Podcast #37B — Career Nav — Natasha Hendrick, Principal Geophysicist at Santos
Written by Anna Shur-Wilson
Women Who Code Podcast 37B — Career Nav | Spotify — iTunes — Google — YouTube — Podcast Page
Natasha Hendrick is a Developer Geoscience Manager and Principal Geophysicist at Santos. In this Women Who Code Career Nav talk, moderated by WWCode Career Nav Program Specialist Anna Shur-Wilson, Natasha discusses the future of work in tech, how to view your career not as a ladder but a jungle gym, and how to use people skills and leadership mindsets to make ourselves robot-proof to future career opportunities.
I’ll be talking about navigating your career in STEMM in this crazy, confusing, and constantly changing world that we’re finding ourselves in at the moment. I’m anything but conventional for a scientist. I’ve almost had parallel careers, one in geophysics, I’m a geophysicist by degree, but my second career has been around outdoor education, leadership facilitation, strategy and planning, and leading organizations through board roles. I’m only just discovering that it’s a good thing to have had such an unusual career.
Over the last couple of years as part of my leadership work, I’ve been doing a lot of research into the future of work and career navigation. And with all of the change going on in the world, we know that change is impacting many aspects of life, and that includes how we should be approaching our careers.
I’m going to start by setting the context for the world we’re living in. Of course, we’re all absorbed with the COVID pandemic at the moment, but actually, it’s part of a much bigger cycle of change that’s happening in the world. Welcome to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I’ll introduce you to the leadership mindsets that really matter, and explain how these days we need to step off the career ladder and swing onto a jungle gym.
The rate of significant change is accelerating. If you were born at the time of the steam engine, you had two or three generations to absorb the impact of that change. It was a big change to the world at the time, but it occurred over a long period of time. There was time to absorb it and respond to it.
Not too long ago, a person could reliably begin and end their career with a single company, perhaps even performing the same job throughout their entire life. Today we have to adapt to three or four or five paradigm shifts in a single generation. And this is driven both by the velocity of change and by our extended human lifespan, and it’s what makes living today so different. The ability to adapt, learn and change how we work and live is absolutely essential to survive and thrive in today’s world.
Electricity and mass production saw the introduction of the Second Industrial Revolution. At that time there was a requirement for workers to start becoming specifically educated for the industry that they were working in, and typically they spent their whole career in that industry, and often the whole family was involved. Their identity was largely focused on a particular industry, and they spent their lifetime, even their childhood, becoming familiar with that industry. And back then success was measured by efficiency and optimization of processes.
The majority of us working today come from a world that was designed and organized for the Third Industrial Revolution, which was the coming of the age of computers. That revolution saw a huge shift from physical laborers to knowledge workers and drove the need for deeper specialization. In that age, we were coached to pick a solid, relevant major to study at university that would find us a job when we graduated. And in that era, the measure of our intelligence was based on the amount of stored knowledge we had, our personal identity has largely based on our jobs, with success in life was measured by how high up the career ladder we progressed.
We’re actually in the Fourth Industrial Revolution now, even though our mental models are still back in the Third Industrial Revolution. We are having to adapt constantly to significant paradigm shifts. Where we once learned for a specific job and then used that knowledge and experience to build a career over decades, now we have to work to continuously learn in order to embrace the constantly changing opportunities.
More often than not we have to become neo-generalists, professionals that can apply their ability to learn and adapt to any role that we find ourselves in. This is counter-intuitive when you feel threatened by change. I know most of the technical people that I work with, they tend to prioritize becoming ever more specialists and holding on to ever more knowledge when they feel under threat. But in fact, this is not the right approach. In this new world, we also need to move away from the idea of a traditional linear career path. Things are just changing too fast for that simplistic approach. We can no longer easily articulate who we are simply by replying to the question, ‘What do you do?’ And instead, our identity is about, why we do what we do.
I want to reassure you that there is still plenty of work for humans to do. Our careers will be long and prosperous, they just won’t necessarily look like what we are used to because technology is going to take over many of our routine tasks and remove the need for us to be holders of expansive libraries of knowledge.
So, what remains then for us mere mortals to do?
