A CAREER DEVELOPMENT PODCAST FOR TECH WOMEN BY TECH WOMEN
Interviews with leading tech women about their careers and lessons learned
CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER AT STRASBURGER & PRICE
Joan Holman, Chief Information Officer at Strasburger & Price, has strategically used networking and relationship building as tools to grow and advance her career. Despite the fact that she is content in her current role, she continues to network across industries and within her own field, and works to develop and maintain relationships with recruiters. These actions have enabled her to understand and evolve with the industry, and leverage her knowledge of her own market value when it comes to negotiating her worth. In Episode 5, Joan and I talk key tactics women in tech can use to identify their own value and keep up with this ever-changing industry.
Always take the call when you are approached by recruiters
Always take the call when you are approached by recruiters, even if you aren’t actively looking. The position may not be for you, but you may be able to point them in the right direction. This will help you develop a relationship that may one day lead to the right opportunity down the line.
Help others and you will help yourself
It’s a lot easier to ask about budget when you’re not asking for yourself. These recruiter conversations will help you identify your market value as you help connect them with someone fit for the job. Give value and gain value.
Network outside of your industry
Network outside of your industry to establish a breadth of connections. You’ll gain experience that’s not yours, expand your footprint and land even more opportunities as you establish yourself as their industry go-to.
Understand your own value, and don’t lose sight of it
You must know what you can bring to the table, what contributions you can make, what skills and expertise you have, and where that fits within an organization.
Hi, I’m Lauren Hasson, and this is The The DevelopHer Show, a career development podcast for tech women, by tech women.
My guest today is Joan Holman, who is the Chief Information Officer at Strasburger & Price, one of Texas’s top law firms. In this episode, Joan and I are going to talk about her career journey and the role networking and relationship building has played in her career. We’ll get into why it’s important to both network across industries and external to your role, in addition to developing deep connections in your field as well as why it’s important to take calls and develop relationships with recruiters, even if you aren’t looking for your next role. We’ll also cover how to negotiate for yourself based on the business value you provide, and how you can get started today, being a mentor to other tech women.
Start of the Interview
Lauren: Welcome to The DevelopHer Show! Today we have Joan Holman here with us, who is our guest of honor. Joan is the Chief Information Officer at Strasburger & Price, one of Texas’s premier law firms. She’s also held senior leadership roles at companies like Sigma-Aldrich, a leading life sciences company, as well as Safety-Kleen and Ericsson. She holds a degree in mathematics and has been recognized by many organizations as a leading tech woman. I’m also fortunate enough to call Joan one of my first mentors, a story I’ll share shortly. But first let me welcome Joan. Joan, welcome.
Joan: Thank you, Lauren, I’m thrilled to be here.
Lauren: I’m so thrilled to have one of my first mentors onboard. It’s fantastic to have you here and thank you for joining us. As our listeners know, The DevelopHer Show is all about tech women, like Joan, having an open and candid conversation with me about their careers, their lessons learned and how they got to where they are today. You and I had a conversation almost two years ago to the day that made me realize that there is a need for top tech women to share their stories. If you’ll bear with me for just a minute, there’s actually a neat story about how Joan and I met.
About two years ago, we were both attending this gala in town called the Tech Titans Gala, which is for all the tech companies around town and sponsors and supporters. I was a guest of one of the sponsors and Joan was there supporting one of the award winners. My date and I were there early and the people who had invited us hadn’t yet arrived, so we were just kind of milling around. We thought, you know, this is a really awesome opportunity to meet some important tech people. So, I walked up to Joan and her husband, who were speaking with another couple, and I found a way to break into the conversation by offering to take their picture. I struck up a conversation and was able to connect with her, and I got her card and I followed up by simply asking if I could take her to lunch. Flash forward two years, here Joan is on The DevelopHer Show. After hearing her story about her career path, I realized that not every tech woman who’s at the top of their field had a straight path up the ladder, and that we need to be more open and candid about how we got there. And that was how I had the idea for The DevelopHer Show! So, it’s a true honor to have Joan here today to tell her story. With that, Joan, why don’t you help us read between the lines in your career and tell us how you got to where you are today.
Joan: Well thanks, Lauren, and thanks for approaching and offering to take our picture. I’m thrilled that we’ve been able to develop a relationship and I’m honored that you consider me a mentor.
