Lisa Guess, VP of Systems Engineering at Juniper Networks, is the company’s Woman of Vision for 2016. Below, she shares her inspiration for staying in computer science and advice for young women entering the field today.
Tell a bit about your current work and what inspired you to do it. What have you found challenging? What have you found rewarding?
In my current role, I am Vice President of the Systems Engineering team in the Americas at Juniper. We are the engineers that go alongside our sales people to present the technology and to design solutions for our customers and partners. I was inspired to follow this career path because I love solving problems with our customers, particularly since I started out the first decade of my career as a customer myself. I feel that I understand and appreciate both sides of the process.
The scope of my job can be challenging because I have many functions I oversee and I’m typically on the road, but I have a great team supporting me. What I find rewarding is teaching our customers and partners about new technologies and how they can enable their businesses to grow. I also find it very rewarding to develop and mentor my own people, and to see them grow in their careers.
What do you see as being your most significant accomplishment in your career so far?
I am very proud of my focus and success in ensuring that my engineers get the skills development and transformation that they deserve. We are in a major technology transition from purely hardware-based networking solutions to virtualized software oriented solutions and that requires a skill set evolution. Additionally, I am bringing in a more diverse talent pool with our new college grad/intern program to help augment our skills transformation with “digital natives” that have inherent software expertise.
When did you first realize you wanted to go into the technology field and what is your favorite part about it?
In high school, I wanted more than anything to be a music major – specifically in opera, but I failed to get a particular scholarship that I really wanted. Fortunately, I had a technologist for a father, and a very astute guidance counselor who both insisted that I also pursue advanced math during high school in parallel to my music.
In my senior year, after I found out I made a perfect score on the ACT in math, a perfect 5 on the AP calculus test, and did not get the scholarship to my music school of choice, I decided to become a technologist and have never had one regret. It is such an exciting field that has taken me all over the world, allowed me to meet such interesting people, and get exposure to so many different types of businesses. To me, Systems Engineering is the perfect job because it allows me to be technical while exercising my other skills in presenting and selling. Oh, and I do still find opportunities to sing on occasion as a hobby, so I really have the best of both worlds.
Do you have any mentors or people who influenced who you are?
I have had the privilege of having several excellent mentors and supporters in my life. The first was my father who told me to never assume there was anything I couldn’t do, despite what others might say. He often invited me into his workshop to build circuit boards for fun so technology always seemed natural to me.
In my first job at Shell Oil, I had a wonderful mentor, Joe Marsh, who ran our IT department. He was such a visionary, and taught us that we should always challenge our assumptions, and never accept status quo as the answer. In fact, some of his ideas are still being implemented today as cutting edge technologies.
And I will wrap up my final set of mentors and describe them as a set of men progressively through my career that ensured I had good opportunities, I was heard in meetings and literally got a seat at the table when I had been relegated to sitting on the side. I didn’t intentionally seek out male mentors, but because I was always one of very few women, it naturally turned out that way, and I am very grateful for their advocacy and positive influence on my career and life.
Do you have any advice for other women interested in computer science and technology?
My advice is to find other women that are already in the field and talk to them about what this career entails rather than assuming you know what it means to be in a technical field. In my interactions with high school and college women, I have noted that there are a lot of misperceptions about what technologists do: that it is boring, entails long hours sitting in a sun-less cube, and has little human interaction. I think that incorrect perceptions discourage very talented women from ultimately pursuing this field, and my experiences are quite the contrary. I have travelled extensively and had amazing experiences with wonderful people. I get to learn about the latest technologies and even have a voice in forming the direction. I rarely sit in an office, and I get to help people solve their business problems along with developing and mentoring those around me.
My final advice would be to find your own unique style and be true to it. Be authentic. Be original. Each woman has unique perspectives, skills and aspirations, so know your value. Believe in yourself, and push hard to achieve your goals and life objectives. And don’t forget to have fun and live your life to the fullest along the way.