Forging a path in Government IT is more than ruthlessly climbing that hypothetical ladder we hear so much about. It’s about truly believing in the mission of one’s agency and a desire to have one’s work make a difference in the world.

At AFFIRM’s Trailblazing Women in Government IT event on Thursday, leaders in Federal IT talked about their experiences from where they started, to where they are now.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration CIO Renee P. Wynn emphasized that pathways vary, but finding your passion within the industry goes a long way in being successful.

“I think in the end–if you can find passion–with what you do, it doesn’t have to be the domain of expertise, but rather in terms of what makes you wake up in the morning and excited to go to work or solving problems or helping others, I think that will help you both personally and professionally,” Wynn said.

For Melinda Rogers, CIO at the Department of Justice, being able to solve problems is a motivator that she uses to drive herself in the IT field.

“Are you actually solving a problem? Are you actually delivering something that your customer wants of you or are you merely continuing something that your predecessor started that you’re just going through the motions,” Rogers asked during the Women in IT event.

The women of the panel also made note that they could tell when the desire is there for people they promote or whether they’re looking to advance because of title. Rogers also spoke of maintaining mentor-mentee relationships while in government IT.

“I’ve had both genders and I think it really comes down to the person–to the chemistry,” Rogers said. “To the degree that you can pay it forward, you absolutely should. I think you’re obligated to pay it forward,” she added.

Dr. Pamela McCauley, program director for the Computer Information Science and Engineering Directorate at the National Science Foundation, agreed that maintaining mentor relationships is essential and that having diversity among mentors is important. According to Dr. McCauley, having mentors who were black women like herself was important, but having non-black women as mentors was equally important because it will help in the future as you look to mentor those who might not look like you.

The women speaking on the panel today all had very different pathways, but the constant was passion in their work and a desire to be great at what they do. This is not only true in the Federal IT space, but in all professional spaces. What the people at today’s event learned was that we owe it to ourselves as professionals to seek passion and to be great.

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.