The IT job industry grew by 14,500 jobs in April—a full recovery of IT jobs lost due to COVID. As a growing industry, the world of IT offers exciting opportunities for many professionals. I had the chance to chat with Danielle Cox, Sr. IT Manager at Divvy, about her unexpected and exciting career path and why everyone should work in tech.
Mary Hodges: Can you tell me a little about your current role and responsibilities?
Danielle Cox: My current role at Divvy is Senior Manager of IT. My department sits inside of the engineering department, and my responsibilities for the company include hardware, software, and network management.
MH: What is your top priority right now?
DC: In my role, scaling for growth is a top priority. Divvy is in the hyper-growth startup phase, so we are moving quickly. One of Divvy’s core values is “We Move Fast,” so I have to prepare for that fast growth. [This is] not only with my team, but also for supporting the company and being able to support the business as they grow and change. So I’m always thinking about ways to make things more efficient and how to automate processes to do things in a better way—leveraging software to create automation if there are any repetitive tasks or even simple tasks. That’s my big emphasis for 2021.
MH: Towards the beginning of your career, you were an office manager and then you made a jump to an IT Manager. I also know you worked as a Corporate and Career counselor and a Project Manager before transitioning back into IT. Can you tell me about that change and how you prepared for it?
DC: If we want to go back even further, I actually started out as a hairstylist in my first profession. I moved into management there and kind of hit what I felt like was as high as I could go. I didn’t see a path to grow from where I was, so I was like “I gotta do something else because I’m not making enough to support my daughter,” [because] I was a single mother.
And so I started working in an office, which was kind of my first experience in an office environment, in an office management type of role at a smaller company. I continued going there and realized I was good at it. It provided better hours, and as a single mom I had benefits and things like that that I didn’t have before that I felt like I valued. I ended up working for a few different companies over the course of several years, then I moved into a position at a growing company. I started on as an office manager and moved into operations and started getting into the IT stuff.
MH: When in your career did you experience the biggest shift in responsibility? How did you adapt?
DC: At my company, our network broke, and nobody could access the internet at the office. I did not know how to fix this stuff, but since I was in an operations position, they expected me to handle it. I was basically told that this is your responsibility and this is your job. Looking back, that was a pivotal shift in my career, where I really took the time to look things up and troubleshoot. I was able to resolve the issue, and then I kept doing more in that direction. Looking back, that was the shift that really turned me to technology. I thought, okay, I need to just continue on the path that i’ve been on and remain in technology, which I love, and just find a way to to manage it well.
MH: What was the biggest challenge you experienced during your career change?
DC: I was in a new world that I was not experienced in where there’s so much information to learn and take in. I had to figure out what was relevant to me, where I could find necessary information, and narrow all of the new subject matter that was coming my way down to what was actually useful.
Also throughout my career, [there has also been] a challenge of balancing: I think work-life balance will always be a challenge, but I think it’s something that requires focus and should be top of mind. And so, for me, I have to work on being conscious of it and making sure that I’m taking time to balance life and work. That helps a lot with stress management, especially being in a technology field where you have to do things right.
On personal note, I would say it has also been a challenge at times to recognize the value that I bring to an organization. I didn’t really have leadership guidance or mentorship, and while I would say there were people who I sought out to help me with that, it was kind of a challenge navigating through it without a linear path.
MH: What are some skills you needed to grow to handle the change?
DC: Patience. Hard work. Having a good work ethic and being dedicated to your work while you’re working and letting it go when you’re not. And I would say, recognizing my own strengths. Having that sense of self and that ability to recognize your own abilities, I think, is really, really important. I think a big thing is also not being afraid to take on the next challenge.
MH: Who helped you along in your career? Did you have a mentor/manager/colleague who helped you along the way?
DC: We have a group at our company called Women in Divvy, where I am a leader and mentor. I participate in a mentorship role there, but I also recognize the other peers that are a part of that group, and I will seek out their talents and assistance from them. We’ll talk through some challenges that we’re facing, even being a mentor, or some things that we’ve overcome in our own careers, and I definitely lean on them and take pointers and advice from the group in order to help me level up. And of course we all share Ted Talks and books and leadership material. And I am soaking all of it in, everything that I can. Even though I’ve been in leadership for years, there’s always something new to learn.
