Career Notes 4.11.21
Ep 44 | 4.11.21

Debra Danielson: Be fearless. [CTO]


Debra Danielson: My name is Debra Danielson, and I am a Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President, Engineering for Digital Guardian.

Debra Danielson: I think that my home life as a child really influenced what I ended up doing ultimately as a career. Um, my father was a professor of astrophysics at Princeton University and I had three sisters. And so, as only girls in the family, we got dad's full attention on sort of bringing us into his world and into the world of science and technology.

Debra Danielson: Actually, I was dedicated to not having a career in technology. I was rebellious and I really did not want to, you know, sort of follow in the footsteps of anyone in my in my family, and so I sort of determinedly tried not to get into technology, um, that didn't work very well for me. As you can see.

Debra Danielson: I actually wanted it to be an astronaut of all things. And I started out school in mechanical and aerospace engineering, but quite honestly, I was a little bit of a wild child and I didn't really do very well in school. And, uh, when I got out of school, I ended up with an, a degree in economics and applied mathematics. And one day my mother said to me, you either go out today and apply for a job, one job, or you are out of here. And there happened to be this computer software company that was about a mile away and I walked up and I put a resume on the receptionist's desk and they called me the next day. And within a week I was employed and working there. That was a company called Applied Data Research and I was there for about five years until the company was acquired by Computer Associates. And interestingly, I stayed at Computer Associates for 32 years. When I take a look across my career, one of the things that really sort of sticks out as a pattern is that almost the worst thing that could happen happens. And then somehow or another, I translate that into a next great opportunity. And so if I, if I sort of look back, you know, I have, I don't know, four or five of these events in my career, where at the time I sort of said, "Oh no, this is absolutely terrible." But then when I looked back a year later, I said, "Thank goodness that happened."

Debra Danielson: There were a reasonable number of women in the field when I first started. And then there was a substantial decline. And so back in the days when I really spent all of my time sitting in a cube in front of a computer programming, which was probably the first five to 10 years of my career, that's the time when there actually were quite a few women around. And then the second part of my career, where I was out of heads-down programming and more into collaborations and management and leadership, that's where the ratio of women in the environment really dropped. And I think it was a challenge, certainly. Um, if I look back on it, I think the biggest impact that it had on me was that it took a lot of energy to be different. And so I would just sort of feel tired at the end of the day from putting on a bit of a mask. 

Debra Danielson: You know, I think the thing that I wish I had learned many, many years ago was to be fearless and to not fear making mistakes or saying something stupid or doing something wrong. All of the mistakes that I have made in my career have ended up giving me something valuable from them. The thing I learned as a result of it was always better than if I hadn't done the mistake, but taking risks and, and being confident that you're a valuable person and that you have something to give like that helps you go be out there and you have to be out there in order to get opportunity in order to move forward in order to really sort of make your mark and figure out who you are in your career.