself. So, I’ve shifted my mindset from fitting in to standing out. I speak up, regardless of my different thought, tone or energy. I challenge the group’s direction. Sometimes that friction can feel disruptive. But whether I offer the best idea or not, I know I have to be true to myself.

The women before and after me

Over time I’ve grown into myself. I’ve become more comfortable being the only one. I view my different perspective as an advantage. I feel an obligation to show up each day as my authentic self, to make the way easier for the women behind me. I also owe a debt to the other woman in leadership before me, and particularly other African American women, for helping forge and chart my path to leadership.

Free from imposter syndrome

The racial justice movement this summer was a large part of how I realized the value in my perspective. It gave me confidence to show up authentically. It freed me from feeling like an imposter.

Grieving 2020

2020 was hard for a lot of people. It forced the world to pause and reflect. The resulting racial justice movement coincided with a global pandemic, and I had so many more emotions to process. My heart grieved as I watched the news and our country’s leadership respond to the resulting outrage.

Transforming grief

Prior to now, societally we didn’t talk much about racial injustice in the workplace. For my own mental health, I decided I had to make peace. I thought about my brother and other individuals who look like me who may not be in a position of power to speak up for themselves. I focused on my lane of control and transformed my emotions into power and positive energy. I built up my courage and sparked conversations with my friends, shared social justice information on social media and educated my work colleagues. Through education comes awareness. Through awareness we build allies. With impassioned allies, we gain momentum towards real change.

Perfection not perfect

A lot things are broken in my current role. Some problems we can’t solve without the right technology, systems or resources. As a leader, that’s a really frustrating feeling. I’ve had to tackle those feelings head-on by acknowledging that sometimes I can’t immediately fix 100% of the problem. Rather, I might be able to fix 80% of the problem. I’ve adopted a mindset of truly seeking perfection vs. perfect. Where I can’t deliver the final product, I put one foot in front of each other, take small steps and build on progress.

Moving slow

I’ve made a lot of mistakes throughout my career. The biggest mistake I made early in my career was not sitting in the moment and enjoying the journey. I’ve always felt competing pressures to move fast, execute and perform. And as a result, often times I’ve moved a little too fast. I miss the opportunity to interact with colleagues in a meaningful way, slow down and ensure that what we’re delivering isn’t just good, but the best it could be. The momentum robs me of the opportunity to enjoy the journey. I now view assignments not as tasks to complete, but as opportunities to learn. I don’t allow my desire to execute become more important than the learning journey itself.

Building a culture of celebration

Receiving the 40 Under 40 award from my state’s business magazine this year was a great honor. I value stopping to celebrate critical milestones in my journey. But it doesn’t have to just be for large awards. In reality, each of us accomplishes things every day that make the people and work around us better. Don’t wait for the award. Encourage one another, fix each other’s crowns and take time in team meetings and huddles to celebrate the great work others are doing. This is important. In order to be celebrated, you need to celebrate others. Building a culture of celebration far exceeds the moment of an award.


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One Is Not Enough: Taking a Seat at the Table Requires Community

Tracy Hedrick
Operations Center Vice President
Phoenix, AZ
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

My Why

Three drivers consistently guide my actions and decisions in my life. The lifestyle I choose to live, the impact I want to make and the opportunities available to me. I think of my time and resources as cherished commodities, so I’m hyper focused on how I spend them. I thrive when I get up each day knowing I have the chance to do very meaningful work with people I care deeply about. Being my best self means I’m learning, contributing and having a blast doing it.

Combating sexism

One of my first senior roles was leading a Fraud Prevention and Investigations area. I was very young at the time and the only female in my peer group of all retired law enforcement officers. At my very first in-person leadership meeting, the senior leader of our group handed me the rental car keys and told me I was free to spend the day shopping as I would not be needed in the business meeting. He said, “We’re in Dallas so maybe go get some cowboy boots or a hat.”

After being momentarily stunned, I explained that my boss had given me this job for a reason and I intended to do it. It was a tense couple of days but it solidified my passion to make Discover a place that all of us feel like we belong. I’ve been fiercely determined from that moment to ensure nobody else is ever made to feel marginalized because they don’t look or sound like everyone else.

