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  1. Blog
  2. Partners in Diversity

7 Women Who Schooled Their Career Trajectories—Literally

How formal education can direct a career path

Woman with college degree reading the newspaper
Photo courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez

This article is part of InHerSight's Career Trajectories series. Women's career paths vary significantly. Hear from women themselves about the pivotal career decisions that have shaped their growth and success.

This article is part of InHerSight's Partners in Diversity series. Discover companies partnering with InHerSight to better support women in the workplace.

The exasperated question from middle school through college is: “When will I use X in real life?” And often, the statement has some validity to it. Many good lives and careers have been successfully carried out without skills like geometry or the ability to recite one of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. Formal education isn’t a requirement.

Yet oftentimes, and especially amid discussions of student loan debt repayment (also valid), we forget how great school can be at putting us on a path toward a fulfilling career. So, for the last installment of our Career Trajectories series, we decided to explore one of the more conventional routes people take to the professional world—education—and answer that age-old question. When do you use X in real life? These six women share how their degrees have shaped their career trajectories.

7 women who've turned their educations into impactful careers

Shikha Bajaj

Vice President, Agile Program Management at Publicis Sapient

What do you do?

I’m a strategic, growth-focused executive with over 22 years of experience driving successful digital transformation solutions across banking, insurance, hedge fund administration, and health care organizations to deliver customer value. I have a proven track record in growing business, teams, and people, and I’m known for creating long lasting organizational impact. I’m also an advocate for women in leadership and the founder of a mentorship program for women leaders at Publicis Sapient.

How did you get where you are?

I would attribute my success to my ability to stay true to my values and deliberately make choices aligned to that. I started as a computer engineer who quickly realized that I love creating a vision for a better future, influencing people, and leveraging technology and solutions to build that future. I took MBA and Executive MBA courses and have been scaling my impact over the years by staying focused on growing people, teams, and business

What has most surprised you about your career?

The fact that I have only been at two companies (Accenture and Publicis Sapient) in 22 years is a surprise for me. I chose to work in consulting because it offers an opportunity to solve different types of problems. The fact that my company Publicis Sapient has been changing and offering newer, more complex problems for me to solve is a surprise I love about my career.

Pey-Hua Hwang

Manager, Drone Support, Test, and Refinement (DSTAR) at Amazon

What do you do?

As the manager of the drone support, test, and refinement team, I manage four cross-functional engineering groups in Prime Air: flight test engineering, manufacturing test engineering, system test engineering, and the product support organization. We help our development and operational teams provide feedback to design as quickly as possible, so we can continuously improve our drone systems. Our goal is to find ways to detect and prevent issues as far upstream in the product lifecycle as possible. On a day-to-day basis, my role is to make sure our work is being correctly prioritized and resourced by senior leadership. In the event we hit an obstacle, it is my role to figure out the best way to escalate or negotiate for the removal of said obstacle. I believe that the most important job of a manager is to set their team up for success.

How did you get where you are?

I began as a mechanical engineer at GE Aircraft Engines. Just short of 10 years there, I took roles in field support (including Hong Kong), product support, and commercial operations. I learned about engineering discipline, regulatory, and customer expectations. I took my first managerial role at Astronics AES, leading their product support organization for in-cabin power distribution and learned to grow a team and execute a vision. Five years later, I joined Amazon.

What has most surprised you about your career?

I never thought I would spend my entire career in aviation because I did not have a family background or personal passion in the area. However, I learned how much breadth and variety of experience exists in the aviation-related engineering landscape. I strongly believe in the power of “weak ties,” where I have been recommended to apply for positions that I might not have previously considered. These opportunities have driven my growth.

Ira Goel

Head of Governance, Risk and Compliance at Nitro, Inc.

What do you do?

I connect the dots for people and companies and build compliance and risk programs. I am always learning and using it to build something better.

How did you get where you are?

I’m a computer science engineer, through and through, with a master’s degree. I got my first job through campus recruitment, then moved to the U.S. after a couple of years. After 10 years or so, I got another master’s degree in cybersecurity, transitioned from engineering to 1st LOD and then in governance, risk, and data privacy SME.

What has most surprised you about your career?

What surprised me the most was myself.

