Gill Le Fevre on Taking Control of your Career Through Learning and Networking
“I think it’s risky to be passive and hope that opportunities or recognition will fall your way. You have to know what you want, what matters to you, and how you’re going to make that happen. It might not guarantee you’ll get there, but it’s certainly stacking the odds in your favour.”
Gill Le Fevre is the Developer Audience Marketing Manager at Microsoft. Previously, she held the Developer Tools Product Marketing Manager position. At Microsoft, she’s won several awards including the prestigious Circle of Excellence Platinum Club.
Tell me about how you got into tech and about your career path?
I did not go to school intending to work in technology or marketing at all. I did a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in history, and then completed a Masters of Medieval History. I thought I wanted to continue in academics and but wound up in a SAP consultancy company! Throughout my studies I saw a lot of opportunities for people with demonstrated soft skills like critical thinking and problem solving, regardless of their degree, and I found out that writing a computer program and an essay are actually quite similar.
What was it like going from academics to programming?
Starting out with this SAP consultancy I had no education in programming whatsoever, but the company were mainly looking for bright thinkers and gave us a 6 week crash course in SAP computer language. Over time, and encouraged by this experience, I went on to teach myself several other computer languages to work in internet development, and then I had to teach myself marketing when starting my own company.
What have you found beneficial about working in a small tech organization? What about a large tech company?
Working in a small business you do everything – if something needed to be learned, I learnt it. In my own tech company, I did not have to get someone’s permission to learn or try something different.
When starting with Microsoft, I wasn’t sure my small business mindset would survive, but Microsoft is an atypical large organization in that is still has a very strong entrepreneurial spirit. I have a lot of ownership in my job, almost as if I was running my own business, but without having all the responsibility on my shoulders alone.
Working in a large global organization like Microsoft has also provided opportunities to learn more about the business and explore new areas of work. The global scale of the work I get to do is phenomenal. I meet people across the business and at one point one of my roles spanned Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Networking has been a key tool in helping you get to where you are today. What are some tips you can give to help someone get the most out of networking?
Networking sounds structured and stilted, but it really comes down to being proactive. I actively reach out to people who work in areas of the business that I’m interested in. By getting to know them and their teams, I’m putting myself in their minds for future opportunities. It’s fairly easy to ask someone to take 20 minutes to share what they do-I don’t know anyone who has ever said no to that.
I’ve always found one on one connections to be the most valuable and I make sure to take a structured approach to these meetings. What are you looking to discuss and what insights are you looking for? This way you get the most out of your conversation, and ensure that you are respectful of the other person’s time.
Finally, at large networking events, people like to be asked about themselves. To help you feel confident, think of 3 or 4 questions to ask people in advance. This will help you kick-start conversations. And while the tech industry can be male-dominated, sometimes it is really nice to be the orange jacket in a sea of grey suits!
Ask someone to take 20 minutes to share what they do-I don’t know anyone who has ever said no to that.
You’ve worked in both tech and non-tech roles. What have you found rewarding in either of those positions?
What I loved about have tech roles was working on something that everyone saw as really difficult, and being able to solve it. When I was faced with a mountain of a problem and I was able to chip away at it and find a solution, the sense of achievement was huge.
Working in a non-tech role in a tech company, I get to be at the leading edge of what is going on in the world of tech and I get to use my creativity working on campaigns. It’s a wonderful blend of creative, business impact while working with an incredibly smart team.
Sometimes is really nice to be the orange jacket in a sea of grey suits!
What are the first websites you visit in the morning?
I love sports so I always check the sports pages. I’m a big tennis fan, and since moving to Canada I’ve become a fan of baseball. I’m enjoying cheering on the Blue Jays!
Also, I check Facebook because I have friends around the world and it is a great way for me to stay connected. Also, as a working mother, I can post a frustration or a question and I can get advice back from three continents before lunchtime!
What is your favourite app?
My favourite app is Office Lens. It works on Windows, Apple, and Android. The app is like a mini scanner and is great for taking pictures of anything with lots of text. I use it in meetings to capture everything we wrote on the whiteboard. I just snap a picture and it syncs with OneDrive and OneNote, so it’s on your PC right away.
I also love to listen to audiobooks, so Audible is a must.
Finally, what kind of legacy do you want to leave for future women in tech?
I love to think that women will become more proactive. I think it’s risky to be passive and hope that opportunities or recognition will fall your way. You have to know what you want, what matters to you, and how you’re going to make that happen. It might not guarantee you’ll get there, but it’s certainly stacking the odds in your favour.
Women should not only think about where they are today but know that they are always learning and developing. I look at jobs I have in my career plan, and that little insecure voice says “you can’t do that job”. But I have a louder voice now that says you can’t do that job…yet. Keep on learning and growing and one day you will get there”
Finally, the last piece of advice I have for future generations is to have fun with your work. If you aren’t enjoying what you’re doing, you’ll never be able to deliver your best. You’re not setting yourself up to succeed and it’ll be harder to move into something that you do enjoy.