My career hasn’t taken the straight path. I’ve always been in the technology realm but I didn’t start out on day one with a definitive plan and say, in so many years I want to be at this level, and in so many years after, I want to be at that level. I’ve always had the position or the approach that, I like to do things and take roles and positions that interest me, where I can contribute and where I can learn something. I think by pulling those opportunities together, pulling those items together, it’s created opportunities for me to have a fairly broad experience base, but I’m seemingly in technology. I’ve done it all, from infrastructure to app dev from major system implementation to custom app development. So, the entire spectrum of how you manage vendors, how you outsource, and how you insource. So, I think having an approach where I’ve been open to opportunities, evaluated them on what I personally can get from them, in addition to what my contribution can be to the organization, has really helped me get to where I am today.
Lauren: Were you always looking for that next role, or was it a mix where maybe you got a kick in the pants to get out the door? What did that look like for you, moving from opportunity to opportunity?
Joan: Oftentimes, the situations have presented themselves, where I feel like I’ve done what I can do in a certain position, and I start looking around and say OK, what’s next? I’m a continual learner and I like to be challenged, so I always want to look for what’s happening next. For me, many things have come because I’ve kind of lifted my head up, started looking around, and somebody’s approached me or I’ve approached somebody and said, ‘oh wow, that’s great.’ I have had, as most of us will through the course of our career, some opportunities present themselves because of situations; I have been a part of groups where the executive resigned or was no longer with the company. So, you have to take a change and decide how you are going to handle it. Do you step up to the plate and say I’m going to do whatever I can to make the group successful? Or, do you take a different approach? So, there’s definitely been those situations along the way that give you an opportunity to assess who you are, what you want to do and how you get there.
Lauren: I love how you always having your radar on. That’s how we met; you were out in the community and always connecting with other women. Talk to us about the role network- and relationship-building plays in your career development.
Joan: I view networking as really important from a career perspective. I think it goes beyond just a career perspective, it can be very satisfying personally and quite honestly it can help you in current roles and in current positions. If you’ve got a strong network and you know people – I’m a big fan of networking across industries, across functions, across groups, I don’t necessarily want to network with people that are in the same space that I am that have a similar type of role… there’s value in that, but there’s also value in talking to somebody that is, you know – I’m in a professional services organization, that’s great. Let me talk to somebody who has heavy supply chain.
What do they do? Where are their challenges? What can I learn from them? What can I take from what they’re doing and potentially apply in my industry and my function? I think it’s important to have that breadth of connections across the board and gain experience that’s not yours. You never know when you can help somebody out.
I talk to people and they say, who do you know that provides good telecom services, or who can help with your business continuity plans? Some of those things are not industry-specific.I think as you progress through your career, that’s one way that you can really expand your footprint and have opportunities presented to you, when you know more people. Oftentimes, if you’re an executive, you know a CIO is not hiring another CIO. You need to know the HR VP, you need to know the CEO, you need to know the COO, and if you really work and branch yourself and network from a broader perspective, you can help yourself. I think you need to go deep within your function and also broad across, so a bit of a T.
Lauren: That is such great advice at the senior level, but it’s also applicable even at the more junior level in building influence within the organization. It draws me back to my early days in app development, where I didn’t just confine myself to the mobile development team, but I got to know people across the organization so that when, say, someone in business development had a technical question, I was their point person. And so, people across the organization knew me because I made a point to get to know other people. That took me places in my career, that had I not gone for the breadth like you’re talking about, my career would not have progressed at the rate that it did. I think that’s such fantastic advice to always be thinking outside of your vertical, or outside of your lane, because that’s where you’re going to pull in innovation. And that’s part of your role as a Chief Information Officer, is to always make sure you’re at the front of the field. And sometimes the front of the field isn’t paved yet for your vertical, and you have to pull it in from the outside. I love how you look at that.
Joan: Absolutely. I think it’s critical. Another great opportunity about networking in that way and having the breadth is you may know somebody, so, the sales organization is looking for a great resource. You may know somebody, you may be able to help fill a spot, solve a need that goes beyond just developing technical skills, or aptitude, or a tool, or a technical solution. But you may say, hey, you’re looking for a sales manager. Let me introduce you to somebody I know that has that skill-set. By helping other people, fundamentally I believe you end up helping yourself as well.
Lauren: Absolutely. I know as an engineer I get calls from recruiters all the time, and I know some people who just don’t like those calls. But you actually take a different approach to it, which is in line with the information gathering that you’re talking about with this T. I’d love for you to tell us more about how you work on sourcing leads from recruiters, even when you’re not looking for yourself.
