Building Things that Impact Millions, Career Story with Vicky Sagia

Meet Vicky Sagia, mentor & mentee at OneUpOneDown and Senior Program Manager at Oracle. Vicky’s career began in engineering, designing cities and infrastructure and transitioned into product management for software companies. This happened largely by chance, the catalyst being a move from Greece to San Francisco. Find out more about how Vicky managed this transition by finding the intersection of the two industries and their alignment with her personal drivers.

In 2-3 sentences, please tell us a little about you! (your background/story and anything you feel you’d like to share)

Hello! I am a Program Manager working in software and product development. Before switching to tech, I led teams designing cities and urban infrastructure. The two roles have a lot in common: they both work at the intersection of business, design, and engineering to build interfaces that serve millions of people. I am currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area and was born and raised in Greece. I basically moved from a place obsessed with preserving the past to a place obsessed with shaping the future.

Why did you sign up to be a part of OneUpOneDown?

We were early in the pandemic, without childcare options, and I had to hit a pause in my career. It was a difficult time and I needed help figuring out my next steps. Initially, I set out to find a mentor. I then thought that sharing my own experience and insights with others could be very uplifting too. I ended up being both a mentor and a mentee and it’s been an amazing experience. It led to a much-needed perspective about my life and to what I hope will be new life-long friendships. Communicating with an open hurt and allowing myself to be vulnerable helped me grow a lot.

What does success mean to you? How do you align with your definition at the moment?

For me, success is dynamic. Its definition follows the needs and priorities of each phase in my life. Right now, I want to be challenged. Professional success is to be able to create opportunities, for me and others, to improve the lives of millions. To keep learning and building a diverse skill set. To be part of a team with a good culture where ideas flow freely. To not be afraid to venture out of what feels comfortable.

Personal success is to have the time and energy to nurture relationships with loved ones. To accept the fact that “need”s and “want”s can sometimes contradict each other. I can have an extrovert and an introvert inside of me, at the same time. It’s ok, as long as I can float between these states with calm and appreciation.

After the unexpected events of 2020, I can say that I am in a pretty good place right now.

What prompted you to pursue the career you’re in now?

The drivers behind my career have always been the same: I want to learn people’s stories and goals, I want to expand my understanding of the world, and I want to use all that knowledge to build something new and impactful. I served these goals first by working on buildings, then cities, and now on software. The transitions were partly intentional and partly coincidental. Coincidence led me to San Francisco. Once I got here, I emerged myself in the world of tech. I started going to meetups and reading about successful products, companies, and their practices. It was a new and fascinating world for me and, at the same time, so much of what I was learning resonated with my past work. There were so many principles that carried over like human-centered-design, system architecture, and more. 

How did you know this is what you wanted to do?

Software products can be built quickly and transform the lives of people around the world. I found this agility and reach fascinating. I also loved the thought leadership I found in the tech world. So many people in the industry work hard to improve their craft and then share their wisdom. I felt a strong urge to be a part of that. It is a space where I can bring the learnings and passions of my decade-long career but also a space with endless opportunities for growth and impact. I also made sure that the reasons behind my career change were positive, that I was running towards the future rather than away from the past.

Have you made any big transitions or changes in your career? What were they? How did you do it?

The biggest transition was going from urban planning to software and product development. Once I decided that I wanted to make the change, I had to figure out my entry point. I started by leveraging my knowledge of design principles and tools. I took a UX design course which was super helpful. My instructor was amazing and acted as a mentor after the end of the course. Through her referrals, I started getting freelance work in early-stage startups. Eventually, I joined one of these companies full-time. It was a great experience because I got to wear many hats and have a significant impact. It took more studying on my own, online courses, and another awesome mentor to get to my current job. That was the tactical part and it looks simple on paper but I can assure you it was not! It took work on my skills and myself, the support of many people, the safety net of my family, and, of course, luck to get to where I am now.

What is something that has been particularly challenging throughout your career?

Coming across people with very narrow definitions of what is needed, or not needed, for me to be successful in my chosen field or role. It started in high school with people saying I should not pursue engineering school because I was “ better at writing than math”. I did go to engineering school and it was the right place for me. It still happens today. I’ve learned to take the feedback without letting it weigh me down. 

What have been your go-to tools and strategies to overcome challenging experiences or people in your career?

My best strategy is making sure that I work on things I care about. That gives me the energy and drive to do everything else. I put the time to really get to know my coworkers and what matters to them. When a disagreement emerges, I start by assuming good intentions. I work to meet the other person where they are in their thought process instead of trying to impose mine. In the end, I always keep in mind that whatever happens at work is just a part of my life, not all of it. 

What is one personal or professional skill you’re working on at the moment and why?

The pandemic-imposed break forced me to re-examine my career, its pivotal points, and its dynamic relationship with my personal life. The distance helped me get a very nuanced understanding of past situations and my role in them. How can I achieve the same clarity for what is happening now, in the present? This is what I am working on right now.

What is something you wish you’d known when you were first starting out in your career?

There are super fun times ahead! The difficult times will all end eventually. Stick with people that tell you what is possible instead of those telling you what is not. Set boundaries and don’t hesitate to ask for help — heroic efforts will only get you so far.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone navigating their own career?

I have two pieces of advice:

One, keep learning new things, even if they are not work-related. Learning is about getting out of our comfort zone, taking risks, and bouncing back from failure. Good skills for a long and satisfying career! 

Two, not everyone will care about you or what you do and that’s fine. Keep showing up and putting in the work. This way you will be ready when you eventually do find your people.

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