Spotlight on Leading Women in Telecoms | TelecomDrive.com
Driven by an exceptional hunger for creativity, innovation and a courageous heart to take risks – Beth Cohen practiced Architecture for a long time before moving into the field of IT systems administration. Now she is busy inventing new products and services with the help of new-age cloud technologies. She has been a product manager at Verizon for the last nine years.
As part of Disruptive Telecoms July 2022 cover story on ‘Leading Women in Telecoms’ – Beth Cohen, Cloud Product Technologist, Verizon speaks with Zia Askari from TelecomDrive.com about her professional and personal journey.
How has been your professional journey so far? Please tell us about your various job profiles?
I started my career as an Architect, which is what I trained to do in college. I practiced Architecture for 13 years until I changed to CADD design — a new thing at the time. CADD design meant that I had to learn how to take care of computers. That led to my switching to IT systems administration, which I did for many years. I then spent 10 years with startup companies, where you get to do a bit of everything. And finally for the last 9 years I have been a product manager at Verizon. Who knew, when I went to Architecture School, I would end up working for a Telecom inventing new products and services?
What is the meaning of success to you, how important it is for you? And what is your mantra to succeed in an organisation?
While I did not plan it that way, I realized that for most of my career I have been on the cutting edge of technology, and that is exactly where I like to be. I focus on working for organizations that value creativity and the vision needed to build new products and services from nothing.
According to you what are some of the most critical factors that have helped you become a leader in your organisation?
Creativity, drive, a good understanding of the business and organization, plus a huge dollop of very hard work and a bit of luck. As a woman in technology, not all organizations I have worked for over my career have been supportive or welcoming, it is tiresome to spend so much time proving yourself over and over to your colleagues. When I saw that working for an organization that was not going to be supportive, I am not afraid to look for new opportunities.
When you look back in your career – what according to you can be termed as big turning points for you. How have these turning points helped you gain ground professionally?
I found that I although enjoyed the architectural work and loved seeing the buildings actualized, I found the field itself to be extremely conservative and narrow. It occurred to me that many of my employers for did not share my values and interests. I reassessed whether my chosen career was really right for my talents and skills and decided to explore the then nascent architectural computer aided design industry, which eventually led to systems administration, on to startups and product development. I never looked back, but at the same time I recognize that my architectural skills are what have made me successful.
What are some of the challenges that you faced and overcome during your professional journey? How did you overcome these challenges?
Being a woman first in construction and then IT has never been easy. I always felt I had to be 10 times as good as my male co-workers to succeed. I gave myself promotions and raises by moving to new opportunities when I got tired of getting headaches from smacking against the glass ceiling.
Please share with us some of your positive learnings that you have gained over the past many years and how these learnings have helped you become a better person / professional?
Everything I have done over my career are lessons in new skills. The biggest lesson is that it is OK to take risks and it is OK to fail. Your employer has much more to lose than you do!
I have lived the development of the Internet from “ground zero” working on some of the hottest security, networking and web technology protocols from their infancy. I have been creating large scale IT infrastructure architectures to support 7×24 data centers on a national scale, as well as processes at scale to deliver systems in hyper-growth conditions. It has certainly been an exciting ride!
With greater level of experience comes greater level of responsibility and often this also involves grooming others, passing on your legacy ahead. Keeping this in mind, how do you look at helping others in your organization towards achieving success?
To my mind, encouraging and supporting the next generation is paramount. Even more important is the work needed to make structural changes in the workplace, so that all people, no matter who they are, have an equal opportunity to earn a seat at the table. I am proud to say that Verizon has a strong commitment to not only encouraging everyone to achieve their best, but it has also worked hard to create the corporate culture to allow true equality across the board.
What are some of your big goals that you have achieved in the recent past – and your goals that you want to achieve?
I earned my first patent in December 2021!
Beth Cohen | Highly Focused, Continuous Learner
How would you describe yourself as a person?
I have always been a highly focused person who sets goals. What I do is not make a mountain out of a mole hill, but make a mole hill out of a mountain. As I break the larger goals into smaller more manageable goals, all of a sudden, the larger goals no longer seem so unobtainable.
What are the three top most important things for you in your personal life?
Of course, spending time with family and friends is important. Unlike others, I make sure that my personal life and work life are kept relatively separate. I generally do not make a policy of hanging out with co-workers.
Please share with us some of your personal milestones and their contributions towards developing your personality?
I went back to school in my late 40’s to earn my MBA. Once I had hit the halfway mark, that I had completed 10 classes, the rest seemed like an achievable goal. Looking back to see how far I had come helped me look forward to see I had less to do to reach my destination.
How do you see yourself evolve as a person over the past years and where do you see yourself in the coming years?
I make it a priority to make sure I have opportunities for continuous learning. I have been part of a study group for over 10 years, that keeps me sharp and allows me to see other perspectives and ways of thinking.
What are your three qualities that have helped you grow as a person and a professional?
When I am much stressed, I know that I will not be a very effective worker, so I take some mental health time for myself. No matter how busy I am, I set aside some time and space to recharge my batteries so to speak. When I am really stressed, I work really hard to complete a task, so I can reward myself with a walk with a friend. There is nothing better than a nice brisk walk to clear out my head and get my idea juices flowing again.
Please share with us some of your hobbies and interests?
I own a 130-year house, which keeps me plenty busy with renovations and upkeep.
Please tell us something about your family? How has been their support in terms of helping you grow professionally?
Having a support system in place is critical for success. Without it, it can quickly lead to burnout for even the most determined and focused individual.
This is published as part of cover story on ‘Leading Women in Telecoms’ inside July 2022 issue of Disruptive Telecoms.