This article is part of a series of posts from National Life’s Women’s Inclusion Network. WIN is a concentration of bright and forward-thinking women (and men!) who collaborate on the leadership development, diversification, and empowerment of National Life’s female field affiliates and home office employees.
Wanda serves as Vice President, IT Applications and she and her teams are responsible for Application Build, Deployment and Support. Wanda is based in Addison and has been with National Life’s information technology team for 4 years.
It’s been over two years of working remote within the COVID-19 Pandemic… How are you doing?
It’s so hard to believe that we have been working from home for so long now! Overall, I’d have to say I’m doing well. Although I only had a 30-minute commute to the Addison office, I have really enjoyed the extra time saved from commuting. And boy, am I putting that extra hour each day to good use via simply reading morning emails while enjoying my 1st cup of Joe, attempting more physically demanding workouts (okay not all of the time 😊), or getting some extra zzzzzs!
The pandemic has affected us all in unique ways. What would you say was your “Rose” and the “Thorn” of this experience?
I’d have to say my “Rose” has been building better connections at work! I know it seems ironic, but when we shifted to work-from-home, our teams quickly shifted to daily ½ hour connects. These daily huddles have really helped us get to know each other better, build improved trust, and heighten collaboration. In fact, we’ve often said we’re like an old married couple now — sometimes even completing each other’s sentences.
And for my “Thorn”… Well, I’ll start by saying I’m very appreciative and thankful for my health, my family, friends and colleagues. And I very much enjoy my work at National Life. But with that said, I definitely struggle with feeling isolated and trapped in the same room the entire workday. I truly miss in-person interactions with extended family, friends and coworkers.
What did you want to be when you “grew up”?
I was convinced I wanted to be a veterinarian. In elementary school I was constantly finding and bringing home stray puppies, tadpoles, and even a baby chick from my grandparent’s farm. Only once growing up did I successfully convince my Mom to let me keep a puppy. We named him “Wobbles” and he was a beloved member of our family for over a decade. But after a few trips taking Wobbles to the vet, I realized I enjoyed being a pet owner but less so the vet’s role in keeping him healthy.
My love for dogs has never waned. I currently am the proud owner of Toby, a white miniature schnauzer, who’s been known to introduce himself to my Zoom/Teams-mates on occasion. Sorry again, National Life colleagues, and thank you for enduring Toby’s temperament and boisterous bark ☹!
What was your education and career pathway that brought you to where you are now?
When I graduated from high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. So, I decided to enroll at the University of South Carolina in my hometown of Columbia, SC as an undeclared major. I figured I’d take a variety of courses and discover what I enjoyed. Thankfully, it didn’t take me long to discover my passion. After taking my first computer science course first semester freshman year, I was hooked! I graduated from the University of South Carolina with an undergraduate degree in Computer Science and later a Master’s in Business Administration. I then went on to get a Master’s certificate in project management from George Washington University in DC.
I started working at NCR Corporation/Teradata as a student intern my junior year in college and I was hired on as a full-time software developer upon graduation. I worked as a developer in the Teradata Product Engineering practice for a few years before moving into various IT management roles. I later joined Bose Corporation where I held progressively senior IT leadership roles in both IT Applications and IT Infrastructure & Operations.
I have been with National Life based in the Addison office for 4 years now serving as Vice President, IT Applications. In this role, my team and I focus on business consultation and relationship management, Application Build, Deployment and Support, as well as Application Quality Engineering and Quality management.
What do you like most about what you do at National Life?
Because technology permeates everything in business today, almost nothing gets done without IT. As a result, IT is afforded wonderful insights and opportunities to “connect the dots” end to end across the National Life enterprise. These unique insights and opportunities to add value are super exciting to me!
The diversity of my work in IT is very enjoyable. Every day offers up varying opportunities for me to contribute both strategically and tactically. A typical day often includes strategic planning activities around IT roadmaps, negotiating supplier contracts, or even working with our teams on resolving the occasional support incident. There’s never a dull moment in NLIT!
Is there a woman who has inspired you in your life?
My Mom (aka ‘Mimi”) is my inspiration — hands down! She is a very caring and supportive mother to me, a wonderful, doting grandmother to my daughters, and a hyper-protective force over her three great-grandchildren. Mimi is 85 years young now and a true Southern Bell saying “bless your heart” often and genuinely meaning it!
Mimi is also very strong-willed and determined. And although she doesn’t share her story with many, I think her journey is compelling. You see, my mother came from extremely humble beginnings. Mimi was raised in a state orphanage in rural S.C. from the age of four until she graduated from high school. Despite her challenging upbringing, or perhaps because of it, she has always modeled hard work and perseverance for me, my sister, and my brother. She’s always felt strongly that women should be able to support themselves and is a huge advocate for the importance of education. My siblings and I were the first generation of college graduates in our extended family, due in large part to her support and determination.
Mimi’s inner strength is truly amazing. She constantly reminds us that family comes first, not just in words, but in being present and reliable. She’s a role model for the entire family — always stressing that how you show up for your loved ones in good times as well as in bad is of utmost importance.
What advice would you give to young women who are just beginning their careers?
First and foremost, my advice would be that learning doesn’t stop after graduation. I truly believe that if you aren’t learning and challenging yourself, you’re becoming stagnant and falling behind. I’m often reminded of Emerson’s famous quote: “The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” Always work to be a lifelong learner and be willing to be a beginner no matter what stage in you are in your career. This is especially important in the IT field as new technology advances and the rate of change is continuing to accelerate. Be curious, constantly investigate, learn new skills, and keep relevant!
Do you have a cause or a favorite “Do good” passion?
Over the last two years I have continued to volunteer as a mentor to University of Texas – Dallas MIS, Computer Science and Data Science undergraduate and graduate students. I enjoy meeting and sharing professional insights with these UTD students as they prepare to graduate and enter the IT workforce. To be honest, I learn as much or more from the students! It’s so interesting to learn and hear about the latest technical IT curriculum being taught, programming languages, as well as gaining additional insights into student life and current day concerns. It is truly a win-win relationship that I cherish.
What attracted you to National Life and what would you tell someone who is considering an opportunity with us?
To be honest, I had never heard of National Life before being contacted by the recruiter. I was working and living in the Boston area and had very little exposure to the life insurance world. After speaking to the recruiter over several weeks, I was so intrigued by this wonderful L&A business and wanted to learn more. After many interviews and onsite visits, I was so impressed with the people I met and the culture and commitment to “keeping our promises to our customers,” I was hooked! I couldn’t wait to join this amazing company. I’ve been with National Life for 4 years now, and boy, have I enjoyed the journey. I can’t imagine working anywhere else!
Any other words of wisdom that you’d like to share?
My personal motto is “attitude determines altitude.” I truly believe in taking a positive approach to opportunities, smiling as often as possible, and striving to make the most of each day. Life is too short to not do so!
I just have to share this… I recently completed The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. A key piece of advice she shared to improving happiness is to recognize and acknowledge that you can choose how you spend your time, but you can’t choose how you like to spend your time. I call this “you do you!” or to quote Shakespeare: “to thine own self be true!” For me, I’ve learned over the years that I can’t force myself to like something because it’s popular or because others may enjoy. Case in point: I’ve tried and tried over the decades to learn to enjoy golf because my husband Bobby is a golf fanatic. But no matter how hard I’ve tried, golf just isn’t for me and doesn’t bring me joy. So, he plays golf while I enjoy spending time walking the dog, doing Pilates, and reading. And when I’m feeling really lazy, I enjoy watching reality TV, especially Survivor and Big Brother. Win-Win!