Change Agents: Leaders in business applications
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This is the third segment in a three-part series about successful female Oracle users, "Girl in an Oracle World." Part one, about Zebra Technologies' Tracy Kleinschmidt, is here; part two, about Westmoreland Coal's Jennifer Barton, is here.
The story that best defines Nadia Bendjedou might be how she first started at Oracle. She was working at Sybase but knew she wanted more of a challenge, so one day she woke up and decided she wanted to work for Oracle. She went into work and quit with nothing lined up. Shortly after leaving, she called up Oracle and asked to be put through to a sales manager.
When the manager answered, Bendjedou said, "Hello. My name is Nadia Bendjedou. I think you should interview me for a job."
The manager, surprised by her ardor, scheduled an interview with her immediately. It went well, and Bendjedou knew Oracle was going to hire her to be a part of their sales team. But she realized toward the end of the meeting that the hiring manager wasn't going to allow Bendjedou to ask questions of her own.
"You’ve asked me so many questions to see if I’d be a good fit for you … I'd like to see if you are a good fit for me," Bendjedou said. "I'd like to meet some of your people and interview them to see if I'd be [happy] here, too."
The manager disappeared and came back a few minutes later with an employee. After a brief conversation, Bendjedou was satisfied that she would be happy at Oracle. They offered her a job, and she accepted. A month after she started the job, she learned what had happened: The hiring manager had selected the nicest person on the team, told them to agree to everything Bendjedou asked. Clearly, Oracle wanted Bendjedou as much as she wanted them.
How she'd handled herself in the interview impressed the hiring manager, especially her asking to interview one of his team members. However, none of her moves had been calculated in any way -- she based all of her choices on what felt right to her at the time.
The lesson Bendjedou chooses to take from her hiring experience?
"If you are going for a job, make sure they're as good a fit for you as you are for them," she says. And while she didn't say it, it would certainly seem a little moxie won't hurt, either.
Bendjedou, who is based in Oracle's Paris office, is a woman who wears many hats. Her title is senior director of product strategy for E-Business Suite, but what she does varies by day. Her duties include communicating with partners, customers and other Oracle employees about benefits of and any changes within E-Business Suite; talking with customers about Fusion integration, and what Fusion means for E-Business customers; and dealing with the Oracle OpenWorld and Collaborate conferences. Bendjedou is a track leader at Oracle OpenWorld, which means she brings in speakers and works out logistics with event teams. She also helps to decide content for her track's speakers. Bendjedou is frequently a speaker at conferences herself, and works with user groups to make sure the conferences go off without a hitch and ensure interesting, relevant content.
Girl in an Oracle World
Name: Dr. Nadia Bendjedou
Title: senior director, product strategy, Oracle E-Business Suite
Her willingness to take on such varied tasks is a great example of Bendjedou's tenacious personality and what makes her such a competitive player in the business world. She enjoys a challenge, is not at all afraid to take risks, and attributes her success in life and business to what she calls her "PMA -- The Positive Mental Attitude."
While Bendjedou's entire family encouraged her to pursue an education and career, Bendjedou is the first in her family to go into the tech industry. She remembers becoming interested in technology as a little girl by watching Dr. Who. She admired his skill with computers and invention and wanted to be like him. At university, she studied computer science at both the undergraduate and graduate level, eventually earning a doctorate. Bendjedou says that what she studied doesn't apply directly to her work, but she considers the research methodology she learned during her education to be invaluable.
"If you don’t have a background in databases when you leave school, it absolutely does not mean that you cannot work with Oracle products," she says.
A Thirst for Challenge
Bendjedou's first job after graduate school was as an analyst programmer for an insurance company in the UK. She did not like it, and was only there for one year. When asked what she didn't like, after a pause she responds with an answer that would make her childhood idol, Dr. Who, very proud: "I didn’t like working for a firm where computers were a means to an end, not the focal point ... I want to be able to produce software, invent things."
She experienced typical first-job issues there, but what she most recalls was not feeling challenged enough and feeling like she was wasting her time. She was not being used to her full capacity, and was not at all motivated.
"After a year, I just couldn't take it anymore. One day, on my way to work, I fell asleep driving into the office. When I arrived at the office, I resigned even though I didn’t have another job lined up. It's important that you like what you do and feel challenged. Otherwise, you will not succeed no matter what."
Her next job was at Sybase, where she learned databases and development tools. Again, she only stayed for one year before she felt like it was time to move on to something bigger, better and more challenging.
So, what keeps this passionate, challenge-seeking woman at a large, stable company like Oracle?
"I stay at Oracle because I love it," she says."I love the challenges, the learning, the opportunities, helping the customers. The day I'm not happy, I'll leave."
She doesn't seem to anticipate that happening anytime soon, and affirms that she is very happy with her current employment situation. "I feel I add value to Oracle and their customers," she says.
Bendjedou says that she's had many mentors over the course of her career, but never realized at the time that they were. Her first mentor was her mother, who did everything to make her children successful. She spent long nights helping her prepare for exams. She also gives credit to her older sister, who was always head girl in all of her classes, while Nadia wasn't as good a student. Wanting to avoid disappointing her sibling created a strong incentive for her to perform well.
For more about E-Business Suite
Why E-Business Suite support is getting more proactive
What E-Business Suite did for HBO
Bendjedou has had mentors at Oracle as well. Her current mentor is her manager, who helps her access opportunities many employers would not have given her. He frequently sits down and goes through corporate materials and explains new concepts to her, and has encouraged on-the-job learning. He's not afraid to put her in difficult situations, knowing she'll be grateful for the challenge. He trusts her to outperform his expectations, and never doubts Bendjedou's ability or competence.
While Bendjedou has never formally mentored anyone, she believes she may have once, although again, she didn't realize it at the time. She found out later that a colleague she'd sort of taken under her wing now speaks very highly of her and says she "gave her first push … Sometimes, we need the first push … After that, we fly."
Bendjedou is currently investigating mentoring programs -- she feels like it's time to give something back.
Make it happen
Bendjedou feels she's never been discriminated against as a woman, and theorizes that it's due to her PMA. She insists that women have to make their gender a "non-event."
"I don't think being a woman or a man matters if you want to succeed. Never ask, 'Will I succeed because I'm a woman?' I think that question sets you up for failure. If you start positively, you're starting in a good place. I would not assume I didn't get the job because I'm a woman, even if it might be the case. I would ask the person who [rejected] me what I should do differently next time and make those changes. I would take any other reasons why they could [reject me] and make sure there were no other reasons they could decline [to offer me] the job. Don't mope about not getting a job," she continues, "make it a non-event. Focus on building your skills."
What is Bendjedou's advice for women embarking in IT careers? "Never give up. Never give up. Never give up." When asked to elaborate, she continued, "If you desire something badly, you will eventually get it, so long as you want to succeed. My best advice: Whatever you do, make sure you love doing it. As soon as you have a job you love, the initial hurdles will dilute. You have to love the industry, your skills, and what you do."
Particularly for women who desire to work with Oracle products, she says, "[Oracle has] a massive portfolio. Most people who want to go into tech could find something within the Oracle portfolio they would be interested in. There's something for everyone. It's a big organization with big opportunities. It's big enough that just moving from one job to another feels like moving companies."
Her final words of wisdom to everyone, regardless as to gender or profession were, "It's important to have the PMA. Once you have that, you'll be at a good starting point. Life is all about being positive and motivated and wanting to succeed. Don't give up at the first hurdle."