From pure empowerment to lasting change

I can remember the exact moment I found my voice. It was nearly a decade ago during a Diversity and Inclusion launch meeting. As I heard what we wanted to accomplish, I knew we had a big challenge facing us. Discover scored below average on an LGBTQ+ index to measure workplace equality. I took a deep breath, steeled my nerves and leaned over to share this with my manager at the time. He was unfamiliar with the index and asked to know more. I explained what I knew and he really listened. Then he said, “We have to do better.”

He followed up on it with our HR partners and started a movement to make progress. We scored 100/100 the following year and have every year since. Having a voice can be a source of pure empowerment. Having a leader willing to listen is how your voice creates lasting change.

A moment that changed everything

One evening at a large business dinner in the back room of an Italian restaurant, I had a three minute conversation that changed how I decided to show up as a leader every single day since. I was seated at a large round table with my team, enjoying delicious Italian food when a senior leader approached me. He knelt down next to my chair so we were eye-to-eye. He asked how my job was going and if I was enjoying it. I gave a simple answer that it was going great and I was loving it. Then he paused and looked me directly in the eyes and said, “You have no idea how much power you have. If you ever learn how to harness it, there is nothing you can’t accomplish.” He then stood up and meandered away.

My eyes still well up even today recalling that moment. It didn’t matter whether he was right or wrong, it was the permission he was giving me to embrace the power that comes with my role and influence in our organization. I think of that comment every single day and use it as motivation to really push myself to lean into the opportunities I have to move our business forward.

Being the only one

I started my leadership journey very young and early in Discover’s history. I’ve frequently been the only woman in the room or on a leadership team. I always saw that as a unique opportunity to prove to others that women belong at all those tables. I set a goal to always overachieve and be the example of what women can do so my male counterparts would be more accepting of the women following behind me. What I didn’t understand was the limitation that came from being the only woman. To truly harness the value diversity can bring, there must be more than just one. When you have at least 2 or 3 women at the table, you reach a tipping point from the contributions of that unique group. That’s true for all under-represented groups. One is simply not enough. We must find a path for others to join us so the synergy of diversity can be achieved.

Invisible work

I’ve made two major mistakes in my career. The first is how much invisible work I’ve done over the years. I’ve spent countless hours personally completing projects, doing research and polishing up presentations that didn’t create tangible value. I somehow thought my peers and leaders would mysteriously know that I was spending long nights and weekends completing all the extra work I thought was needed to meet our goals. As I now have a senior leadership role, I realize that invisible work is just that…invisible. We must learn to cherish our time and be laser focused on where we invest our limited energy. It’s a form of self-respect as well as a smart use of precious resources!

Trusting career intuition

The second mistake I made was expecting my leaders to know what was best for my career. I thought they understood the needs of the business and my skill set better than I did, so I entrusted them to move me into roles and projects that would best match my skills and the business’ needs.

Fortunately, I’ve had extraordinarily talented leaders that did give me the opportunity to take on lots of new roles and valuable projects. But looking back, I wish I would have trusted my instincts on what work needed to be done and believed in my skill set enough to ask for what I wanted. It’s simply amazing how often that works…all it takes is asking!



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A Year of Humility: Leading Through COVID-19 and the Fight for Racial Justice

woman smilingAngie Francis
Regional Operations Director
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
Lake Park, UT

My why

I thrive on serving those around me. Whether it’s an evening call for advice from a sibling, leaving a morning note to my husband or mentoring a coworker— I get my energy from helping others be their best selves. This intrinsic motivator has served me well at Discover. We have a culture of supporting those around us, developing the next generation of leaders and doing it all the right way. These core values resonated with me early on in my career. Now, 23 years later, I get to serve our internal and external customers within our customer assistance and recovery, as the consumer lending director.

How I got here

Each year, we recognize the people who have best lived the Discover values while delivering results with the Pinnacle of Excellence Award. My first year at Discover, I didn’t fully understand what the award represented. I simply felt floored by the pure excitement of those around me and the energy in the room. In that moment, as a 30-day collector, I set a goal that I would be a recipient of that award someday.

