According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 85 percent of Americans aren’t engaged at work. For most of us, finding a job we like — much less love — seems like an unrealistic dream.
But Sho Shanker, Principal Consultant at CDW, has the kind of passion for her job that would make anyone jealous. She finds a genuine joy in staying up at night thinking about how to solve a problem, and she wakes up every morning excited to work with her supportive team. At CDW, she has managers who let her try on new roles, a business resource group for women that helps her develop her career, and (a lot of) time to read for pleasure (wait until you see her reading list!).
Shanker shared how she’s not only thriving in her career — despite the all-too-common gender bias in the tech industry — but how she stays happy while doing it. She also shared how she keeps her workday organized and relatively stress-free while giving us her best advice for women working toward their own career goals in an industry with a male majority.
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
My first role out of college was Network Administrator. Six years ago, I started as a Consultant Engineer with CDW. From there, I progressed to become a Senior Engineer. Then, last year, I was made a Principal Consultant.
Tell me a bit about your current role. What are your priorities?
I’m a Principal Consultant. I design, implement and deliver Cisco Collaboration technologies. My focus is on video and adoption consulting.
Problem-solving and technology are two of my strengths, so I’m genuinely thrilled that I get to apply one to improve the other at work every day. Another reason I’m thrilled to get out of bed every morning is our exceptionally brilliant Collaboration team.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in being a woman in tech?
Gender Bias. Most of the people I interact with are wonderful, logical and sensible. On occasion, I do come across someone who has a strong gender bias. It doesn’t matter what credentials I have or how sound my design is: In their minds, I am less credible.
How has CDW been particularly supportive and helped you overcome this challenge? How is the sense of support you’ve felt reflective of CDW’s overall culture/policies?
By design, I’m an outspoken, confident, outgoing person. But specifically, within CDW, I have always felt fearless.
CDW has several Business Resource Groups (BRGs), one of which is Women in Sales and Engineering (WISE). I’ve been an active participant since its inception. The value I get out of participating in the group is phenomenal as it consistently reinforces “The CDW Way,” our company’s code of conduct and business ethics. The piece of the code that resonates the most with me is, “We run our business with passion and integrity.”
What initially drew you to CDW? And what’s one of the most amazing things about your workplace that you didn’t learn until working there?
I was working with a consultant from CDW. The technological expertise and skill sets that he had blew my mind away. I wanted to be part of an organization that supports my career goals, gives the right environment to thrive and, most of all, where I get to be with my fellow nerds!
I didn’t realize how strong and powerful CDW is until I started working here. I was pleasantly surprised to find out about the multiple paths I could take, and the 360-degree encouragement I got. The most amazing thing though was to learn how approachable everyone is, regardless of their title.
How has CDW supported your career advancement?
First, there is a significant amount of autonomy (within reason) to pursue my career goals. While I was hired for collaboration, I was interested in routing and switching in the beginning. I recall my conversation with my then-manager. He encouraged me to work on collaboration and also dabble in route and switch, and assured me that if I felt as strongly 6 months later, I could switch. One week in, I knew he had made the right choice in hiring me for collaboration. He saw something before I did, but was willing to let me choose what really moved me.
Second, there are plenty of opportunities to sharpen the skills that relate to your core expertise.
A few years in, I realized that it was fascinating to work with video technologies. I was willing to put in the blood and sweat to become the SME (Subject Matter Expert).
There is also a strong internal community. I’m part of a few unofficial study groups, home lab fanatics group, a coding group and certification spaces. No matter how you define career advancement, CDW has a way to work with you.
What are three things you make sure to do each workday before you disconnect?
I reflect on what went well and what is repeatable, take stock of what didn’t and think about how I can make that better tomorrow. I also review my Google Keep list to be better prepared for the next day. Sometimes, that means I get to lab something up overnight, other times I read up on white papers that particularly pique my interest.
What’s something you’re especially good at in your job?
Creative problem solving and a genuine passion to make technology work for our customers are two of my strengths. I cannot put it in words how much satisfaction I get in those “Eureka!” moments of problem solving, or staying up all night to get a solution to do precisely what my customers want. It is a warm fuzzy feeling. I would probably do it even if I didn’t get paid to do it.
What about outside of work?
Over the course of time, I’ve realized that there are some things that move my soul. I’m into insane organization, meditation, yoga, spending quality time with my canine overlord, whipping up something delectable from simple ingredients, seeing the local community at the weekly farmer’s market, playing beach volleyball, and connecting with people. All simple things!
What are you currently reading/watching/listening to?
In addition to reading technology blogs, I listen to Hidden Brain, Babbage, TED Talks, and Singularity.
On a personal front, I’m reading “A Crack in Creation” by Jennifer Doudna & Samuel Sternberg, “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell, “Better than Before” by Gretchen Rubin and my favorites “Tao of Seneca” and “Enchiridion by Epictetus.”
What’s the one career move you’ve made that you’re most proud of?
I had to think about this one. I value every single decision that I have made, because it got me here. And here is an amazing place to be.
Surprisingly, the one I’m most proud of is the time when I said “no” to an opportunity that seemed exciting and offered a better pay. I analyzed the opportunity and realized that it was not my path to happiness. I’m happy when I’m challenged, supported and given the space to grow — none of which would have come from that opportunity. Bonus: I learned how to say “no” when necessary.
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
The first thing that comes to my mind is something my sister said: “If you are not happy about something, change it.”
That seems very simple, yet it is extremely powerful. When I’m not happy about the way I’m solving a problem, I ask for help. When I don’t feel happy about the work day, I find out what is making me unhappy and address it. If I find that I’m not happy about how I handled a situation, I prepare better the next time.
What’s your #1 piece of advice for women who are pursuing careers in technology, or in other industries that tend to be dominated by men?
Whatever you do, give it all you got. Invest the time and effort to become the subject matter expert. Speak deliberately and show that you own your domain. Be fearless!
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