In celebration of Women’s History Month, VMware presents a three-part interview series where inspiring women speak about their journey in STEM. They reveal challenges they faced, share stories about their role models and share the lessons learned along the way as guidance for women looking to break into the world of technology. Check out the additional interviews in this series with Megan Coppin and Sonia Gulina.
Melissa Dunkerley wears many hats: engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, blogger, mentor and role model. Even in her career, Melissa challenges herself to expand her passions and expertise. During her decade at VMware, she transitioned from a Solutions Engineer to Technical Account Manager to Team Lead, and she currently serves as Senior Customer Success Programs Lead. Last year, Melissa volunteered to be a member of the team pioneering the first company-wide customer success portfolio as part of VMware’s Take 3 initiative. (Take 3 is a program where employees with a tenure of more than five years can embark upon a three-month project outside of their current job duties.)
What’s even more impressive than this collection of hats is how Melissa sports all of them with complete confidence. And confidence is an attribute she seeks to instill in other women traveling the sometimes-bumpy road to success in tech.
Following her passions
Melissa’s love of math and physics led her to pursue an electrical and computer engineering degree. In addition to her inclination towards math and physics, she always looked for ways to explore another passion of hers – travel. Luckily, she was able to take advantage of a unique career opportunity abroad when she presented at VMware’s vForum in Argentina. At the event, she met with partners and customers and presented in front of an audience of 100… in another language! It required extensive studying to brush up on her Spanish and learn the Spanish equivalents of technical terms. “It was a fantastic opportunity to push myself. It was one of those moments where at the end of it, you feel so empowered, and there’s nothing you can’t do!”
A Roadblock but not an impasse
Melissa hit a few speed bumps throughout her career in tech, but her iron resolve got her through tougher times. When asked who her tech role models are, she replied “Me!” She’s incredibly proud of the ways in which she challenges the status quo and pushes herself to new heights. “I keep reinventing myself, and I keep challenging myself. There have been a lot of times where it would’ve been easier to leave and do something else. But I refuse to give up, and I’m always looking for ‘How do I fix this? How do I make this better?’”
Melissa witnessed many hurdles that women often have to overcome. “I graduated from engineering school with the same career aspirations as my fellow male graduates. It’s been extremely frustrating to work so much harder than they did or at least than they seemed to and yet not progress nearly as far as they have. While I’m extremely thankful for how far women in tech have come from the generations before us, I’m acutely aware that we still have a long way to go.”
The roadblocks Melissa faced are in fact what inspired her to launch the website Software in Stilettos. The site is a hub where women in STEM can read about Melissa’s experience, ask her questions and peruse resources to help them conquer obstacles that hold them back in male-dominated fields. One of the primary goals of the site is to help women overcome imposter syndrome or unconscious bias, both of which are common among women in STEM professions. “I wanted to find a way to help women. If I can’t prevent them from going through it and experiencing it, I at least want to educate them and [make sure] they’re not going through it alone.”
In addition to inspiring women and arming them with helpful resources, Software in Stilettos aims to educate male allies about how their experiences are different and what they can do to level the playing field. Bentley University reports that in a survey, 53% of men said they have advocated privately for diversity, inclusion and equality, but only 41% have publicly advocated for the same. This shows that men want to help, but sometimes need the assurance that they can speak up for their women colleagues. This is the aim of the education resources available to men through Software in Stilettos.
If Melissa had to single out one piece of advice to give to young women pursuing a STEM career, she would recommend finding a mentor when they first enter college. Social media is a great place to begin this search. “They’re on Facebook, they’re on Instagram, they’re probably on TikTok. There are so many older women in tech who want to help, and I think they’d be very receptive.”
A community of smart, strong women
The best part about being a woman in tech is the small and brilliant community you have the privilege of joining. “I love being in tech because I love being surrounded by some of the brightest minds in the world. I love being a part of cutting-edge technology that impacts everyone in a positive way. And I honestly love the women that I get to meet. There might not be many of us, but the ones that go into tech tend to be very genuine, intelligent, extremely grounded women.”
Also, if you encounter any naysayers along your tech journey, don’t let them get you down. Rather, embody the quote Melissa has on a plaque in her office: “The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.”