We deserve great managers – How managers influence and make your career

A significant focus in people management across all industries, but particularly ICT, is how we help our people have great and rewarding careers.

Jane Hwang, our Operations Manager – Northern, and part of Solnet’s senior executive team, recently was invited to a meetup session in Solnet’s Wellington office of Female Fuel’d: Tech Talks. Following is an interview  covering her thoughts as shared in that session. 


You titled your talk “We deserve great managers”, why did you pick this as a title and what was the thinking behind it?

I’ve been working in IT over the past 18 years. I started as a systems analyst, now I am one of the senior managers at Solnet. Looking back on the career journey I took, what struck me the most were the people who helped me to grow and shape my career. Especially, the managers who played a big part in my career development.

I was a lucky to have many great managers throughout my career. These people saw potential in me, trusting and supporting me to reach the next level. I didn’t always see it in myself. I doubted myself. But, they were there to encourage and challenge me.

That’s the message that I really wanted to put across – that you don’t have to do it all alone and the role of a good manager is to coach those in their team. It’s something I make a conscious effort to live up to now that the situation is reversed and I’m the manager. 


Looking back on your career, what’s some of the best traits you’ve seen in leadership?

One of the key ones for me is in managers who created a safe environment: One where it is ok to make mistakes, learn and where my boss will back me up.

My first manager was someone who was willing to take a risk on a new graduate. It was a software product company and I was hired as a System Analyst where I was testing their products.  

I went through the aptitude test then had an interview. My new manager gave me the job on the spot. She was like that, very quick at making decision then execute it. She was fierce, in a good way, and made me cry once or twice because I did not know how to respond to her. But she cared deeply about her team, defended her team with her life. Her team’s performance was her responsibility. When her team did not deliver the expected outcome, she would take full responsibility and took action to improve the situation. She never targeted an individual for blame. It was ok to make a mistake as long as you do not repeat the same mistake.

That was why we totally trusted her. I did not know by then, but what she accomplished was that the team trusted their manager 100%, this was extraordinary.


In the past you have spoken about the importance of recognising and developing the potential within people – do you have an example of a manager who stretched you and helped you realise your potential?

Soon after taking my first job I decided to join a development team, as I felt it was more in line with what I wanted to do in the long term.

There were two managers, they were in charge of the product development and delivery respectively. I thought my first manager was brave  to hire a graduate. Then this duo was crazy enough to put me into a team leader role and asked me to take charge of a major rewrite of the product. At that time I had less than two years of experience. I worked super hard leading the team and development. Many mistakes were made during the journey. However, the team delivered the outcome. At the end of the engagement, I was at different level in terms of confidence. I also had much wider appreciation of professional software development and the importance of leadership in software delivery.

Upon being appointed to the team lead role, within myself I didn’t feel ready to perform the function, but my managers at the time pushed me and didn’t let me take myself out of contention for that role. That was a great thing because it took me out of my comfort zone and really stretched me to my potential. 


What is the role of mentorship and people outside of direct managers in helping develop talent?

There has been someone in my career who was not my direct manager, but a mentor. I don’t remember how we started our dialogue as mentor and mentee exactly. We used to grab a meeting room and talk about career aspiration. She would share how she dreamt of becoming a manager and what she did to achieve her goal; challenges and struggles and how she overcame them. I would be challenged, encouraged and inspired by her story. She was the one who made me think seriously for the first time about what I really wanted to achieve in my career.


People often talk about professional development but a lot of organisations don’t follow through, what are your thoughts on this?

I continued developing my technical skills while extending my education towards more business and leadership oriented topics. At one point in my career I had a GM who was prepared to sponsor business school  study. The papers  were pretty expensive and it was great that I got the sponsorship. More importantly, it was great feeling that I was appreciated and valued by the company.

Also, the study provided me with various techniques and foundations which I could use to frame my ideas about leadership in business and how to apply them in my day job. For any company, investing in its people is critical to create and nurture an environment where people feel they are valued. I have been there, recipient of such generosity and focus. I was excited and also proud. I believe it is what we all want to feel when we work for a company.


We can all learn something from your story but what direct advice do you have for people working to develop their careers?

Great managers and mentors are able to help you shape your career. You need to seek out and find them, they might not always be your immediate manager but they will be out there.

Don’t be afraid to fail, just make sure you get some learnings from it so you’re not going to make the same mistakes again.

Even if you don’t feel quite ready for it, make sure you don’t hesitate when an opportunity presents itself – you need to grab each one you can and get the most out of it!