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The Importance of Feedback for Skill Development and Careers

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In the morning sessions at Women in Tech Dublin 2018, presenters spoke about how to use feedback to develop your skills and work on your career. Key takeaways included that feedback and continuous learning are crucial for personal and professional development. Non-technical skills like creative problem solving, critical thinking, and an entrepreneurial mindset are important to make progress in your career. You have to own your career direction and know what you ultimately want to be in order to decide on the next steps.

Caroline O’Reilly, senior director of engineering at Workday, presented rewiring yourself for success. Feedback is important to learn how you are doing and develop yourself, she said. Instead of using the word "feedback" which can be perceived as stressful or negative, she prefers to call it "advice", emphasizing the positive aspects, the aim of it which is to get better.

Trust and empathy are essential in a great team. People in teams have to share the same values, and you have to hire for values, O’Reilly said. She argued that you have to build a great culture and diversity from the beginning; you can’t retrospectively build it in.

Julie Spillane, managing director at Accenture, explored how to apply the principles of innovation to our own career development in her talk Fuelling Your Journey. Professionals need to work on their career as the demand for technical skills is changing fast. People need to have new skills which didn’t exist five years ago, said Spillane. Also, non-technical skills are important; Spillane mentioned skills like creative problem solving, critical thinking, and an entrepreneurial mindset.

Spillane said that the future will bring us more of a flexible workforce and career models. Her advice for professionals is to prepare themselves by focusing on the mind, voice, and heart. Professionals are expected to have a growth mindset, the belief that fundamental ability can be developed over time through dedication. She suggested to seek out opportunities to learn and develop yourself. Don’t see risk-taking as a negative thing or problem-solving; think of it as an opportunity, she said.

Regarding voice, she emphasized to the audience to be authentic, to make your voice heard and know your story. You have to know the pivotal moments in your career, where it has gone wrong, and what has gone really well.

At the heart of it, as technology becomes more ingrained it’s important to work on the connection between people. Seek out people who are different from you; it’s a great way to learn, she said. Look out for each other, help each other to find your voice, and build your skills to reach full potential, was her advice.

Sarah Cunningham, vice president of technology, Dublin technology hub at MasterCard, spoke about owning your career. She started her talk by stating, "If you don’t own your career, nobody else will." You have to own your direction and know your north star, what would you ultimately want to be. A north star is a movable goal, she said; it’s ok to change your direction along the way.

Professionals need to invest in continuous learning. They have to be open to new pathways and dare to take them, argued Cunningham. She suggested to figure out what skills you need to get from here to there, and constantly refresh this list to stay relevant as new technologies and skillsets emerge.

If there’s a committee or cause at work that you are passionate about, step up to it, she suggested. If you are too busy now, revisit your decision when you have time. If you want to have a great peer mentor, be a great mentor, it works two ways, she said. Not every career move needs to be upward; sometimes a lateral move can take you further.

Feedback is crucial for personal and professional development, said Cunningham. She warned to not fall into the trap of fixating over every bit of feedback you receive, by distinguishing the "value add" from "feedback for the sake of feedback".

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