Vicki Hildebrand: From Leading Technology Development to Leading Successful Teams

After 32 years on the technology side of HP, Vicki Hildebrand wanted to explore the business side. She had studied electrical engineering as an undergraduate and quickly found a role in the tech world. “I had a job offer from every single company I talked to because there were so few women out there applying for jobs,” she tells me.

For over three decades, she led software and hardware development, creating leading edge, breakthrough products. However, recently, she shifted to her current role as Senior Director & Chief of Staff of Global Business Services & Business Process Services. Eager to take her career in a new direction, she is also pursuing an Executive M.S. in Technology Management at Columbia University.

An aspiring CIO, she believes that tomorrow's leaders need more than engineering experience. “Technology leaders are no longer what's being sought after. It's business leaders,” she tells me. For that reason, she says that the M.S. in Technology Management program was the perfect fit for her. Its strategic training for business leaders and entrepreneurs is grooming her to take the next step in her career.

What drew you to the technology sector in the first place?

When I was in school, I was pretty proficient in math and physics. I didn't want to go into a teaching profession. At the time that I was graduating from school, there were huge opportunities for women in engineering. Of course, there were no women at all in my field of study in college, so I felt like a pioneer! I was drawn to it because it was a way to apply math and physics to real-life problems, and the opportunities for career growth were really strong. That's what drew me to technology, and when I found that I could do it, I got more and more immersed in it.

You always hear about how the tech industry is trying to attract women to the sector, and it's become a problem.

Oh, actually, this has been a problem for as long as I can remember. Organizations were actively recruiting women, but women weren't jumping in. I had a job offer from every single company I talked to because there were so few women out there applying for jobs. It's still difficult to attract women to the world of technology because I think not all women are interested in the subject matter.

I think the reason that it's getting more publicity now is particularly because you've got a few role models out there, women who are leading technology companies. At HP, we've got a female CEO, Meg Whitman.

Tell me about what you were doing right before you entered the Technology Management program.

I joined HP because it was the leading tech company in the industry at the time [that I graduated]. I spent my career at HP mainly on the technology side: thirty-two of my thirty-three years here were either in R&D or IT. I recently stepped away from it to be on the business side for a little while. That was something that I had never done.

 

“I pushed pause on my career for a while, like a lot of women who were raising families...But now that I'm back in it, the program has really been a differentiator for me. My work is getting noticed, and I give the program a lot of credit for that.”Vicki Hildebrand
Senior Director and Chief of Staff, HP

 

What drew you to the M.S. in Technology Management program?

My boss is one of the mentors for the program. Through him, I started learning about the Technology Management program. The reason I was drawn to it is because I've spent my career in technology. It became very clear to me that technology leaders are no longer what's being sought after. It's business leaders.

Is there anything specific from the program that's been really valuable to you so far?

This is a particularly challenging year for Hewlett-Packard. We're taking this 300,000-person company, and we're splitting it into two companies. Effective November 1st, we'll be two brand new, independent companies. Well, that is change management of the highest magnitude. We've had change management projects and discussions in several of the classes. I'll probably use those lessons the most.

Of all the graduate degree programs available to you, why did you choose the M.S. in Technology Management program?

I think the Tech Management program is best suited for the business leaders of the future – much more than a master's in the technology field, and much more than an M.B.A. You get an M.B.A. in order to be a CFO. You get a master's in computer science or engineering if you want to be a lower-level engineering manager. But if you want to be a business leader, business acumen integrated with technology acumen is the best choice.

What are your broader aspirations for your career?

It would be fun to be a CIO. It's certainly within reach, and I think the program has made a big difference in giving me that opportunity. I pushed pause on my career for a while, like a lot of women who were raising families – which was absolutely the right decision for me. But now that I'm back in it, the program has really been a differentiator for me. My work is getting noticed, and I give the program a lot of credit for that.

The program has changed me. I handle problems differently. I'm much more confident. It's really enabled me to take a giant step up in my ability to manage and run an operation.