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Career Quick Look
Salary: $93,950* Education:
Years in Field: 16 B.S. in Computer Science; M.S. in Computer Science
City/State: Houston, TX View LaTasha Gary's Resume

"Effective communication is as important if not more important than technical skills," LaTasha says. "Your technical skills will get you in the door, but in order to advance in the company you have to have a positive relationship with the people around you and you have to communicate effectively. I have taught myself to be less of an introvert and more open in communicating with my management and peers."

"You had to really show some initiative and go to them for help," LaTasha says. "You had to show them that you were going to stick to it and go all the way." After the initial period, she says, "it became a lot easier."


Getting Started: It was through her high school math teacher that LaTasha first became introduced to computers. "We had just one computer in my high school, at that time, in her class," she says. "She would give us word problems and things like that to solve. And I found that I really enjoyed it." Though she was one of the few girls her age hanging around the computer, LaTasha says she didn't mind - she just followed her natural interests. Recognizing her talent, this teacher encouraged LaTasha to look at colleges with strong computer science programs. She applied and was accepted to Texas A&M in her senior year.

Education: When she arrived in College Station, LaTasha found herself one of only a handful of females studying Computer Science. Texas A&M had been exclusively male until 1963, and was still populated by mostly white male students - many of whom had been exposed to high-level math and computer programs in their high schools. The first semesters, she says, were the hardest, with professors trying to weed out those students who weren't going to last. "You had to really show some initiative and go to them for help," LaTasha says. "You had to show them that you were going to stick to it and go all the way." After the initial period, she says, "it became a lot easier.
After graduation she went to work for two years, before pursuing her Masters in Computer Science at Howard University in 1987. Here the classes were smaller and more specialized, with a focus on team-oriented projects. "Both programs were really good," says LaTasha, "and prepared me for the kinds of things I would encounter at work in the field."

Greatest Professional Achievement: "My greatest professional accomplishment was managing the project team which implemented SAP (Software Application Programs) in south east Asia," LaTasha says. The project would take her halfway around the world, undertaking an ambitious system-wide overhaul with a team of South Asian Information Technology professionals and business users, in just over a year. "I spent 13 months in Singapore," she says, "working with the local team to replace the legacy order management and financial systems with a new global Enterprise Resource Planning application. Within that period we rolled out SAP in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and India."

Barriers: Like many successful women, LaTasha says much of her motivation comes from within. "I always feel like I have to work harder in order to prove myself," she says. Part of the challenge is to keep learning new skills, in order to stay on top of the rapid changes in her field. "The technology industry is always expanding with newer and better ways to do business. You have to constantly retool yourself in order to keep your skills current," she says. "Each project brings on a new set of challenges."

Working with Men: Working in a team environment, on high-level projects and often on deadline, means that cooperation - regardless of gender - is key. As LaTasha says, "you have to roll up your sleeves and get busy." At the moment, most of her co-workers are men, but she sees more and more women entering the field every day. And she says she's always encouraging young women to consider a career in technology.

Her advice: Don't see yourself as anything different, or lesser, than your co-workers. "Know within yourself you have the proper skills and have just as much to offer as your male counterparts," LaTasha says. "Don't be afraid to speak out and present your ideas."

Advice for Women: LaTasha is enthusiastic about the field of high technology and what it can offer young women. "For me, it has provided opportunities beyond anything I could imagine," she says. "I would definitely encourage other women to consider a career in technology. The options are really unlimited in that space, and you can specialize in different areas."

Communication is also an important skill to have in this field. "Effective communication is as important if not more important than technical skills," LaTasha says. "Your technical skills will get you in the door, but in order to advance in the company you have to have a positive relationship with the people around you and you have to communicate effectively. I have taught myself to be less of an introvert and more open in communicating with my management and peers."

Most important, she says, is trying to find the right match for yourself. "Be sure to do some research," LaTasha says, "and choose a career that best suits your interest."

Typical Workday/Environment: LaTasha describes her current work as "a kind of internal consulting," working on various projects through Compaq around the U.S., and sometimes overseas. "Today," she says, "my job consists of managing a team of 25 people - 21 Compaq employees and 4 Consultants. My team is responsible for updating the application program we use for calculating commissions for the Compaq sales force worldwide." The effort will take two to three years and will impact more than 8,000 Compaq employees in all.

A typical day for LaTasha involves meeting with her team to check on project status, collaborating with vendors to meet obligations on current contracts or drafting new contracts, managing resources, forecasting cost and managing budgets, communicating project status to senior management, and building relationships with the customers around the world by offering solutions and providing project updates.

Career Ladder: Starting salaries in this field can be anywhere from $42,000 to $50,000 per year - and with two or three years' experience you can be earning as much as $60,000. You may start off as a systems analyst I, and from there it usually takes one to two years to move up the ladder. Most people spend 6 to 8 years as a system analyst/project manager - and if they choose the management track they may spend another 4 to 8 years as a manager before advancing to the director and vice president positions. A lot depends on the skills and interests of the individual worker, she says, along with the opportunities available within a particular company.

"There is no magic formula for advancement," LaTasha says. "Someone may also choose to stay on the technical path and not become a manager. There are opportunities for them to advance and become a primary member of the technical staff or a fellow."

Professional Associations: Member of the Association of Women in Computing, Howard University Alumni Chapter, National Society of Black Engineers, Texas A&M University Association of Former Students, and Texas A&M University Black Former Students.

Hobbies: In her free time, LaTasha says she likes to be outside and active. "I love the outdoors," she says, and a recent work assignment near Colorado Springs got her hooked on the area's natural beauty. She enjoys all kinds of sports, from tennis and jogging to snow skiing, water skiing, mountain biking, mountain climbing, and rock climbing. In addition to enjoying sports, LaTasha is very active in her local church, where she severs as an elder, administrator, and teacher.

*Annual salary number is not the role model's actual salary. Salary for Computer Scientist based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition

 


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