CV Convos with Charles Wartemberg: The Bolts & Nuts of People-Centered Tech Careers

CV Convos (CV Conversations) is an Instagram Live series on navigating careers created by Circumspecte and the New Career Platform. Every week, career coach and Circumspecte founder Jemila Abdulai chats with an African young professional about their career path and the lessons learned along the way. For episode 3, we talked technology careers with Charles Wartemberg, Head of Human Capital Product Management at Microsoft. Think tech careers are just about technical skills? You are up for some serious rethinking! Charles shared many valuable insights on the bolts and nuts of a tech career, including much needed skills for the future of work.

Charles Wartemberg: The Storytelling Engineer

In his CV, Charles presents himself as an engineer and a storyteller. These two skill sets don’t seem to align at first sight, but offer insight into his career trajectory. For the first 20 years of his life, Charles worked at becoming an engineer; he obtained a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Tufts University in the United States, and signed on as a member of the National Society of Black Engineers at his school. Only later in his career did he discover the power of storytelling. He noticed that the people who grow are often great storytellers, they get on any stage (big or small) and share their journey. “What I realized in my career is that structure gets you the job, but storytelling helps you grow. Storytelling is a very powerful narrative to get your point across”. According to Charles, storytelling is embedded in many aspects of work; from going to meet stakeholders to asking your manager for a promotion – it’s all storytelling – and hence, a valuable skill for all professionals.

Building Experience and Valuable Networks

Charles grew up in Ghana and moved to the United States when he was 18 years. He considers his senior high and boarding school days as formative moments that influenced his academic career in the United States. The structure and responsibility he was exposed to at Mfantsipim Senior Secondary School were a pressure cooker that taught him the importance of doing the work and doing it well. This training helped him throughout university in America; he was used to a routine, to getting up early and making sure he showed up ready.
His university years also prepared him for his career and gave him two very important tools: access and networking. “It’s not about what you studied in school but about where you went and the networks you connected to,” he explained. Charles emphasized how important it is to stay connected to your community and to leverage your networks – not only to gain access to opportunities, but also to contribute to your community. For Charles, valuing the community you are in and contributing however you can are essential. The University of Chicago MBA holder also uses his networks to find ways of giving back. While in Chicago, he volunteered with Chicago Cares to lead a breakfast project for senior citizens. He also stays plugged into his university network by volunteering to interview prospective students, and assist with both recruitment and enrollment initiatives.

“Whether it’s your church, your soccer club or your group chat, make sure that you are participating in the dialogue because that’s how you grow and nurture your networks”.

The Microsoft Product Lead sees online professional networking as not only sharing one’s highs, but also for receiving constructive feedback and learning. He encourages young professionals to go beyond sharing memes or career highlights on social media like Twitter or LinkedIn, and to also share some of their challenges and lessons learned. This, he explains, gives your community the opportunity to teach you a thing or two and for everyone to learn from each other.

 

 

Charles’ First Job: A Blessing in Disguise

Charles didn’t land his first job easily. He finished university in 2009 in the middle of the global financial crisis. While ready to start work, he found himself unemployed and job searching for about seven months; each month, he got more and more discouraged. About a year after graduation he found a job with a Chicago-based company offering industrial supplies, which was not necessarily what he was looking for. In the beginning, Charles was disheartened that he didn’t find the ‘sexy’ engineering job he wanted, but with time, the job turned out to be a true blessing: “[My first job] taught me humility, structure and discipline. It gave me the ability to learn a work ethic,” he admitted. Charles is still benefiting from this experience to date by understanding the value of being punctual, doing what you say you will do and being open to feedback. In the end, the company even paid for his graduate school costs at one of the top business schools in his state; he was able to secure his MBA without any debt. Charles recommends seizing the opportunities a job offers, even if it may not be ideal. Do what you have to do and keep the complaints for when you get home, he advised.

Emotional Intelligence & Working at Microsoft

Charles was recently promoted to Head of Human Capital Product Management at Microsoft after serving as a Senior Product Manager. In some ways, he has had job opportunities many tech professionals dream of. Full of gratitude, he does not take his career trajectory for granted: “It’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of good luck. I am not the smartest person I know; I am just honoured to have these opportunities and I try to create access for the next generation”. No day is the same at Microsoft, but the work environment is highly structured with every day guided by one’s calendar with many activities planned. To stay productive, Charles blocks out time for numerous activities including learning, focus and lunch – otherwise there won’t be any time to eat. What Charles likes most about his role is that there is never a dull mental moment. His “brain keeps spinning” as he has to make many decisions in very short amounts of time.

While technical skills often feature as job requirements for getting through the door, Charles believes emotional intelligence is the key for crafting one’s career. As with other fields, technology professionals work in teams and there is always a human problem to solve. Working in tech also requires a lot of convincing and giving advice; consequently the day-to-day boils down to having essential soft skills like communication, team building and presentation skills. Charles foresees these soft skills becoming more and more important as the hard technical skills are going to be commoditized.

You have to be a lifelong learner and have a growth mindset. It’s not about what you cannot do, it’s just that you cannot do it yet. Focus on how you will learn it to make sure you can do it in the future”.

Charles is passionate about mentoring and helping African youth achieve their goals. For young professionals convinced about their path to a career in tech, Charles advises being realistic and defining success on your own terms: “What does success in my space look like to me? It can be MTN, Tigo or the entrepreneurial route. Don’t think that you need to work at a big tech company in order to be successful. You set yourself up for high expectations and you have to obviously stretch yourself. Be realistic with where you want to go”.

 

 

CV Tips for Tech Professionals

Over the years, Charles has reviewed over 10,000 resumes and takes a maximum of 30 seconds to look over each resume. How? He only scans the top and the bottom of the page. Hence the need to prioritize the most relevant experiences and information at the top. His personal preference is the one-page CV, otherwise known as the resume. Charles uses the space at the bottom of his resume to capture his humanity and interests, because in the end, we are all people. Sharing a personal detail, like the fact that you are into hiking or cooking, can open up the conversation and give a personal touch to your CV or resume. It is also very important to adapt your CV or resume to the specific job requirements: “Please read the job description and modify the resume. You have to tailor the CV to the industry and job that you are applying to”. “Why do you want to work for this company?” is a question you are guaranteed to get at every job interview. Able to nail that question? You are off to a great start.

Tech companies also look out for skill sets that complement one another. On the one hand there is the candidate with a human-centred profile or background in humanities like philosophy, psychology, marketing, or sales who can help make the products relatable to clients. For these candidates, personal projects that emphasize their skill sets can be useful in distinguishing them from other candidates. Companies also seek out hard science majors with “soft” skills. At the end of the day, both hard and soft skills are valuable to a company and in the technology sector. “Only 30% of the employees at tech companies actually code and the rest are there to support this process. So tech companies are looking for quick learners, good energy and people who are willing to go the extra mile,” Charles explained.

 

 

Want to delve deeper into the bolts and nuts of crafting an emotionally intelligent tech career? Watch the replay of CV Convos with Charles for all the eye-openers and his answers to audience questions. To connect with Charles, follow him on LinkedIn or Twitter (@cwartemberg). Join us on Wednesday July 29 at 6pm for another episode of CV Convos – this time on careers in media. Tune in via Circumspecte’s IG page.

This event summary was written by Ileen Wilke and Jemila Abdulai. CV Convos is an Instagram Live series on navigating careers, created by Circumspecte and the New Career Platform.