Women in Business Q&A: Mary Godwin, VP of Operations, Qumulo

Mary Godwin is Vice President of Operations at Qumulo, a Seattle-based company that enables enterprises to manage and store enormous numbers of digital assets. Mary has over 30 years of experience in leading, developing and optimizing Operations teams, processes, and supply chains. Prior to Qumulo, Mary of VP of Operations at Isilon, where she led the team that supported Isilon's transformation to profitability, explosive growth, and eventual acquisition by EMC. Mary has held executive positions at Solectron and Lucent Technologies. Mary holds a B.S. in Plastics Engineering from the University of Massachusetts and an MBA from Santa Clara University.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My mother was the biggest influence behind my decision to choose a tech profession. She was a housewife of the 1950's and absolutely hated that she was reliant on my dad to support her. She had a very strong opinion that a woman should be able to support herself and for that reason she really drove me to get my degree in engineering. Over the years, being self-reliant has been a huge motivator in how I have pursued my career.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Qumulo?
I've been working in my field, Operations, for quite a number of years. As a result, I have a pretty good experience foundation on which to build. The great thing about having more experience, is that you are much more efficient in solving day to day problems. Despite this, I always try to challenge myself to not always do things the same way. The business climate, customer needs and priorities change constantly. So, you need to evolve your toolset. Plus, it's fun to learn new things.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Qumulo?
The challenge of working at a start up company like Qumulo, is that there is very little infrastructure or process in place to support the growth of the company. So you really have to create everything from scratch. In my case this meant hiring a team, attracting and selecting suppliers, establishing manufacturing practices and setting up a systems infrastructure, among other things. At the beginning things are a little rough and do not always operate perfectly, but when I look back after a few months of work, it is hugely satisfying to see all that the team has accomplished.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
I offer this advice to all young professional women (and men) ... you must love what you are doing, be skilled in your profession and have confidence in yourself. All three of those things must exist to be successful. Push yourself into your "un-comfort" zone. Don't be afraid to take chances and learn new things. Try to have a sense of humor about yourself. It's OK to make mistakes as long as you fix them. Always have a plan "B" and never take "no" for an answer.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
The most important lesson I have learned is that you must have a good team. You cannot be successful by yourself. You have to hire the right team of folks. This is not just about technical capabilities. It's also about each team member being committed to the success of the team and being a good cultural fit with the other team members. Lastly, as a leader, you have to genuinely care about everyone on the team and be committed to their success and growth.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Like a lot of professionals, I end up fitting the "life" stuff in around the fringes of the "work" stuff... usually very early in the morning. Most mornings I start working out at 4:30AM. I've learned that if I don't get my workouts in first thing in the morning, they won't happen. I also take a couple weeks of vacation every year. I'm lucky in that I have a very competent team, that does a great job keeping things running while I am on vacation. We try to reciprocate for each other as much as possible. I have no problem with filling in for one of my folks while they are out of the office. We're pretty focused on making sure that the team as a whole is successful. So, supporting each other, is just part of being on the team.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The main problem I have seen women face in the workplace is a lack of self confidence. I think that this is what can stop women from taking on new and highly visible challenges that could advance their careers. From my own experience, once I understood that I did not have to be a fully formed expert in whatever the new challenge happened to be, but rather, become an expert once I immersed myself in the new challenge, I lost a lot of my fear.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I've had some great mentors over the years. The main thing that they have done for me is to open doors and provide opportunities for growth. I think that is the most that you can ask from a mentor. A mentor cannot make you successful. Once given the opportunity, you have to do the work and perform well.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire any women who have been working in their field for a number of years. Any who I get a chance to speak with, always have great stories and lessons learned. I'm always impressed by their confidence and just the way they go about their work. I think what I admire most is that they have "hung in there" and persevered despite set backs and juggling all of the challenges that life has to offer.

What do you want Qumulo to accomplish in the next year?
We have a lot of critical milestones that we need to achieve over the course of the next year to grow our business. As a management team, we tend to set our bars pretty high. So, I'd love to see us achieve every one of those stretch goals because it will mean that we will have met every milestone and exceeded the expectations of our investors and customers.