For our third installment in our “Techie of the Month” Series, we are very proud and excited to present our “Ms. October,” Melissa Borza.
Melissa is currently serving as the VP of Product Strategy and Marketing for Netformx. A networking company whose enterprise software specializes in enabling solutions providers and systems integrators in their sales process. While working and pursuing her leadership goals in the technology industry for over 20 years, Melissa still gives back to her community, volunteering with The Boy Scouts of America and a local community board, “The Friends of the Library.” She also would like the opportunity to serve on a corporate board, in order to use her skills to make a greater impact. Her most recent accomplishment is becoming a published author, debuting her novel, “Fashion Figures: How Missy the Mathlete Made the Cut,” this past August.
Here’s my interview with Melissa:
How did you find your way into technology?
I took a very non-linear path to my role. I was working as a journalist, basically working 7 days a week, with 12 to 15 hour days and covering not-so-glamourous stories. When I decided that I did not want to do that for the rest of my life. While looking for something else, a friend was working as a Technical Writer, which at the time, I had never even heard of before. He was presented with an opportunity, but he lived in the Boston area and didn’t want to move. So, it became my opportunity, and with that I started my career in tech, as a technical writer. Over time, I moved on into other roles, based on the problems I needed to solve. First, into writing training materials, then into delivering that training, and then into marketing products. Eventually, I was able to move into building them, and then owning them, and the whole portfolio of products.
In basic terms what does “VP of Product Strategy and Marketing” do?
I run product management and marketing, helping to shepherd short-term development efforts, and longer term strategy, to keep things on track. In lay(wo)man terms, I would say I am a Collaborative, Problem-solving Engineer, bringing different people and teams together to solve difficult problems.
What is something that you love about your job?
I just love working with my team. I love to teach them something new and show them how they can be successful. But, I also like it to be a mutual exchange, where I can learn from them at the same time.
What is something you find challenging about your job?
In product management there are always trade offs that you’re making. Whether it’s the time you have to market, or the scope of a project, or other project related things, like performance or quality, etc. Finding the right mix of these trade offs is hard work. So, I would say that it’s definitely finding that right balance that delivers the right solution that is the most challenging part of my job.
What inspired you to write your book?
As I have become more and more involved in the world of Women in STEM, and trying to understand what the obstacles are to having more women in leadership. I found myself doing a lot of research, in wanting to understand the pipeline problem specifically. While doing so, it occurred to me that I could have an impact, I just didn’t know how. So, I came up with the idea of telling a story. In my research, I discovered that this isn’t a problem that starts in college, or even the workplace. It starts much, much earlier, as small children. I wanted to write a story that could help people understand that their influences, and even structured learning styles, can change the way that girls and boys approach things. Which leads me to believe that this is really a branding problem. Somehow, even at that young of an age, STEM has been branded a “boy thing” and young girls who don’t want to be thought of as “geeks,” even if they are really, really smart in math and science are pushed out of STEM, or boxed into other areas. Because STEM areas are not as open as they should be.
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
The best advice I’ve been given is to know my own strengths and skills and to stand up for them, to not allow myself to be run over, and to not be afraid of conflict. Conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think as women we tend not to want conflict, we tend to just want peace and harmony, but sometimes disagreeing, especially when you have data supporting you, is definitely the right thing to do.
What is one of the challenges you’ve faced as a woman in tech?
For me, the biggest issue that I’ve found has been being overlooked. Not because I didn’t have the skills but because I didn’t have a “Sponsor.” A Sponsor is someone who puts you forward, and advocates for you to be considered for those types of opportunities. I didn’t have that earlier in my career, so even though I was doing the job of an Executive or a VP. I was not being considered for those opportunities. And no one ever said, “This is how you get a sponsor” or “This is the path to leadership.” So I had to educate myself on what that meant and I think, work a lot harder than some of my colleagues.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in tech?
If you have your sights set on a leadership role, find a sponsor, or a role model, or a mentor. Work to understand what mentorship is, and why it is so important. Having a role model to start is key. Your role models should pull you up, recognize your potential and give you tough projects and problems to solve, and see how you do. If you are the right caliber and have the skills that they need, then you should be considered for more advanced roles, not just given the task without the title. Mentorship is the path to the executive ranks.
How do you deal with or protect yourself from the feeling of being overwhelmed?
I have several strategies, the first is to just stand up, walk out and take a few breaths. Just to step away from whatever it is my head has been buried under, and try to get a new perspective. Sometimes you might need to do some kind of aerobic activity or listen to your favorite song, or even just clear your mind for a few minutes. Then you can come back, with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective.
Who Inspires you, and Why?
Megan Smith, the 3rd U.S. Chief Technology Officer. I think that both, her career at Google, and what she has accomplished in being given the role of U.S. CTO, as well as being the first women in it, is amazing, and I look up to her.
If you could go back and change one thing about your career path, what would it be?
If I could change anything about my career path, I think I would have to say I’d start earlier. As a kid, I was an excellent math and science student, with perfect scores on all the regents exams, etc. I choose to be a writer, because that is what I thought I wanted to do. But I could have easily chosen to be an engineer. I didn’t think of engineering as an option for me. I don’t know why I didn’t go down that path, but I should have.
Are you working on any side projects?
I am actually outlining my next book. I’m hoping that this can become a series, if there is enough interest in the first one.
Fun Fact about Melissa:
Describe yourself (5 words or less):
Fabulous, Fun and Thrifty
What is your guilty pleasure comfort food?
Salt and Vinegar Potato chips
How can people get in touch with you?
I loved getting insight from Melissa for our 3rd installment of “Techie of the Month”. Want to be next month’s pick or know someone who should be? Fill out this form and let us know!