Want to Become a Tech Leader? This Executive Director Says: “Always Invest in Yourself”

Want to Become a Tech Leader? This Executive Director Says: “Always Invest in Yourself” was originally published on The Muse, a great place to research companies and careers. Click here to search for great jobs and companies near you.

How does the girl next door become a passionate tech leader? If you ask Angela Smith, the journey begins with an innate, relentless need to know how the world works. Growing up, Smith was quick to ask questions like “How does this work?”, “What would happen if?”, and “How could this be better?” It’s this sense of curiosity that influenced Smith to pursue a career in the tech industry.

After working as a contractor for several years, Smith decided to focus on the field of information technology with commercial applications. She developed her skills through several different roles, gaining confidence and professional expertise.

“Each experience was unique, providing teachable moments that paved the way for the next move and growth opportunity,” she says.

Today, Smith is the Executive Director of Vehicle Engineering and Quality IT at General Motors (GM), where she’s able to develop and lead productive teams. “I have a passion for seeing people, processes, and products come together and flourish,” she says.

Here, Smith shares what she’s responsible for in her role, why she values GM’s collaborative culture, and valuable advice for women who are striving to become tech leaders.

What attracted you to General Motors, and how did you know the company would be a good fit?

I was attracted to GM based on their commitment to high standards and appreciation for customer loyalty. Safety and quality are GM’s top priorities. Additionally, when I interacted with employees before I got hired, it was clear that diversity was present at GM. This was a great indicator that GM was the place where I wanted to work.

What are your core responsibilities as the Executive Director of Vehicle Engineering and Quality? Why does this work excite you?

I have a very exciting job and work with some very talented and all-around awesome people. My role is focused on providing technology that drives competitive advantages in motorsports, delivering solutions that streamline vehicle design and development processes, and leveraging technology to build simulations that drive vehicle safety and design decisions.

You’ve been at GM for more than two years. What’s one highlight of your tenure thus far, and why?

It’s hard to pick one highlight because there are many. If I had to pick one, it would be the relationships that I’ve built since joining the company.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I’m highly results-oriented with a strong emphasis on people. I have an open-door policy, and I’m very approachable. I want to empower my team. I believe in giving people opportunities and the flexibility to perform work based on their respective styles. While I also hold team members accountable for the expected results, I do so while encouraging their ability to grow.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve experienced as a woman in a leadership role, and how did you overcome it?

Being a woman working in IT can be a challenge because there are fewer of us in this industry. People often judged me by my age and gender, and not my capabilities. Sometimes, I was the only woman in a room full of men who thought I was in a supporting role. They didn’t know my background or skills. I needed to proactively speak up, share my ideas, and deliver solutions. Luckily, things are changing as more women are taking on leadership roles in IT and breaking stereotypes.

Your role is based out of the GM Georgia IT Innovation Center, which supports the company’s IT needs, including web technologies, end-user applications, dealer and factory systems, and vehicle technology. How does the innovation center foster creative collaboration and teamwork, and how does your work there support GM’s overall mission and values?

The GM Georgia Innovation Center is a wonderful collection of representatives from almost every Software and Services team at GM. This mix of talent creates an atmosphere of collaboration, continuous learning, and improvement.

I typically take time out of my day to stretch and take a walk. It’s common for a team member to join me and share what they’re working on as well as new technical concepts. Moreover, there are many cases where solutions to challenges are brainstormed. It’s exciting to work in an environment where people are eager to help each other and share their expertise. This type of collaboration spurs innovation and inspires everyone to do their best. It’s invigorating to see how the work that everyone does here supports GM’s vision of zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion.

How does GM nurture and develop tech talent? How have you been personally supported and encouraged to grow?

GM values tech talent and supports growth in various ways. We have a great Geek program that offers learning opportunities led by external and internal experts, coding challenges, and other activities. Employees have access to learning tools that can help them improve a specific skill or prepare for technical certification. Also, there are amazing employee resource groups and mentoring programs.

What advice do you have for women who are striving to achieve leadership roles, especially those working in the tech industry? What important lessons can you share with them?

My advice to women is to stay focused on your goals and be true to your authentic self—be you. Seek out a sponsor because sponsorship is key. Be diligent in sustaining a positive network of stakeholders and mentors who are interested in your professional development and promoting your success.

Also, be ready to take on different roles to expand your skill set. Remember, a lateral move is a good one if you can gain a new skill. Finally, always invest in yourself to promote your career.

Outside of work, what’s the one app (social media, shopping, entertainment, etc.) that you use the most, and why?

Waze and myCadillac are apps that I constantly rely on. I find myself driving in new places all the time, so Waze helps me navigate to my destinations. I now drive an all-electric SUV, the Cadillac Lyriq. I use myCadillac every day to control the car’s charging, plan my trips, and access important information about my car.