In 2012, Ellen Lapham, Carol Muller, and Kathy Richardson set out to memorialize the spirit of inspiration that their close friend Anita Borg brought to their lives. The original project, a community blog known as Anita’s Quilt, showcased the array of people whose lives Anita influenced and energized. This year, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Systers—the online community that Anita Borg founded to support women in tech—by republishing some of our favorite Anita’s Quilt stories and adding new stories to the mix.
If you think my story seems like a fairytale, you’re right… but it had its share of spells and plot twists along the way to “happily ever after.”
In the year 2000, when the dot-com bubble burst, so did my personal bubble. I had just completed my engineering studies, with dreams of a flourishing career in the software world. My dreams took a temporary beating, but I moved forward. I took up all kinds of jobs and kept learning. Every job added a new dimension to the knowledge I was gaining. But the need to be in a technical role made me try relentlessly for jobs in IT.
A few small steps and job changes later, I landed a job as a test engineer at IBM. A month into my job, I was on the plane to Canada to transition part of the company’s work to India. Having had global culture training in my BPO jobs made me a top contender for the project. I worked very hard to transition the project.
There was no looking back after that. My career at IBM took me to great heights, and to different countries — I got to work with amazing people across the globe on various projects. I took up the cause of the customer and loved my job. I put in long hours and connected across teams. I presented at conferences, both in India and abroad, that gave me perspectives and chances to expand my horizon. I won several awards and recognition.
At the peak of my career, I decided to step out of my comfort zone. I interviewed for the role of a cluster lead in a different group and I bagged the job.
Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, I was not very welcome on my new team; I got no help learning the nuances of the project. The entire team had already gotten a big knowledge transfer from the team in China, just before I joined. One nice coworker passed on some reading materials, but that did not help me grasp what was going on.
I wondered if I had made a blunder moving from a successful role into this new one. My old team would have been more than happy to take me back, but I did not want to give up. I spoke to my manager and family, and decided to find a way out myself.
I looked through documents to find the names of team members in China. I put my basic Chinese skills to use and connected with them. I did not tell them I had no help from my local team. I logged in early at work to match the shifts in China; I waited patiently for their time. My effort was appreciated and they helped me learn the project.
I also reached out to two women in the development and support teams in India, who helped me learn the product better. I started attending meetings with renewed confidence and strength. I stood up for the team and emerged stronger. The team started to notice and slowly warmed up. The same team stood up for me when personal emergencies forced me to take short sabbaticals. When I left the team, I had fond memories.
I left IBM four years ago to pursue my entrepreneurial dream; now I am the founder and designated partner at Palindrome Concepts and Solutions. My IBM experiences always inform my coaching conversations with leaders across sectors, especially when I help teams work together.
As Neil Gaiman wrote in Coraline: “Fairy tales are more than true: Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”