Joanna Jablońska

Hi-tech & high heels – Joanna Jabłońska

Joanna Jabłońska - Delivery Team Lead (Polcode)
9 minutes read

Joanna Jabłońska, Delivery Team Lead at Polcode, shares insights about her career, and development opportunities in the IT industry.

Can you share a pivotal moment or lesson from your career journey in the tech sector that significantly influenced your professional growth (and how did you apply that learning to advance further in your career)?

That’s a challenge to isolate a particular moment that would be a turning point. Was it the first deal I closed? Or was it the first project delivered successfully? Hard to say. Certainly, it must have been when I already found my footing in IT and mentally allowed myself to let go of the handlebars - I felt secure enough to trust that my decisions and actions were beneficial for my team and my organization.
When it turns out that you are invited to make your judgments (with all the consequences they entail) and you feel that people rely on you to call the shots, it gives you a rush. However, you cannot allow confidence to morph into arrogance as this is a straight path to taking a tumble. This idea of not taking things for granted, seeing yourself as a guru, in other words, keeping humble and hungry to grow is what has influenced me the most, I think.
The practical application of that is simple - if you don't know something, educate yourself. For instance, during calls with my developers and QA specialists, I try to ask questions not only to see how things are going but also to try to understand some concepts better or to satisfy my curiosity. I know what I'm good at, but I also know what I'm not [laughter]. I always seek learning opportunities in regular, day-to-day activities - be it by observation of my colleagues or by trying things out myself. Once I know what strategies worked for me, I enjoy sharing them with others to see how they will apply them.

What are the biggest challenges you are currently seeing in the IT industry or facing in your field and how do you overcome them?

[Laughter] Proving that we are useful enough to not be replaced by AI. I guess that almost every person working in IT has at some point ruminated about what the industry is like now and what it is going to become shortly. The invention of television did not render radio obsolete, as the invention of print did not stop us from handwriting. I think the same is relevant to all-replacing artificial intelligence - it will change how we code, manage projects, and acquire clients but won’t spell the end of it all. What matters to me is to be mindful of both opportunities and risks ahead. Perhaps integrating certain solutions into the daily routine would be advantageous, but I’m cautious about becoming overly reliant on them.

Simultaneously, as a professional, I need to follow current trends so that I can deliver up to the clients' changing expectations. I play around with the AI-powered tools, and do some reading from time to time, to see what’s on the table at a given moment and what the whole fuss is about. Of course, with my limited technical knowledge, I cannot assume that I got all that figured out so yet again I turn to those smarter than me.

Another burning issue is the condition of the IT industry itself. Just looking at the mass layoffs that took place within big tech companies but also smaller organizations, it is not hard to guess that IT is not what it used to be. The pandemic, global conflicts, inflation, political unrest, and other large-scale issues affected the market. Budgeting is more prudent, hiring is not as aggressive as it used to be. What is the most challenging is the lack of a universal solution to that problem. I look after the diversification of my skills and I encourage others to do the same - being proficient in a couple of areas makes us all more adaptable to the changing demands.

As a woman in a leadership role within the IT industry, what steps do you take to actively support other women in their career development?

Truth be told, I support them in the very same way I would support their male counterparts. I don’t consider gender/sex to be a determinant of the way assistance and guidance can be offered. Of course, I understand that this is crucial to find like-minded professionals and I see the benefits of building strong professional networks, but they don’t need to - in my opinion - consist of same-sex specialists only. On the contrary, reaching out to various individuals allows us to gain from their varied experiences and adopt their perspectives. Apart from that, I'm more than happy to offer mentorship to share my tips and tricks, and showcase successes, but also openly discuss the not-so-few cases when I did something wrong.
Having someone trusted by your side when you are starting is invaluable, it helps you to develop new skills, navigate challenges better, and understand the worth that you bring to the table.
Finally, I do my best to build confidence, self-esteem, and self-awareness in others. I encourage women to develop qualities that are culturally considered masculine, such as assertiveness, ambition, and voicing their expectations or dissatisfaction out loud. I like to believe that I foster such working relationships that make people feel comfortable and safe to share their joys and sorrows, regardless of their gender.

What advice would you give to other people/women in terms of overcoming self-doubt or imposter syndrome?

Oh, if thou have never been gnawed by doubt about your performance at work, I pray thee - cast a stone! Shifting your mindset from unsupportive thoughts toward a more validating approach is a long, engaging, and sometimes uncomfortable process. First of all, one needs to recognize the problem and be ready to address it. Without that, I can shower them with compliments, rewards, and praise but those would have only a temporary effect until fear of imperfection or failure creeps in again. Alternatively, try to identify the voices in your head that lie to you about your not being good, competent, and skilled enough. Quite frequently these turn out to be convictions that adults instilled in us when we were kids or young adults.

Another thing worth trying out is paying attention to the vocabulary we use to talk about our actions, achievements, or ourselves. Instead of saying: “Yeah, it ended up just fine” express your agency by saying: “I did everything I could to have it work out just fine”. If it tempts you to say: “I did everything wrong!” try to assume a different perspective by stating: “I didn’t do well this time but it doesn’t write my previous success off”.

