Guest Blog - Women in Technology: Lisa Zhu, Prospa
Lisa is currently working as an Engineering Manager at fintech Prospa, from where she draws her strong technical background from over 10 years within the industry.
My name is Lisa, and I am an Engineering Manager at fintech Prospa. My interest in tech started back in high school tinkering with computers. I proceeded to study Computer Engineering at university. That time allowed me to appreciate and apply the power of computing + engineering principals. I fell in love with this career path, and have not looked back since.
Where did your interest in technology come from? How did you decide to pursue a career in technology?
My first experience with technology came from my time back in high school when the government gave funding to update the network system at the school. I was given the opportunity to both help and observe this and found the entire process fascinating. To see something that was both complex yet clean (no mess) instantly grabbed my attention and it was from there that my love for both science and computers grew.
When it came time to pick university degrees I was honestly stuck between which science to pursue as this had been my favourite subject all the way through high school. As part of the schools commitment to science I had the opportunity to attend the National Youth Science Forum held in Canberra. There I got the unique and timely opportunity to speak with industry leaders from all science backgrounds. I explained my dilemma - my love of science but was lost as to which direction to go. The advice was simple yet invaluable - “You love computers, have you ever considered studying computer science?”.
From that point I had my mind made up, I studied and successfully completed a Bachelor of Computer Science and have been in a field that I’ve loved ever since. It has been challenging at times but the constant change and new advancements is fascinating and I love to be involved in pushing things forward.
What are the key habits that you feel make you successful?
I’ve always been a hard worker this was instilled into me from when I was very young by my parents. Their mantra, which is still something I follow today was “you’ve got to work hard”.
My love of curiosity also helped tremendously in all stages of my career. Learning doesn’t stop when you leave university especially within a field such as technology and through continuous learning you are also simultaneously continuously developing your skill set. I have always been focused on this especially when I was more junior - observing when people in my team did something and being confident to ask how.
I think as well it’s very important to put pride aside and be open to telling your team members and management when you need help. It could be for a multitude of reasons but if you are struggling you need to have the confidence to tell someone in order to get past it. Being “bold, open, and real” is one of the core values at Prospa, which suits me well.
What are the key things that allowed you to get where you are today and what do you attribute your success to?
I’ve been really blessed that in every stage of my life someone believed in my abilities and gave me the opportunity to to step out of my comfort zone and push beyond. This is evident from high school when I was invited to help install the network to university when my professors would nominate and push me to try an event, conference or class. This instilled a confidence in my abilities and helped later on for me to push internally to give things a go even when it was very outside of my usual comfort zone.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you have received in your career and how did it help you?
One of the most valuable pieces of advice I was given was by my Pastor who said “Fake it till you make it”. Being a devout Christian and growing up in this environment allowed a lot of opportunities to be involved and develop valuable skills such as serving, public speaking and team leadership.
Another really important guide is the author Brene Brown who writes a lot in her books on the power of vulnerability and courage and how they go hand in hand. This was initially a recommendation from a friend who was facing similar situations. It explained a lot to me on the act of being vulnerable and letting people in to see me as vulnerable. It also reinforced the learnings from church around the power of vulnerability in friendships, as true deep friends are so vital for helping you to realise if you are on the right path or if you have strayed and maybe aren’t living up to your initial goals. Having these key people in my life has been invaluable and in times when I do doubt myself they have given me the courage to pick myself up and dust off and refocus on what is truly important.
As you transitioned to more senior and leadership roles what was the shift you needed to make?
Ever since I was at school I had been lucky to be given leadership opportunities. I think initially when you are offered the chance at leadership everyone has the classic thought around “wow now I have the power to tell people what to do”. In saying that you learn very quickly that just telling people what to do is not an effective way of motivating them to be their best.
The most important change I had to make was to value the rapport and relationship with every individual within my team. What motivates each individual member ultimately comes together to being very important in how you motivate the whole team. I had to change my perspective from individual success being the key to viewing team success as the true success.
I have to give huge credit to my church community as it was there that I had my first real experience at leading and service which opened my eyes to so much. My community includes so many close friends who were able to give me honest feedback on what was working in my style and wanted needed improvement. It also opened my eyes to people - how they act, why they act and what to do when they act out.
A big thing to remember is that often when someone isn’t responding to you it can be due to something happening outside of work - usually a combination of pressures bottling up. I think it is really important to learn to peel back the layers of an individual and find out the reason behind the behaviour because it’s untrue that who we are at work is completely separate from who we are outside of work. They are connected and when something is out of balance it is likely that individual will bring that negativity and output into the work environment in some form. Being open, clear and honest can help you both come up with a better solution and change the dynamic.
What was the most challenging situation you've faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
The challenging situation I faced came from working with a particular group of people at a different company where I would come home feeling stressed everyday. It was earlier in my career and I was frustrated that I couldn’t move the needle, I reflected this internally and felt that it must have been from my own lack of abilities.
My support group around me recognized that something wasn’t right and that the stress was mounting daily. They recommended that I seek professional help to help deal with the triggers. It was probably one of the best decisions I ever made and has had a hugely positive impact on my career.
I am a huge advocate for supporting mental health and reducing the stigma around seeing professional help. I grew up in a stable loving family environment yet before speaking with a professional there were still things that were hidden underneath the surface. I now understand myself on a personal level in so much more depth. I continued my journey to help others through doing an international recognised course and I apply the practice within both my personal and professional lives almost daily.
What advice would you give to other females looking to pursue a career in technology?
I would encourage every female to consider pursuing a career in technology as it is extremely rewarding. It combines learning, problem solving and curiosity which is honestly so rare compared to other disciplines. The ability to create something from nothing is an unparalleled feeling. They say that technology is the world’s 5th revolution and being a part of that story daily is incredible. With the developments and speed at which they are occurring who knows where the next big revolution will hit and what it will look like - probably something combining AI and machine learning.
I think it’s really important to have women in the industry to provide a diversity of thought. The more diversity within a team the more creative and rewarding the process. It’s also important to highlight to younger females that it is possible and the women you do meet within the industry really do become mentors and friends for life. It is an incredibly supportive and positive industry which I really believe does hold something for every individual.