Career women in computer science

GHC: Leadership Workshop with Patty Azzarello

Credit: Wikipedia

I was interested in this workshop, because I had read Azzarello’s book, Rise: How to Be Really Successful and Like Your Life.

“Your job description is not a life sentence.”

“You have more control than you think.”

These quotes set the stage for a really helpful presentation about how we see our jobs, and how we advance using a framework of Do Better, Look Better, Connect Better.

As a kid, Azzarello was into arts, and her mother said to her: “You will go to college. You will get an education. You will support yourself. Don’t expect anyone else to support you.” As a result of this, Azzarello decided to do Electrical Engineering instead of art, where she was one of three women, also achieving a minor in CS. Electrical Engineering wasn’t natural to her, but coding was ideal.

Azzarello’s first job was at Bell Labs, which should have been a dream job, but wasn’t. She wasn’t using enough of her strengths, and was interested in products and business. So she took a job as a Sales Engineer at a Silicon Valley company. She’s held every level of position at a company, didn’t drop into being a CEO – had entry level jobs. And Engineering and tech education was a big part of her success, it taught her about problem solving, and that there is always somewhere to start.

Did Product Marketing at a couple of Silicon Valley startup companies. Azzarello was technically in Marketing, but spent half her time with Engineers. At HP, she had the choice between Marketing Manager and Software Development Manager. She picked Software Development Manager, because she knew she wanted to be a General Manager some day.

The product was a mess. Quality and morale were both low, they were on a two year cycle and running late. After a year, all the problems were fixed, in part because they had moved to a 6-month development cycle. But after all that, Azzarello did not get a raise. When asking why, given that, the answer was “I tried, but nobody knows you”.

This was a huge slap in the face about how the world works. Work is not enough. To have more impact, it’s not just about recognition and raises, you need to be known, respected, and recognised. As a result, you get more opportunities, more money, and more interesting projects. The results have to be seen.

Worst job, was Sales and Marketing for HPs desktop systems, but it gave her more experience to help become a GM. You can’t get a job without experience, but you can get experience without the job. Moved to HP Openview Software business, ran a global org with 5k people. Then became CEO of a startup. Then Chief Marketing Officer at Siebal, but after that was bought by Oracle she was paid off and has been running the Azzarello group for 6 years.

Do Better

Work, or the environment, beats the “I can change the world” out of you”. The key is to focus on your natural strengths, which we often take for granted. When working in our areas of greatest strength, it feels ideal, and we don’t think that it can be impressive. When others are amazed, and it doesn’t feel like a big deal to you… that’s a strength.

We are impressed when others do the things that we think are hard.

Invert that – focus on the strengths. The ROI on strengths is higher than the ROI on stuff we’re not good at. So spending time on things we are naturally good at, has big returns! Hated every minute of working on weaknesses, and never got any better at any of it. Once she stopped worrying about weaknesses, and invested in strengths, business improved and her career soared.

No one person can be good at everything, but a team can.

Tune your job over time to suit your strengths. Know what works for you – you can change your job, without changing your job.

EXERCISE: Think about a time when you were at your best.
What was special (extra good!) because you did it?

The energy in the room is tremendous when talking about strengths – I know I feel a boost focusing on a positive experience.

Celebrate natural strengths – figure out what you’re naturally good at. Don’t try to earn your primary living doing something you’re not good at. It’s painful.

Developing a strategy to use strengths and values at work.

Too Busy

To think, to reorganize… “to busy to scale”.

No-one other than you has any motivation to make you less busy. Most successful people didn’t happen to be less busy on the way – they figured out how to get things done in spite of being busy.

If you are overwhelmed by your job, you aren’t ready for promotion. People wish for work that is more important and has more meaning, no-one wants more meaningless crap.

Are you a workhorse? If you are, the reward is – more work. It feels like you’re doing the right thing, but you have to catch and wiggle out of this way of working. It doesn’t get you ahead, it just gets you more work.

There was an inventory crisis at HP. A guy spent time on crisis, but he wasn’t a workhorse, he was strategic and so delivered better results without burning up all of his time personally.

Give yourself time to think – get known for rising above work, solving problems in a more strategic way. You need a system or process for dealing with it in a different way. Move yourself out of workhorse mode. No-one will do it for you.

When you have time tot hunk, consider what the business really values. Think about how to do your job better.

