Katrina BekessyAs VP, Technology & Design, Katrina operates at the convergence where creativity meets technology.

She is accountable for technical strategy and implementation across a variety of channels including data-driven applications, websites, social, mobile, and enterprise-level systems. She is also responsible for facilitating creative and planning teams in uncovering technology-driven insights to drive new opportunities for growth and greater ROI for our clients – which have included Walmart, L’Oreal, and McCormick.

Katrina joined R/GA in 2009 after taking a break from the business world to pursue more academic endeavors in technology as a student, grant projects researcher, and web instructor. Prior to that, her work was focused on grassroots technical operations for several small businesses and agencies as well as B2B companies developing internal software and architecture.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am currently a VP of Technology at R/GA, and, in this role, I work across the globe helping our teams build and deliver digital products and services for major clients in a variety of industries ranging from healthcare, to fintech, to QSR, to fashion and many things in between. In particular, I oversee our Mobile practice – as most digital products and services nowadays exist through mobile.

While I am firmly rooted in tech, my background is a bit unconventional. I have a B.A. in Advertising and Marketing and a M.F.A. in Design & Technology. I became a software engineer by teaching myself how to code while I was in college (back when the Internet was actually becoming useful for the masses) because I was so fascinated by its potential as a communication medium and what it could do to truly serve and connect people. I decided to commit myself to a career path in tech to be able to make digital experiences that can provide real value both to people and to businesses. But I’ve never lost sight of my background in design and strategy, and love that R/GA is a place that allows me to blend all these skills together in the work I do day-to-day.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not exactly. I’ve never been the type of person who sat down and mapped out “I want x title or position by x date.” Rather, I’m most rewarded and motivated based on what I feel I can accomplish in any role I’m in. As long as I feel like I am learning and am given the space/resources to provide the value I think I can provide, and as long as the company I’m working for recognizes that value and values me in return, I feel like I’m on the right career path. I’ve been really fortunate to have my career grow organically and be in the position I’m in now by working this way. It’s the “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” mentality (for any Friday Night Lights fans out there).

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

It’s hard to imagine anyone skating through their career without facing at least some challenges. For me, some of my hardest challenges were probably the ones that I inflicted onto myself – either by doubting what I was capable of, or putting too much pressure on myself (and, at a subconscious level, probably because I knew as a woman in a male dominant profession I’d have to work past some implicit biases of others).

But through any challenge, I’ve learned to always just come back to the work – focus on the work and the teams and how I can contribute to make them the best they can be. If you know what you’re capable of and what you can bring to the table, just keeping showing up and bring your best work. When you do (assuming you work in a healthy environment with a non-oppressive culture), things have a way of falling into place.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Less of an achievement, per se, and more something that I’m continuously proud of is being able to build and lead teams who truly feel connected and enjoy working together and learning from each other. Their achievements are so rewarding for me and are a constant reminder that investing in people and prioritizing them is always the right thing to do. R/GA is a global agency with 16 offices across the globe, and I’ve loved being able to bring teams together who cross all geographical borders, cultures, skillsets, and ways of working and seeing the pride and accomplishment they feel at the end of a project.

A person once called me a “servant leader” – that I lead by serving others. I definitely think that’s accurate and was probably meant to be feedback that maybe I need to elevate some of the ways I function as a leader. But, honestly, it’s something I do like about my leadership style. Because, at the end of the day, no matter what you’re working on or what you’re working towards, it should always be about the people and the experiences that we all have as we continue to learn and grow.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I tend to jump into the deep end and am open to taking career risks. Throughout my career, I’ve taken on roles or certain projects where, at least at the outset, I might not have been the most qualified person for it, but I knew that I could become that person and wanted to become that person. So I would dive right in and commit to working hard to do the best I could, learn as much as I could; and, on the other side of it, I would find myself somewhat transformed and more equipped to dive into the next big thing.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

2 lessons I’m personally reminded of time and again:

  1. If you see a situation/project/problem/opportunity where you believe you can add value, don’t hesitate to do it. Even it means stepping a bit out of your swimlane or core area of focus, don’t let moments pass you by where you believe you could have made a contribution. Especially in technology, things are changing all the time, and there are always new problems to solve, new thinking and creativity that is required, and new ways to approach the work…you should always be asking yourself “can I add value here?”; and then don’t wait for permission to get involved when these moments come up; just start adding value where you know you can.
  2. Don’t let feelings of imposter syndrome hold you back. Feeling uncomfortable or out of your depth is not a sign that you are unqualified or some sort of fraud. It’s a sign that you are in the process of learning something new. Embrace it, work hard as you work through it, and be confident that you are resourceful enough and dedicated enough to figure it out.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

I wish I could say no, but there definitely are still barriers. Unfortunately, many of these barriers are not in women’s control to fully eliminate, since they stem from other people’s biases, societal conditioning, and a slew of other nuanced factors. So I try to focus on what I can control. And what I can control are things like:

  • Staying focused on the work and trusting that at the end of the day people will see what I’m able to contribute more than they see my gender.
  • Being authentic and allowing people to know my true self and what that can bring to the table.
  • Building working relationships, communities, and safe spaces with others (both male and female) where you can have a support system to help each other navigate these barriers as well as be a source to help people unlearn some of the behaviors and biases that perpetuate the barriers in the first place.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

While companies should, of course, put more effort into hiring more women and placing more women in leadership positions, I would say it’s also extremely important to look at the women they already have at the company and consider at how they can lift them up more.

I think many companies tend to have a narrow view on the expectations they set for their employees and what their defined career paths should look like. This could lead to exclusivity and perpetuate some of the challenges that women might currently have in tech. Re-evaluating job descriptions, re-thinking what companies value in their talent, re-thinking how people are measured for their performance, etc. can ensure that the company and the culture they’re building can be more inclusive and provide more ways for women to carve out career paths for themselves.

There are currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would LOVE to have a magic want that could instantaneously remove all implicit or unconscious biases against women. If we could do that, then I think we’d have more girls at a younger age introduced and exposed to technology in more ways like boy are typically – which would hopefully encourage them to pursue careers in technology when they get older. I think we’d also have more women be better heard and seen in the workplace – equal to their male peers – and some of the barriers they are currently facing would hopefully disappear.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There is a wealth of resources out there that can be very supportive and helpful across all mediums. I personally enjoy reading books from women who have grown and transformed to be prominent figures in their own right (Michelle Obama, Melinda Gates, etc.) However, those can only get you so far. I think perhaps more valuable resources are the mentors, peers, and leaders you are directly connected to and can surround yourself with who can help see you, support you, and are willing to openly learn together with you.