WWCode Conversations #53: Finding Passion in Tech After Two Decades in Finance
Written by WWCode HQ
Women Who Code Conversations 53 | Spotify — iTunes — Google — YouTube — Text
Briana Augenreich, Women Who Code Leadership Fellow, interviews Velia Carboni, Chief Digital and Technology Officer at VF Corp. They discuss Velia finding her passion in tech after two decades in finance, the benefits of empowering your people, and the corporate culture at VFC.
Can you share a little bit about how you got on your journey to this current role?
I started in finance years ago. I spent about 24 years in the financial services industry. My background was in finance and then I fell upon a role in our technology organization through a financial exercise. I found my passion. I fell in love with technology and I never looked back. I have so much respect for my colleagues in finance, I just needed something different. I stayed in technology, then moved my way into more of the digital side of the house. I oversee everything from our commerce, to in-store to infrastructure, cloud, security, and desktop support. VF is a portfolio company. We have some big brands, like The North Face, Vans, Timberland, Dickies, Kipling, Eastpak, Napapijri, and more. We are a global company. My team basically services the technology and digital needs of all those brands.
What does a digital transformation entail? What does that look like for VFC?
When I joined VF Corp, we were already on a digital transformational journey. If you fast-forward to COVID, it really has accelerated. We watch our consumers, we watch the way that they engage, and it’s just been very transformative at a velocity that I don’t think any of us anticipated. It is working with the different brands to understand their different consumer needs. My job is to help serve the brands with the capabilities they need to be able to engage with their consumer. Transformation is based on a lot of things. The technology aspect is almost the easiest part. I think the harder changes are the people and processes that have to change along with that.
Encompassing all of that is culture. You need energy. You need to get a group of individuals that have become your champions of this change. and really affect the way we live, eat and breathe, the changes we need to make. We empower our associates. It’s a fail-safe environment. We’re going to try things. We’re not going to succeed all the time. You have to have the mindset of learning, curiosity, and passion to push the envelope in many ways.
I’ve heard from your co-workers and peers that your joining in this digital transformation has had a really large impact on the culture shift in adopting that digital transformation. Are there any concrete things that you’re doing to encourage that culture adoption?
Yes, a couple of things. On the scientific side, we’ve instituted a product management framework in order to really help us understand the capabilities and opportunities we want to solve for. How do you build your road maps? How do you retire old technology? The other part is empowering your leaders. I’m a big people leader. I love the people that work within my organization. I love the heart and soul that they pour into their work. A lot of that comes back to empowering those leaders.
Product management allows us to do that. You almost become like a mini CEO of that capability. You own the financial budget, the capabilities, the delivery, and the support. You really own the end-to-end. We are acquiring a lot of talent as time goes on, so if anyone’s looking for employment, please reach out. The other beautiful thing that we were able to do is we’re a company with 120 years of history. It’s been amazing to watch the collaboration between the new and the existing employees come together and unify.
How is product management different from what you were doing before?
We had a mix of the way we organize work. It’s more about the way you empower your leaders and run that visioning. Starting with that opportunity statement, down to when you build the detailed stories of how the work is going to get done, to that support structure once you launch. Product management forces a lot more of that discipline. It also breeds more creativity, because you allow your people to start at that higher level and then build down into the details. I think historically, we were very project-focused. It’s a little bit more black and white, and it’s a much more traditional kinda implementation.
In the digital space, you are closer to the consumer. The consumer is at the core of all things. It brings that brand voice that represents the consumer into the product management team. It forces us to understand the business opportunity that we’re trying to solve for. The mindset shift from projects to product management puts technology in a very different place. We can’t live in our business without digital and technology. We are the strategic enabler.
Are there other aspects that you find important about culture overall? And can you talk a little bit about the culture at VFC?
The culture at VFC is super collaborative. We tend to have fewer politics, people want to help out. For me, it was getting people to have the confidence to sit at the big people table. It is important for me to change that mindset and really evolve what we brought to the table. One of the other areas that I’m very passionate about is diversity. I’m a big believer that you have to have diversity of thought. It could be race, gender, anything that you want it to be, or different walks of life. I came from finance. I didn’t come from a coding background. What I love is when you walk into a room and not everyone looks, feels, or talks the same. You get richer content coming out of that. The ideas are more invigorating and more creative. It pushes the envelope a lot more than if everyone was a coder and everyone was of the same race and gender.
Are there any key elements that you do or VFC does to increase diversity?
We’ve got a chief diversity officer in-house, and there’s a lot of outreach. I believe in more organic approaches as an individual. I do a lot of mentoring, maybe not through formal channels. I’m a female executive sitting on a senior team. There are a few of us sitting on that team, and I think that really starts to change the mindset. I’m going to be very open and admit, I think we’ve got a long way to go. I’m a big person on inclusivity, so it has to be encompassing everyone. Steve, our CEO, is 1000% committed to further evolving the organization.
Is there anything that excites you about the changes that are coming right now?
I’m excited about everything. Watching some of the folks on my team grow has been one of the biggest joys as a leader. I tend to throw people into things that they think they can’t do. I give them a lot of rope. You don’t learn unless you make mistakes. Also a lot of the work we’re doing to move to Cloud, and companies with our legacy. We do have more traditional infrastructure in-house, and now we’re making a lot of those migrations. On the technology side, VF just made tremendous investments in this digital technology, which they’ve been doing for years, but this year was really big.
How has COVID impacted VFC? How has it impacted your work, being at home, and you personally?
I was on the road every week for two years. You had this rat race to now being home and having more time in some ways. One thing we have to be careful of, is sometimes that home office environment means even longer days than you were working before. I worry about burnout with our associates. When we say we are going back to the office, is it really full-time? What does it look like? I don’t think any of us know. So some aspect of this home work life is going to continue, so I think we have to help our associates with that. We had a very successful transition to home environment. Technology wasn’t an issue. I think people miss human connectivity. The company’s doing great, teams are growing, and we’re getting the work done. I think it was a really great lesson in appreciation of technology.
I’d love to hear any stories or tips that you have from balancing that work-life balance mixture.
It’s about forgiving yourself. Things aren’t going to go perfect every day. Do what you have to do. Find ways to find that balance and find time for yourself, because if you don’t take care of yourself then you can’t take care of anything else. As leaders, we have to push that message and lead by example.
Is there one thing that you would like to leave with our Women Who Code community?
Believe in yourselves. Push yourself as hard as you can. Forgive yourself. Sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves. Nothing has to be linear in life. Let things play out as they do.