I have stared into the incredulous faces of several former classmates since I graduated from Williams College last year. At long overdue dinner dates, mid-drink with heads cocked to the side, my friends almost always hit me with, “You’re in tech software sales?? How did that happen?”
And I take a deep breath and smile, because here we go again…
I can’t blame them. Even I marvel at my journey to Black Duck when I look back over it. A career in the fast pace world of software sales was the farthest thing from my mind while at Williams. If it weren’t for a leap of faith while job searching one day, it probably still would be. After all, I had no background in technology, software or sales, only a degree in the most liberal arts major of all time: American Studies.
So when I submitted my resume to LaunchSource, I wasn’t even expecting a call back, let alone acceptance into the program, training in software sales, and finally, an introduction to Black Duck Software. By the time I walked into my interview at Black Duck, I was 100% convinced I could be successful in the industry. It was the culture at Black Duck, however, that made me confident I would enjoy my work as well.
What Makes a Duck
Like most companies, Black Duck searches for the best and brightest — but in addition to confidence, creativity, competitiveness and ambition, Black Duck looks to hire employees with a growth mindset. Essentially, individuals who believe that their talents can be developed through hard work, good strategies and input from others. Sales managers don’t expect you to walk in, jump on the phones and start closing deals (I mean, they might say they do, but they’re only joking, I promise). They do expect you to embrace the role, learn from your mistakes, and work hard to develop your skills.
The company also operates with a team mentality. Every team in every department has something to offer, and supports the others in reaching their individual goals. This attitude supports our common goal of making Black Duck successful as a company. On the sales team, we’re constantly being reminded of just how much support we have coming from every corner of our office. Likewise, we’re well aware of how what we do on a daily basis supports everyone else.
Now any company can say these things, but Black Duck demonstrates them from the beginning. During my interview, not only did I meet members of the sales team from a variety of different educational and professional backgrounds, I met our VP of Global Sales, Adam Clay (a former American Studies major like myself), as well as the CEO of the company, Lou Shipley. The accessibility of the executive team and the confidence every member seemed to have in the product and their coworkers was not only inspiring but also empowering. It was a culture I knew I could happily get used to, and thankfully I got that opportunity.
Eight months into my career at Black Duck, I had the unique opportunity to return to Williams College and share my journey to tech software sales, specifically from my perspective as a woman. One of the many misconceptions I had about this industry was the idea that women were not very welcome... let alone expected to succeed. That could not be further from the truth. Women make up almost half of our sales floor and are killing the game daily.
In addition to this message, I really wanted to reiterate to students at Williams that coming from a liberal arts background with no experience in tech, business or sales was not a deterrent when it came to pursuing careers in the industry. In fact, we are as well equipped as anyone else to succeed.
For my trip back to Williams, I had prepared an entire presentation, complete with a slideshow, voice recordings, photos, brochures and Black Duck swag (namely a whole bag of our coveted black rubber ducks). I was excited to speak to students who were in my shoes only a year ago: bright, motivated... but drawing a blank at what to do with their expensive liberal arts degrees.
Not Quite Meeting Expectations
I arrived to the presentation venue 15 minutes early, giving myself plenty of time to set up and calm down. No matter how many times you do it, presenting in front of a crowd is always going to be just a little bit terrifying. But I had spent hours practicing my delivery and felt confident in the content.
Once everything was in place, with the rubber ducks arranged in a welcoming circle, all i could do was wait... and wait... and wait.
Half an hour past the start time, the room was still empty.
Now I didn’t expect to see a hoard of students running towards Mears House. This was a Thursday night at Williams College, after all. Essays, problem sets, group projects, rehearsals, meetings and prior commitments were going to take precedence over a lone alumna’s presentation about tech software sales, no matter how cute our mascot was. I was, however, expecting at least one stray “Eph” to make an appearance.
When the hour had passed and it became clear that there would be no presentation that night, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. At the same time, I knew it made sense. Williams is an amazing school with incredibly talented and well-rounded students who, on any given night, have a plethora of activities to choose from, apart from their academics. As an undergrad, even if I had been thinking of software sales, it would have taken a lot to get me into this room, especially for a company I'd never heard of.
Black Duck Software wasn’t a household name on campus, not like the financial institutions and research centers that recruited most of the students. So with the couple days I had left in Williamstown, I decided to put my efforts on helping the students learn about Black Duck.
The next day during lunch, I set up a table full of ducks and literature at the student center and held my breath as I waited for students to pile into the hall. Like they do at every tradeshow, the ducks drew a crowd and I ended up speaking with countless students, parents, professors and kids about Black Duck and what it was like working at a software company and transitioning from liberal arts to tech software sales.
I left the campus with a list of students to follow up with and only two or three rubber ducks. The little mascots now reside in 50 or so different desks and dorm room shelves on campus, not quite a household name, but certainly a presence.
I’ve had several Williams students reach out to me about my role at Black Duck since then, which allows me to believe that software sales is at least being considered as a career path by these promising students. Planting these initial seeds of possibility was the goal of my first trip back, and when I return in the fall for the career fair, the goal is to sow these seeds and promote successful futures. After all, they already have the foundation.