Never too old to call home

For the next decade, I actively worked on my development. I sought feedback, implemented that feedback, reached my role’s goals and helped those around me. I didn’t work so hard purely for the Pinnacle award. Rather, I really thrived in such a collaborative environment. Almost to the day of my ten year anniversary, my leaders called me to the stage to receive my 2008 Pinnacle Award. It took all my energy not to cry from excitement and pride. Immediately leaving the stage I happily called my dad to share the achievement.

woman holding badge and smilingFraming a picture of a hotel

During the trip to accept my award, I deliberately soaked up every moment. All the events and gratitude to the winners rendered me speechless. A photo still sits in my office from my hotel room on Michigan Avenue. Anyone who sees it likely wonders why I framed a random picture of a street. But to me, that picture signifies a very important career accomplishment that I will be forever proud of.

COVID-19 changed everything

Many moments in 2020 felt heavy and overwhelming. One of them was our efforts to transition all of Lake Park to work remotely in record time. Those first two weeks were the most important, high stakes moments of my career. Normally in moments of stress I can remind myself that in my day to day, people’s lives aren’t at stake. In mid-March 2020 that narrative changed. We all worked to deploy thousands of workers safely home before a positive COVID-19 test arrived.

Career-making moments

I felt inspired watching the resiliency, commitment and compassion of my team during this time. They physically moved and transformed workstations into Work at Home Kits. They operated on new information daily for how many employees we could send and who it would be. They continued to drive results for the company and give emotional support to their teams. All the while managing their own stress, family commitments and worries of what was to come.

That’s a brief moment in my career I hope to never repeat. But I’m so thankful I was able to observe the greatness displayed in the most challenging of times.

Responsibility to do better

2020 was also a year of humble acknowledgement of so many things I didn’t know, understand, or previously invest time to educate myself on. As a child, I vividly remember watching brutal, angry and righteous Civil Rights era video clips. I hoped that if I lived during that time I would have done what was right and had the courage to stand by Black Americans who weren’t being treated fairly. A hard reality for me was recognizing that we’re in that time now and I have the responsibility to do better.

My role as a white woman in the fight for racial equity

I’ve focused on understanding the social justice work in my community and activating support within my organization to create a psychologically safe and inclusive environment. We’ve had many candid conversations with our employees and expanded our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives at Discover. My journey has involved a lot of humble listening so I can continuously deliver allyship for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) at Discover.

woman and man smiling in front of mountain

Let yourself be new

When I relocated from Phoenix to Salt Lake to assume the Collections Director position, one of my mentors advised me, “let yourself be new.” She went onto say that too often as we move into new roles we assume we’re supposed to have all the answers and execute immediately. However, those first few months are really a time to learn, seek education and get acclimated. We should be taking time to breathe because in 3 – 6 months, we do need the answers. I’ve held onto that piece of advice and passed it onto others. I wish I had learned that earlier in my career. It’s proven true for the roles I’ve accepted, for my personal growth, and in my fight for racial equity. Humble listening comes before decisive action.


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From Intern to Director: Tackling Tech and Motherhood

Illustration of person holding a clock in one hand and money in the other hand

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.

Kristina Kuntz
Director, Application Development
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

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 career: making mistakes

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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How I Left Greece, Overcame Isolation and Redefined Community

Illustration of an airplane going across a cloudy sky

Ioannis K.
Senior Cloud Engineer
Farnborough, UK
Pronouns: He/Him/His

I moved to the United Kingdom (UK) from Greece five years ago. I left my friends behind and packed up my family for tech opportunities in cloud, machine learning and High Performance Computer (HPC) engineering. As an expat, my personal life will always be inextricably tied with my work. And as a dad, those ties are even more complex. Throughout the last five years in the UK, I’ve learned firsthand what it means for a company to uplift those ties, and how it feels when that support falls.

When I first moved to the UK, I immediately began the search for a primary school for my daughter. Unfortunately, the school offered to her was 10 miles from our home. I distinctly remember hurrying across the old Wokingham roads to make the appointment on time to appeal the school’s decision. Running right alongside me, just as eager and winded as me, was my manager, Dan. He’d heartily agreed to attend the appeal with me as a chaperone.

When the proceedings began, the principal sat down and opened the meeting for questions. Dan jumped in with question after question. Unrelenting, he barely gave the principal time to breathe. He told the appeals court how he’d struggled to find candidates who spoke English, German and French. Candidates who specialized in Linux. How valuable my skillset was and how important my family was to the local community. I watched the principal stutter and drop his papers. The appeals team shifted uncomfortably in their seats. The room fell silent.

In a week I received the decision: my daughter joined our local primary school. I had won the appeal— and my manager had helped me achieve that.

