Why you don't need to be techy to work in tech

Salesforce.org's Charlotte Finn on growing a career in tech, recovering from trauma and getting girls into STEM.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 24 May 2018

The tech sector suffers from its fair share of stereotypes.

The prevailing idea is that, in order to be successful, you have to prefer the company of your PC to humans, while your idea of a summer holiday is spending two weeks locked in your mother's basement devising an algorithm to automatically index Star-Trek episodes (i.e. you're  a bit nerdy and into computers).

But Charlotte Finn is keen to break that perception.

Since graduating with a business management degree, over the last 20 years she’s built a career working for some of the world’s largest IT companies in sales and business development - including Pipex, WorldCom and Verizon among others.

Having been with Salesforce since 2013, she is now responsible for building global partnerships for Salesforce.org - the cloud computing giant’s social enterprise that provides technology to non-profits.

She wants to change the way that STEM is taught in schools and, ultimately, show that tech can offer far more opportunities than simply playing with computers. MT heard what she had to say.


Did you always want a career in tech?

No, I had absolutely no interest in working in technology. I wanted to work in airline operations as an airline dispatcher. But there aren't a lot of those jobs.

I ended up by necessity getting a sales job with a company called Pipex - and I actually got that job because I spoke fluent German and they were looking for somebody to help sales administration for Europe.

I discovered this thing called the internet and it was incredible. This is going back to 1997, it was still dial up. It was at the point where a lot of companies weren't even networked.

But when you realized what could be achieved with the internet, and you realised what it could be applied to and in what ways, it was incredible.

What has been holding girls in particular back from careers in STEM?

One of the big barriers is that we don't educate enough about what STEM actually is. They talk about kids needing to learn to code and needing to learn to use a computer, but it's so much more than that.

For example, my grandmother used to say to me things like 'when are you going to get a real job and become a nurse'. Nowadays however, to be a nurse you have the most amazing opportunity to do fantastic things with technology.

I think if we tell those stories in the school a lot more, we start to change the perception of what STEM and technology is and we start to understand that actually it is not just coding, it's not just looking at a computer, but actually it is a concept of how we apply technology to everything that we do in life.

So how do we address that?

We have to include the child's ecosystem more in how and what we are educating them. What would be absolutely brilliant is if that was used in someway to educate the parents as well, on what technology truly is, what truly mathematics is and what careers are open to children today. I think it is just as important for parents to have informed knowledge as it is for the young person as well.

What’s your advice to managing your career?

If you want to have a career, you have to be able to visualise where you want to go, where do you want to take yourself.

I managed to make opportunities by never stopping to look for new ones, and doing things that I felt were the right thing to do. Every single time there was a need for something to be done and I thought 'I'll go do that'.

The other thing that I did that was that everytime I agreed to do something new, I went and found people in the business that could advise me, mentor me and in a way support me as I was trying of do this new thing.

They call it a career ladder, but I don't see it as a straight up ladder, it's more steps. Sometimes those steps might be sideways but every time you take a step it then enables you to take another step.

What’s been your hardest moment?

I was head of Verizon's Global Service Centre and I broke my ankle. I developed something called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, which is a very traumatic nerve disorder. I left because I couldn't walk properly.

It completely changed everything that I could do, so I went back to university and did a masters in corporate governance. At one point  they were saying that I might not get the whole motion back in my leg. But I was totally convinced that I was going to get a pair of high heeled shoes on again. It took total perseverance and after three years of being on a cane I was able to walk again.

This nightmare thing happened to me, but ultimately, if that hadn't happened I would never have gone back to university and I would have never ended up at Salesforce.org. So things happen, but again it is what you make of it and how you respond to it. You can make what you want out of wherever you are.

Main image credit: Gorodenkoff/shutterstock

Body image credit: Salesforce.org

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