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“Rise to the Challenge”

By February 9, 2021No Comments

WIT Interview with Sarah, Operations Lead at RPRT

Women in Technology WNY is here to feature the stories of women in our local community and the various technology roles they fill, traditional and non-traditional. TechBuffalo is here to highlight these women to encourage others to not only explore technology opportunities but to take advantage of them. Sarah joined us to talk about how working with a whiteboard, the drive to solve a problem, and the joy of putting together puzzles brought her into a career in technology.

I would love to hear more about your background, care to share?
My background is kind of untraditional in the technology sense. My journey started at SUNY Fredonia as a biochemistry major, I was gung-ho about DNA analysis. Then I made it to my second year and realized it was s a horrible idea, so I changed majors. I’ve always been passionate about the human body, so I decided to study exercise science and continued that throughout my undergrad, and that’s when I learned I had a knack for injury prevention. I continued my academic career at Canisius, earning my master’s in Health and Human Performance.. While at Canisius I was a graduate assistant, teaching exercise physiology labs and the acting assistant in the strength room, I loved it.  I came to the conclusion that being a strength coach and educator was what I wanted to do with my life. Applying for jobs in the strength and conditioning market is very competitive and difficult, especially as a woman. I had also been an intern at Mercy Flight that was ending and had begun searching for a new job in Strength and Conditioning. I knew I was going to need to find something to fill the gap. That’s when I re-connected with Jamie. I was working with Mercy Flight to bring some practices up to date and I asked Jamie if he could help me navigate through this problem. His only advice to me was, “Do you have a whiteboard?” I found a whiteboard, mapped it out, and solved the problem. As Jamie tells it, he immediately knew that he wanted to hire me at that point. I came in for my interview and things took off from there and now here I am.

How do you think your background prepared you for your current role?
I wouldn’t say the academic portion necessarily helped. I was brought into RPRT to solve problems that we are facing day-to-day. I was tasked with things like, how can we make things more efficient? How can we assist the community? I think that that was what drew me here. My career in injury prevention and strength and conditioning was a consistent puzzle, it was always finding a solution to a problem that was being proposed. The consistent challenge and keeping me on my toes had prepared me for the job that I had no idea that I was going to fall into. I was always solving problems. I was always coming up with new ways to improve things and find solutions that were more efficient. When I joined RPRT’s team, they threw another challenge at me and said they wanted me to learn Microsoft a little bit better. So, I was like OK time to rise to the challenge.

I also think that part of my progress maybe because I’m a little stubborn. I was in a male-dominated field throughout all of undergrad and grad school, and that was a challenge. I was continuously told “You can’t”, which just fuels the fire. My mom always used to say, and still does,  “If I ever want you to do something, I just tell you that you can’t do it, because you always say challenge accepted”. I think that my academic career just prepared me to continuously rise to the challenges that I was going to face.

Besides motivation, how do you think working in male-dominated fields affected your career and career choices?
When I was working in gyms, it was a consistent uphill battle. I continuously had to come in ready to fight and prove myself. I never understood why I was ALWAYS being challenged.  I had the background and education but, it wasn’t valued. My knowledge wasn’t trusted, others claimed my work for themselves. I knew at that moment that wasn’t something I wanted to continue dealing with. I guess the sense of irritation drove me away from the strength and conditioning. When I started to work for RPRT, I was immediately respected and heard. I’m the only woman that works at this company so I was shocked, I didn’t have to come in ready to fight.

What is your favorite thing about your job?
My favorite thing about my job, I think I have two, so one is that every day I get to come into work and I’m not doing the same thing. I think that’s been the reason that I’ve been so happy here. The other thing is I’ve always known that I wanted to work directly with the community, even when I was in the strength and conditioning field. I wanted to start helping schools implement better recreation programs, better physical education programs because that was my passion, but I wanted to get directly involved in the underserved communities because those are the communities that nobody is paying attention to. Social care is wildly ignored as healthcare.  Getting to work with that group of people has been so rewarding because I am so passionate about the community. Getting to rise to a challenge every day and then still getting to benefit the community has made me so happy here.

What advice would you give to a woman who is starting her first position in tech?
Rise to the challenge Every. Single. Day. and don’t lose your passion. It’s also just as critical to take time for yourself. If you need to step away or you need to sleep in because you don’t want to go to work take a day off to just recharge. Take that time to honor whatever it is that you need whatever it is that you do. One of the things that I’ve implemented into my day-to-day life is every single day I do one thing that brings me happiness and one thing that honors my existence. It could be journaling, meditating for 10 minutes. Eating a piece of cake, whatever it was that I was craving, or I was feeling that day, or what I felt my body needed. I had to honor that because in tech as a woman it is so easy to burnout and it is so easy to get discouraged. You have to take that time to step aside to refresh because the best thing that you can do with a puzzle that you cannot figure out is to walk away and come back 20 minutes later.

I also think that never doubting yourself and never letting them see you stumble is probably the biggest piece of knowledge my mom has given me. You know, she’s like you walk in and everything that you say is confident because you’re confident in that answer. If you’re wrong, that’s OK, that’s fine. Accept it and be humble enough to know when you’re wrong. I think that that working in this job field is something that you know you’re going to be faced with challenges every day. You’re going to be faced with doubt because that’s just the world that we live in. But the one thing that will keep you moving forward is to never doubt yourself because once you doubt yourself, you open the door to let others doubt you too.

Any other parting advice, lessons learned?
I think the best piece of advice I’ve been given, came from my boss, Duane. We had been having a conversation where I was concerned about something I said and considered apologizing for being “too direct” in asking my team for something I needed. During this conversation, he said- “Don’t sweat the little things”. This is something I’ve always carried with me.

Early on in my career, and even today, I worry about how things sound when I say them. I think this is something all women can relate to. We often apologize if things come off “too blunt” or “too harsh” or even (my favorite) “too bossy”. Our tone is not something we have to apologize for.  Ever. People’s reception of our tone is not our responsibility. Their reaction to it is a direct reflection of them. Not you. You will likely always run into times where it may come back to bite you in the ass. But that’s life.

So, I think it’s important to remind yourself to not sweat the little things. Don’t apologize because you were being direct. It is not our jobs to sugar coat things. Don’t waste your time thinking about your delivery, focus your energy on what you’re getting done.

Thanks for joining us Sarah. Read more about her career journey on her LinkedIn. To learn more about RPRT, visit their website at https://www.rprt.dev/

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