Red Hat, the place female leaders’ IT dreams come true

We spoke to female leaders at Red Hat about their IT careers and how the software business encourages young girls into STEM roles. Next to open up is Head of Pre-Sales & Services Tech Domains, Tracy Corkett.

In her role as Head of Pre-Sales & Services Tech Domains, Tracy Corkett leads the supply side of Red Hat Consulting and works with a team of IT experts to drive the operational delivery capability and excellence of Red Hat’s EMEA services organisation.

Tracy has experience in addressing challenges and customer demands and creating scalable processes and solutions and is highly skilled in IT Service Management.

What made you pursue a career in IT?

I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up (I still don’t!). I did know that I wanted a career that would allow me to travel the world, work with a variety of people (and industries), and constantly challenge me. Joining the Royal Navy was my initial plan; however, a career in IT is actually where I landed. It was by complete chance. Back then, I wasn’t aware of what a career in IT could bring; I didn’t even realise it was an option. 

While working in my first job after college, I had automated and streamlined most of my tasks within my first couple of weeks. It was my former manager who sat me down and suggested to explore a more IT-related role. Within a month, she had connected me with the internal IT support desk, where I applied for, and successfully got my first role in IT – fixing printers and desktops. I loved it! It really gave me the necessary hands-on experience of the hardware and software side of corporate IT and laid the foundations for what was to follow. 

So how did you end up working in IT at Red Hat? 

I’ve always been the kind of person who is constantly challenging herself (and others) to innovate and find better and faster solutions to everyday challenges. Despite a lack of experience in my field, in the beginning, I was still able to provide input and contribute, adding a new perspective to those more experienced around me. I cherish ongoing self-learning, which has helped me succeed in more senior roles throughout my career.

The first half of my career journey was dedicated to gaining a breadth of (IT related) technical skills in a variety of industries and sectors. For instance, I had roles which provided technical networking support to school teachers for all elements of their broadband infrastructure, as well as working across solution designs and builds for several Blue Chip clients. I was also involved in several security-cleared environments and helped with either implementing or troubleshooting various product implementations. Each new role and sector allowed me to build on knowledge from the previous one, which has led me to Red Hat. With the foundations laid, I’m now able to engage with more customers and teams tackling increasingly complex challenges. 

As the EMEA Director for Pre-Sales & Services, I’m managing more technical teams and people across the territory than most of my peers. While I’ve always been on a quest to diversify my skills and increase my knowledge, earning a more senior job title was always secondary. 

Did you study IT at university?

I didn’t go to university. At school, college, and home, I always enjoyed IT-related topics. I liked that the approach to solving challenges was logical and that I could apply the same consistent approach to my learning, and ultimately problem-solving. It was evident to me from an early stage that there was less interest in IT-related topics from other females; however, this was never going to dissuade me from getting involved.

What, as a woman, has challenged you the most in your IT career?

There is no doubt that building a successful career in technology is more difficult for women, with only 5% of IT leadership roles held by women. Throughout my career, it has been the norm that I would be the only woman in the room, and sometimes the team and even the department, but I really didn’t give it much thought. It certainly didn’t put me off. Instead, I focused purely on my contributions, and a desire to solve the challenges, which also included my desire to keep ahead by constantly learning.

When it comes to promotions and new opportunities, it hasn’t always been a bed of roses. I had had experiences where I was denied the chance to take the next step, even when my performance was stronger than my male peers. I took the knockdowns, picked myself up, and went looking for the next opportunity to add value – there are many. Picking yourself up, and continuing to believe can be a challenge.

Who have been your biggest supporters throughout your career?

I’ve been fortunate to have some very inspiring mentors both through formal and informal programmes. They constantly encourage me to keep an open mind when hitting new hurdles or challenges; while being encouraging and supportive.

During my career, I’ve been fortunate to work with, and for some great people and managers, some of whom have taken a chance on me by allowing me to take on new challenges or join new teams, ultimately allowing me to grow and learn. I use this same approach when mentoring others – I actively look to open doors and provide opportunities for others. 

Tracy, what does inclusion mean to you?

For me, inclusion is about embracing differences in people and perspectives – we can all use our individual strengths to contribute our very best. It’s about inviting everyone to bring their authentic selves to work every day, treating one another fairly and respectfully, and recognising that we all have something uniquely valuable to offer. It really comes down to everyone having an open mind about the value someone else can bring (no matter what background, gender, ethnicity, etc.). Inclusion is about igniting creativity.

What more can businesses do to encourage young girls into STEM?

Red Hat already does a great job in both actively running STEM-related events, as well as actively encouraging people to get involved from an early age. For instance, we run an annual open-source coding competition, aiming to inspire pupils about what computing can achieve beyond the classroom to have a real-world impact. Red Hat also engages middle school-age girls through its CO.LAB initiative, which introduces the principles of open source and open collaboration with a combination of poetry, photography, circuit boards and computer programming.

How would you encourage male colleagues to make women feel more comfortable in IT?

Championing and supporting a woman would be my advice. My advice is simple: male colleagues should intentionally champion and support their female colleagues. I would say this is also relevant for females too – we should be deliberately and actively supporting and promoting one another until there is no need for an equality discussion.

Finally, Tracy, what would you do? 

I’m incredibly passionate about inspiring the next generation of technologists, where I’m actively taking time out of my day job (and the odd weekend) to share and encourage young people to realise the potential of pursuing a career in IT. Not only am I mentoring and actively supporting other women within Red Hat (across the globe), but I’m also acting as a mentor to young girls in both Red Hat’s girls coding initiative CO.LAB and the lead judge in the Open Schools Coding Competition.

Tracy was shortlisted for the Outstanding Transformation (Enterprise) for Computing’s Women in IT Excellence Awards 2017.

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