Career Inspiration from “Hidden Figures”

By Vijji Suryadevara


Posted on February 07, 2017



As I laughed when Mary chased the police car and cried as Katherine stood there drenched and alone fighting discrimination with grace and dignity and felt the frustration of Dorothy as she did the work but did not get the recognition and swelled with pride when John Glenn asks specifically for Katherine to confirm the calculations – I kept thinking about how these women blazed a path for all of us women who are in technology today.

Many people might see the blockbuster movie and come away with the message that African-American women can be genius mathematicians and brilliant engineers. It would be sad if that is all we see in this movie. In this day and age, it should be self-evident that talent and genius is not bound to one race or skin color or gender or age. It is opportunity that is bound to these constructs. If NASA - out of necessity rather than enlightenment - did not provide the platform, the talents of these brilliant women would have gone unrecognized and unutilized.

I walked away from the movie with a story of how to overcome obstacles, how to not give up, how to retool yourself when you see the world changing around you, how to become indispensable! That is a message all of us need to take to heart. As we face unprecedented technology innovation, and rapid change in our skills landscape we are faced today with a situation not unlike what these women faced in the brave new world of space travel.

Dorothy Vaughan’s story is of adapting. As technology rapidly evolves, each of us is faced with a choice, we can either ignore the onslaught of change or can face up to it as Dorothy did. She saw the future job insecurity with the advent of the IBM mainframe computer which could replace all the “Human Computers” as an opportunity. She took action and learned Fortran to be able to program this new machine and took her whole team along into that brand-new computing domain. She saw the trend and adapted by learning new skills making herself indispensable.

Mary Jackson’s story is of initiative. Career growth does not happen by waiting for management to figure out what you could potentially be good at and then hand the position to you. It happens with initiative. When Mary’s boss told her that she should be an engineer, she replies back that if she was not a black woman she would already be one. And instead of stopping with that lament, she takes it upon herself to challenge the segregated school system to get entry into evening classes to earn an engineering degree. She took the initiative to gain the education she needed to get the role she knew she would be good at.

Katherine Johnson’s story is of grit. When many of us face obstacles that are put in our way by a system that stereotypes us or malicious co-workers who refuse to allow us to do our best, we give up. But true success in all our careers comes in overcoming obstacles, in believing in our abilities and having the determination to plow through. Even though her mathematical genius is recognized by her teachers, her family and her co-workers in the “Human Computers” department of NASA she is not accorded any respect or consideration by her new team - the “Space Task Group”. Infact they demean her, disrespect her, dissuade her and take credit for her work. Faced with this untenable situation she holds her head high in quiet confidence as she learns the problems, solves the equations, insists on a seat at the table and proves her worth.

What is common in all three stories in this movie is the continuous learning these exceptional women undertook to make sure they stay relevant in their changing workplace. As innovation is touching every walk of our lives, it is also disrupting every industry and the inevitable effect of this disruption will be on job skills and job security. As companies scramble to update their business models and modernize their workforce they are focusing on continuous learning. Each and every employee should take advantage of these continuous learning options to make sure they can continue to provide value to the company and secure their future.

My firm belief that the way of the future is in continuous learning lead me to found CareerWaze an AI driven career navigation platform helping people acquire in demand skills by providing a curated view of evolving skills, career options and personalized learning recommendations.

“Hidden Figures” should be an inspiration for all of us to manage our careers through continuous learning by adapting to the changing skills landscape, showing initiative and grit to make ourselves indispensable in our jobs.

Vijji Suryadevara
Founder, CEO & CTO


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