Women in IT Awards USA winner: Monica Caldas, General Electric Transportation

Monica leads a team of more than 300 professionals who provide software, analytics, process improvement and productivity solutions for GE Transportation and its customers in the railroad, mining, marine, stationary power, drilling and energy storage industries. She also serves as co-executive sponsor of the GE GIRLS program that connects middle school girls with universities to educate them about careers opportunities in STEM.

>See also: Women in IT Awards USA Winner: Jennifer Kyriakakis, MATRIXX Software

Monica joined GE in 2001 as a systems analyst after graduating from the University of Connecticut School of Business with a Bachelor of Science degree in management information systems.

Monica was a joint winner of the Digital Leader of the Year at the inaugural Women in IT Awards USA. She shared this accolade with Melissa Stevens from Fifth Third Bank – whose profile will be shared over the coming weeks.

Can you provide leadership advice for those looking to advance their careers?

Look to solve big problems. I think sometimes people shy away from the big, hairy problem statements. There’s a lot to be learned from trying to solve those, even if you’re not successful. If you take bigger risks, you will gain so much experience that will help you become a better leader.

Don’t be afraid of being uncomfortable. I always tell those I mentor that their level of discomfort represents how much they will grow. It’s quite natural to be uncomfortable and the more you are, the more likely it is that you’re growing and delivering greater value for the business.

Who have you looked to for inspiration, within the industry or more broadly?

For inspiration regarding the balance between life and work, I read quite bit of Robin Sharma, who talks about what he calls the tango between working and living. He has a great example about juggling balls and the importance of knowing which balls are made of glass and which ones are made of rubber in case you drop one.

>See also: Women in IT Awards USA winner: Janice Withers, TD Bank

I also seek inspiration regarding women in technology and I love that Sheryl Sandberg’s got the conversation about ‘leaning in’ going in a big way. Not everyone may agree with her, but I look at her as inspiring for pushing hard conversations forward and for standing up and being counted.

I also look at Jamie Miller, the CFO of GE. She previously was the CEO of GE Transportation and CIO of GE and has pushed the boundaries of what’s possible in a career. Talk about reinventing and going into spaces where you’re recreating what’s possible! I love that she’s doing that and it’s very inspirational to me.

What was the best piece of advice given to you?

My dad used to tell me to look for hard things to do, because the harder something is, the more it’s worth doing. My family came to this country from Portugal when I was young. I watched my parents work really hard and always strive to be the best at whatever they were doing. Whether it was gardening or driving a truck, it didn’t matter what job they did. I also go back to Thomas Edison.

>See also: Women in IT Awards USA winner: Annie Eaton, Futurus

I really love what he did and what he stood for. He has a quote that I carry with me, “Opportunity is missed by most people, because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.” I carry those lessons with me in how I approach my work and how I collaborate with people and go after hard problems. I don’t run away from anything.

Have you had to overcome any career challenges?

Early in my career, when I was recognised for doing something great for the organisation, I shied away from the spotlight because I didn’t want to be seen as bragging. I had to overcome that because it would impact me going forward if I didn’t. I remember what I learned from my mentor that you have to speak compellingly about your accomplishments and be comfortable embracing your achievements. You can do that by being authentic. Always stand up and be counted. Don’t shy away from that. That’s a lesson both for me as a person, but also as a leader.

If you’re not standing up for what you’re doing, or what your team is doing, then they also don’t get recognition. It’s a personal career challenge to be comfortable with speaking about what you’ve done. As a leader, it’s even more important to speak on behalf of your team, because you’re representing your organisation. I think having overcome that career challenge early on enabled us to speak about what we’re doing and be recognised for it.

>See also: Women in IT Awards USA winner: Monica Jain, LogicHub

Did you seek a career in tech or is it something that you came to indirectly?

Since I was young, I’ve had a passion for problem solving. I was always interested and curious about technology, but didn’t have the kinds of opportunities to play with it that kids do today. I didn’t come from a family that had a lot of resources and I didn’t touch technology in a big way until I went to college. I jumped in with both feet and earned a degree in information systems and the skills and competencies to go solve problems with technology.

What does the future hold for your own career and for the types of projects you’re working on?

Now, more than ever, CIOs have to understand business processes in a deep way so they can enable better outcomes with technology. I think it’s a great time to be in IT, but you have to be willing to come to the table thinking about how the business works and asking, ‘How does this operate? How do we get value to the customer? How do we solve these big problems?’ CIOs have to be willing to help shape the strategic agenda. That is the most important thing.

The migration and evolution into the cloud and being able to access technology from anywhere is also really important for the future. AI and blockchain have evolved enough that they can be applied to real-time business problems. Blockchain and the concept of the distributed ledger are so powerful and we’re looking at how to apply them to supply chain and logistics problems.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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