Women in Big Data - Podcast: Career, Big Data & Analytics Insights

7. Business Skills & Career Growth - A Talk With Erika Lunceford (PeerNova)

February 10, 2023 Help To Grow Talk Episode 7
Women in Big Data - Podcast: Career, Big Data & Analytics Insights
7. Business Skills & Career Growth - A Talk With Erika Lunceford (PeerNova)
Women in Big Data: Career, Big Data & Analytics
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Listen, and get insights into Business Skills & Career Growth for Women in Technology in this talk with Erika Lunceford, Senior Vice President Consensus Solutions at PeerNova. We talk about the role of business skills, being risk averse versus going for the job, decisions & career growth, mentoring as a strategy, and the value of understanding financial statements to grow your business skills.

Mentoring
Mentoring Program - Women in Big Data

Mentoring is essential to success at every stage of a women’s career, both as a mentee and mentor. The many WiBD mentoring programs are open to WiBD members and cover opportunities for junior, mid-career, and senior women in technology. Not yet a member? No worries. By joining a mentoring program, you automatically become a WiBD member. Both membership and mentoring are free of charge.

Support the show


Mentoring Program - Women in Big Data
Mentoring is essential to success at every stage of a women’s career, both as a mentee and mentor. The many WiBD mentoring programs are open to WiBD members and cover opportunities for junior, mid-career, and senior women in technology. Not yet a member? No worries. By joining a mentoring program, you automatically become a WiBD member. Both membership and mentoring are free of charge.


Website: Women in Big Data Podcast
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Note: Podcast transcription edited to improve readability.

Intro  00:02
Hello, welcome to the Women in Big Data Brussels podcast, where we talk about big data topics with diversity and inclusiveness in mind. We do this to inspire you and to connect, engage, grow, and champion the success of women in big data. The aim of this podcast is to reveal to you what you can do with big data, how organizations and societies use it, and the potential of big data to create a better future for everyone.

Erika Lunceford  00:28
"The more you can understand your business, the risk that they are taking, how they are trying to make revenue, and who their clients are, you just get so many more opportunities, and your career can be much more enriching."

Desiree Timmermans  00:44
In this 7th episode, Valerie and I talk about business skills and career growth with Erika Lunceford, Senior Vice President of Consensus Solutions at PeerNova. We cover decision-making, giving direction to your team, personal development, career opportunities, mentoring, and developing your financial skills. Let's start!

Welcome Erika. Thanks for joining Valerie and me to talk about business skills and career growth. And, of course, we are very interested in what role business skills played in your career? 

Erika Lunceford  01:18
Well, thank you for having me, Desiree, and Valerie. It's really nice to be here today. And just to give a brief background around my career trajectory: right now, I work in a startup called PeerNova. And we're putting together a new solution for large global banks that allows them to valuate their OTC derivatives better. And I'm the SVP for that. So I really run it from a P&L perspective. And so that's both on the business side, as well as on the technical side, to make sure that the product is meeting the needs. So, prior to that, I worked for BNY Mellon in their innovation space, which went across all their different lines of business. And so I've traditionally worked in product management, business analysis type roles.

Even though I initially started my career as a developer, I quickly moved into those project management and business analysis areas. And that's always been a passion of mine. So I naturally fell into learning business skills because I tended to be a bridge between technology and business as we were going through.

What I've found is really valuable with having business skills is that you learn your industry's and your company's business, and you understand what makes them money - and that is the main driver in business as people are trying to make money. And when you understand what drives that, like, who are the clients, what do the clients need? All those types of questions then make you more valuable to your organization and the industry as a whole. Once you have that type of knowledge, it really gives you some nice advantages in your role. One is that you can be a meaningful partner.

So you always hear this term from technology people, especially at large organizations - where you got IT and then you've got multiple business units - and they always talk about 'the business'. Well, who is the business? And so the more you can understand what the business does and whom you're partnering with than you can actually sit at the table with them. You can be part of the decision process and contribute ideas. And people seek you out because they realize that you understand what they're trying to do, and you understand how technology marries to that. That could be with data solutions, AI, and even infrastructure. You know, people who are in infrastructure sometimes think that they're very far away from the business. But infrastructure can have a huge value to the business, for example: I was working on a program at one point. And there are two ways to write to the data center: asynchronously and synchronously. Being able to explain that difference to the business and allowing them to make a decision on how they wanted their data moved and what types of risks they were taking makes it very valuable to them. The more you can understand your business, the risk that they're taking, how they're trying to make revenue, and who their clients are, you just get so many more opportunities, and your career can be much more enriching at that point.

