Rebecca Parsons
Rebecca Parson

Rebecca Parsons

Chief Technology Officer

ThoughtWorks

“It’s very easy when things get tough to think you’ve made the wrong choice. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t drive yourself crazy playing the ‘what if’ game.”

Years in tech industry? 37

Who or what inspired your career in tech?
I was introduced to computer programming by an algebra teacher and was immediately fascinated by programming, even though at that time I had to punch cards and give my programs to my teacher to run on the mainframe at the university. For a time I thought about computational science as a career, or even computational economics. However, I was a co-op student at Caterpillar Tractor Company and had a chance to work in factory automation and that just fascinated me. As a result, I joined Caterpillar in their Factory and Warehouse Automation group and never looked back.

What’s been your best career or life “hack” ever?
Trust my instincts, and in particular try to imagine what life would be like if I had decided both ways. It’s very easy when things get tough to think you’ve made the wrong choice. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t drive yourself crazy playing the “what if” game.

What has been your greatest career challenge?
When I began graduate school, I was adamant that I did not want to become a university professor. However, when my post doc ended, with a lot of encouragement from others, I joined a university as a tenure-track professor. In hindsight, this was a mistake. The challenge really was understanding what I really wanted to do with my career, what constituted success for me in my career, and how best to achieve that. It’s hard when people around you are pushing you towards what they think is the obvious answer.

What is your biggest career success to date?
Becoming CTO of a hard-core geek company such as ThoughtWorks.

Who are your role models?
Those who seem to know how to re-invent themselves as their passions change, the industry changes, or their reality changes. Genevieve Bell, Nora Denzel and Karen Sandler are a few such women.

If you could go back in time, what’s one tip you’d give your teenage self?
Be a bit more patient. I rushed through school, and I regret not taking more time to enjoy things that were not essential to my degree. I’m making up for lost time now.

What do you do when you’re not kicking butt at work?
I love to explore, whether it’s new cities or countries, hiking trails in different places, or new scuba diving sites.

Flats, heels or kicks?
Flats

Best career advice book?
StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath. While it’s good to recognize my weaknesses, understanding my strengths and how to play to them makes for a much more satisfying career and life.

Who are the women in tech that you most admire?
Right now, it’s all the women and techies of color who are public and visible in their quest for a place in the tech industry. The industry can be a pretty nasty place for those who speak out, and I greatly admire the courage of those who are harassed and keep coming back.

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