It’s the exploration. It’s that part of business where you identify a problem and experiment with possible solutions. It’s that translation of an original idea into a workable solution. There is no machine learning that can be built to explore, that’s a unique value proposition of humans. Our real value lies in learning, adapting, and creating. We need superpowers in agile thinking, we need to be able to engage with others, to communicate our ideas, and influence decisions to make an impact.
Human experiences and human connections will be the key to making ourselves robot-proof. And in order to thrive through the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need to shift our understanding of our identity and the value we bring to the workplace, and we need to change how we navigate our careers.
Having set the scene, it’s probably quite apparent what mindsets matter most for moving forward. And here are the four mindsets that will help you lead yourself through a world of constant change.
The “authentically me” mindset recognizes the importance of understanding your own purpose and values and how you manifest them in your work. We are simply not able to manage constant significant change if our identity and sense of self feel threatened. The “radically forward” mindset helps us to embrace the necessary continuous learning that comes with constant change. It also helps us to find the courage to let go of the things that hold us back from adapting. The “deeply human” mindset focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and ensures that we work with a people-first approach. The “courageously impactful” mindset raises our awareness that every one of our actions has an impact on others. It helps ensure that we are able to connect the dots, build networks and mobilize resources to leverage the change that surrounds us, in order to create a positive impact for ourselves, our teams, our companies, and society at large. Consciously practicing these four mindsets on a daily basis will help build your resilience and support you to progress through your career.
As I’ve already flagged, one of the big shifts brought about by the massive and rapid change that we living through relates to our careers. In the old information era, our life path was mapped out as a series of sequential steps. We moved through a period of education, we progressed through our career, and then we retired. And in days gone by, we might have expected to climb a career ladder over a 30- or 40-year period right up until the time that we retired.
Our new reality looks more like a jungle gym. We need to swap out the idea of education over a fixed period and bring in this idea of continuous learning. We need a continuous state of discovery and reinvention throughout our careers. And we need to recognize that we will engage in a variety of work that meets our personal purpose and interest at any given time. You might be working in tech now, but it’s not a given that you’ll be working in tech your entire career. Instead of success being measured by how high up the career ladder we make it, our success should now be measured by how clearly, we’re meeting our purpose and how effectively we can learn and adapt to create value in all of the work roles that we have.
You are not your job. And this is a really hard thing to get our heads around. Our identity is not what we do, our identities are who we are. So, where do we start? Well, first you need to recognize that not moving up through your career in a linear, narrow fashion is not a bad thing. Second, you need to take responsibility for driving an intentional pathway around your own unique career jungle gym. You need to know yourself better. In particular, the values that drive you.
Personal values are the moral compass that guides our actions and define who we are. Values help us evaluate if something is good, bad, right, or wrong, they reflect what’s important in our lives, and they underpin what motivates us every day. Our values are formed early in life, so they are a result of our environment, culture, language, gender, education, family, and friends. Because our values are the main driver behind our personality and actions, if we want to find satisfaction and purpose in our career, it really does pay to explore and understand the values that matter most in terms of your work.
If you have an understanding of the values that shape how you show up each day, it’s much more obvious what job opportunities you should swing across to and which ones you should skip when you’re moving around your career jungle gym. Every new work opportunity should serve your own unique purpose and align with your own personal values. It is no coincidence that the professional roles that enable us to express our personal values and fulfill our “why” are those that we most enjoy and through which we’re able to make the biggest impact. These are the things that we were born to do.
We’ve all spent quite some time becoming technical specialists. We’ve spent a lot of years studying, and practicing our technical skills, so it’s easy to see why we put a lot of weight on our technical skills when we’re judging how good we are at our jobs and how effective we can move through our careers. In this age of rapid digital transformation, it makes sense to think that the really important new skills that we need to focus on developing are related to computer and software skills. And of course, all those things are really important, you can’t do your work without them, but actually, what matters more are human skills.
Today, the business world recognizes that we need to complement technology with our unique human capabilities. The IBM Institute for Business Value now ranks flexibility, agility and adaptability, time management and prioritization, collaboration and working effectively with teams, and effective communication as the top four skills necessary for professionals across every industry. This survey was taken in 2018 prior to the pandemic, and I suspect these skills are even more important in today’s workplaces.