I very majorly lean on my peers both inside and outside the industry. I will seek out another leader who I think might have a skill set in some area. I just met with somebody like a week ago, who I just randomly messaged and I was like, “Hey I saw that you’re a female CEO, and I wanted to pick your brain on some things and just get to know you better and hear about some of the challenges that you’ve overcome so that I can learn from that and do better.” So that’s one thing that I would advise people to do: Seek out your own mentors, and take that initiative to really try and always be leveling up and always be achieving and doing more.
MH: You are a Senior IT manager right now at Divvy. Where do you see yourself going from here?
DC: Next step, of course, is directorship, then senior director, and hopefully VP. So, you know, continuing to move on from here—that’s the path that I see. I love technology. I love seeing it grow and change, it’s something that is never the same. I’ve spent almost 10 years in the industry, and some of the things that I learned back then, on how things are done or how a system might work, are completely different now, but those core processes are still going to be the same and be consistent across all technology. Even some of the core troubleshooting steps and tips are going to remain consistent, and I love that aspect of it. I love the change that happens, but I also love that it’s always something that grows and develops and changes.
MH: What books or resources would you recommend that have helped you in your career?
DC: The Phoenix Project is a great one for anybody in technology. In any tech role, you’ll be able to find ways that you can relate, even if you’re not in development.
If you’re going to grow and develop as a leader, you also need to do that as an individual. You’ve got to give yourself time to always be learning, improving things about yourself, thinking critically about things like, “What am I doing well that I should keep doing, or what can I do a little bit better?” For that kind of advice, I don’t think you can go wrong with Brene Brown.
MH: Do you have any advice for people going through career changes or who are looking to switch industries?
DC: Do some self-reflection. Like really do it. Sit down and think: Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Do you need that personal interaction with people? And those kinds of core features within yourself should lead you towards what you’re doing.
Also, every time you change industries, you are starting at the bottom. So, think about that as you’re shifting careers. When you change your mind for something different, you may have to go from leadership or management or a senior role of some kind to an associate or entry-level role. So if you don’t want to let all that work and all those years go, then you need to think about taking steps that are closer to where you are. I would say that that’s really helpful to think about.
My biggest advice that I give to every young person is to get into technology. Whatever job you’re doing, technology is a great field to be in. It’s not going anywhere, we’re continually advancing. Everything that we’re using now relies on technology, and we would not have gotten through COVID, I don’t believe, without technology. So I always encourage people to be in technology, no matter what field it is. You could be an accountant, you could be in marketing, you could be in design—be in technology.
MH: I know that you are an avid volunteer and have also hosted a meetup for the Women in Business Systems Systematic community. How has participating in outside communities and organizations helped you in your career?
DC: My goal to speak in and speak at events actually stemmed from business: I wanted to be known as a leader in the IT community from peers outside of my own company. That shifted me into pageantry—I can speak as Ms. Utah 2021, and I can speak as head of IT at Divvy. Both of those can be one in the same, and I have both of those talents so I can leverage one thing with the other and help myself level up in that way. Being a business professional definitely helps, because it shows people that there is something that you can look to as a leader or mentor or somebody that just inspires you to do better. That’s what I hope to be for people. I think it’s really important to have a broad array of things that you’re doing and things that really help spark joy in you.
MH: What is an IT trend you are excited about?
DC: Okay, I love a good SSO and I love all this stuff that an SSO can do. I get really, really excited when an SSO can do more with the software that I add to it, whether it be around license provisioning, de-provisioning an inactive license for an active user—things like that that are more granular. I really look forward to those, and I know that there’s some advancements coming.
I take a lot of pride in the fact that I have a lean team, we are a team of about one to 100 for IT to employee ratio which is very, very lean for the industry. It’s something not a lot of people can achieve. We’re really efficient, and it’s not that we are letting things slide and go by the wayside, it’s that we just find ways to do things better. We’re implementing software that helps improve inefficiencies, whether it’s our SSO or an integration software like Workato, or if it’s communication software like Slack or Zoom: I’m always looking at ways to improve.