My manager became a legend in my eyes. He changed the future of my child. He helped my family feel more confident in our own neighborhood. He showed up for me as an advocate and a friend. I later learned that his son had special needs. He was intimately familiar with leading tough conversations with school boards, appeals courts and advocates.

After a year, another company acquired us. The larger organization had hundreds of thousands employees. Their culture was built on rigid procedures and processes. To confirm an HR document, I had to open a ticket with HR and wait over a week. My new manager couldn’t pronounce my name correctly for 6 months. I was told I couldn’t work from home anymore. Without that scheduling flexibility, I’d have to hire someone to look after my young son, who was out of school every third week due to a health problem. I was suffocating. Something had to change.

Eventually Discover reached out about a role in Farnborough. I felt afraid. I knew Discover was a big company in financial services. I didn’t want to jump into procedures and rigidity again. Luckily, that’s never been the case.

A week after I joined Discover, just before the holidays, my manager, Will, travelled from Chicago to visit my team in the UK. We spoke a lot about our families. At the end of the visit he gave me holiday cards handmade by his daughters. I felt a similar kindness that I had in my first role. I knew then that Discover was a place where I could show up with my full self.

It’s been a year since I joined Discover. I’m on the AWS Networking Services team. We deliver cutting edge technology while growing our skillsets. We routinely adopt all new cloud platform features after they launch (and are approved by our cyber security team). As an engineer, it’s exciting to get to consistently work with new tech.

I meet with Will every other week. He knows what bothers me— work related or not. Our AWS cloud engineering team is like a small startup inside a bigger organization. We’re a group of 22 and have the warmth and familiarity of a family. We know and support each other as people. I’ve made true friends both here in the UK and in the US.

I remember what it’s like to move to a new country, completely unfamiliar with the habits and local cultural differences. It can be isolating and scary. Though I’ve now adapted, I see some of my co-workers going through similar challenges as they move internationally for roles. The global friendships I’ve made at Discover are especially important for all of us who aren’t born in the country where we now work and live. We don’t have parents, siblings, or relatives living here with us. This emotional gap must be filled by other strong relationships. The friendships we build at work help to fill in some of those gaps.

And most importantly— there’s a healthy integration between my working life and my family. I’m able to prepare breakfast, drop my kids off at school in the morning, and pick them up in the afternoon. And my leadership team stands by me.



Interested in joining the Discover team? Explore careers with us.


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Top 6 Leadership Behaviors You Need to Thrive in Tech

Whether it’s staying connected to the bird’s-eye view or taking time to build trust with your team, Cloud Engineer, Kevin Roberts, shares the top leadership behaviors you need to thrive in the tech industry, no matter your experience level.

Kevin Roberts
Cloud Engineer
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: He/Him/His

Keep learning

Whether it’s going after an architecture certification or getting an MBA, continuous learning is imperative to leadership success. While it’s easy to become stubborn and stick to “what works,” the rapid rate at which tech evolves, makes following the status quo a disadvantage. What works now won’t necessarily work a month from now. Listening and adjusting to new ideas is critical skills in an ever-changing world.

An open-minded love for change led me to apply to my current role in cloud engineering at Discover. I enjoy picking up challenging projects, presenting ideas to other teams and pursuing further education and certifications.

I earned my architecture certification because I wanted to better understand all cloud services, not just the ones my team works with. The certification is a prerequisite for most cloud engineering and architecture jobs. I liked learning how to integrate and design efficient software architectures. Learning these new skills will help me stay up-to-date on the latest tech advances, thus building my skillset as a successful engineer, architect and leader.

I’m pursuing an MBA to learn a larger array of soft skills, including communicating more effectively. Business and tech have always been a powerful combination. I believe success comes not just from doing your work well, but from being well-spoken too.

Balance planning and accountability

In tech, the project roadmap is difficult to predict because of the level of detail required for each task. One error can lead to hours, days or weeks of additional debugging, testing and reconfiguration. When accepting a project, confirming that all the boxes are checked is highly tedious. So, we have to find the right balance between planning resources and holding engineers accountable to complete work correctly and on time.

As leaders, we need to do our best to make sure all stakeholders and team-members have spoken and all open questions are answered upfront. Re-iterate ideas to promote discussion around the acceptance criteria and design decisions. These practices help mitigate issues down the line by planning for accountability and encouraging ownership.

