Mentors and sponsors are the glue that holds a career together, says WEX’s Michelle Pokrzywinski. “Throughout my career, my needs have been different and I find role models and mentors all over – within my team, in the company and outside in the general professional world,” she says. “Whatever qualities or skills you are looking for at any given time can be found if you look around.”
Expanding From Technical Skills to Managerial Activities
At the time Pokrzywinski started her career in technology, she understood very little about what career paths could look like with a computer science major. Her education had been focused on technical topics, rather than how to use that knowledge to drive business, but after starting in software development, she immediately knew her interest extended to the management arena. At that point, she proactively broadened her experience with assignments in project management, IT service management and quality management. For close to 15 years she’s been a part of companies that were precursors to WEX, where she currently serves as vice president of IT.
“I now know a career has to be managed, and you have to know how your efforts create value in the business,” she says. “There are many fulfilling paths to success so you have to continuously define what that means to you.” And her role, where she can try new technology and tools and help the company be more efficient with its resources, is a perfect fit.
Teamwork Makes the Difference
Along the way she has benefitted from sponsors who advocated for her, some behind the scenes so she wasn’t even aware. One who had a meaningful impact was a manager who recommended her for the masters of science program in the Management of Technology (MOT) early in her career. The company only sponsored one applicant every two years, and when she expressed interest, he went to bat for her and assisted throughout the application process. “I was so grateful he invested in me as I benefitted so much,” she says, adding that while that was a visible example, she knows there are many others who have helped create the opportunities she has had.
While Pokrzywinski is proud of her many technical achievements, one of her most noteworthy moments was when she was able to take a disparate group of individuals and quickly create a team atmosphere that allowed them to function cohesively and consistently for a large software development project she was operating.
“When you have the right team, it has a ripple effect as they all come together,” she says, noting that managers should focus their efforts on determining what each member needs, so that all those smaller components will coalesce. “You’ll gain collaboration, efficiency and unlimited success when you do the right thing by your team members by putting them in roles where they can succeed.”
And that is a key ingredient in what she considers her recipe for success: Surrounding yourself with good people, who feel they can be honest because you are attuned to listening to them and helping them deliver results.
Pokrzywinski believes in the importance of mentoring, and early in her career was part of the Menttium 100 program, which is focused on helping women gain the strategies needed for success. About five years ago she also participated in an IT mentoring program through Think IT, a service of York Solutions.
An active community volunteer, Pokrzywinski enjoys her time working in a local non-profit resale shop that serves both the general public with high-quality, low-cost merchandise, and local families in need with free clothing, household goods and furniture. She especially loves her role working directly with families and matching their specific needs with the appropriate donated items.
“Everyone should give back when they can,” she says. “It broadens your perspective and is an enriching way to get out of your day-to-day routine by helping others.”