C-suite career advice: Sheng Wang, AutoGravity

"I believe in teamwork and would not hire a ‘lone-wolf’ candidate who thinks they perform better outside of the context of a strong team."

Name: Sheng Wang

Company: AutoGravity

Job Title: CTO

Location: Irvine, CA

With over fifteen years of experience in the tech industry and ten years as a project manager, Sheng Wang is dedicated to building dynamic teams and launching high-impact products that users love. As the CTO of AutoGravity, the largest consumer-focused car buying/financing app, Wang elevates the platform through her knowledge of advertising, optimization, technology, program management, project planning, and workflow analysis, resulting in over 1.5m users joining in under two years. Prior to AutoGravity, she led the product development teams at industry giants such as Microsoft, The Walt Disney Company and eBay.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? At the Orange County Business Journal’s “Women of the Year” award luncheon, I was moved by an insight shared by Julie Hill, who sits on the board of the Lord Abbett Family of Funds and Wellpoint Inc., the parent company of Anthem Blue Cross. “Women do not apply for a job unless they check all of the boxes,” Hill said, “but men will apply as long as a few boxes are checked.”

I feel that taking risks to apply for stretch roles and advance your career is truly valuable advice. Originally, I had hesitated to take the CTO role at AutoGravity as I did not believe I had checked all the boxes for the position. If I did not have such strong support from the amazing AutoGravity team, I would not have had the courage to seek the job. I know I made the right decision in taking this role and I enjoy working with top talent and look forward to tackling future challenges.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? The worst business advice I’ve ever received was from a former manager who pressured me to agree to impossible timelines and scope. Rather than agree to a no-win scenario, I was able to convince the executive team to reduce the scope and expectations to ensure success. The result was the successful launch of Disney Theme Parks’ very first apps, which are enjoyed and used by millions.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? Don’t hesitate to ask questions; seek help and believe in yourself.  We learn the most from difficult circumstances and uncomfortable situations that might appear problematic at first, and we prevail with the right approach.  In retrospect, the trials that you handle successfully will prove to be the most memorable and rewarding moments of your career.

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes, technology has always been a passion for me.

What was your first job in IT? I started as a technical consultant at KPMG implementing package Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions for high tech clients in the Bay Area.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? The most common misconception about working in IT is that you need to have a technical degree.  I’ve seen so many amazing engineers who have become accomplished technical thought leaders in their organization without one.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? I know that becoming a CTO is an ultimate career goal for a lot of people in industry. In fact, there are a few members of my team who will get there soon. Becoming the leader of an IT organization requires that you focus on people, process improvement, and fostering a great team culture. It’s difficult for top engineers to be less involved in the technical architecture design, for potentially losing some leading-edge technical skills and knowledge when becoming a manager.  If a leader can create an environment where the team enjoys coming to work, sharing common goals and feeling challenged, then they are already operating at the C-level capability.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I’ve already attained many of the career goals I set for myself, but I still have a few things that I would like to do. For instance, I’ve set my sights on building a women’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) community in Orange County to helps more girls get into STEM programs and thrive in the high-tech industry.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? I spend quality time with my family on the weekends, and limit checking work emails and messages.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I believe everything happens for a reason, and I am happy with the route I am taking.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? I learned a lot from my computer engineering degree, but I also believe a self-starter can benefit from a well-structured boot camp.  It all depends on where you are in your career.  If you are going to college and interested in high tech, I strongly suggest getting a computer science degree.  If you are already working and want to shift your career, I would suggest taking a coding boot camp to see if it’s something you will enjoy doing.

How important are specific certifications? This is a great question.  I think certifications can help you secure more job interviews, but I believe experience and passion are much more important than certifications. So, it does not play a significant role in my hiring decisions.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? Quick leaner, team player and integrity.

What would put you off a candidate? I believe in teamwork and would not hire a ‘lone-wolf’ candidate who thinks they perform better outside of the context of a strong team.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? It’s important to let the interviewer know your strength, but don’t over emphasize.  When a candidate over emphasizes how good they are in certain areas, it raises questions.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? I believe we need a mix of strong technical engineers and engineers who have both technical and business skills in an organization.  I believe in giving the team the opportunity to learn new skills and expand their horizons.