Marianna Tessel, VP Engineering, VMWare: Don’t Be Intimidated!

The NextWomen Career Theme: Engineering.

For this month’s theme, we will be interviewing a number of women from around the globe who have reached the top of the world’s most prestigious and/or male dominated professions. This is the story of Marianna Tessel, Vice President of Engineering at VMware.

Marianna Tessel is the Vice President of Engineering at VMware, where she leads the Ecosystem Engineering team responsible for strategic planning and engineering engagements with VMware's rich partner ecosystem.

Before joining VMware in 2008, she served at Vice President of Engineering at several large to medium-sized technology companies leading the development teams driving Enterprise Software innovation.

From 1995-2001 she led organizations responsible for developing mobile OS and later on voice applications at General Magic, leading to state of the art voice services with millions of users, such as OnStar. Marianna moved to Ariba in 2001 to transform their product platform that would enable on-demand SaaS delivery of their infrastructure and common services.

Marianna is a recognized leader in the industry, as a keynote speaker and lecturer. She holds several technology patents and previously served as the Captain for Computer Center R&D in the Israeli Army. 

We spoke to Marianna about her current role as VP of a multi-national technology company; the challenges faced by women in male-dominated professions; and how she balances her career and home life successfully!

TNW: What are the main responsibilities of your current role as VP of Engineering at VMware?

MT:

As VP of Engineering, I lead a multi-disciplinary team of more than 600 people worldwide who are responsible for central engineering functions at VMware.

These teams encompass a wide mix of skills from engineers who work on product, to engineers who support API developers, to Quality Engineers, technical writers, program managers and more. As part of my team’s functions, we work on enabling integrations between our products and VMware’s rich Technology Partner Ecosystem of more than 2,000 technology companies.

TNW: What do you enjoy most about what you do?

MT: I have the opportunity to work in a variety of fields and with many people both internally and externally. The technical area I’m currently in is rapidly evolving and quite complex. This combination brings new challenges on a daily basis. One day I will be discussing the design of a new feature with a product team, while the next day I’m determining where to allocate budget or working on a partner communication strategy – there is constant challenge and learning, which keeps me on my toes.

TNW: What is the biggest challenge in your current role and how do you tackle it?

MT: Given I have a very cross-functional role, there are a lot of interdependencies with different teams and with other companies. There is also frequent change. This requires flexibility and an art for negotiation. It’s important for me and my team to stay agile and remain on top of things.

In this industry, one can’t be too fixated or rigid on the little details.

TNW: What three pieces of advice would you give to someone starting a career in engineering?

MT: I find the following to be useful things to remember:

  • Don't be intimidated by engineering or anything else. Have the confidence in yourself that nothing is too complicated. You can tackle any problem and understand any area. Approach things with an open mind and tell yourself, “I don’t know it today, but I’m sure I can figure it out.” You have to expect to be a constant learner.
  • Keep the big picture in mind - I find that the best engineers are those who try to understand the customers and more about what they are building. They also think about things surrounding the engineering project, such as: How is this going to be used? What is the most important thing about this product? How will this get installed? Tested? Supported? Sold? What are the dependencies? This kind of thinking leads people to deliver products that are ‘above and beyond’ expectations. I also believe it is a key attribute in people that are result oriented. This is very important in engineering since it is about building things.
  • Understand that at the end of the day, so much is about the people. As an analytical person, like most engineers, I used to have a very critical eye toward ideas such as “know youR values” or “think about what you want written on your grave.” I have learned to appreciate those things over time. Now, I do think it is important for people to know who they want to be and be conscious about how they treat others.  The most important thing is to be human. The good news is that when you look at people around you, many of the successful people and people you like to work with are often those with good people skills.

So it is a good investment in that sense.

TNW: What has been the highlight of your career so far?

MT: I take a lot of pride in building meaningful things that last – teams, products and processes.

Someone recently told me that they still run a program I created more than 20 years ago. This gives me somewhat of a feeling that the things I create might outlast me.

TNW: Have you always aspired to a career in engineering? If you hadn’t chosen engineering, which other career paths might you have taken?

MT: Not at all! I grew up in a family of engineers, so it was somewhat expected but I had other career paths in mind. Growing up, I thought I'd either become a writer (active in the student newspaper) or a doctor (was always so curious about how the body works). I pursued computer science as I thought it could be a foundation for any field.  Yet things worked out in a way that I ended up staying in pure engineering.

TNW: Is your current role the result of a carefully planned career strategy, or have you made the most of opportunities as they have presented themselves?

MT: No. In the beginning, I took opportunities as they came in an unplanned fashion. There was a point in my career where I realized that in reality I have only so many years doing this and I should start planning more carefully. Now I try to think ahead and make more deliberate moves. Even if you plan carefully, a lot depends on luck and the opportunities around you so there is limit to the planning you can do. You sometimes need to have patience.

TNW: Who do you most admire, both within your own field and as a role model in life?

MT: I don’t admire any particular person, but often admire actions and qualities in others. Obviously, it is hard not to admire a person like Steve Jobs for his innovation. Though, greatness doesn’t always come from a famous person; I often look to my team, colleagues at VMware or family and friends and learn from them.

TNW: Engineering is a notoriously male dominated field. How (and how much) does this affect your working life, both on a daily and a long-term basis?

MT: Initially, I thought this is over-rated as a topic and gender doesn’t really play a role in the field. I’ve learned that reality can be quite complex.  It is not something that I think about daily but I also know that we have ways to go before being a woman in the field is a non-topic. I still frequently find myself in situations where I am the only woman in the room. Perhaps this makes me more determined to be in a leadership role.  If you are a woman starting a career in this field realize that, once in a while, there might be difficulties but don’t be intimidated by them.

In my experience, women make really fantastic engineers and are also very natural leaders.

TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but you would like to share with our community?

MT: I covered a lot about my engineering career, but what I'm most proud of is my family. I have an amazing husband and four boys.  It is a constant challenge to find balance between career and personal life.  I am sure other women and mothers are in the same boat. Things are not perfect. I just accept that they won’t be and I have to compromise both at home and at work.  However, I love the fact I am working. My advice would be, don't give up in the hard moments, though there will be many of them.

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