Moving into leadership in tech? These three leaders from Target have advice for you! When leading your team, it’s important to allow “freedom and responsibility, while coaching individuals on how to leverage the provided context and priorities to make good decisions,” says Tasya Harrington, Senior Engineering Manager at Target.
Remember to take the time to celebrate the accomplishments and hard work of your direct reports. “I've found that by recognizing the team for their work, others will start to model that behavior and it becomes an overall lift to our organization,” notes Senior Director of Technology, Alicia Henderson.
Don’t forget about your own development! To advance her career in tech, Ashley Sparks, Principal Engineer, emphasizes the importance of moving out of your comfort zone. Such “moves have been incredibly important for my skill development, and they serve to increase my confidence as I continue to gain experience in learning new technologies and domains and working with new people,” explains Sparks.
To find out more about tech at Target, advice for women moving into management roles and more, read on!
Tell us a bit about your job. What’s your current role, how long have you been in this role, and what were you doing previously?
Harrington: I've been a Senior Engineering Manager for Target for about four years now. I lead teams of engineers that build software to enable really cool things at Target. Before moving into my current role, I was an iOS engineer building apps for iPhone and iPad.
Sparks: I am currently a principal engineer working in Target’s Supply Chain to design and develop software that drives inventory purchasing and replenishment. My role as a principal involves leading the technical direction of multiple product development teams. I worked in this space previously as a lead engineer before my promotion to principal in October 2021.
Henderson: I'm a Sr. Director of Technology in Target tech's Stores and Supply Chain Product Engineering organization. My team is responsible for the software that runs our warehouses and store replenishment processes. I've been in this role since 2018. I've been at Target since 2006 in various roles within Product Engineering.
What is your No. 1 piece of advice for other women who are moving into or want to move into leadership?
Harrington: Don't be afraid to empower both yourself and your team. Leadership is about empowering others, as well as yourself.
Sparks: Get to know your team and understand how you can best support them in your role by using your strengths. The best team experiences I’ve had were ones where the leader cultivated positive relationships and culture, bringing the whole team together.
Henderson: Listen to your team. Being in touch with what is important to your team and team members helps in many ways: building trust with the team members, celebrating their wins, understanding their pain points, knowing what's important to team members and to the team, etc. This is the foundation for everything else.
How do you think about making sure your direct report(s) feel well-supported in their lives both in and out of the office?
Harrington: I strongly believe that having a good connection and an inclusive and equitable environment is critical to making sure team members have the psychological safety to be themselves and build connections with everyone on the team.
Sparks: As a principal engineer, I work directly with other engineers as a technical lead. I support these engineers by making space for them to offer their thoughts or ask questions during technical design sessions. I want these sessions to be as collaborative as possible, and it’s a great way to drive engagement on the team and help others develop their technical skills. I also like to meet with them one-on-one to get to know them more personally and see if there are any ways that I can directly help them.
Henderson: My approach to feeling well-supported for life in and out of the office is to be transparent with what's happening in my own life and creating the space for my team to do the same. I believe that if I'm open with the positive aspects of my life, as well as the challenges, that they will be, too. I have celebrated many things with my team members and also shared tears. I will frequently start our one-on-one meetings by asking, "how's life outside of Target?" And, sometimes, we spend the full meeting just focused on life and not on work.
Managing people — especially if you’re new to it — is not easy. How has Target and your own manager helped set you up for success? How is this kind of support reflective of the overall culture at Target?
Harrington: Target has leadership training opportunities, they have formal HR run trainings, they have the Engineering Manager Immersion (eMIP) program and there is a leadership-focused lunch and learn series to connect with other leaders and people interested in leadership. Target believes strongly in continuous learning and growth, and all the different ways to learn are a great reflection of that.
Sparks: Across Target and specifically within my space, my manager is focused on building a diverse team and leveraging every individual’s unique strengths in order for us to succeed together. This focus on diversity and team building sets the foundation for a professional relationship based on trust and open and honest communication. I feel valued for my contributions, and I know I can rely on my manager and my team to identify areas for improvement and opportunities to stand out.
Henderson: When I was new in managing people, I struggled with telling someone they weren't doing well with some aspect of their job. I think this is a common challenge that new managers struggle with. It took me many years to realize that holding back on this doesn't help anyone. It doesn't help the team member, the team or the organization. I had a fantastic mentor that would role play scenarios with me so I could practice what I wanted to tell the team member before I met with them. I also completed several training sessions on this subject. Having the space to learn how to get better at this and the support from my mentor was incredibly helpful. Now I mentor others on this exact subject.
What’s been your most valuable career mistake?
Sparks: I wouldn’t consider any career moves I’ve made to be mistakes, as cliché as that is. Every move I’ve made has taught me something, and I consider that experience invaluable. I’ve learned a lot about what I like and don’t like, which means I’m better prepared to drive change or avoid red flags.
Henderson: Wisdom is defined as "the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgment." It's a good thing that wisdom can come from mistakes we make. I appreciate working in a culture where the lessons we learn from mistakes are valued. For me, one of these lessons was learning when to roll back change. It was early on a Saturday morning, and I didn't think a change we deployed earlier that week was the cause of the issue. I waited too long to roll it back, and it ended up impacting our operations. It's a story I have shared many times with teams I've joined since that time.
This is one example of many lessons I’ve learned in my career. What’s most important is that, as leaders, we take the time to reflect on mistakes and we use these lessons learned in future decisions.
A lot of people believe that developing your career means changing companies, and not infrequently. What has enabled you to develop/advance your career at Target?
Harrington: Target empowers and encourages internal movements; this allows people to continue to grow in other areas of Target without the need of changing companies. Before Target, I would both advocate for myself and change companies.
Sparks: As an engineer, I’ve always focused my career advancement on the problems that I’m solving and the technology that I’m using to solve them. To advance, I need to continuously learn about new technologies, try new things and use new design patterns and concepts. My goal is always to find a role that affords me the opportunity to learn, improve my technical skills, and solve interesting problems. Luckily, in a company as large as Target, there are a lot of different problems that require different technology solutions, and I’ve been able to move around to a variety of different projects within Target that have pushed me to learn and use new patterns, strategies and technologies.
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