You Don’t Need to Be Loud to Succeed! How I’ve Grown in STEM By Cultivating a Thoughtful Presence

Sponsored by Autodesk

Astou Sene

Photo courtesy of Autodesk.

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June 21, 2024 at 2:55PM UTC

You may not know what you’re passionate about or your purpose at work right away — and that’s okay. For instance, Astou Sene, a Full-Stack Engineer at Autodesk, says that her passion and purpose came gradually as she figured out what she was good at. During her career journey, she discovered her talent in helping others learn software quality skills and deliver quality features. 

As for how she’s built her confident and solid presence at work, Astou says, “I have found my voice by not speaking.” Astou uses the power of her voice to speak up when she wants to highlight other perspectives or bring up important points to her team. She tells us that her approach is best summarized by the following feedback: “Astou's presence is always deliberate and thoughtful. Rarely is she the loudest voice in the room, but she has a strong voice when she is the authority on a matter.

Building this strong voice and using it when it is important has been key for Astou, who notes that not speaking up once in her past became her biggest career mistake. Earlier in her career, she recalls that she let another person stop her from transferring to a new team, since they thought Astou was indispensable to her current team. “I could have pushed for the transfer, but I didn’t,” states Astou. While she’s now in the role she wanted, she’s learned from fellow Autodeskers like Jill Joaquin (who was featured in this previous article) that, “when you have the opportunity to have a say, you better take it,” says Astou.

Here, Astou uses that thoughtful and strong voice she’s developed to tell us more about her journey as a woman in STEM – and her advice for others looking to grow in this area.

Tell us a bit about your job and day-to-day work life.

I’ve been in my current full-stack engineering role for a year. I’m on the eCommerce team, and we develop components and features that are used by other teams to build our website. My day-to-day work consists of coding in various languages and problem-solving, interacting with several platforms, and collaborating with people across different disciplines – from UX designers to product owners – to deliver features that make our customers’ journeys on our website easier.

What do you find most rewarding and challenging about your work?

Our website is built on a complex and layered ecosystem. At times, figuring out all the different parts to make something work can be tough. But, once I break through that and deliver a feature, I love it when someone says: “This is exactly what we needed!” or “This will help so much!” Seeing the immediate positive impact is gratifying!

What advice do you have for someone new to your industry?

I remember being in meetings as a junior, hearing people solve a problem in one statement and thinking, “Wow! I want to be like that!” I was so eager that, instead of gathering the knowledge, I’d sometimes throw out answers without doing my due diligence. 

As I gained experience over time, I realized I had become one of those people on the calls. So, I’d tell juniors not to rush the process of getting experience. Slow and steady wins the race. It’s my life motto.

Another one, which doesn’t only apply to newbies, is that most of the time, a solution does not require over-engineered code. Simplicity is the best policy.

What people, resources and tools do you rely on to attain work-life balance?

First and foremost, I can rely on my fellow Autodeskers. I trust that if I need to take some time off, it will not only be respected, it will be encouraged — especially in this era of rising burnout. Our employee resource groups (ERGs) are a great way to connect with other employees and have shared experiences. Activities for our well-being are also encouraged. For instance, the Montreal office has many sports clubs, including a soccer team, which is perfect for me because staying active is how I take care of myself. On the soccer team, I get to be active and social, building camaraderie with other employees. 

Even beyond Autodesk, I can still use the benefits they offer me to support other aspects of my life like healthcare, different types of therapies, finances, other sports clubs, sports equipment, and even entertainment.

A person holding flowers

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Photo courtesy of Autodesk.

It seems like Autodesk does a great job of supporting your work-life balance! Can you tell us more about the culture at Autodesk and how they support you?

I started as an intern and, from my very first day, it was the culture that made me want to stay with this company. There’s so much to love about it — it’s warm, welcoming, and respectful. If you’re a new employee and you just stand in the kitchen, it won’t take long before someone comes to get to know you. Additionally, we are encouraged to be our authentic selves. I have shown up to the office in so many hairstyles, and it’s never been an issue. 

Autodesk cares for their employees – and this comes from the top. Because they believe being our best selves means we can do our best work, they provide a lot of resources to be able to achieve that. We have very generous and flexible benefits, work-life balance is respected, and there are ERGs we can join to relate to other employees. And now, the flexibility to work from home is even greater. And there are endless perks, like cool office setups, and fun events, such as the Autodesk Football World Cup!

Finally, what’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve ever received? 

The career advice that stuck with me is to not be afraid to make lateral moves — or even backward moves. Careers don’t always go in the linear forward motion. We can learn at any stage, and that cumulative experience can make us better leaders.

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