Desiree Timmermans  04:27
Does that also mean it's important to be a kind of linking pin? That's what you observed at the beginning of your career; as you said, you started as a developer but soon already started with project management and leadership.

Erika Lunceford  04:40
You know, back when I started my career, there were clear lines between those roles. You had project managers, business analysts, and developers. And it was pretty well delineated. I think that in our modern technology world, there's more blurring. And even for people who have their hands on the keyboard, to have that knowledge and be a resource to their business is super valuable. I worked with a man who was sought out by the business as well because he was writing a lot of algorithmic software to help optimize securities and the placement of those securities within our client base. He was an extreme technologist, really good at what he did. And the business wanted to talk to him because they understood that he could translate for them what he was doing. If they explain their business to him, then he would be able to automate it better and offer new solutions. So I think you have that capability even if you're not in a 'bridging' business role. Being a person with your hands on the keyboard and building relationships with the business is really important.

Valerie Zapico  05:50
That's a point that I really put on. I like for my team to understand that it's important to ask questions. Even if you work on the technical side, speak to your business: ask some questions, and try to understand the business processes because it's very valuable to understand the data behind the analytics and the AI.

Erika Lunceford  06:13
And those folks who have that knowledge of both the technology and the business are the ones who end up in the leadership roles, because they're the ones who are going to work with the business on a day to day basis. So that's how you get your career progression.

Desiree Timmermans  06:27
And what I often read in research is that women are risk averse. And actually, I recognize that because I had it myself that you see that some men apply when they have 60% of the skills for the job that they are applying to, and often not all, but women want to be sure that they have 100% of the skills before they go for a job. Is that something also that you recognize Erika?

Erika Lunceford  06:52
Thinking back, I also had issues with this early on in my career. And I was trying to think about what the causes of those were. I'm also watching my daughters grow into adulthood at this point: and seeing them go through some of these things. And then, I work with a lot of people who have entered their careers. And I think it kind of breaks down to one: understanding what authority means. So what risk-taking really is: is making decisions, right? And who has the authority? I think there's also one other aspect to that, that people forget, which is that not making a decision is also a risk; you have to pick up all the buzz.

Now, why do people not make decisions? Well, they're not sure if they have the authority to make the decision. They're afraid that they're going to make the wrong decision. And they have a lot of anxiety. So when I was younger, I had a tonne of anxiety. I mean, I remember my stomach and my throat every time somebody would say something to me, I blush. I really had a lot of anxiety when I was younger. And it took me some time to get over that. And the way you get over that is confidence. And how do you get confidence? Well, you have to make decisions so that you know your decision-making abilities are okay. You have to have that confidence in yourself. And in order to do that, sometimes you're gonna fail. And you have to accept failure.

There's a lot packed into what I just said there. If you think about somebody who's a high achiever: maybe in their teens, they were like straight-A students and really smart, and they're perfect on everything. The first time they fail, it's really hard for them. And you see that like when people go to college for the first time, and now they're like the little fish in the big pond instead of the big fish in a little pond. All those types of life transitions start to get you more comfortable with failure. And knowing that when you fail, you actually learn so much.

You learn so much more from a failure than from a success. And especially if you can be very honest and upfront about your failure. Explain what went wrong, and be able to stand behind that. Now I'm not advocating for taking irresponsible risks, okay? I'm talking about thoughtful risks here. And those thoughtful risks also mean that you might collaborate with other people. In fact, you should be collaborating with other people.

But I think the method here that you should take is really when you identify a problem, and it can be a very small problem. Instead of asking your boss for the solution, do a little bit of thinking on your own. Write down what you think the solution to the problem is and make a recommendation to your boss. When you start making recommendations to your boss, you've actually de-risked your risk-taking a little bit there. So what you've done is you've gone out on a limb. You've said: this is what I think the solution is, and this is why. So you have some rationale there, you know, you've thought through this. You present that to your boss or maybe a peer or whoever that is, and you get feedback. And then that feedback lets you know where you might have missed something or maybe you didn't understand something. It grows your knowledge. And then you can start to feel comfortable, where you're like: wow, I was pretty close on that; I think I can do this; I can make these types of decisions. And you get confidence from that. And then you implement it. Then once you implement it, you're like: okay, what went right with this, and what went wrong? What could I have done better in my effort and decision-making that would have maybe prevented some of the issues I ran into while I was going through the process?

Desiree Timmermans  10:32
And that's a way of improving yourself. And do you recognize that in your career Valerie that you were risk adverse in the beginning?

Valerie Zapico  10:39
Of course. As Erica said, I tried to find my own solution and push my proposal. I was pushed by my manager to do this. So I had the chance to have this push to grow and present the solution and explain why. And that's really a key point that helped for this.