Joan: I’m a big believer of taking recruiters’ calls, especially when they’ve got opportunities. That’s for a couple reasons. I may be very satisfied and not looking for something, but I typically always know somebody who is looking, and I may be able to help somebody out. It also helps me continue to have a pulse on the market, and what’s really happening in the market on a very personal level: what kinds of roles are available, what skills are people looking for, what are the hot skills in technology. And that shifts and changes, we’ve all seen.
This year cyber is big and AI and business intelligence. Two years from now, it’s going to be something different. In talking to recruiters and people who do placements at an executive level, and mid-tier level, and things like that… that really gives you a feel for what’s happening in the marketplace. That can help you understand how you need to manage your organization and your resources. And then you may actually come across something that you may not be fit for, but you know somebody who would be a good candidate. And then again, you’re helping each other out. That builds long-term relationships. So, when you are in a position to start looking, over time you build relationships with people that can be very beneficial.
Lauren: There are so many good nuggets in there. I actually want to unpack three of them. The first that you talked about was essentially, ‘what goes around comes around.’ You’re building those relationships and you build relationships by providing value to others. That’s essentially what you’re doing here, by constantly keeping your radar on and taking calls from recruiters. You are acting as a hub or a spoke to provide value to others and those around you that could eventually come back to help you in your career.
Joan: Absolutely, it really does come back to help you. They also know that you’re going to give good information. If you have good recommendations or referrals, that increases the quality with which you’re viewed. You know, ‘oh, I can count on Joan, she always gives me good names.’ That helps when they’re looking at me for a position.
Lauren: Absolutely. That actually ties into the two other key elements, which is the reason I always take calls from recruiters. Always. It takes a lot of time, I’ll be honest, I spend a lot of time on the phone. Maybe one in 250 calls will be a lead that’s going to be of interest to me, but here’s what I get from the other stuff, and I bet you’re getting the same. You’re getting market information about what skills, like you said, are valuable at the time, so that you know what is worthwhile investing in your career. I’ll give an example of this from my own career, that I’ve shared with you over breakfast that we had a couple of weeks ago: I’m not currently looking. I have a fantastic job. I’m living my dream job. But I also know that I’m young enough that this isn’t going to be my last job, and I know that mobile development isn’t going to be going on forever. So, I’m already looking into what’s next. I want to kind of skate to where the puck is going, not where it is. So, I was speaking on a panel for women in tech here in Dallas, and it was put on by a networking and recruiting firm. I took time to step aside and talk to the managing director of this recruiting firm. I asked him a simple question, ‘what are the hot technologies that, 1) don’t have enough people, and 2) people will pay any value or price for?’ And they said, like you said, cybersecurity and IoT. And, from there, through a series of questions that I asked at my company just from a simple conversation with a recruiter, I’m already being trained on cybersecurity at a financial company for the next stage of my career, just because I asked. So, it’s the power of those questions. A 2-minute conversation with a recruiter could be that one degree that changes the trajectory of your career. And it sounds like you are actively involved in gathering that information on a continual basis. It’s not an event-driven type of relationship.
Joan: Absolutely. I guess it’s from a couple of perspectives as well. One is for me personally to understand that, but another is when I look at my team internally and at what skills we have, and what skills we need to work on. If I’m hiring, what skills do I need to evaluate and really do, what helps on the innovation, what’s coming? So, I think there’s a lot of info that you can gain from those conversations. It can be very beneficial.
Lauren: Absolutely. For me, I consider it part of my career, to have those conversations. If those first two reasons aren’t enough, the third one is something near and dear to my heart. It helps with negotiation, because it’s hard to ask a recruiter, for yourself, ‘what’s the budget, what’s the comp for this role?’ But when you’re asking in the context of, ‘let me help make sure I get the right person to you. Can you arm me with information, for example, title and comp, so that I can make sure I get the right person to you?’ It’s a lot easier to ask when you’re not asking for yourself, and then you also have market data on how much those roles pay for, without the pressure of asking for yourself. Which leads me into something I really want to talk to you about. You have this fantastic story about negotiation in a conversation you had with a pricing consultant. I’m just going to put it right there and let you take it from there.
