If someone had told me years ago that the teenager applying for a Mechanical Engineering degree would be in my position today, being asked to share her career story and inspire young women in the IT industry, I would not have believed them. Growing up in a small town in Sorrento, Italy, my family was probably confused why their little girl chose technology as opposed to a more traditional alternative such as accounting, education, or even law.

At the time, technology fascinated me and I was excited to explore how it can be used to create and solve problems. That passion stayed with me through my education and my first job as a software developer at IBM, where I loved coming up with innovative offerings and working on new software solutions. And here I am, 20 years, 2 security patents, and a 1000-strong Customer Experience team later, looking back and realizing that I have definitely made the right decision.

I prefer not to define myself as a “woman in technology” only but as a passionate advocate of technology with a desire to succeed and learn from those around me. In turn, when I am asked to give advice to young female professionals entering the workforce, I try to summarize it in two key points. The first is adopting a positive mindset to turn obstacles into opportunities and the second is having a role-model or mentor along the way.

1. Shifting the focus from obstacles into opportunities is essential

Even though women still make up a very small percentage of the IT and Technology sector, I have never perceived this statistic as an obstacle. When I look back at my own journey, women accounted for 15% of my university classes and less than 50% of the MBA classes; however, in both situations, the females stood out. For women specifically, we see it all the time, the statistics give us the extra push to take charge, showcase skills, and not wait for someone to offer us a role on a plate. By focusing on the prospects and never taking No for an answer, we can achieve their goals and own our career development paths.

What I also found interesting as I progressed my career into service delivery and management roles, was that personal skills and attributes that are often, although not exclusively, associated with being a woman, were very much in demand for these types of roles. And these are the opportunities that I am referring to, the demanding technology industry requires a vast range of experiences and skills that both men and women offer. After all, people are so much more complex than technology!

2. Mentorship can be one of the most rewarding experiences

Growing up, my uncle was my long-life teacher and mentor and taught me to never be satisfied with the status quo and stay curious. Thanks to his guidance, I learned the importance of learning and educating yourself about things that you are passionate about. This has helped me fight any fears that I faced in life. I remember him often saying to me “Fear destroys all the powers in life except a scholar’s one, always stay humble and keep learning”.

Drawing from my own experience and to pay it forward, I always do my best to be approachable and be available for support. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, my focus remains on mentorship. I strongly believe in the importance of being a mentor and having one, and that is why I always advise young professionals, especially women to find a mentor that they can understand their goals and can offer advice and direction.

At Cisco, we are lucky to have a well-balanced, diverse team with incredible people, who work together, solve problems, innovate, help each other, and have fun. We believe everyone has the potential to be a global problem solver; someone who innovates as a technologist acts as a social change agent and embodies an entrepreneurial mindset to combat issues such as the skills gap, climate change, and economic inequality.

I am an active advocate for diversity and equality in the workplace and the executive sponsor for the Cisco Women of Impact and Early-in-career programmes across MEA. I am also working on kicking-off amazing apprenticeship programmes at Cisco that I will be soon announcing. There is no denying the fact that it can be daunting for young female techies to attempt to enter this field. It is important for them to be confident in their abilities, and having a mentor is a gateway to increased self-confidence through improved skills and developed talents.

Although in recent years there has been an increase in women entering high levels in technology roles, there is still a lack of female role-models within the sector. As they gain confidence, women are more likely to push themselves to achieve their goals and own their career development paths.

By looking for the opportunities, everyone will find it much easier to gain momentum and confidently pursue their next career move, whatever that is. We all face obstacles along the way, but by never taking No for an answer, we can keep fighting for our dreams.