Ruthless Priorities

Too many things on todo list, all of them seem important. Decide, what are the things that you will not put at risk? Ask how bad is it if this fails?

It’s not about saying no, it’s about allowing yourself to finish your ruthless priorities first. Get famous for finishing important things, not for being busy. Talk about what you are doing, not about what you are not doing.

Being a leader is about getting the most important things done when it is hard.

Defend Your Time

Your job is not to do everything and die trying. Not all requests are created equal. Advise your boss, and negotiate. Your boss delegates thinking and judgement, not just the work.

Look Better

This is about credibility. Being invisible doesn’t work – you can’t opt out of communicating. If it’s not a natural strength, develop it as a skill.

If you are not communicating, you are communicating. But, it’s OK to be just OK at it. Azzarello trained herself to be a more convivial listener.

Be visible, but not annoying. You can’t be credible if you are invisible. You are never annoying if you are genuinely adding value, or if you are communicating about important outcomes achieved.

Be more relevant, you need to translate:

  • Business first.
  • Don’t educate
  • No jargon.
  • Talk their language.
  • Create “the hook”.

If you have to educate someone about what/why – you are not relevant. What’s relevant is what they wake up in the morning worrying about.

Magic Communication Tool

Business initiative / realities (“hooks”). The only way to know their hooks is to ask. Really understand who your stakeholders are.

Personal Brand

Your brand is how you are perceived by others. Example: Disney has the brand as the happiest place on earth. They have turned waiting in line into an art form, and you never see a security force (but they are there).

Your brand is not what you say, but what everyone else says. Your brand is what people see from you most consistently.


Performing means owning the outcome.

  • Not just content.
  • You are being assessed.
  • Not about having a “big personality”.
  • Humility is OK… invisible is not.
  • Don’t be afraid of being judged – seek it out.

Patty told us an embarrassing story of going to a client and having someone say: “why did you bring her? She doesn’t know anything.” She didn’t die. “Fearless” people are afraid, but do it anyway. Just because you are scared, doesn’t mean you are not qualified. Be scared, and do it anyway.

“Men will say anything”, men with no experience will be saying “Sign me up! I’m your man.” Recommends Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on Body Language.

Body language is not just what you show to others, it changes you. Influences your brain chemistry. When you smile, sends stimulus to your brain. It makes you feel more powerful and less afraid. A pen between your teeth achieves the same thing.

Power poses. Wonder women – don’t hunch in on yourself! Wear a sweater (theory is that women sit like this because we are cold).

Be very focused on outcomes and excellence, and just stand your ground. You are stronger when you are yourself – don’t try and turn into someone else.

“The last thing you need is another one of you.”

Connect Better

Get help! Never struggle along. Get mentors, and build your extra team.

The most successful people are those who get the most help.

Types of Mentors

Smart people.

  • Can’t have too many.
  • Engage several per year informally.

Personal Career Advocates.

  • Add one every 1-3 years (informal and formal).

Business Advisors.

  • Be on the lookout for help at getting better at your business.
  • Create your personal advisory board.


You can attempt your career by yourself, without mentors, but why would you?

If you have mentors, good for you, get another. If not, get one.

“Mystery mentors”: they are your mentor, but they never know it.

Figure out what job you want, then figure out how to get that experience.

You current job will never give you all the experience you need to get the next one.

Networking Paradox.

  • Need a network that can help you.
  • Networking is about giving, not taking.
  • Give before you need anything.
  • On balance, always take less than you are giving.

Authentic Networking

  • Keeping in touch with people you already know.
  • Meeting new people.

Meet new people based on things that actually interest/inspire you.

  • Give positive feedback.
  • Reach out based on something specific.
  • Offer to be of service.


  • 30 minutes networking a month.
  • Send 10 emails a month.
  • Connect properly with 2 special people.



Do your job and change your job.

Do Better – impact.

  • Refuse to burn time on low value work.
  • THRIVE: redefine your job to add more value; raise the bar.


Look Better – Credibility

  • Be visible, but not annoying.
  • Be a translator: be relevant, show your value.


Connect Better – Support

  • Build a broad network.

All in all, I enjoyed it, and I got things out of it – more so than when I read the book, I think. I was a bit wary at first, because I hate the advice of women with other interest, take less technical roles, but I don’t think it went that way at all, and this advice is relevant whether you’re in a technical role or more of a management one.

4 replies on “GHC: Leadership Workshop with Patty Azzarello”

Comments are closed.