Brittany Benson: Thank you for joining and sharing a few minutes of your day with me, Rea! Could you share a little bit of detail about your role at Sage?
Rea: Of course! I am a data product manager with Sage AI Labs. I work with a cross-functional team to develop features with and for different product teams within Sage that use AI and machine learning to help the customer.
Brittany: How did you get involved in the world of technology?
Rea: I'm from Germany, and I was studying financial mathematics, on my way to banking and finance. I was working in a bank and then some insurance companies. During my master thesis, I started working on some neural networks for option pricing. I looked into machine learning and then through chance, I got the opportunity to go to San Francisco and work in a startup focused on AI and machine learning, leading my way into the technology space.
Brittany: Thank you for sharing that. What would you say is the best part of your job?
Rea: The best part is working with a super skilled team on highly technical problems while also solving real customer problems. It's interesting and always changing, but you still want to have the customer in mind, and that’s where I come in.
Brittany: You spoke a little bit about how you got involved in this role and the path that took you there. Throughout that experience, was there any female leaders that inspired you along the way?
Rea: I am inspired by a lot of professional women. It's cliche, but it starts with my mom who always pushed me to be independent and go off the normal path. It's funny because she is super non-technical. She barely uses any technology, but she always wanted me to show it to my dad. And he's a nerd, so she pushed me there.
When I first moved to San Francisco, I also went to a lot of meetups. Specifically, I went to the Women in Data meetup. All the women who presented there inspired me to stay in that field because at the time, I was only testing it out. I wasn't really sure about my future in it but hearing from those women was fascinating.
Brittany: What advice would you have for an aspiring leader that either wants to get involved in the world of technology, or would like to pursue a role similar to yours?
Rea: Try it out, talk to people in different roles, and if you can, shadow somebody. Do some pair programming, even if you just see how they spend their day and explore whether you get excited about any of it. Experiment and see what sticks.
Brittany: Can you touch a little bit on some obstacles or challenges that you have faced when you were experimenting and exploring a career in technology?
Rea: When I first started, I knew that there were engineers, but I barely knew anything about data scientists, which is kind of what I started as. Then my managers said, "Hey, we need a product person and you're good at this and it's a really good bridge between different career paths." I asked, "What's a product person?" Coming out of university, if you're not already interested in technology, you sometimes don't know what's out there. I think that's one of those challenges to figure out: what's out there, what's good for me, and where will I find myself?
Brittany: When you’re having these conversations and being introspective about where you want to take your career and what that might look like, are there any key traits that you think others should possess if they would like to be successful in a leadership role some day?
Rea: There are many ways of being a leader in different positions. You can be highly technical or less so, but one thing that sticks out is empathy. I think that you need to be able to put yourself in others' shoes and to listen and ask, “Where do they want to be?” Understand not just how and who they are today, but where could they go and have empathy in that process. Especially this year with the pandemic, empathy is something that, as a leader, is important.
Brittany: Can you share little bit about a vision that you have for the future and where you see your career going in the coming years?
Rea: I have gone away a little bit from that, especially with the pandemic. I feel like there's been a bunch of turns in the last year. I find it hard to imagine what's going on half a year from now, let alone in 10. And I think that's okay. We always hear, "Where do you want to be in five to 10 years?" And if you don't have a vision, it sounds weird, but it's okay. Right now, I'm trying to give my best every day, learn and improve, and then I'll get somewhere in 10 years that will be a fantastic place.
Brittany: That’s a great mindset! As a final question, are there any off-work passions or hobbies that you enjoy?
Rea: I'm a connection-driven person. I like meeting new people and building communities. A very new thing that I'm involved in is training to become a volunteer ski patrol. I'm super excited! I recently passed my toboggan training. I am the only woman in my cohort. I'm super excited for the opportunity to build more connections, to help the community, and to learn more about stressful moments and how to act in them. I think it'll help me grow personally and professionally, and I’m excited about that process.
Read the other colleague profiles who are part of Sage’s Women in Technology interview series.