How to Navigate Change in the Right Direction — by an Appian Senior Product Manager

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Photo of Lizzie Rubenfield

Photo courtesy of Lizzie Rubenfield

Fairygodboss
Fairygodboss
April 19, 2024 at 6:4PM UTC

While STEM is a predominantly male-dominated industry, Lizzie Rubenfield, a Senior Product Manager at Appian has been navigating change, all while giving back to the community.

Lizzie, who recently celebrated her 5th year anniversary at Appian, credits the company’s leadership and professional development opportunities for her continued success. Although she started in a more technical role, doing technical implementation for the organization's customers, she was able to pivot and move cross-departmentally, landing a role in the engineering department as a product manager.

“Appian has provided me with the ability to play an active role in my own career development,” she says. “Leadership actively encourages you to think about what you want and how they can help you get there.”

We caught up with her recently to learn more about where she is today, what first got her interested in pursuing a career in tech, and what advice she has for other women who are beginning a career in STEM. Here’s what she had to say.


Tell us a bit about your job. What’s your current role and how long have you been in this role?

My current role is a Product Manager (PM) for one of our specialized industry solutions product suites. I’ve been in this role for almost two years now, but have been with Appian for five. I originally started in a different department doing technical implementation for our customers. I started noticing patterns in the implementations I was doing and believed we could shorten project times, if we had a pre-packaged, extremely flexible application. This was also around the same time Appian started pursuing building solutions to do just that in specific industries. So I reached out to help with the Financial Services solutions — and when I started, I was helping with requirements gathering and doing app development, which eventually led to me taking on the role as product manager in the engineering department. 


What first got you interested in pursuing a career in tech?

My mom! (Yes, enter cheese emoji here). She is also an engineer and started her career in tech before moving to marketing roles. I saw the solid background in just about everything that an engineering degree could provide and it can be applied to so much more than hardcore engineering, once you have that background.


What projects or programs are you currently working on? What about this type of work most excites you?

I am head over heels for a new side project that just kicked off. Appian has a partnership with DC Central Kitchen (DCCK), a non-profit organization fighting to combat hunger in a unique way by providing job training and job creation for individuals facing high barriers to employment in the culinary industry. There are several small project groups volunteering to build applications to help DCCK run as smoothly as possible and the one I just joined is specific to helping DCCK keep track of their students, from application all the way through graduation from the program and beyond. I love that the skills I’ve developed at Appian allow me to help an organization that is doing so much for the community and am really proud of the commitment that Appian has made to making its home city a better place.


A lot of people believe that developing your career means changing companies, and not infrequently. What has enabled you to develop/advance your career without job hopping? What opportunities did Appian provide that ultimately helped you land your role?

I just hit my 5th year anniversary at Appian, but it would be misleading to think that I don’t get the “do I need to switch jobs?” itch every so often. However, a few factors have gone into the decision to stay with Appian for as long as I have. First, Appian has provided me with the ability to play an active role in my own career development. Leadership actively encourages you to think about what you want and how they can help you get there. Second, Appian is extremely deliberate when it comes to hiring, which means I am constantly awed by my coworkers. I love working with teams and when teammates support each other the way that they have on my teams, it becomes really hard to risk not having that. Lastly, I think about the impact of my day-to-day at work. I really do feel that I have a seat at the table with people who are willing to listen. This has always been important to me when thinking about making a change. The reality is, no matter where you go, the trust your coworkers have in you has to be earned and that can take time.


What has been the biggest challenge or obstacle you’ve faced working as a woman in tech?

While it's not so specific to being a woman in tech, but more of a woman in the workplace, I can sometimes be seen as combative or aggressive when I’m particularly passionate due to my direct communication style. I I find that a lot of people do not expect this type of communication style from women. While this is something I personally am working on to make sure conversations are productive, it does make me wonder if I’d get the same kind of feedback if I were a man.


Does Appian provide any resources or programs to support women in your field?

Appian provides lots of resources for women at the company. There is an overarching affinity group called AppianWomen that puts on events, panels, and developed a 1:1 global mentorship program that matches women across the company. 

We also have a Women in Engineering group that is really special. It was created organically by women in the department, who wanted to meet others and have a safe space to talk about issues affecting women in tech. We do casual coffee chats, have book and podcast clubs, and get to attend conferences. It has been an amazing outlet for me to simply just meet and connect with other women across the department, especially during the pandemic. When we finally do return to the office, I now know way more women that I can rely on for support or be able to say a simple “Hi” to in the hallway.


What is your favorite aspect of the culture at Appian?

The affinity groups are amazing! There are so many groups across the company that celebrate different passions and interests. Some of the ones I participate in are AppianWoman, AppianHeritage, and AppianWellness — but there are so many more to name. These groups are self-governing, put on fun events and are a great way to meet people across the company.


What advice do you have for other women who are beginning a career in tech?

Find your people — especially women! It’s important to be able to have a safe space with people who know what you’re going through. I can’t imagine how isolating it would be to not have a solid group of women with whom to discuss challenges. We all face a lot of the same issues and the more we talk about them and feel supported, the happier and more confident we become. If you happen to be the only woman in most meetings, know that you’re not alone. And next time you see another woman in the office kitchen (post-COVID of course), introduce yourself! 

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