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Building the Future in Front of You

Personal Growth
Career Path
New Manager

5 October, 2021

Sony Mohapatra
Sony Mohapatra

Senior Engineering Manager at Cruise

Sony Mohapatra, Engineering Manager at Cruise, experienced a tumultuous journey through the industry as she established herself both as a professional and as a beacon of guidance for other women.

Problem

Throughout my career, I have always been one to be on the lookout for opportunities to help and to uplift those around me. This was even before I actually became a manager. It is exciting seeing all of the different ways that you are able to influence other people.

I chose to become a manager because I felt that my potential for impact was very limited as an IC. As a leader, this impact would grow enormously. I had never had any mentors as a young professional, so I make this service a priority in my career currently.

Actions taken

When I got started, I did not know much. I never had the guidance that I needed along the way. Now, when I see my next-gen folks, I feel that they are so much more knowledgeable than I was. They have this insight that I totally lacked.

I began my career as an intern in development. At one point, in 2008, there was this huge recession. Finding a job became really, really hard. I ended up just taking whatever I got. I settled for much less than I deserved.

Women, in general, tend to compromise. They doubt themselves whenever they are unable to find a new job for one reason or another and jump immediately into the first thing that opens up in front of them.

I landed a great opportunity through one of my managers, a female leader herself. This person helped me make my transition into leadership from my background of testing. I was doing much more than I had expected to do.

This was when I realized how important it is to have a mentor who is able to show you the best way forward. I wish that I would have had somebody back then encouraging me to shoot for something higher than the path of least resistance. Women need to feel confident enough to get the job that they actually want. A job is so much more than something to do with your time.

If I would have had somebody like this on my side, my career path and my trajectory would have played out totally differently. I am happy with where I am currently, but it really does make you think. I used up a lot of time doing things that did not end up being in alignment with what I wanted to do.

If you find yourself in a particular situation that does not flow with the rest of who you are, you’ve got it wrong. Tie everything around you to your own principles, the ones at your core. It is so important to be familiar and in accordance with your own unique flow.

Lessons learned

  • Strong female leaders build stronger female leaders behind them. They create a path for others to follow. Having a figure like this to emulate gave me the confidence that I needed to succeed. Today, there is no looking back. 
  • I had one mentee who was reporting in another org, one who was very subdued and soft-spoken. We started to talk initially as friends. This person had very low expectations of herself; her first instinct was to immediately assume that something was beyond her capacity. I needed to dig in deeper in order to empower her to exceed these expectations. This person has her own team now; the difference is like night and day.
  • When somebody comes to you with a situation, you need to ask them the right questions in order to get them thinking. I ask the person in front of me to step into my shoes and to handle the problem as they imagine I would. This validates them in their own decision-making process; they consult you internally and begin to handle things differently. I do this myself with my own leaders. No one person is absolutely right in every scenario; there are always multiple solutions to every problem. My style is an amalgamation of different traits from different people. 
  • I am an active female mentor in a number of scholastic communities and other organizations of diversity, including my own alumni network. I try to make myself available to folks when they reach out to me. That’s when I get to talk to them in order to understand more about where they see themselves in the future. It brings me so much happiness whenever I can share these lessons with those around me.

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