Joan: You know I was actually talking with a pricing consultant that works with organizations to make sure they adequately price their material, what they are selling. Whether it’s professional services or a true physical good. So, it’s all about how you price, and of course, pricing is a big evaluation on value. You’ve heard the old adage, ‘what’s something worth? Well, what’s somebody going to pay for it? And that’s what it’s worth.’ So, it was interesting that she actually commented that she had to take a step back. And she had to go through the process herself internally on those services that she was providing, and ask herself if she was adequately pricing the services that she was providing to other organizations. She came to the realization in her role with her experience and what she was able to do, that no, she was not. She was actually underpricing herself. So, it’s easy when that’s in your realm, that’s the work you do; it’s easy to lose sight of your value in the market place. So, I think it’s really important to keep that in mind and understand what that is. You need to understand what you can bring to the table, what contributions, what skills, expertise, experience you have and you can make, and where that fits, what’s the value of that to an organization.
Lauren: I think it’s so important and that’s a neat story that comes from someone who I think has a cool title, pricing consultant. That’s a unique perspective because so often we get into, ‘well, what’s it budgeted for? What’s the salary range?’ And when I’ve been most effective in negotiating is when I focus on the value that I’m going to bring, and that value actually solves the problem. And that’s essentially what your pricing consultant was getting at; the value that it brings to the organization, or the problems that she’s solving, she was underpricing herself for. I think that’s a really important mental shift that we as tech women need to make. We’re not a cost. We are solving a business problem, and that business problem has a business value on top of it.
Joan: Absolutely, especially when you look at the fact that, unfortunately, women are still paid less than men in general. That’s not an every place kind of rule, but in general, women are still paid less than men for comparable work. I think really understanding your value and being able to negotiate and define that to an organization is really important.
Lauren: Absolutely. I’ll put a little teaser right here. I am working on a course just for tech women on negotiation that will be coming out later this year. But, that’s something that’s so important. It’s not a transaction where there is a set fee. Everything is flexible, and you have to really keep your eye on your mindset, and your mindset is driven by what you think internally that your value is.
Joan: Absolutely, so you need to have a good handle on it. All of us have our strong points and our less than strong points. I don’t know that I like to call them weaknesses, but we all have strengths. And just understanding where you are on that spectrum, what are my strengths, what am I really good at, what value do I bring to an organization, and where are areas that I need other people to fill those gaps, because that’s not my strength and most typically, that’s not something I really enjoy doing either. But it’s important for all of us to know ourselves well enough to be able to make those assessments.
Lauren: Absolutely. And I want to pivot on knowing your strengths and filling the gaps, just a little bit, to close with something that I know is near and dear to your heart. You were involved with a number of tech women and tech girls organizations where you bring your strengths to the table. And I know that you have a call or an ask for our listeners to get involved as well.
Joan: Absolutely. My ask is for people to get involved in your local community. There are numerous groups and organizations in every city. I think people in every city around the country, not even just major metropolitan areas, but every city around the country, can really focus on getting involved in your local community, how can you give back? One of the areas I like to give back is girls’ STEM education. Women are under-represented in this industry and we need to change that model. I firmly believe that we can develop better solutions if we have a more diverse group at the table talking through what the solutions need to be, how do we get there, what are the barriers, how do we overcome those barriers? And how we get more diverse people at the table is to start early and get girls involved young in their education, so that they get excited about technology and STEM, and they can follow that through high school, college, into their careers and that’s what we need to do.
So, I’m involved in a couple of groups that are helping to do that. One is Girlstart which helps teach STEM subjects in a very fun area, in an after-school program primarily for young girls in elementary and middle school. I’m also starting to become more involved with Girl Scouts, who is making a big push and a big effort on STEM as well, understanding the impact that organization can have on young women and really improving and making STEM exciting, and really opening eyes to say, ‘yes, she can have a career in this, she can be an engineer and a CIO, and anything you want to be.
Lauren: And they’ve actually added over 20 new STEM related badges, if I’m not mistaken. So, they definitely are on that track.
Joan: Absolutely, that’s really exciting. It’s a big focus and I think it’s great. I think there are many groups doing it, but we need every single one of them. So, wherever each of you can reach out and join in and help move that forward, I think the benefits will be tenfold from our investment.
Lauren: Absolutely. Everyone’s contribution counts and the more we contribute, the more impact we can have. So, Joan thank you so much for being here today. We greatly appreciate your insight. Thank you so much.
Joan: You’re welcome. I enjoyed it.
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“By helping other people, fundamentally I believe you end up helping yourself as well.”
It’s time to start earning what you’re worth!