Leadership advice for women in tech

Sherrlle Young, Director of Campaign Operations at Epsilon-Conversant, recently participated in Conversant and Chicago WomenTech’s panel discussion and shared her insights about growing a career in technology. R

ead on to learn more about Sherrlle and her advice for other women working in tech or just entering the field. 

Sarah: Please tell me more about your work at Epsilon-Conversant. What does your team do and what type of skills are involved?

I am the Director of Campaign Operations, a sector of Enterprise Operations which supports the entire client lifecycle from pre-sales through campaign activation. I oversee the implementation of client campaigns in our ad-serving platform and collaborate with other teams to deliver on client strategy.

The Campaign Operations Managers (COMs) are primarily responsible for implementing clients’ campaigns in our ad-serving platform by receiving the cross-team deliverables (creative, media settings, etc.) and configuring the components into personalized ad units that are served across the web.

In addition to executing campaigns, the COM team works with internal cross-teams to provide knowledge of platform and functional capabilities for supporting a client’s campaign strategy. My team’s overall value is in making the personalized ad units come alive by bringing together our pseudonymized consumer profiles with the creative components while ensuring the right ad is delivered to the right consumer at the right time on a continuous basis.

Skills involved in this role include collaboration, technical knowledge of ad-serving formats and tracking methodologies, along with effective troubleshooting and communication skills.

Sherrlle Young 1-1

Sarah: How did you get into technology and what do you enjoy most about working in the field?

Sherrlle: I got into technology because my alma mater DePaul University cared enough to speak to women about career opportunities in technology. I bought my technology ticket on the first day of orientation and earned my bachelor's degree in Information Technology four years later.

Prior to joining Epsilon-Conversant in 2011, I worked as a Product Manager with two other companies. In these positions, I took requirements from clients and turned them into features and enhancements for the applications they used to post their open job requisitions online and sell home and auto warranties.

What I enjoy most about working in the field is that technology shapes our lives every day. From the way we communicate and organize our lives using a smartphone, to how we make our purchases online for everything from household items to vacations, it’s all influenced by technology. Conversant capitalized on this realization early on and understood the value in having a personalized conversation with individual consumers based on their interests, purchase history and other known factors.         

Sarah: What are the most important skills to learn when starting a career in tech?

Sherrlle: You must understand the specific industry you are interested in pursuing. A career in technology has an array of opportunities but you become a more marketable professional when you find a niche and become a subject matter expert.

Technology is evolving daily. To remain relevant, companies, as well as individuals, must stay abreast of the latest trends. Communication is a key skill needed because oftentimes, complex details must be communicated to clients in a way that allows them to become empowered by the value of the business solution. Networking is one of the most invaluable skills to be developed because this skill can lead to career prospects, business partnerships and trust.     

Sarah: What is one of the biggest lessons you have learned from your experience working in tech?

Sherrlle: The biggest lesson I have learned is to “have a seat at the table.” Great ideas and depth of knowledge do not require a certain title or helping hand to get noticed. Yes, leadership positions in technology companies are dominated by men but I personally see smart women who are firmly seated at the leadership table and are highly respected here.

You must be willing to set aside your personal views and define the type of impact that you want to have on the culture, project, team or company, and dedicate yourself to producing meaningful results, no matter how small and no matter how long it takes to achieve your goals. If an organization is truly dedicated to employing highly talented associates and allowing them  to drive the success of the business, then you grow a family and not a group of employees.

Sarah: What can the industry do to encourage more women to pursue a career in tech?

Sherrlle: The industry can encourage more women to pursue careers in tech my simply marketing to them specifically. Create a personalized campaign that speaks to the interests of women and the opportunities that are available. As a woman I want to feel informed before I make any decision. I make career decisions the same way that I decide on the best pediatrician for my daughter, with a variety of detailed information. Employers can also make a stronger commitment to fill roles with female leaders that are highly qualified.

1200X675_TwitterTemplate-Photo for Sherrlle Young Q&A blog post 10.9.18

Sarah: You’ve been very successful. What advice would you give to other women in tech to help them advance in the field?

Sherrlle:  Get out of their own way and have a seat at the table. The magic happens when you bring well-defined ideas and a confident attitude. You may not always get an invite to the table but that doesn’t mean you are not welcome there. Find alternative paths to connect with colleagues or leaders in the positions that you ultimately see yourself evolving into so you can ask questions and see them in action.

Look at your current role and assess what opportunities are available to you that will move you another step closer to the next level. It could be as simple as requesting participation in a specific project or volunteering to assist. Insert yourself into the conversations where you can by providing unsolicited suggestions.

Sarah: What has been your favorite project or accomplishment at Epsilon-Conversant?

Sherrlle: My favorite accomplishment, hands down, is the merger of two Campaign Operations Management (COM) teams shortly after ValueClick acquired Dotomi and rebranded as Conversant. I remember the start of this journey like it was yesterday. My immediate manager was out on maternity leave and her manager at the time scheduled a quick meeting with me to discuss “The Team.” I was informed that I was being promoted and the size of my team would double. I immediately asked, “Can I say, no?” and his response was, “Why would you want to?”

I quickly recognized that I had no meaningful reason to decline so I began planning instantly and committed to one very specific goal where all COMs would be cross-trained to execute campaigns in all platforms for both ValueClick and Dotomi. The goal was simple: level the playing field, increase knowledge and empower everyone on the team to speak up. There was resistance among some team members, so I approached it as if I were a new hire who was learning the role.

My willingness to go back to the grassroots level and learn how the team carried out their daily tasks allowed me to gain insight into not only what worked well but also which processes were inefficient and where better communication could be established. The process took longer than originally thought but I can say that we achieved our goal and continue to cross-train so we can effortlessly meet the workload demands of the business.

From this project I took away three meaningful objectives that continue to define my role:

  • My team has more confidence in my ability to lead them because they know I truly understand the processes and tasks they carry out on a daily basis.
  • My title is never too important that I can’t stop and learn the root cause of the problem so it can effectively be resolved.
  • Having my team’s back does not just entail listening and responding to an issue but being committed to pushing back and finding alternative ways to get them what they need.  

Sarah: Tell me something about yourself that people don’t know. 

Sherrlle: I absolutely love music and I love to see people express themselves in dance. My playlists have everything from gospel to country to jazz. The irony in all of this is I have zero rhythm and two left feet. My husband holds my hands in church when he notices that I am clapping to a different beat than the choir. I’ve learned that listening to the music is much more important than dancing to it.