“An engineering career can be full of action and excitement,” says Goldman Sachs’ Laura Takacs.
Throughout her career she has successfully operated through many exciting times, from navigating the financial crisis from a tech perspective to building systems for a new business venture to a myriad of technical issues that can arise day to day – and she has learned through each of them that nothing is insurmountable.
“The strongest collaboration, teamwork and creative solutions have come during these tough periods, and I have emerged with unparalleled experience and an attitude to tackle anything,” she says.
Engineering a Successful Career
After earning a BCE in Computer Engineering from Villanova University and an MS in Computer Science from the University of Pennsylvania, Takacs started her career hacking into computers, as one of the “good guys,” finding vulnerabilities in military systems.
She joined Goldman Sachs as an analyst engineer in 1999 and has spent the past 20 years working in several different areas of the firm, from developing electronic trading and risk systems to her current role as global head of Human Capital Management (HCM), Compensation Accounting and Services Engineering. Takacs notes that the mobility Goldman Sachs encourages has allowed her to have incredibly broad experiences as an engineer.
Her career trajectory has been gratifying. The adrenaline rush from earlier experiences of hacking has continued as technology has shaken up every aspect of finance. “Earlier in my career, most of the tech disruption was happening in the trading businesses, so I spent my time engineering the exciting world of Fixed Income. But now a lot of the innovation and energy has spread to other areas of the firm, including HCM and our real estate technology groups.”
In her current role, she helps determine the future state technology for the firms’ global building footprint, influences infrastructure for security surveillance and protection of the firm’s assets and people globally, and applies analytics to help drive informed decisions regarding our people.
Building the Pipeline
Takacs mentions something that is top-of-mind for most people today in education and technology: the fact that many girls opt out from a potential career in engineering at an early stage. “We have a lot of work to do to ensure that girls don’t decide engineering is not a viable path before they have even had exposure to technology,” she says. “Unfortunately, even though technology and engineering can be such an adventure, many girls don’t even have it on their radar as a career path.”
She is working hard to combat this issue and is involved in a number of initiatives inside and outside the firm.
Throughout her time at GS, Takacs has been actively involved in the Women in Engineering Network, an organization built around the mission of recruiting, developing, retaining and promoting women in Engineering, and has served as its co-head in the Americas for the past seven years. The organization also focuses on community outreach to girls through programs including teaching computer topics in schools and working with groups like Girls Who Code, all contributing to the purpose of developing the pipeline.
“It’s rewarding to give back, help influence some of these programs and work with women and girls who are equally passionate, supportive and engaged in the importance of these programs at a firm like Goldman Sachs that is highly supportive and takes concrete actions to improve diversity,” she says.
Takacs says that early in her career engineering was less supported and more scrappy. “When I started working, I had to assemble my own circuit boards. Now engineers get the benefit of open source software and cloud infrastructure. But, I still carry a Leatherman in my purse just in case I need to cobble together some electronics.”
As a mom to three kids, ages 9, 7 and 6, she knows it’s vital to have women in senior positions whom other women can look up to as role models. “As senior professionals in Finance, we work hard and sometimes that hard work trickles into personal time,” she says, “For example, this past weekend, my team and I spent hours fixing a challenging issue to ensure it was resolved for the entire firm by start of business Monday morning. This happens periodically but I’ve still managed to go to over 170 of my kids sporting events and activities last year – baseball, basketball, softball, soccer matches, tumbling, cheerleading and dance performances as well as being a classroom mom and active in the school Parent Teacher Organization. It is rewarding when my kids see how hard I work, but also that I am able to participate in their activities. It is not easy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Having women in leadership positions allows more junior colleagues to see that it is possible to balance work, family and other obligations and interests. “The number of questions I get about my career path when I speak to other female engineers underscores that this is on their mind,” she notes.
She believes in balancing her mental activities at work with physical activities, including running and participating in endurance and obstacle races. She enjoys the fast pace that comes with balancing family time and work responsibilities, so it is no surprise she is excited about an upcoming event – a gift from her husband of a trip to a speedway to race cars . “I enjoy action in whatever form it comes,” she notes.