As a veteran of the cable and telecom industries, Jen Cistola has experience working with industry organizations such as CableLabs and has also led global cable and telecom product teams in bringing software-based products to market.
Cistola understands the value of tapping the expertise of mentors, which she calls "coaches," to provide constructive feedback and propel her career forward. In her current role as managing director of ICT Intuition, Cistola focuses on supporting the enterprise communications services market, as well as other women in the workplace.
Initiatives that echo the voice and engagement of female technologists are critical to corporate success, says Cistola. In this Mentor Monday, Cistola explains how identifying coaches both outside and within her workplace has made a huge impact on her career path. She shares advice on how other women in comms can build relationships with mentors, influence their organization's strategies, and why she says "swagger matters" for the success of women in tech. Read on for more.
Women in Comms: Tell us a little about yourself and your role at ICT Intuition.
Jen Cistola: At ICT Intuition we help communications service providers and technology suppliers to grow their business by developing, measuring and executing on market and product strategies.
I've spent more than 20 years in the cable industry. Before joining ICT Intuition as managing director, I was an SVP at CableLabs , where I led several platform and software-based industry-wide programs. I established multiple C-Level Advisory Boards to accelerate adoption. As VP at the TM Forum, I led the Data Analytics program.
WiC: How is ICT Intuition supporting service providers in their digital transformations?
JC: ICT Intuition was founded by an amazing fellow female engineer, Nancee Ruzicka. Nancee's experience is primarily from the telco side. She previously worked within the US West Advanced Technologies group and then went on to work as an analyst with Stratecast and the Yankee Group before starting ICT Intuition.
The communications industry is adopting new, customer-centered technology both to improve the customer experience and reinvent their legacy operations. At ICT Intuition we provide a bridge, primarily through easy-to-adopt product strategies and market research, which speeds service provider technology adoption.
WiC: What are some of the biggest challenges that cable and telecommunications technology startups face and how do you support them in your current role?
JC: Startups typically have a challenge providing operator-friendly and compelling context for their new products and services. We help startups in creating and testing product strategies by working directly with senior service provider executives. We add clarity to the context of the product in terms of service provider benefits. We also provide market research and business development by leveraging our deep industry relationships.
WiC: How have mentors shaped your career?
JC: I refer to my mentors as coaches, and I have been very lucky to have had some wonderful coaches.
Outside of work, I sought out and paid for an executive coach midway through my career. My coach, Elizabeth Martin, works with healthcare executives and is based in Georgia, but we clicked and worked together for more than a decade. She provided a much-needed outsider's perspective and helped me through a multitude of challenging work scenarios.
On a more informal level, I've found that Patty Azzarello provides wonderful, structured group executive coaching.
Within the workplace, I have had several supervisors who were excellent coaches. Although it is sometimes uncomfortable, it's much better to ask for the direct and unvarnished feedback on your performance. If you are worried about your feelings getting hurt you may miss the opportunity for growth and to become a more valuable contributor and leader.
WiC: What advice do you have for women on how to establish a relationship with a mentor?
JC:I would advise to avoid asking the question, "will you be my mentor?" In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg made some solid points on why this is a weak approach.
Approach a person you respect who has a view to the politics at the top and present a specific scenario that you would like their advice on. If you will be in the same meeting with this coach -- meet with them before to strategize. After the meeting, solicit their advice on what you could have improved on. Soliciting advice at a scenario or project level will be more attractive to a busy executive.
WiC: What's your biggest piece of professional advice for other women in the tech and comms industries? Any advice from your mentors that you want to share?
- Swagger matters Whether you are interviewing for a job or presenting to company executives it is critical to appear confident. One way to get past a lack of confidence is to imagine that you are a member of a high school sports team arriving on site for a big game. You would never let your teammates down by looking scared as you walked by your rivals, would you? In the corporate world, you are on a team and your team is depending on you to come across as strong and confident -- it's not about ego.
- Understand your company's financials If you work for a public company, jump online and listen to the quarterly investor calls. Read the 10-Ks. When you understand how your company increases revenue it will be easy to connect the dots to your role and how you can contribute.
- Ask for what you want Don't assume people know that you want that director or VP job. Create a story that explains how your promotion would be a good thing for your company and customers (not just you). Test and refine your pitch with those who can influence your promotion and don't give up!
— Kelsey Kusterer Ziser, Conference Producer & Contributing Writer, Light Reading