I’m part of a cohort of 100 women in STEMM from around the world participating in the Homeward Bound Leadership Program. STEMM is science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine We were asked what skills were most important for people in STEMM careers to be effective in their field. Our top five responses were communication, resilience, curiosity, adaptability, and teamwork. The deeply human mindset is such an essential component of leading yourself through your career.
Of the human skills we need, communication skills are particularly important, no matter your area of technical specialty or what your career is. You need to manage complex scenarios and dynamic processes, and clear communication skills are critical for success. Make certain you can communicate effectively and not just with peers in your same field, but with people from all backgrounds and professional areas.
Communication is also a critical factor in shaping what career opportunities open up to us. It’s often difficult for women in male-dominated environments to speak up with confidence and authority, but if the sound bites that we offer around the board table, in corridor meetings, informal work sessions, don’t build a case of authority, we’re completely undermining our competence and we’re limiting our career options. The challenge is that women, far more than men, use language patterns that tend to undermine our authority and downplay our capabilities.
Do you constantly apologize? Do you start your sentences with ‘sorry’? “Sorry, I won’t take much time. Sorry, I just need to talk to you for a minute.” Do you make your statements tentative or weak by prefacing them with ‘just.’ For example, “Just want to add… “ or, “Just a quick email about… “ Do you undermine your expertise by starting sentences where you’re contributing your considerable technical expertise with things like, “Look, I’m not the expert, but… “ or, “This might be a stupid question, I just want to know.” And do you use self-diminishing qualifiers like, “Well, it’s only my opinion.” I ask you to monitor yourself for a week and see how many times you find yourself saying or writing these types of things, or maybe one or more of these speech patterns already resonates with you. Once you recognize the pattern in your language, make it a habit to stop yourself.
You’re ready to step off the career ladder and swing onto the jungle gym, you understand your personal values and what motivates you, and your language is positively promoting your competence. So then, how can you nudge along new opportunities so you can proactively navigate your career jungle gym? Well, unlike generations in the past, we can’t expect that promotions and new roles will appear simply because we’ve done the time. There is no one-size-fits-all career map. We each have to take responsibility for building our own career jungle gym.
The key to being seen as someone ready to take on a new challenge, and so manifest career opportunities, is to be an impact player. That means that you need to be present, open, flexible, and curious in your workplace. You need to be aware of what’s going on around you, beyond the tasks that you’ve been asked to focus on.
We have to stay looped into the bigger picture. We have to anticipate road bumps that might need our attention beyond our immediate area of focus. Think about, what problem your boss is trying to solve? What problem is your company trying to solve? Find out and focus on that. Contribute, be useful. Another important one is the need to lean into those messy boundaries between teams and departments, where no one really has the responsibility to do the work but it’s a piece of work that just needs to get done so that the respective teams and departments can deliver their goals.
You also need to see the change and ambiguity that surrounds you as an opportunity to become even more useful. This is a difficult one to get your head around because typically when we see change coming at us in the workplace, we hunker down into our role and focus on what we have to do and just get it done. Instead, we need to look up and around us and see how we can leverage that change to create opportunity.
What won’t open professional doors is just simply focusing on your own work but not looking for ways to help others in your team, always waiting to be asked to do something, and identifying problems, but not having a go at defining solutions. When you’re working as an impact player, career opportunities will appear. And in the meanwhile, practice your leadership mindset and continue to build your human skills. No time is ever wasted if you’re learning and growing.
Finally, find your tribe. You don’t have to navigate your career alone. Everybody belongs to multiple tribes. You’re here with the tribe of Women Who Code. You’re probably a member of a tribe that plays sports or exercises together. There’ll be tribes in your workplace you belong to and tribes that you socialize and travel with.
Humans are driven to connect, so help yourself by finding the tribe that’s going to support you to become who you want to be. And can I say, don’t be afraid to connect with networks that at first glance don’t appear to be related to your technical work at all. You’ll be surprised just how much people from all professions can help guide you as you build professional skills to thrive in the complex times that we find ourselves in.