Influence intentionally

People in positions of power—whether they’re directors, managers, or even project leads— have a level of responsibility to leverage their influence for positive outcomes. I believe good leadership is determined by the ability to effectively, and positively influence the team.

At Discover, we emphasize the team’s success over the individual’s. When the team succeeds, we all succeed. Even without a leadership title, I feel a responsibility to my team to motivate, excite and inspire. I try my best to make sure the work I do is beneficial to the company, the individual and society. I’ve even taken on several official and unofficial mentees. I value honesty and try to provide my mentees with all the information they need to take their next steps.

Build trust

I recognized early on that to take on more responsibility, I had to build trust with my team.  As a newcomer, it took a few successful projects before I earned my team’s trust. Through those initial projects, I demonstrated good technical skills and communicated effectively. In turn, that gave me the confidence to speak up more and gave my team the confidence in my abilities.

Reflect often

After every sprint, we hold a “retro meeting.” A retro meeting is a designated time to reflect on the sprint and identify improvements. In order to hold an effective retro meeting, our team has to trust each other. We have to establish openness and vulnerability. We have to reflect on the sprint as a learning experience rather than a failure. Otherwise, looking honestly at a gap can feel like an attack.

When we change our mindset as a team, we create a more open and honest environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their perspective. So, we deliver feedback alongside solutions. We communicate our ideas effectively, outline our points and reiterate next steps. We encourage as much feedback as possible, as often as possible, to improve and ultimately, innovate.

Hold onto the big picture

In the past, I’ve worked with managers, project owners and architects who don’t take the time to think about the big picture. Pausing to take input from the right people can drastically improve a project. Without the right input early on, projects become poorly designed and require costly re-designs later on.

Yet, as engineers we’re taught to complete the task in front of us. We aren’t taught how to distill the bigger picture down into its interconnected parts. The architect on a project is often the primary person responsible for keeping the big picture close. But ultimately, every engineer should be operating with the big picture in mind.

I encourage everyone on my team to ask questions, share knowledge, improve processes, think about the big picture and promote a positive work environment so that we’re motivated as a team to work efficiently.


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Discover MBA Scholarship Winners Share Their Top Tips for Success

At Discover, we’re committed to advancing our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives through our continued partnerships with Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA) and the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA). Through those partnerships, in 2020 we awarded 8 MBA students with scholarships. This year, the scholarship recipients shared their sage advice, future aspirations and business school insights with us. Read their stories below to learn why we’re incredibly proud to continue to support these national diversity organizations and their members.

Donteria Evans

I’ve wanted to pursue an MBA since filing my first provisional patent in 2016. However, due to a lack of financial support, I was unable to pursue an MBA until now. I’m currently pursuing an MBA to further my business acumen and gain valuable experience as a career switcher.

Throughout my educational career, I’ve learned that there will always be a distraction. However, the prize is in how you handle every distraction you’ll encounter. As the first person in my family to graduate, I know first-hand how hard it is to accomplish something you’ve never seen or without a mentor. It is a lot easier to get distracted when the destination is unknown to you and all you have is a goal.

I would tell my younger self to stay focused. I’d reassure her that not everyone will understand or support her dreams, and that is okay. I would tell her this because she expects that she needs the support and confirmation of others, but she doesn’t.

Lawrence Montalvo

I don’t fit the traditional MBA background. At the start of quarantine in 2020, I embarked on a spiritual journey and I realized that I don’t have to conform in order to succeed in my field. After graduating, I plan on leveraging my MBA and experience by working in the cosmetics industry. I hope to start a new venture to center the queer and trans makeup experience and provide equity by involving our communities in the development and reinvestment phase. My goal is to have hiring power so that I can recruit LGBTQ and POC colleagues into marketing roles.

I’m a life planner and tend to expect certain outcomes to materialize in a desired timeframe. Over the past few years, I’ve learned that there is a larger meaning to everyone’s life at play and what we all desire may not happen at the “right time.” So, for those starting their career, going back to school, putting in hours to start a new business, just remember to enjoy the moment and the small wins that come with it and be proud of each step you take to get to your next chapter. Be patient and stand in your truth.

Andrew Varnau

After feeling stagnated at my previous position as an analyst in specialty retail, I knew it was time to challenge myself again by exploring other positions and industries. My goal after graduation is to land at a company where I have impact in the work that I do and the communities around me. I hope that I can act as a leader and give back to the communities I’m part of.

