Jia Zhang recently celebrated ten years with F5 Networks and is currently the Regional Head of F5 Enhanced Services in APAC. She’s a senior female leader in tech and shared her tips and tricks for making it in an industry that used to have a bit of a bad reputation for women.
Making it as a senior woman in tech
Jia spent seven years with F5 in Singapore before returning to Australia over three years ago, and was in two other tech companies for ten years before joining F5. The industry has changed so much in her time there!
“APAC today is very different to 11 years ago. When I started, not just at F5, but most tech companies, the percentage of women in leadership was really low. I remember walking into many meetings and looking around to see that I was the only female.”
Now, Jia is the Senior Manager for F5 Enhanced Services APAC. She’s looking after the top tier of support F5 offer their premium clients, such as Westpac, Vodafone and Telstra. She started as a Support Manager in Singapore, managing 10-15 Network Support engineers. She looked after team performance, issues escalation, talking to customers and the sales team to ensure everyone is happy. She was soon given additional responsibility of the Premium Plus Support team (now called Enhanced Services), managing senior engineers in Singapore and Auckland, supporting some of the largest clients of F5 Because she kept delivering, Service Delivery Managers (SDM) in the APAC region were added to her direct reporting line.
Her management skills grew during that period, as managing support engineers and managing SDMs was quite different. SDMs are highly experienced, and she says she needed to prove to them that she was qualified to lead the team.
“F5 has very high standards when it comes to hiring people. SDMs have 20 years of industry experience. My style is that I don’t act like I’m the boss. I always say we work together, but we have different responsibilities. It’s not that I’m better – we work together but have different functions.”
Skills proven, her team kept growing, and then she decided to move back to Australia. F5 appointed a new local manager in Singapore to manage support engineers and report to Jia. Her goal with her growing team has remained consistent throughout her position changes.
How to gain trust when you’re a new manager
Jia wasn’t a new manager when she took over the SDMs, but they challenged her in a new way due to their experience level.
When asked how to go about gaining the respect of a team you’re newly managing, she had a few tips to share:
- Be confident. Don’t doubt yourself. I knew I could do the job, and I look back and think I shouldn’t have thought anyone doubted me. Confidence is so important. You need to believe in yourself.”
- Be yourself. “Be real, and don’t pretend to be somebody you’re not. Some women feel they have to be really strong, demanding and not smile too much or people will think they are weak. I don’t want to pretend to be someone I’m not. I still smile all the time.”
- Be curious. “Ask as many questions as possible. Ask people and teach yourself through research. Get your hands on all the material and information you can to keep learning. People are always very patient with explaining things.”
Jia’s openness and authenticity certainly shone through while we were speaking with her. Her easy approach and curiosity have supported her in building relationships throughout her career. She’s received support from a number of mentors, and sees the value in mentoring herself.
How to make the most of a mentor
Jia’s career – like many successful senior employees – has been enhanced through mentor relationships.
“I have a mentor, and absolutely appreciate their constant support. It has been really helpful, I go to him when I need direction. I also unofficially mentor a young woman who’s just started her career in IT.”
She says that mentoring junior staff helps her remember and stay connected to what it’s like when you commence your career. Jia also has an official internal mentor at F5, who she met monthly until the program ended in January, but is remaining connected.
We asked Jia how a mentee could make sure they get the most out of a mentoring relationship and she gave some helpful advice:
- Make sure you follow through. “They’re there to help you, and you walk in with questions or looking for advice. If they tell you what they think, then go away, think about their suggestions and then go back to ask more questions or actually do something with the advice. Otherwise, you won’t take full advantage of the mentor.”
- Be prepared. “Walk into the conversation with topics to take full advantage of the mentor’s time and what you need help with. Do your homework to prepare before the session.”
- Take ownership. “The mentor is there to help you, but they don’t owe you anything. People are there to support your personal and career development and give you advice, but it’s still down to the work you do outside of the room.”
Women making it at F5
Jia has spent 20 years in the tech industry and feels fortunate that all her experiences have been positive, but F5 is surely the best.
“I’ve been here for 10 years. I’ve absolutely love working here and love my job. I’ve never felt that Monday morning dread.
F5 have created a culturally diverse team environment and a supportive culture where people help each other all the time. They’re making a conscious effort to increase the number of women in their teams. F5 is the best company I’ve worked for. The CEO makes a really big effort around culture, diversity, human-centric behaviors and putting people first. F5 really stand out, because they really care about employees’ wellbeing and career development.”