Updated: Aug 9
Former Senior Director, Customer Success, Salesforce
During an independent study segment in middle school English, Debi chose to study Chinese ink drawing. After her work was displayed in the public library as her first and last art exhibit, her brushes, ink stone, and ink sticks sat on her book shelf, but her fascination with Chinese culture remained intact. Studying Chinese after school with a small group in high school, Debi looked for a college with a strong Chinese language program. That college was Wellesley.
The professor who inspired Debi to stick with the Chinese program was Mrs. Lin. Mrs. Lin stuck with her as well, despite her dismal tones. Debi ranks one of her greatest achievements the moment Mrs. Lin said, after Debi returned from a summer in Taiwan at the Stanford Language Institute, “Finally -- your tones aren’t bad!”
Debi’s long term plan called for pursuing a business career and melding it with her interest in Asia. As it turned out, the business career happened, the melding did not. After obtaining an MBA from Columbia Business School, Debi dove into the emerging field of information technology -- online information and a new thing called email. She never looked back. She rose through the ranks of project management and business analysis to become Chief Information Officer of a division of Travelers, leading an “extreme” makeover and transformation of their IT infrastructure and business operations model. She wrapped up her professional career at Salesforce as an advisor to Enterprise Customers. Although she never used her Chinese language skills for work, the insight and “soft skills” she gained under Mrs. Lin’s mentoring were invaluable. Communication is essential to organizational success. Learning to communicate in a language as different as Chinese is from English requires more than memorizing vocabulary and grammar. It involves understanding facial expressions and body language, and grasping context. This kind of knowledge is important regardless what language you speak, even for the “languages” of the tech and business worlds. Cultural understanding and appreciation of social conventions are indispensable. For example, Debi was tutored in Chinese etiquette and learned the art of “polite talk” 客气话 in Taiwan as she was gently corrected after enthusiastically requesting a full glass of wine when her host politely asked if she would like “just a little bit”.
IT (Information Technology) is indeed a multicultural discipline, where experience with social nuances goes far. Confidence in the world of IT takes one even farther. Knowing she was able to travel half way around the world and “get along” gave Debi a confidence edge to adapt to new challenges and reimagine herself and her career time and again, as her field of technology evolved at an accelerating rate.