How does someone go from living in a rural Chinese village to becoming the Data Engineering Associate Vice President of American Family Insurance? Well, that’s the story of Mingju Sun, whose hard work and resolve led her across the world and toward achieving her dreams.
In a recent Medium article, Sun recounts how her birth was a disappointment due to her gender.
However, she persevered. Her big break came from attending a boarding school, which was her “greatest opportunity, and [she] worked hard to be one of the top students out of 500."
Her parent’s expectations remained unchanged though: They wanted Sun to contribute to the family by finding a job in a factory. This job was not to be, however, since one of Sun’s teachers had noticed her hard work and helped Sun stay in school.
As a result, Sun was eventually able to take part in a mechanical engineering program at her college, where the “ratio of men to women was six to one.” Sun pushed through this difficult time and eventually enrolled in a master’s program. Upon graduation, Sun relocated to Singapore, where she recalls meeting her first woman supervisor — a memorable moment in her career.
When asked what advice Sun would give to women following in her footsteps who want to become engineers, Sun stated, “Firstly you have to make sure that you have passion for an engineering career. Secondly, find opportunities to try out this career path such as joining intern programs. Once you are on the job, build and expand your network to find allies and mentors, and most importantly deliver solid results to establish credibility. Do not assume others are more knowledgeable or that they are always right.
Sun’s next big move was to the U.S., where she worked as a Java developer in Chicago. During this time, she says, “I grounded myself in doing good work. I wrote really good code and that earned me respect and opened other doors.” In 2007, eight years later, Sun moved and joined American Family Insurance.
Growing a career in a male-dominated field.
In her new position, Sun was the sole female software architect, which was not an easy position to be in. She recalls her work getting nitpicked during a peer review with male colleagues who didn’t provide any solutions. Looking back on the situation, Sun muses: “Would a man have experienced the same critique?”
This experience did not diminish Sun’s passion at all. Quite the opposite, Sun notes,“I was motivated to defend my work from any angle. I also started to connect with other leaders throughout our organization, who have offered me priceless mentorship.” When she first became a manager, she was not sure how to lead the team in the areas where she didn’t have deep knowledge or extensive experience. “What I learned from my mentor at the time is that you don’t have to know everything to be a great leader. You can problem solve with your team and learn with them. A lot of problems look different on the surface but can be solved conceptually in very similar ways”. All of these challenging experiences have only inspired Sun further to “do more — as a woman and a woman of color.” “Women tend to be hard on themselves because things can always be better. My mentor told me not to be too hard on myself and it is good to pat yourself on the back when you achieve something big or small.”
“I continue to push forward,” Sun says, “but now I make sure I’m turning around and bringing other women with me.” “American Family Insurance allowed me to work on various projects with many people which helped me to find what I enjoy working on the most. American family Insurance also allowed me to transfer to different areas as my work interests shift over time. American Family Insurance’s focus on community development allowing female employees to connect and support each other”
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