Erika Lunceford  10:56
I think that's super key, Valerie, what you just talked about. So for us who are further along in our careers: what are we doing to help the people who work on our teams or across from us to take on this type of practice as well? Are we asking them: well, what do you think; how would you go about making this decision? So I think pushing people to do that is helping to develop people. And that's really how we can advocate for other women to teach them these skills.

Desiree Timmermans  11:26
What I had to learn is to share my failures with people around me. And then I felt that they were supporting me and said: but this is normal.

Erika Lunceford  11:35
Yeah, I think being able to talk about those things. It's okay; everybody goes through this at a point. Sometimes when we get so inside our heads, we think we're the only ones like this. And then once you start to talk to other people, you realize how common something is and how you're not that unique, you know?

Desiree Timmermans  11:53
I absolutely agree. That's also a nice way of looking at it: you're not that unique.

Erika Lunceford  11:58
Now, we're all much more similar than we are different. I think recognizing that and finding people who can be: your people that you talk to. And the sooner you can talk about a failure too - like, especially in the workplace, if you can talk about a problem that happened. The sooner that happens, the sooner that can be addressed. Get help: ask for help as you're going through the process.

Desiree Timmermans  12:21
So talking about making decisions: what can the listeners do to improve that? Because what kind of decisions do you need to make to grow your career? We already talked about being open, communicating about it. Are there other things that you would like to add?

Erika Lunceford  12:39
I was thinking about a woman that I worked with at BNY Melon during the reform project. And she was an executive. And I remember watching her during some pretty intense times when we were working with the regulators, the different business departments, and the clients. So it's a balancing of all those different constituencies. That's what running a business is all about. And you could see her decision process where she would ask different people around the table for their different perspectives. And then she would immediately take all that information in. She would make the decision, and then she would give an action plan. Sometimes things were not as immediate because she would say: well, we need more information on this. And she would send people off to get more information. But it was all about bringing people together.

I think joint decision-making is a really interesting thing. You've got to bring people together, but you can't make the decision by committee. So there's definitely someone sitting there who has the authority to say: we're going to go left or right. But they're taking in information from everybody. And they're also listening to people's recommendations as to why this is better versus that. It is a very decisive process where you're bringing that information together. As soon as you feel like you have enough and you've had all this experience, you make the decision, and you start to act on it.

I think what's really important in decision-making is to hold people accountable to your decisions. So if you're making a decision, and everyone's agreed to that decision, then hold people accountable to that decision. Don't rethink the decision as you're going through it. And I don't mean that you won't adjust if you get new information. But you have to have some conviction to carry that forward then: have the confidence to carry forward that business decision. And really, I think that timeliness is important because if you wait too long: making no decision is a risk as well. And then people don't know what to do, especially when you're running larger teams. You have to be giving them direction. And so that's what people are looking for when they're moving people up through an organization is: do they have the confidence to make decisions on a timely basis? And is their decision-making process pretty correct? And do they understand how to revise their decisions appropriately? So is it data-driven? Are they collaborating with others to make their decision? Or are they using their ego to do so? You really have to think about those types of things. And when you're developing people, teaching them to do that, in yourself, thinking about: am I being stubborn; am I not listening to people who are going to make my decision better? So those are all factors that you have to take into account.

I think making decisions even though you have authority, and there are different types of authority - there's given authority, there's earned authority, there's authority by knowledge - which comes back to your business knowledge, how much do you know about the business that you can make that type of decision? And having all of those come together is actually a humble process. You have to recognize that you're not always going to be right. And you then have to own it and admit when you were wrong. All of the others is humility, if you think about it, right? And, asking people to be accountable to it, you're asking favors from people. I like to think about things as: always a client relationship. Everyone's my client, my employees, my partners. Everyone's a client: how am I helping people? And if you have that frame of mind, I think you're gonna make the best decisions: because you're not making the decision for you, you're making it for your team or for your company. And then you get recognized for that, which pushes you forward into your career.

Desiree Timmermans  16:26
And Valerie,  how do you make decisions as a leader within your organisation?

Valerie Zapico  16:30
In fact, analyze the current situation, and what is the risk if we don't move and the risk if we move? And make a pro and cons for each other? It's okay; if the decision is not good, we can fail. But we need to learn from this. That's why it's important to make a decision because even if it's a failure, you have to learn, and then the next time you make a better decision.

Desiree Timmermans  16:56
I understand. And Erika, did you have a kind of career growth plan?