Three major values have served me well throughout my life. Firstly, I’ve surrounded myself with friends who are supportive, accepting and trustworthy. These friends have had a larger impact on my life than I’d have ever imagined. Secondly, I’ve felt free to be as authentic as possible with who I am in all facets of life. Finally, I’ve remembered that while pursuing academics is extremely important and shouldn’t be neglected, having fun and developing quality relationships along the way is important too.

I am extremely grateful that Discover Financial Services has decided to support the LGBTQ+ community through Reaching Out MBA. Doing so demonstrates a true commitment to supporting diversity in the communities that Discover serves as a business.

Jordon Rose

Business is often tasked with the sole role of generating money. While that outlook serves shareholders, it doesn’t help the world. I pursued an MBA so I could help reimagine how we think of business. I want to create a business that generates money and generates a difference.

This MBA marks the moment I go hard, or go home. My next step will mix my background in psychology, business and art. By the time I graduate, I’m hoping to build a start-up that uses psychology to train professionals to be less prejudiced.

My advice to my younger self would be to think less about how people judge and more about what feels right. Mozart was only truly appreciated after time helped the world understand him. Be your crazy self now and give the people in your environment time to figure you out. And if they don’t figure you out, good! Who doesn’t love a mystery!?



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Growing Up in Cuba: How I Learned to Code Without a Computer

Ronny Rodriguez
Senior Cloud Engineer
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: He/Him/His

Leaving the small town in Cuba where Senior Cloud Engineer, Ronny Rodriguez, grew up meant major culture shock. Learn how he ultimately launched his career in tech— despite never touching a computer.

I learned to code without a computer. I wrote programs with a ballpoint pen, on notebook paper. This was the reality of being born and raised in Cuba. The Cuban government heavily restricted our access to technology. I learned early on that resiliency and determination weren’t just beneficial life skills, they’re imperative survival tools. Now, as a Senior Cloud Engineer at Discover, there’s very little that intimidates me. I’ve spent a lifetime learning to adapt.

I was first exposed to computer science in 4th grade. I used a computer that was already a decade old for its time. The basic system used audio cassettes to load programs. In 10th grade, I learned MSX-Basic. We didn’t have computers at school, so we did all of our development with pen and paper. I hand wrote line upon line of code, never experiencing the moment when code transforms from letters and symbols into frantic activity. I’d finish an assignment, stare at the page and strain to imagine the results.

When I started university in 2001, I received a proposal to work for the university’s development team. I’d still never coded on an actual computer. I took the role based on the pure challenge, combined with an odd need to prove how boring and awful programming was. I paid a friend for 4, one hour sessions to learn Visual Basic 5. The Cuban government strictly forbid personal computers, cellphones and internet access until 2008, so learning on my own wasn’t an option. I joined the development team with just 4 hours of programming experience on an actual computer.

On my first project, we developed a physics simulator based on mathematical models. I spent many nights at the university accessing the highly restricted and exceedingly slow internet. Although Linux wasn’t widely known at the university, I ran my machine with Debian Linux 3. I taught myself to configure different services like Webservers, DNS and DHCP. I learned new languages like C++, Delphi and basic BASH. Rather than proving that programming was boring, I saw for the first time how exhilarating it could be. I spent 6 years of studying, working as a developer and teaching math at the university before deciding to move out of Cuba, to Mexico.

Mexico was a whole new world for me. I had to learn too many things all over again. Not only was technology heavily restricted in Cuba, but I was also from a small town. I’d moved to Mexico City, a city of over 20 million people, and experienced uncensored internet for the very first time. Just reading the news felt scary, having grown up with all international news sites forbidden. I spent countless nights in Mexico teaching myself new programming languages like PHP, Java and SQL. I began learning virtualization and had to soak in decades of information and technological advancement.

After 4 years, I moved to Miami, Florida with a passion for code and servers. I took a new job, which required some web development and used programming languages I’d never encountered before: ASP and ASP.NET. I enrolled in several online education platforms and pursued new cloud and redhat administration certifications to build my knowledge. I understood then that learning never ends.

