In honor of International Women’s Day, Scality is proud to kick off the Scality Women in Leadership series with a spotlight on Michelle Rockler, VP of Strategic Alliances for Scality.
Asked about her professional journey, Michelle shared the importance of building your career ecosystem with the help of a supportive network, and then ensuring you pay it forward.
Here is Michelle’s story, in her own words, on how she has managed and navigated her career, from her first job at the age of 13 to today.
Not working was never an option in my family
Our lives are full of obligations, personal and professional, and sometimes life just happens, and we are at effect rather than at cause. When it comes to our careers, we need to hit the pause button on a regular basis to reassess where we are and where we want to go. Do you ever feel that you are racing, with no destination in mind?
I’ve been in tech for 20+ years but I really started working when I was 13. In my family it wasn’t an option. Everyone worked, it was expected.
Having responsibility early on and achieving little bits of success helped me build my confidence. My mother, without a college education or any retail experience, had her mind set on getting the rights to a fashion franchise. She made two attempts and enlisted leaders of our community, business people, even politicians, to give her letters of recommendation – validating the viability of her business plan as she tried to secure this franchise.
She kept knocking on the door of the head of the business till he finally relented. That store became my first job in sales, at the age of 13. Selling retail not only instilled in me a strong work ethic, but it also built a high bar in terms of a standard of quality.
I learned that if a customer asks for one pair of shoes, bring two. And if you don’t have what they ask for, bring alternatives.
I thank my mother for teaching me how to engage a customer, how to build rapport, and to never prejudge who your customer is. There was many a customer who came into her shop that were dishevelled or dressed down in contrast to the elegant atmosphere. Oftentimes, these were the best customers.
Starting in tech and finding my first mentor
I’ve worked at two Fortune 500 companies, several start-ups, one that went public, a few that were acquired, and one that imploded, and I had many roles.
At my first start-up, I faced the challenge of being fairly new to tech and in a completely new domain. There were very few women and I had difficulty finding a mentor, sponsor or cohort relationship inside the company. But I was fortunate. I had brought on an inside sales consultant to train my team and me. Through him, I was introduced to a woman who was doing a similar role in another company.
She had so much experience. She’d done the job I was doing, she was an outside resource who helped me, and ultimately she became my mentor. She coached me on a range of areas, from how to manage the inside sales team to adding a better set-up for systems and processes. It also happened that we found our businesses complementary, and we shared leads from events and connected our joint sales team.
This was a really important mentor relationship because it took me down the path of the power of partnership. And it shaped my future career focus on building alliances.
Charting my career course with the help of others
Charting a successful career is never something you can complete on your own. You need a broad range of people both inside and outside the company that you work for.
There are three types of people who have made my career possible and that make up my professional support network: mentors, sponsors and cohorts.
My mentors have been inside and outside the companies I worked for. They’ve been role models, guided me and inspired me. They have been both short- and long-term relationships. And, their value has not been gated by gender.
Sponsors are typically in your chain of command. They advocate for you, they have your back. They set you on a path to achieve your goals, and they provide you with fresh opportunities to shine in front of your peers and other execs. You, in turn, work to advance their agenda.
The third group is cohorts. These are your peers, whether it’s your team or your functional areas in the company. They can be inside the company, they can be outside the company. You collaborate, you share best practices and resources. You help connect each other, you provide a support group. And then you help advance each others’ agendas and careers.
What I have learned over the course of my career is that it’s just as important to have a strong support network inside your company as outside your company. And that you continuously nurture that network, and you share that network with others.
Exceeding my quota by composing my vision
If I look back at my earliest mentors, I’d have to say they were my parents. They instilled in me a tremendous work ethic. My parents modeled hard work and expected that I work as hard as they did.
While we often laughed about the fact that my mother was a spiritual junkie. She was so committed to the notion that you create your reality that she named her company her company ITEZA (Im Tirzu Ein Zo Agadah) which is an abbreviation for a Hebrew expression: if you will it, it will be.
My mother believed that we can do anything if we can simply imagine our vision. Her unflagging commitment to this approach was an important foundational block of my career success. I have learned that there is a great power and a responsibility in creating that vision and bringing people along and making it happen.
When I was a first-time channel manager, living in LA, I wrestled with how I could get creative in order to hit my quota. I was at the Hollywood Bowl, which is an outdoor amphitheater, listening to classical music. Maybe it was Mozart or Chopin, but all I remember is I was closing my eyes. Lulled by that music, I began to compose exactly how I was going to cement a relationship with a major distributor that I’d been pursuing, and how to create a compelling event that would push them to pre-buy a million dollars worth of software.
This was one of the largest distributors that was getting ready to launch it’s first software distribution program. They only wanted to start with five software companies. They had Oracle and Microsoft. Needless to say, my company was not a fraction of that size. I wanted to make sure my company was one of those five. I had a vision for every step of the process to make it happen. I kept visualizing it and it worked.
Paying it forward
Within your network, there’s a great ecosystem to enable you to pay it forward. You nurture your relationships and find opportunities to help your colleagues, your mentors, your managers, your peers. This is a big part of developing your leadership success – how you pay it forward.
I have put a laser focus on paying it forward to young adults and their first job, and my network is helping me and them. Young adults need help navigating their first internship to their first job, but they don’t yet have a network to help them get there. Outside of work, I’ve begun mentoring university women, daughters of my friends (amazing me with their pedigree and smarts), and I can see how challenging it is for them to land their first job.
Wherever you are in your own career journey, I think there’s always an opportunity to help someone.
My advice to you is to always express an authentic voice and don’t shy away from who you are. Be open to learning, to connecting, to helping – and to stepping outside of your comfort zone into places that scare you. The way we work and live has blurred – and perfection is elusive. Be kind to yourself and to those around you.