Denise Iglesias is a Senior Director of Software Engineering at Comcast in Austin. She’s been at Comcast for over two years, where she leads engineering teams located across the US and India.
I recently had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Denise about her personal career journey and also her passion for creating communities that help more women have successful careers in the tech industry.
Denise, tell us about your career progression into your current role.
I moved to Austin straight out of grad school and my first role was at National Instruments where they were experiencing really good growth. This gave me the opportunity to move positions and take on more responsibilities every 2-3 years. I started out in the Applications Engineering group, getting to support customers and teach them how to use our products. I then moved into a software development position, and that led into management of engineering teams, eventually including hardware engineers and projects. In hindsight, I didn’t have to consciously think about my career progression – it was just happening naturally.
It was after 17 years there that I got the itch to move to a smaller company and go through that growth curve again. That’s when I started working at Icontrol Networks, a home automation company that has since been acquired by Comcast. It was really challenging on many different levels to go through the whole process of getting acquired and then integrated back into a really large company.
Working in the Austin tech scene, what, in your opinion, are some of the biggest challenges in the community regarding recruiting and retaining diverse talent?
As I’ve gained more experience by working at different companies, I’ve found it fascinating to see how their practices are very different. A lot of start-ups aim to bring in talent that can hit the ground running and immediately make an impact. This means they tend to be really focused on recruiting experienced talent, and oftentimes bring in teams of people they’ve worked with before. So, you can end up with this tight knit group of people who have already worked together, which potentially isn’t very diverse. They don’t focus on building teams of people from different backgrounds, or with different levels of experience that can bring a different perspective to the problem.
Larger companies like NI have found a lot of success hiring engineers directly out of school. But even at Comcast, we’ve traditionally focused on hiring more experienced staff, so we’re now working on new strategies for building our junior pipeline and hiring more people out of school, and then investing in training them.
Tell me about your involvement in the Women in Tech group at Comcast.
What was it that drove you to be a founder of the group?
And what do you love most about the group?
I think my favorite part is the community. We hold 2-3 book clubs a year, usually books focused on women in tech or women’s career development in general. So, our conversations often concentrate on a particular challenge that we’re facing or an idea from the book that really resonates with several of us. I also love learning more about the diversity of everyone’s background and hearing how they grew up in different situations, how they got into tech. That helps us form deeper bonds, as tech women in this office. It’s been a really great opportunity for us to connect with each other.
How do you drive inclusivity within your team?
That is absolutely a challenge! One thing that I think is crucial is just being open to having conversations with people. For example, I recognized that our team would go to lunch, and a frequent topic of conversation was F1 Racing. People who weren’t interested in cars would get excluded from the conversation. So, I would try to redirect the conversation into topics of more general interest or asking other people about topics they could relate to. Part of it is being aware who else is at the table and trying to make space for them to participate.
What do you like most about the culture at Comcast?
For as big as Comcast is, it’s still very focused on family values. The core values include acting with integrity and giving back to the community, and I have a lot of respect for the leadership that put those in place. Our challenge as leaders is to make those values real, not just a poster on the wall. We develop products that simplify the connected home and leverage new technologies like cloud computing, machine learning, and IOT. Teamwork and collaboration are essential in software development, and when those aren’t in place teams miss deadlines and have to rework features. We recently reorganized our teams to enable more local decision making.
Being in Austin, we also have our own culture in this office. We have the autonomy to do some things that are different than headquarters. We still have group lunches and fun office events and competitions, and those things help bring us together as a team.
What's the most important leadership lesson you've learned and how was it proven invaluable?
For me, it’s about not being afraid to speak up, and to take things on, even before I have figured out exactly how to do it. You have to be willing to take a risk sometimes and put yourself out there. I’m usually excited by a challenge and opportunity. When everybody else thinks this is hard and nobody wants to do this job, I’ll be like, “Sign me up!” Because that creates opportunities for me to learn new things, and to rally people behind an important goal for the company that delivers something impactful.
I’d like to extend a huge thanks to Denise for taking the time to share her insights and experiences!
Posted about 1 year ago