Anna Sinitsyna

News & Media Industry Team Lead (Manager of Analytics) at InfoTrust LLC

What do you do?

I am a team lead of a team that consults clients in all things digital analytics with a focus on data governance and privacy. We help our clients instrument measurement on their website, mobile apps, connected TVs, and gaming consoles. My team works with some of the largest publishers in the United States and across the globe. I oversee client journeys from the moment of requirements gathering for future data collection to creating reports and dashboards to enable anyone—from a business or a product analyst to a C-level executive—to understand performance of their product, platform, or a subscription service. On a day-to-day basis, I make sure that all of our projects stay on time, on budget, and result in our clients becoming our raving fans.

How did you get where you are?

I was always passionate about the world of digital media. I started teaching myself internet marketing and web development while I was still a college student studying Russian language and literature in Russia. Then, I moved to the United States to pursue a business degree in marketing management. After college, I held a number of roles: I was an associate marketing data analyst working on analyzing display media for an Atlanta-based company, I learned SAS on the job at a position in Columbus, Ohio, and I took a job with a large retailer (L Brands/Victoria's Secret), where I combined my digital knowledge with my skills working with customer databases and creating physical mail and email files and customer portfolio analyses.

Before joining InfoTrust, I was with a local financial company, which offered me a promotion to a senior analyst and the ability to further expand my customer database analysis skills (SAS was a hardcore requirement). After over two years at this company, I was a part of a mass layoff and had a lot of time to think about my next move, the best culture match and most importantly the match of my interests and passions, which led me to where I am. I have been here for over two years and was promoted to manage a team of analytics consultants in the time that I've been here.

What has most surprised you about your career?

The fact that I had to go back in time to learn customer analytics to create direct mail files and code in SAS, which at this point was already considered to be actively replaced by Python (which I started learning first) and R (which I still haven't learned). The tricky part is that I haven't written a single line of code since the day I joined InfoTrust two and a half years ago, as I work primarily with analytics implementations and debug someone else's code, which is rarely a query language such as SQL or SAS.

Lavanya Venkiteswaran

Principal Technical Program Manager (TPM) at Amazon

What do you do?

I am a principal technical program manager for Amazon Search—my job involves execution of the platform that we are building, apart from being chief of staff to the director for search relevance. This involves tech leadership, driving planning processes, asking the right technical questions, coordinating with customers and stakeholders, translation services between different groups or teams, and above all, keeping teams on track for delivering on goals.

How did you get where you are?

I started my career as an engineer. At PayPal, I joined as a junior engineer and grew to become a subject matter expert and technical lead. I joined a tech leadership program for two years and lived/worked alone in Sydney, Australia, for six months. I have since then run engineering programs, product teams, and high-impact operational programs like availability/disaster recovery.

What has most surprised you about your career?

Learning new things helped me to diversify and grow my career, while constantly expanding beyond my comfort zone.

Tina Wang

Principal UX (User Experience) Designer, Search at Amazon

What do you do?

As a principal UX designer, I inspire cross-functional teams to create a bold, customer-centric future vision, and lead a design team to bring that vision to life and tell compelling stories.

How did you get where you are?

I studied industrial design in college and user-centered design in graduate school. I practiced industrial design for a few years before I discovered my passion for user experience design (how a customer interacts with physical, digital and spatial experiences, not just UX). I’ve been focusing on UX design for the last eight years. I think solving problems in multi-dimensional settings helps me be a better UX designer.

What has most surprised you about your career?

That I’m able to stay true to myself, dare to think differently and bring unique points of view. I’ve embraced my uniqueness as a way to bring creative solutions. This has proven effective across a variety of companies at which I’ve worked.

Sandra Mehdian

Go-To-Market Marketing Manager at Allied Electronics & Automation

What do you do?

GTM Marketing Manager. I’ve managed the roadmap and end-to-end execution of 200+ campaigns (email, print/digital ads, landing pages, social media, sales training, Google Ads, Remarketing ads, and more) and work on social media strategy.

How did you get where you are?

I enjoy the creative, psychological and analytical elements of marketing. I took a lot of classes, including graphic design and psychology classes, besides learning tools like HubSpot.

What has most surprised you about your career?

That it is always changing—unlike other business majors, marketing is always evolving based on technology.

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