Additionally, there is no better way to cease pestering and absorbing thoughts than helping someone else. Try it and you will see that people appreciate who you are and what you do - even if you don't offer a specific solution, I'm certain that they will be grateful you took the time to talk things through. Finally, when you make another self-sabotage attempt and you berate yourself for some alleged failure, think if you would use the same words to talk to your friend, spouse, or kid. Most likely not, right? So why do you talk to yourself like that? If these techniques fail and you find no solace in professional literature, don’t hesitate to book a psychotherapy session, two or five if needed - they work wonders.

What resources or learning opportunities have been most beneficial for you in staying ahead in your field?

I have found that a combination of structured learning and learning-by-observation is the best mix for me. I took part in a very interesting training to get insight into how digital skills can become greener - it was an eye-opening experience, I didn’t fully realize what impact IT has on global pollution. Did you know that only a couple of years ago (2019) the digital world was virtually equivalent to the 7th continent and it contributed about 4% to greenhouse gas emissions?

Additionally, as someone who truly enjoys podcasts, I spend a lot of time listening to psychological content. I’m convinced that by gaining a better understanding of the challenges and problems people grapple with, even those indirectly related to work, I acquire more tools to help my colleagues overcome their obstacles. Also, that helps me to better understand my issues and develop my emotional intelligence, which is a crucial skill when working with people.

On a day-to-day basis, I gain a lot of valuable insights by observing how other managers work and how they tackle various matters that I also need to handle. Having the possibility to talk things through with them, ask questions, and pick their brains, allows me to assume different perspectives and it incentivizes me to leave the well-trodden paths and ways of thinking. Their presence is also quite often comforting when I am consumed by uncertainty and doubt myself. At the same time, the meaning of know-how of the technical teams cannot be stressed enough. I am lucky to work with talented developers, QA engineers, designers, and DevOps.I appreciate the fact that they are willing to share some trade secrets and I’m able to gain insider knowledge - I find this a true privilege. Truthfully, I hold a belief that I learn best practices from everyone I encounter on my professional path.

What strategies did you employ to effectively lead and inspire your team toward achieving shared goals?

Being a linguist by education, I can never stress enough how important communication is. It helps us to name values, recognize goals, and set the direction we want to take. Making sure the team is on the same page and that each member knows what is expected of them plays a crucial role in effective teamwork. Also, having the right words to describe one’s intentions, feelings or even mental state can never be overestimated. Skilled communicators make people who give very constructive feedback - what’s better than that to help us grow? Open and direct communication fosters creativity, problem-solving, and innovation. Better outcomes can only be achieved when people are not afraid to ask questions, challenge assumptions, and feel comfortable sharing ideas.

I’m adamant that leaders should lead by example - I cannot imagine expecting something from others that I don’t do or don’t have. What would it look like if I had expected extra effort while slacking? How can I expect non-violent communication if my language contains passive-aggressive traits? Respect, empathy, and understanding cannot be reciprocated if they aren’t there in the first place. I think that life tends to be stressful enough so there’s no sense in making our lives even more miserable by putting others down.

It is important to know your team and see it both as a whole but also recognize it is made up of individuals. You should know their strengths, challenges, personal goals, and objectives. And it’s paramount to provide support and encouragement every time I think someone may need it. Finally, I acknowledge that we’re all just humans with our vices and virtues, mood swings, and unsolved problems. I try to remember that when someone gets upset or doesn’t stand up to the challenge.

What steps do you believe are crucial for organizations and leaders to take in order to create more equitable and inclusive workplaces for women in technology?

In my opinion, we can contribute to more non-discriminatory working environments by fostering a supportive culture in which everyone should feel valued, supported, and empowered to make contributions. We should pay attention to one’s merits and perceive our colleagues through that lens rather than subjective, external factors such as looks, for instance. It’s the highest time to stop treating women only as cute, funny creatures that make working more entertaining and pleasant.

We should teach girls all around the world that math is not “for boys”. Let’s talk more about female scientists, coders, and inventors and include them in curricula. On a language level, especially in Polish, please don't feel offended when someone prefers to use feminatives to talk about her role. It doesn’t hurt to treat each female individually rather than as a collective when you shake your head and say: “Ehh… women”. Acts of microaggression negatively impact their performance, motivation, and health.

Apart from that, offering flexible working environments and policies is a great way to accommodate the diverse needs or responsibilities of female employees, in fact, all employees. An effective leader should recognize the meaning of work-life balance and shouldn’t treat it as a catchphrase repeated ad nauseam. The same pertains to the risk of professional burnout - nipping it in the bud can help to improve female employee retention.

Finally, giving women visibility is another step an organization can take. According to last year’s McKinsey’s Women at Work Report, tracking outcomes and experiences and translating them into metrics, helps women to grow and significantly improves their experience. But, what is highlighted as well, the findings should be followed by tangible actions and changes for the data tracking to be valuable.

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