When Sherrie was awarded a degree in Computer Science her path to become a computer developer was set… but she soon realised she didn’t just want to code. After wider interaction with her growning network and colleagues, Sherrie soon found herself moving into project management. And she says, “it was the best career decision I ever made”.

Tell us what happened next?

I was soon ‘scouted’ by an acquiring company for a product management role, partly because my skill set enables me to talk to techy people ‘in the same language’, while also liaising with customers. From there, I moved into product management and have held a variety of senior positions to the point where, today, I am Vice President of Product Management and User Experience at G-P.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, I haven’t ever worked on a specific career plan since graduating, with one exception, which was switching from studying maths to a computer science degree. I had always been a very maths-oriented student, but became less interested in pure mathematics as it became more advanced and theoretical, so the change in emphasis worked very well.

What career challenges have you faced along the way and how did you overcome these?

For the first management role I applied to, I was the third-choice behind two male candidates. Despite the disappointment, I just picked my head up, tried to be positive and when the next opportunity arose,  I was well-positioned to take up that role. Many people, myself included, feel that finding someone to learn from and bounce ideas off is a good way to navigate through tough career challenges. Having a mentor, either internal or external – perhaps a former colleague or someone in the industry – can be extremely beneficial.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

This was in my current role with the launch of G-P Contractor  as a new product line. G-P Contractor  was an important initiative for the business with some big goals around increasing our market position. Having built the team around me, and then running this project through to completion – it was an amazing sense of accomplishment when it finally launched. I was very proud of the team and what we’d built.

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

I believe my ability to form relationships within an organisation at a cross-functional level and to gain the trust of others has been key. Like any organisation, we need every team working effectively and working together, so being able to navigate across the functions and have great relationships can have a very positive impact.

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

Firstly, take risks, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Experimentation is positive, and the idea that you should fail fast and pivot is important for career development. As long as you’re learning, that’s what’s most important.

Don’t forget that everyone needs to start somewhere. I didn’t go to school to be a product manager, but it was a great experience for putting me on my career path. Ultimately, if you work hard and take risks, opportunities present themselves. Don’t be afraid to try something new and do something you didn’t go to school for.

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

Yes. Organisations want diversity, so if anything, for women that show an interest, there is a lot of opportunity. In particular, we need to get girls interested from a young age, so they know that tech is an option that they can pursue and excel at. School classes have become more advanced with technology – my third grader has an IT class now and comes home and shows me what she’s learnt, which is really positive and important.

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

Companies could invest more heavily in mentor programmes that get females together to talk about the challenges and support each other. Having a mentor who will act as a sounding board can help you align your professional development with your broader life journey. This is invaluable and studies actually show that it increases promotion and retention.

However, women go through different stages during their life that are significant and often unique to them – whether this is giving birth, returning to work afterwards, or going through the menopause – these changes all have a huge impact on the body and mind. By connecting women with other women who have gone through these experiences or similar, and sharing their own stories and advice, it is immensely important in encouraging women to continue on their professional journey and reach the goals they want to achieve.

How do we improve gender diversity and accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

It all starts with bringing younger folks in. Younger women need to be studying technology in far greater numbers. That, and eliminating the disparity in school resources as well can help address this inequality.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Two of my favourite books are Measure What Matters by John Doerr and Roadmaps Relaunched by Bruce McCarthy – the latter I keep on my desk at all times. In terms of helpful groups, a couple of my personal favourites include Boston Product Management Association, 280 Group:  Product Management & Product Marketing, ​​HR Technology and Leading Product Management.

I would also recommend the Pragmatic Institute for anyone looking to enrol in an online course and the HR Technology Conference and Business of Software for conferences.