Erika Lunceford  17:00
I always kind of looked at: was I going tangentially the right direction? I wish I would have had more of a strategy in my career, but I didn't - a lot of it was by chance. I ended up in the right places at the right time. But I did take advantage of those, meaning that like capitalize on them. I always drove with a natural sense of curiosity, always wanted to learn more, and was always really willing to change too. So, being open-minded, changing, and looking for that next opportunity. And I think it's important in career growth to think about: how you're going to grow in a given position? What types of opportunities are you going to have? How are you going to stay on the same career track? I think there's a lot of value in moving laterally. Because when you move laterally, you learn different skills, you learn different parts of the business. And you get a more holistic picture versus if you're just always trying to move up.

Desiree Timmermans  17:59
Erika, you said I wish I had a kind of strategy. If you now would give the listeners advice, what kind of strategy would you recommend to them?

Erika Lunceford  18:07
Deborah Sgro and I actually run a mentoring program: a peer mentoring program out of the Bay Area Chapter of Women In Big Data. And it's called 'Getting From Here to There'. And what we really do is work with a group of women to help them envision where they want to be. To analyze what you need to be there, and then doing a skills inventory to compare what they have. And skills include knowledge too, so like: do they have the right business knowledge; do they have the right soft skills; do they have the right technical skills? So, do an inventory analysis against what you think you need to get there and what you have today. And start to take pieces of those and develop yourself and break those into 90 Day plans, basically. And then reconsider that over time: is that still where you want to go; or have you now worked in some other positions or gained some skills, and now you're like: I can't imagine doing that on a daily basis, maybe I should change where I want to go. It's okay to change. You just have to recognize why. It's not because it's too hard, but you're changing because you actually don't want that anymore.

When you're first starting your career, you have different visions about where you want to be. If you decide and you have a family, you're making different decisions at that point, as to: well, maybe I need a job with more flexibility, maybe I need something else right now. And you're making that conscious decision. And then, as your family leaves, then you're thinking about: okay, what am I going to do next? Maybe I'm going to switch careers altogether, or I'm going to take on a lot more responsibility. And so it's a constant evaluation process. But keeping a vision out there, I think, is really healthy because it's motivating. You can like imagine yourself there. Deborah and I have gone through four cohorts so far.

And I'm just gonna give a little plug, please go to women in big data.org and look and see about joining that program. It's actually a global program. And so it's been pretty interesting.

Desiree Timmermans  20:12
Do you have some recommendations of resources that the listeners can use to grow their careers and to know more about business skills?

Erika Lunceford  20:21
I'm thinking about business skills and how you grow those business skills. A key thing is understanding financial statements. When you look at a company, and they're all public, they're out there: so go read a financial statement, especially for maybe the company you work for. Or maybe if you're at a smaller company and you're not public yet, then go look at in your industry, read one. Just see what's on that and what the executives are saying about their company, what they're trying to do. Look at the actual numbers and try to figure out what those numbers are: what's a P/E ratio; why is the stock price this instead of that? I think getting that business acumen because that's what businesses are doing to run their business - that's their metric. Go look at those financial statements, I would say.

I think the other really key thing for building relationships: what happened to me early in my career is that I was sent to Dale Carnegie Sales, and I learned how to sell. I was now in business development but wasn't always in sales positions. In fact, most of my career, I was not. I would be in sales support roles, product management, or business analysis. But those skills are key because it helps you think about what other people are thinking about. And that then provides a way to collaborate with people. So, I think, taking a sales class, even if you're not a salesperson, helps you understand business a lot.

Desiree Timmermans  21:47
I absolutely agree. That's also what I saw in my career: you could better understand your company, the bottom line.

Erika Lunceford  21:54
Yeah, exactly. And I think I lucked out in that. In my first job, I was working on a system that was about commission payout in the securities industry. And by doing that, I had to learn where the money was coming from - where it needed to go to. And, if you follow the money, you can understand the business processes, you can understand the business itself. And so, like I said, I didn't have like a firm career strategy. But I lucked into certain positions that allowed me to learn, and then I took advantage of those and learned as much as I could.

Desiree Timmermans  22:24
Okay. And Erika, is there something you would like to share with us that I didn't ask you yet?

Erika Lunceford  22.31
I think you've covered it all, Desiree. So, thank you.

Desiree Timmermans  22:35
Erika, Valerie, thank you very much. I really enjoyed it. I also learned from it. So thank you very much.

Outro  22:42
Thanks for listening to the Women In Big Data Brussels Podcast. We appreciate it if you get in touch with us to provide your feedback or request to partner up and be a guest. You can contact us via data women@protonmail.com. That is data women@protonmail.com. You also find our contact details in the show notes. 

Tune in next time!

Intro
The Role of Business Skills
Being Risk Averse Versus Going For The Job
Decisions & Career Growth
Mentoring as a Strategy
The Value of Understanding Financial Statements to Grow Your Business Skills
Outro