C-suite career advice: Wendy Batchelder, VMware

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? “Do things before you're ready. There's no time in our lives where we'll say, ‘okay, I've checked all the boxes, and now I'm ready to do that.’ You just have to go for it.”


Name: Wendy Batchelder

Company: VMware

Job Title: Chief Data Officer

Location: Des Moines, Iowa

Wendy S. Batchelder serves as the Chief Data Officer of VMware and is responsible for the company’s business insights, analytics solutions and delivering excellence in data management across the company. An industry veteran with 15 years of IT leadership experience, Batchelder directs planning and implementation of enterprise information systems to foster innovation that creates competitive advantage, enhances the customer experience, improves service quality, supports business development, improves cost effectiveness, and leads to greater productivity and efficiency. She currently serves as an appointed member of the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, including co-chairing the Career Exploration Committee.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? I had a tremendous mentor, another female leader in the data space, who took me under her wing and gave me a lot of valuable advice and feedback, both as a mentor and a sponsor. There are two pieces of advice that she gave that really stuck with me. 

Trust yourself. Early in our careers, and especially in areas where we are learning, we have a tendency to second guess ourselves, especially women. We have a tendency to feel imposter syndrome, and it can spiral, fast. Being able to trust yourself that you have the right experience, even if it's just a little bit of experience, is incredibly valuable. Lean into what you do know and trust your ability to learn and contribute. You wouldn’t be there if others didn’t believe in you. You need to believe in you too.

Do things before you're ready. There's no time in our lives where we'll say, “okay, I've checked all the boxes, and now I'm ready to do that.” You just have to go for it. These two things go hand in hand, and have been instrumental for me in getting over my own imposter syndrome and being able to also coach others through it.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? Many years ago, I received the advice to not take risks; to just play it safe by mastering each role before taking on new opportunities. If we all stay in the box, we will keep repeating the same things that we've always done – and that's not where the magic happens. That doesn’t drive innovation. The magic is in taking big, calculated risks, outside of our comfort zone.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Investing in yourself is extremely important. Take the time to develop a new skill or a new coding language, get certified in your discipline or anything that will help be the best you can in your role, while also bringing others with you. Operate from an abundance mindset—there are plenty of opportunities to go around.

If you want to see the future change, you need to bring others along on that journey with you, and it's never too early to do that, you don't have to be in a position of leadership or management.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? No – in fact, I did not want to work in tech as a young professional—I set out to be an auditor in financial services—that was my dream. My dad was a database administrator, and I grew up thinking that tech was for boys. That’s all I saw—was males in tech. He encouraged me to explore tech and get more comfortable with it, and to be comfortable being the only person like me in the room.

I took my first coding class as a sophomore in college, and I was the only female – which was hard, but I found that I really liked coding. I was already an accounting major, I ended up also minoring in management information systems. I found that understanding how financials worked through technology, how the data moved and how tech enabled the business was far more interesting to me than pure auditing.

What was your first job in IT/tech? My entry point into IT/tech world was with Ernst & Young, where I was an IT auditor for the company’s Technology & Risk Services practice. That role helped me better understand the critical role that data plays in the IT decision-making process. And more importantly, it was a foundational experience in helping me fully realise enterprise technology’s potential in enabling positive business transformation.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? It’s 2021, and it is still a very common misconception is that there was not a lot of women in tech, and that's just not the case. We absolutely have a lot of work to do to obtain a more equitable representation of women in technology, however, some of the most talented female leaders that I have worked with in my career have been right here at VMware.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? It's very important to focus on your personal brand. A personal brand is something that everyone has whether they acknowledge it or not, and it's important to put into action what you want to be known for every day.

Also, keep in mind that people are always watching. They're getting an impression of you with every interaction, every note you send, every meeting you attend, and how you handle specific situations. There is an impression that you will make on people every day, and everything you do will either reinforce or it diminish that personal brand, so it's up to you to make sure you prioritise it. You need to put into action what you want to be known for.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? For me, career ambition is not a particular title or role; it doesn't matter to me whether I am the CEO or in an entry-level position. The important thing for me is to be making a difference, and not just for myself or my company, but for every person around me. That's why I have a passion around STEM, especially women in STEM, and growing that next generation of female tech talent. I lead a “Girls Who Code” club with the girls at my daughter's school for 5th graders. I believe it's so important to carve a path for others to come up behind you, and part of that is qualifying the next generation of talent for the roles of tomorrow.

In everything that I do, I try to make sure that I leave things in a better state than I found them. That's true in my job, community involvement, and even friendships. It’s an anchoring principle for me in my life.

Do you have a good work-life balance in your current role? It’s gotten better, but I would say it’s still imperfect. I have a great deal of responsibility in my role, but I also have responsibilities to my family, and that balance matters a great deal to me. I have specific methods and processes I leverage to manage this balance. One of the things that I really focus on is setting boundaries with my schedule; making sure that I am not starting too early or signing off too late. It’s important for me to set this example for others.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I’m a believer that things happen for a reason, so I wouldn’t necessarily change the route, but I would change how I thought about each step that’s led me to where I am today. I would tell my past self to trust the process, and to not think about each step so concretely – see them more as stepping stones in the long-term journey. Every challenge I’ve experienced has somehow ended in a positive result – even though it may not have been clear in the moment, it eventually led me to something better. I’m grateful for the path my career has taken and I wouldn’t change it.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? It depends on what you want to do and what you're passionate about. First and foremost, determine what you're trying to accomplish, and then make that decision. I don't think it's a one size fits all answer – they both can be helpful in different contexts.

How important are specific certifications? It's totally role dependent. Personally, I grew up in more of the data management side of the house, and there are a couple certifications in that space, however, we certainly don't require it to be employed or thrive in the profession.

Is it a nice to have, but it’s not a requirement. It shows that someone took time to invest in their career, rather than their actual skill sets.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates?  Three there's three very clear ones for me: Willingness and curiosity to learn out of comfort zone. Asking intelligent, productive questions. Humble ambition.

What would put you off a candidate? A couple things that come to mind:

First, a candidate not doing their homework. For example: not knowing who’s interviewing them, not remembering what they applied to or what the role is. You’d be surprised how often that happens.

Asking elementary questions, such has things they could have easily searched for on the internet. This tells me they haven’t done their research and shows lack of interest.

Lastly, someone who is overly arrogant. This is very off-putting to me. As a teammate, it’s so important to be genuine and openminded to others and remembering we all have opportunities to learn.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? General wordiness is a red flag for me. When you’re asked a question in an interview, it’s important to demonstrate preparation. I like to see that someone’s able to organise their thoughts in a concise manner – that will be valuable as they move up in the organisation and into more senior level positions.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both?  A bit of both, but most importantly, business acumen. Learn the business. Learn to speak ‘like the locals’ by learning the products, understand how your company provides value to people and organisations. If this past year alone has taught us anything, it’s that the IT profession is just as much about people as it is technology. The transition to remote work has forced IT leaders — from executives to managers (myself included) — to reckon with their traditional roles as merely technology enablers. Today, effective leadership in our field not only requires mastery of both hard and soft skills, but also a nuanced understanding of how we can leverage technology to inspire a more diverse, inclusive, healthy and engaged workforce. Beyond having technical know-how, I truly believe that demonstrating empathy and compassion will go a long way.

In addition to technical and business skills, people skills have become more crucial than ever before. We've had to balance and meet our teammates and customers simultaneously in ways that we've never had to do pre-pandemic – from each other’s living rooms. It's made work so much more human. Leading with empathy and building high trust teams are not nice to haves, they are must dos.