My current role at Discover moves fast, the environment is like a startup. Though we have the security and processes of a big company, we innovate quickly. I frequently still use online video sites to visually understand new tech, learn what it does, how it works and evaluate if it’s worth pursuing further. If I’m captivated, and I often am, I’ll find as much documentation as I can to better understand it. I still rely on online education platforms to fully understand new tech.

I always find ways to use new tech at work or home to improve processes, make things run faster and more efficiently. My process is: watch, learn, apply, explain to others. The moment I’m able to explain it to someone else is when I know I’ve truly gained deep knowledge.

After every year ends, I ask myself: What did I learn this year? That question keeps me motivated to grow. Despite all the challenges in 2020, it’s been a strong year for learning. I’ve had the chance not only to learn new things, but to apply my new knowledge in my job.


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The Truths I’ve Learned from Deployment

Hear from Shanta, Senior Principal Human Resources Consultant, military veteran and member of the Black Organizational Leadership at Discover (BOLD) employee resource group. She shares how deploying to Iraq shaped her values, evolved her skills and pivoted her priorities.

Shanta Haney
Senior Principal Human Resources Consultant
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

When I think of my younger self, I picture a go-getter. I was very ambitious and wanted a lot out of life, quickly. I always had dreams of being part of something big that would affect change in a positive way. If I could give my younger self advice, I would tell her to be kind to herself. To know her worth. To be brave and bold—take risks outside her comfort zone. I’d tell her to stay true to herself and not to worry if she looks different, or feels she looks different, from other people. There is much more to her than what others see on the surface.

The moment I deployed to Iraq while serving in the military had the biggest impact on my life today. The effects of this moment extend far beyond the deployment. I went through a range of emotions and experiences— fear, worry, feeling overwhelmed, learning new skills, relying on family to take care of my finances and son.

The combat zone is an intense place, where things can move very quickly one moment and drag painfully slowly the next. “Hurry up and wait” is not just a phrase, but is a reality of life in a war zone. Service members move quickly to prepare for a mission and find themselves waiting for minutes or hours as plans change, intelligence is gathered, and leaders adjust decisions.

Adrenaline pumps as service members gear up, load their weapons, and mount their vehicles, and then, without warning, they’re told to stand down. This constant feeling of having one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake is exhausting and physically demanding, especially for troops who operate on minimum levels of sleep.

As I reflect on these moments, this is where I learned to remain calm, adapt and be flexible to change in any given situation. I learned loyalty, respect, honor and integrity. Personal courage and selfless service are some of the values that have had the greatest impact on me, both then and now.

Pushing myself to evolve is an on-going process for me. I challenge myself to explore new experiences by setting goals to meet my individual needs. I seek out networking to learn from others. And remind myself to be patient. Timing is everything.

Over the course of my career, I’ve particularly learned that protecting my time is critical. I can’t afford to be involved in everything or care about everything. I simply don’t have time. My experience in the military has also put things in perspective as it relates to my family, career, and life. So I try to live, love and laugh more.


Learn more about Discover’s commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Black Organizational Leadership at Discover (BOLD) employee resource group.

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Finding My Voice to Reject a Toxic Work Environment

Jenise, Senior Acceptance Consultant and member of the Black Organizational Leadership at Discover (BOLD) employee resource group, shares how the journey to finding her voice started with standing up to a toxic work environment.

Jenise Spears
Senior Consultant Acceptance
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

My first job out of college was as an assistant manager at a retailer. The management there was openly racist and discriminatory. At the time I felt that the comments they made were just part of the job.  I thought staying silent about their treatment was expected— just the “norm” to keeping my job.  Boy, was I wrong. That experience taught me not to sacrifice what’s right. It helped me to find my voice and never to accept a toxic environment like that as a norm.

I’m a perfectionist and I hold myself to too high of a standard. I’ve had to learn how to take constructive feedback as just that— constructive and not personal. I now leverage feedback to grow and evolve. Failure is not final. It’s learning opportunity to grow from.

A hard truth I’ve learned over the course of my career is that you can’t expect your hard work to speak for itself and just get noticed. I do my job well, but if I don’t advocate, network and highlight what I’m capable of, others won’t know my impact and drive.

My advice for my younger self? 1. Stay curious and keep evolving. Try new things, even if you think you won’t like them. 2. Find joy in any situation. 3. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Lastly, take time for yourself.


Learn more about Discover’s commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Black Organizational Leadership at Discover (BOLD) employee resource group.