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Advice / Career Paths / Career Stories

Lateral Moves Were the Secret to Career Success for This Software Engineer

Mona Jalilzadeh, a senior software engineering manager at Autodesk
Mona Jalilzadeh, a senior software engineering manager at Autodesk.
| Courtesy of Mona Jalilzadeh

When Mona Jalilzadeh began job hunting close to college graduation in 2014, she zeroed in on the software company Autodesk. While she didn’t get the first position she applied for there, Jalilzadeh impressed the recruiters so much that they found another role for her.

Jalilzadeh continued to actively interview at other places as well, but Autodesk’s competitive pay and benefits put the company at the top of her list. However, it was their commitment to helping employees who are immigrants get sponsorship that really won her over.

“One major concern I had at the time was getting a visa and green card sponsorship,” she recalls. “Autodesk has a dedicated group that helps employees like me. This was a no-brainer.”

Since joining the company, Jalilzadeh has been promoted a number of times and is now a senior software engineering manager. Her experience is a testament to how Autodesk prioritizes internal mobility.

“Autodesk values lateral moves,” she says. “This is how we break the silos and empower individuals with a broader knowledge of the company. In my eight years here, I have worked in the sales, product, and engineering organizations.”

Here, Jalilzadeh shares how being a graphic designer prepared her to work as an engineer, what it was like to build her team during the pandemic, and the importance of putting yourself out there.

Tell us about your career journey. What inspired you to pivot from working in graphic design to tech?

I have always had a passion for computer science and programming, but graphic design was something I picked up in the interim. I started small by designing logos and business cards for my friends. I quickly found myself learning to do more like designing marketing materials, cover pages, graphics for books, and layouts for blogs and websites. This work also created a great opportunity for me to get more into web development and build a bridge between what I was doing and what I wanted to do.

In what ways has your experience in a creative field helped you succeed in your current role?

As a graphic designer, you learn how to connect with customers and get to know your audience and what would interest them. It all starts by understanding their pain points, their needs, and what they are doing that you can perhaps help advance. As a software engineer, you need to have empathy with people using your software, and understand who they are, what they need, and how we can help them get results faster and easier.

You’ve been at Autodesk for eight years and have been promoted four times. How does the company champion internal growth like yours?

I can speak to this from both my personal experience and as a hiring manager at Autodesk. There is so much we do here to empower our team members to learn, grow, and advance within the company. Each team plays a specific role in that—starting from your own manager, recruiter, and hiring manager all the way to mentorship and sponsorship programs at Autodesk.

How would you define your leadership style, and in what ways do you invest in your team’s development and growth?

I don’t think I have one style of leadership. Different situations call for different styles of leadership. But I have core values that I stand by, and my top three are psychological safety, diversity, and belonging.

I am very passionate about career and individual development. I use any opportunity to coach my team and mentees on how to develop and own their individual development plan (IDP) and career plan. We have regular one-on-one meetings where we spend a portion of the time discussing progress on their IDP. In addition, I am fortunate to be a manager at a company that is very generous when it comes to development, learning, and training.

Why is now an especially exciting time to work at Autodesk?

As an Autodesk employee, our long-term goals excite me. I have seen how we set long-term goals and move toward them. I have celebrated Autodesk’s success in the past and this makes me more excited about what is coming next. Autodesk continues to grow and innovate; it is refreshing to work for a company that is not afraid of change.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a team leader, and how did you overcome it?

One of the major challenges I had was hiring and onboarding during the pandemic. I had to fill about seven positions in 2021. The entire interview process, hiring, and onboarding were remote. This was very challenging, especially at the beginning, but with the help from my team and Autodesk resources, we were able to establish new ways to do this remotely and we continued to use our new hires’ feedback to improve the process.

What advice do you have for other women who hope to achieve leadership roles, especially in a male-dominated field like tech?

Mentorship and sponsorship are great ways to make connections, learn, and grow. Networking is as important; reach out, connect and build trust. Don’t underestimate the value of lateral moves, and believe in yourself. As Brené Brown says in The Power of Vulnerability, be vulnerable! It’s OK if people say no, but don’t screen yourself out.

You’re organizing a dinner party with your biggest role models. Who’s invited and what will you talk about?

Tough question. So many people come to mind, but when it comes to leadership my biggest role models are the authors Simon Sinek and Brené Brown. I would probably also invite Dan Ariely (an author and professor of behavioral economics) and we will spend the entire evening talking about human behavior and how we can use what we know to make a better world.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t wait for the opportunity, build the opportunity.