Maggie Shi combines her 20+ years of software development, technical directing and project management experience into her current role as Head of Solution Engineering (ANZ, Japan and Korea) at Facebook. Maggie has a strong background in Java/C++ development which she has used as a foundation to lead strong technical teams.
Where did your interest in technology come from? How did you decide to pursue a career in technology?
I have always been naturally curious about the world around me and problem solving in particular, so I think that technology was something that I fell into. I was the girl who loved maths and this led me into wanting to challenge myself within the world of technology.
As a female student in mainland China, this was not the easiest route. Maths and technology in particular were seen as a boy’s career path. My family was not from a technical background so they couldn’t understand why I would want to head down that career path. I was stubborn and wanted to go forward so I applied to one of the top engineering universities in China and got in. Within my course I was one of the few girls in my year and I knew my challenges were just beginning.
After 20 years in the industry I can honestly say that it was my passion for problem solving, to succeed and not taking no for an answer that helped to get me where I am today. That is what success in technology means to me. When I was younger, my biggest motivation was to prove those around me wrong and to show that their assumptions were shortsighted. This isn’t a big motivator now as I realise you can waste a lot of time and energy on pleasing or getting the approval of others when you could be investing that time in yourself.
To this day, I still love solving problems. I get a thrill every time I set down with a hard maths or technical problem, work through it and find the solution. It brings me joy and is what continually pushes me to learn more, push harder and grow my skill set.
What are the key things that allowed you to get where you are today and what do you attribute your success to?
I think the two biggest contributing factors to my success so far include:
- A passion for problem solving - This is something I think, regardless of your background, you need to have to be successful in tech as it really is the foundation of the industry. Why you like solving problems varies from person to person. Personally, my passion comes from the self satisfaction of having a hard task ahead of you, challenging yourself and putting the work in to see it solved.
- Resilience - Tech, like any industry, has its ups and downs. A big part of people's success is perseverance through the challenging times. Through knowing that learning a new skill will take time and effort and ultimately through backing yourself you will succeed. It is your life and your career journey and no one can take that away from you. Having faith in yourself and your abilities is vital to progression. But I also want to make it clear that suffering for the sake of it is not resilience. You need to make mistakes and learn the hard way at times. But ultimately knowing that a rough path will not define your entire career; that is resilience. Having doubts is normal. Every female in the industry will have a period where they do feel out of depth but use this as a challenge to establish yourself. Reach out to those in your network, attend meet-ups, put your name up for things at work. Getting outside your comfort zone will always grow you ten fold faster than staying within the boundaries. I also think it’s worth noting that you need to build a larger life than just work for yourself. Find passions, hobbies and interests that can fill your cup. This will help you have a full life that isn’t just dependent on success at work for overall happiness.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you have received in your career and how did it help you?
I have been incredibly fortunate to have had multiple supporters and people who invested their time and energy into me to help me grow. In my first job, the Senior Software Engineer helped to lead me and slowly increased the challenges so I felt that I was progressing at a steady pace.
The biggest piece of advice I wished I had received earlier in my career was to have no fear. Now this doesn’t mean to make foolish decisions for the sake of it but rather to constantly step outside of your comfort zone. I think women can sometimes be prone to being more risk averse for fear of making mistakes and not being perfect. I still have to check in with myself when I feel that I am acting this way, what is holding me back and what I am really afraid of. But honestly if you start the practice early in your career, it will help you progress faster than your colleagues who always stay in their comfort zone.
As you transitioned to more senior and leadership roles what was the shift you needed to make?
I started to manage people quite early in my career and it was a big challenge initially. As a CTO of an organisation in Shanghai I was responsible for managing dozens of engineers before I moved across to Sydney. I think the best key learning for me was to hold people accountable. I had to learn to trust my team so as to know they could get done what was needed without micromanaging. Seeing your team grow and succeed is one of the best feelings.
Leading people now has become my second biggest passion. Having females in my team and getting to be their lead really does make me happy. To help someone grow from junior to senior is extremely rewarding and even more so when that person is a female.
What was the most challenging situation you've faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge was when I immigrated from China to Australia. Not only was it physically taxing but starting again in a brand new country and culture was really hard. When I first moved I took a break from work to help settle my son into school. After a one year break I realised I was ready to start looking for a new role. Finding that first role in a new market is hard. Qualifications, experience and even cultural differences can really play a part in how your previous work translates in a new country.
I decided not to aim high as I realised applying for a CTO role with no local experience may be a little ambitious. However, I was genuinely very surprised at how open-minded and supportive people were. No one questioned my time off. I realised at this point I played the whole thing up massively in my head. After 3 weeks of interviewing I had 2 offers. Companies saw my potential and all my fears were essentially in my head. My accent, my background, my age, being female none of it was a hindrance to finding a new role. This was a powerful lesson in perception and understanding that sometimes what you believe in your head isn’t necessarily the reality.
What advice would you give to other females looking to pursue a career in technology?
The biggest advice I would give to females looking to pursue a career in technology is don’t set boundaries for yourself. Research shows that females tend to apply for a role only when she is 100% qualified for the position, whereas a male only needs to meet 60% of requirements before applying regardless. I really do think women need to put themselves out there more, in terms of applying for a role out of reach or putting themselves forward for taking the lead on a project.
For women who are wanting to take part in the industry unsure of whether they will succeed if they aren’t mathematical genius this is not the key to success. Being good at maths shows that you know how to problem solve and think logically. Technology is not about maths.
I think as well it is worth mentioning that the industry is changing. There are more roles and routes into technology than ever before. In the next 10 years the amount of opportunities will continue to expand. There is room in technology for any individual who has a passion for it.
Morgan McKinley's specialist recruitment consultants in Sydney as well as the senior leadership team have conducted a number of interviews with senior female leaders over the last few years. You can find more interviews with inspiring leaders on the topic of diversity and inclusion in our resources hub.