In an industry she describes as having huge room for career growth and exploration, this woman thrives on the constant change that comes with the tech world. A part of that change was her own move from business to leading global partnerships in early 2020… something she would never have guessed a decade ago.
Having come to Intercom as a long-time fan of the company, Catherine’s journey wasn’t always so straightforward. The first 10 years of her professional life were spent in the media industry. For many, a career change may have been daunting. But Catherine knew she was meant for a more dynamic environment, and she embraced the “jungle gym” career concept without hesitation.
Hello Catherine, can you please introduce yourself, your position and the company you work for?
I lead the global partnerships team at Intercom. Our team works with two distinct partner communities:
- our app partners, who’ve built integrations with Intercom
- our service partners - agencies, BPOs and consultancies who offer or run Intercom as part of their client services
I moved over to this team at the beginning of 2020 after spending the previous four years working on the existing business team.
What inspired or led you to enter the SaaS field/tech startup world?
Before joining Intercom, I’d spent almost two years working at Twitter. Before that, I’d spent the previous 10 years working in media operations and sales.
I’d had Intercom on my radar for many years before joining the company. I’d seen their founders speak at a couple of events — they’re very well known in Dublin tech — and I was an avid reader of their blog. I really admired the content they were producing and the company’s mission to ‘make internet business personal’ really resonated with me, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to become an early hire on the sales team in Dublin.
Did you study technology? Do you feel it’s important to have a tech education in order to get a job in a tech startup?
I have an undergraduate degree in Communications and a master’s degree in Media Management. Both degrees were very much rooted in theory rather than practice - although we did spend some time on media technology and production! Studying communications and media helped me to build writing and communication skills, as well as skills in critical thinking and project management, which have stood me in good stead for every job I’ve had since university.
I don’t believe it’s essential to have a technical or business qualification to work in sales - on the sales team at Intercom, we’ve got a real mix of folks with business degrees, some former developers, and folks who’ve worked in hospitality. For some roles, having role-specific experience is an asset, but having a growth mindset and strong transferable skills is often just as important, if not more so.
Our team culture very much recognizes the winning combination of art and science in sales - and that while modern sales is very data-driven and requires ruthless efficiency, the ability to communicate effectively, to influence, and to create great content is still hugely important. Those three things are definitely going to be high on a liberal arts graduate’s list of skills!
What was the biggest challenge for you when entering the tech field and how did you manage to overcome it?
I came from a traditional part of the media industry, where the pace of change was much slower, both on the R&D and go-to-market sides. While I knew this didn’t appeal to me - in fact, it was one of the reasons I sought a move to the tech in the first place - it was still a bit of a shock to the system to join a tech company where change is a constant! But, it was - and still is - an incredibly energizing environment to be a part of, especially at Intercom where our team is constantly developing and innovating.
Thinking back to your journey and how you arrived at where you are today, is there anything you’d change if you could?
I’m a firm believer in the merits of a ‘jungle gym’ career, as Sheryl Sandberg famously put it - and mine definitely has been so far! But every job I’ve had in my career has yielded lessons that have shaped my skills and strengths - and helped me recognize my weaknesses, too.
The only thing I’d have changed or done earlier would have been seeking out mentorship when I started to think about shifting industries. It can be very difficult to step back from your career sometimes - especially early on - and a fresh perspective and suggestions can be transformative.
Only 3% of females say a career in technology is their first choice. Why do you believe working in a tech startup or SaaS is a good career path?
The events of this year have really accelerated the evolution of business, and SaaS tools like Intercom are absolutely at the forefront of this change as more and more businesses move online.
As a result, it’s a super exciting space to be in and there’s huge room for career growth, development and exploration as we identify new opportunities to help even more businesses build personal relationships with their customers, even at a massive Internet-scale. And this has been the case across both our technical teams on the R&D side, as well as our customer-facing teams.
Would you recommend any educational material to women who would like to enter the tech field?
I’ve also just started reading Dame Stephanie Shirley’s biography, Let IT Go. She was a pioneer in tech in the UK and championed causes like flexible working and remote working back in the 1970s. She’s a really inspirational leader who just went ahead and carved out new paths for women where none had existed before.
People working in startups are usually very busy. How do you manage your work-life balance? Do you have time for some side projects/passion projects?
My time outside of work is focused around my two daughters! Any project that I take on these days relates to them and the community we live in, as these are the things that matter most to me. I’m currently working with a group of parents in our area to launch two ‘cycling buses’ to my daughter’s school, which has been a fun way to leverage my skills outside of work while also making a positive impact on our community.
Women in SaaS initiative
Did you know that only 3% of females say a career in technology is their first choice and only 5% of leadership positions in technology are held by a woman? With our new initiative - Women in SaaS interviews, we want to inspire more women to join SaaS field & technology and combat prejudges connected to technology.
Every two weeks, you can look forward to interviews with inspirational ladies who decided on a career path in SaaS. In our next article, we will talk to Veronika from ScreenCloud.