Leading From The Front: My Journey From Receptionist to Tech Leader

Sponsored by Capital One

profile image

Profile Picture
May 27, 2024 at 4:24AM UTC

I have always been a strong believer that it’s up to you to ensure your success, you shouldn’t rely on anyone else to make it happen. But in nearly two decades at Capital One, I have seen how recognizing your talents and connecting with leaders who respect your skills can have the power to unlock doors to new and exciting career opportunities. Through many years of hard work and working with leaders who believed in me, I went from an administrative professional to leading an amazing group of tech teams and following my passion for connecting people, project management and agile delivery. 

New career horizons in the military and the office

I began my career journey in the US Army. At the time, I definitely felt the pressure of being a woman serving in the Army, especially in my field. I was a Patriot Missile Crewmember and, as I soon found out, among the first women to be allowed to take on this role. I felt extra determined to prove myself and succeed. In the face of tough circumstances like driving a huge truck that’s towing missiles, you really learn to value the importance of teamwork and trust. Though there may have been apprehension on my part, as well as my company at first, we were able to come together and successfully complete our training and missions. This was a great foundation for my career, learning leadership skills and harnessing my constant drive to prove myself and succeed.

This ability to thrive under pressure and handle any challenge was one of the things that helped me secure my first role at Capital One. It was even a question in my interview. When I started in 2000, I was a receptionist for Capital One founders Rich Fairbank and Nigel Morris. My main responsibility was to answer phones and direct calls. Though this may not sound like the most demanding role, it took a certain firmness to make sure that only the most important phone calls were connected through while delicately and assuredly handling other callers, who may not have had a business-critical need. I truly enjoyed my time in this role and could have been happy to stay in a receptionist role, but my drive and people leadership strengths called me elsewhere to explore my potential. 

Finding guidance and support to grow as a leader

Over the next few years, I got a taste for more Project and Process management responsibilities that ultimately led me to pursue my passions and grow into my current position as a Senior Agile Program Manager. As an administrative professional for the Chief of Staff of Capital One’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO), I actually focused less on the administrative side of tasks and more on managing various processes and moving projects forward. During this time, I had the opportunity to see that my passion and potential lay in leading and helping teams deliver great work. I began seeking out other opportunities to grow more in those spaces. I moved away from administrative roles and began pursuing roles managing projects and processes utilizing agile methods. 

In another evolution of my career, I took on roles supporting different leaders in the organization. In one of those positions, I was part of the Project Management Office and had my first chance to flex my people leadership skills. The leader I worked with was extremely gifted with data and spreadsheets, but needed my help to build and grow a great team. I had heard that, as a leader, the key to building a great team was to find people that fill your gaps. I gathered a team that I felt would work well together and offered a diverse range of perspectives. I was excited to get the chance to lead a team while learning some really great lessons as well. My ability to connect and guide people allowed my leader to focus on his strengths while I also got to grow in mine. I briefly left Capital One for a year and a half to pursue another opportunity, but was hired back in a Technical Project Manager role and have been able to work my way up to becoming a Senior Manager and leading tech teams to deliver innovative work. 

Building a foundation of inclusive and collaborative leadership

During these early years of my career at Capital One, I was also in school to complete my Bachelors Degree and MBA, which Capital One’s benefits helped reimburse me for. I had the opportunity to complete my project management certification, scrum master certification and take a variety of Agile training. But the key to my success was always rooted in the strong values and leadership skills I learned in the military, which strongly align with the company values of Capital One, and the support of my leaders and mentors who helped me grow and evolve my career. Because of those leadership experiences, I learned that a happy team works better together and creates better tech. I strive to make sure my teams feel supported so they can continue creating great work. 

During my almost 20 years at Capital One, I’ve always tried to lead by example, including creating spaces for those who may not see representation like themselves. When I first started at Capital One, there were no women in leadership, let alone Afro-Latina women like me. As the Business Resource Groups (BRGs) started to take shape, first as networks of associates, I eagerly participated. I was a strong advocate for advancement and development opportunities. But I ultimately realized that by leading, I can create the changes I want to see while also supporting other leaders. I am willing to be the first like me in a room and speak out about the need for representation. But with the work of the BRGs, I feel more comfortable speaking up and knowing that there are changes being made to act on it and help everyone thrive.  

Throughout my career, I’ve always reminded myself of one thing: turn off the background noise and do what you need to succeed and challenge yourself. My leadership comes from a desire to help build others up in the process. Teamwork is at the heart of great things and I have had many leaders throughout my career that have demonstrated that for me and acted as a model for my own leadership journey.


Fairygodboss is proud to partner with Capital One. Find a job there today!

Why women love us:

  • Daily articles on career topics
  • Jobs at companies dedicated to hiring more women
  • Advice and support from an authentic community
  • Events that help you level up in your career
  • Free membership, always