Personal innovation was probably always the key to success for Executive Board Director Nicole Hughes, Washington State. Through eager and earnest commitment to her professional goals, Nicole found herself as a power player in the tech world at one of the world’s most highly regarded companies that is changing the face of tomorrow. While her path was not typical, her spirit and talents carved her niche in the technological world.
Nicole started her career with ambitions of working in print media. She studied communications with an emphasis in journalism at Washington State. “I loved factual writing. I didn’t feel the most creative, but facts are facts…and you can find that creativity in crafting a story,” Nicole said. Soon she found that the reality of small town newspaper writing may not lead her to where she wanted to be professionally. However, timing and opportunity began to shine a light on Nicole’s path.
She moved to Seattle in the early 1990s, right into the heart of the tech boom as it was beginning. A new world was bourgeoning, and Nicole was there to make brave and bold career moves.
“I started in the tech world through admin and temp work. I worked at a company that was involved with in-flight TV systems, I was working in marketing – but I really wanted to transition into a more professional role. I then applied for a position with a small software start-up. Though I didn’t have software experience, my writing skills made my cover letter stand out. The attention was all in the detail of my messaging; it stood out and made all the difference.”
Her journalism skills allowed her to move into sales work which led to more opportunities in technology. As software boomed, so did the need for new systems for data and technology storage. Nicole discovered her passion for customer service and problem solving, leading her to become hired as a systems engineer who worked hand in hand with clients and business partners.
“It was partly accidental, but I also affiliated with organizations that cared about their talent and their people. I was fortunate that I was able to develop new skills from existing ones on my own winding path,” Nicole said.
Currently, Nicole works for IBM as a solutions engineer, focusing on artificial intelligence and creating systems with human characteristics that can interact with people.
While creating her own career path, Nicole did see disparity in gender balance in her field. Nine times out of ten, she would be the only woman on her team. Now she sees a much smaller ratio, typically three to one. She notices many more opportunities for women in STEM and companies providing those avenues. “As a society we are doing better at placing students in fields they enjoy so they can feel supported and thrive. I enjoyed math when I was younger, but I remember being told that certain subjects would be too hard for me. Today, my company’s Chairman of the Board and CEO is a woman, and I’m proud to see her as a role model who has the tech knowledge and is also business savvy.”
Nicole began her volunteer work for Tri Delta early in her professional career and was able to make the connections once again to an organization who cared about its people and their talents. “I could reflect on Tri Delta and the experience I received through opportunities to visit chapters and further my own lifelong learning. As a CDO, I was able to hone my presentation and sales skills. This is a skill set I use every day as a systems engineer and solutions architect in my communication with clients and meeting needs through strong messaging.”
Her volunteer experiences in Tri Delta breathed life into the core of who she is and what she cares about: people feeling like they are part of a team.
Looking to the future, Nicole sees many new horizons for women in STEM fields. The modernization of technology makes it very accessible for anyone to learn to code, patent, design or develop an idea.
“The ‘wouldn’t this be cool’ idea is now a reality for so many women. One of the hardest things to do is to try new ideas, turning models on their ear – the secret to transformation is forging a new path. There is so much power to moving your ideas to a new place. Have the courage to recognize when you have to make a move to achieve a new outcome. It’s risky and scary, but those moves will always serve you well.”