While extroverts are likely to gain their energy in social situations, introverts typically recharge through isolation and feel drained from too much stimulation. It might be easy to assume that those who gravitate towards the spotlight of fame are extroverts, but the truth is that many of our most successful faces, past and present, have actually identified as introverts. J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, and Albert Einstein are some of the examples. One such successful face in the industry is Sonja Wilkerson, a prominent leader in the Human Resources Field who is taking on the role of SVP, Human Resources at Infinera.
The Journey of Achieving Dreams
Sonja had a high school diploma without any professional qualifications when she came to Silicon Valley as a young adult. She discovered the true power of education in the early days when she joined SunMicro Systems. A college undergraduate made double and master’s graduate made almost three times than what she made. It was only after she gained insight to the concept of stock “options” and bonuses, she was motivated to become one of “them.” So she decided to attend college full-time while working full-time and two master’s degrees later, she achieved beyond what was unimaginable for her at the beginning.
Infinera: Changing Lives Through Network
Sonja will be taking a role of SVP of Human Resources at Infinera which is an optical networking company in Sunnyvale, CA. Infinera empowers network operators to quickly deliver differentiated services by enabling an infinite pool of intelligent bandwidth. Infinera’s end-to-end packet optical portfolio is designed for long-haul, subsea, data center interconnect and metro applications. Infinera’s unique large-scale photonic integrated circuits enable innovative optical networking solutions for the most demanding networks. Deployed across the globe, Infinera Intelligent Transport Networks enable carriers, cloud operators, governments and enterprises to scale network bandwidth, accelerate service innovation and simplify optical network operations.
Life Full of Grabbed Opportunities
The journey of Sonja is not just one milestone, but a series of milestones she made while stepping after her desire. After working as an HR manager at SunMicro Systems, she was Director, Human Resources at Synopsys. Later, she Sonja was Vice President, Human Resources at different organizations, including Infinity Financial Technology, Sequence Design, and Vitria Technology. She has also served at Cisco as a Director HR and most recently Vice President, of Human Resources with Hewlett Packare Enterprise.
Hurdle in the Journey
One of Sonja’s biggest challenges is being a closet introvert. While Sonja loves engaging with the community, she is connected to the most, however being pushed out into the public domain is something that she’s always found a bit stressful. She always considers herself a private person. But she also is aware of the importance of building a personal brand. Pushing beyond has never come easy for Sonja. As her career continued to grow, she actively worked to expand her network by making time to connect with leaders and organizations to further her learning.
Women in Business
When asked about women’s role in the business, Sonja doesn’t distinguish women from men. She makes every attempt to approach the world and behave as if there are no gender boundaries. She strives to be like her daughters who have learned to lead with skill and confidence first and if a bias arises they take it head on. According to Sonja, this is an amazing time to be a woman in business. “Yes, there’s still tremendous progress to be made toward true equality and there remain serious challenges, yet we actually have shot at achieving greater equality,” she says.
Sonja’s entire career has been in the technology sector in Silicon Valley, where the culture of innovation and openness thrives. She thinks that the impact of women in business is unstoppable. “We shift cultures, we are courageous when others are not, we are extremely capable, and we can change the conversation,” says Sonja.
Balancing Personal and Professional life with trade-offs
Sonja believes that the reality of most working professionals is there’s very little balance, but a series of trade-offs. She is a working mother of two amazing college-age young ladies. Each school year of her daughters began with “the schedule” of all major events and the prioritization began. Travel, off-site meetings, and business dinners were somehow arranged around “the schedule”. There were many times when she was just not available, yet her family seemed to understand and accept her decision to have a career. She once asked her youngest daughter, “Should mommy stop working”? And her daugther’s immediate response was, “Please don’t, you are better working, mom?” Sonja belives that one of most important decision one makes in life “is the choice of a life partner”. “Managing family, career, and life is challenging enough, why not make it simpler where you can?” Sonja also thinks that she is fortunate to have made the right choice in this area, because she along with her husband worked hard on the daily trade-offs to keep a balanced life overall.
Sonja was the person in the shadows, and that was the earliest regret of her career. She was quietly doing the work, thinking she’d be recognized for her work. But as she grew in her career, she quickly learned that it’s the people out there saying what they do, and connecting with leaders who will represent their work that get recognized, and rewarded.
Standing on the rock of success and looking back at the journey, she would not change a thing if the outcome would be different. She is fortunate to have had an intriguing journey thus far!
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