Liquid Web’s Vice President of Sales on doing meaningful work, creating her own path, and how her sons keep her motivated to do work she is proud of.
Courtney Skarda endeavors to bring her best self to work every day, a sentiment she learned from her parents. Raised as an only child, her parents sacrificed so much for her growing up. “The work ethic and perseverance my parents have modeled for me my entire life is an inspiration,” says Skarda.” Growing up, my parents would always encourage me to sign up for different classes and skip out on the norm. “I remember a time in high school my mother forced me to take a computer science class instead of a home economics course. Being one of two females in the class was a bit intimidating, but I am happy to have had that push from my mother to help me step out of my comfort zone. I owe my parents for instilling that in me – step up and be a leader in all things,” Skarda said. Her mother always wanted Skarda to find the tools to do things herself, and not to ever rely on anyone else.
Once Skarda graduated from the University of Texas – San Antonio, Skarda heard an employment ad on a local radio station for a job at Dell. The interview process was intimidating being one of a few women, but her parents’ words always grounded her, “be a leader in all things,” Skarda says. Skarda did get the job, and it was a great experience for her career. From that point on, she says, every experience tested her ability to learn, adapt, and pursue the career that she wanted. “From training— where we had to put together a computer— to addressing my fear of outbound calling, to learning how to have the courage to say ‘I don’t know, but I will find someone who does,’ to dealing with layoffs, I was learning how to manage people and create my path as a woman in tech. Every day was a lesson.”
Skarda was successful in her first year after college, and spent the first seven to ten years of her career focusing on the things she was good at, celebrating her natural strengths and ability. There were some challenging times fitting into a male dominated workforce but Skarda always leaned in on her strength as a strategic thinker. Once she accepted that she was different and that it was ok being a female, she took more confidence in herself and looked at it as an advantage instead of a disadvantage. “I saw the differences as opportunities. I knew that I could bring something unique to the table, and a different perspective that could be valuable. From that point on, I began learning to celebrate my differences and drew attention to them, instead of hiding or trying to change”, Skarda said.
A fantastic example of the ways in which Skarda has paved her own way came after the birth of her first child in 2004 when she elevated issues facing employees coming back from Family Leave. As a result, policies were changed to make re-entering into commission-based roles fair for mothers, fathers, and anyone returning from medical leave. “I was terrified to speak up, worried about the potential damage to my career,” she says, “but knew that I wasn’t the only person struggling. I knew there had to be a better way to ensure that this part of the workforce could take important time to be with their family and heal, and still have their role secure in the company.” Her work had not gone unnoticed, eventually landing her on a spot in San Antonio Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 list, and having her accomplishments highlighted in San Antonio Woman Magazine.
Now, Skarda brings her passion to Liquid Web as Vice President of Sales, creating an environment where her team can create great relationships with prospects and customers alike by learning about their companies, their needs, and building technical solutions that help them grow their businesses through technology. “It all begins with a helpful person who is committed to creating an amazing sales experience by listening, building trust, and providing a valuable solution,” she says. She loves the pace of working in tech, and especially appreciates Liquid Web’s commitment to both their employees and their customers. “I have been blessed to work for tech companies that have been as focused on customer service as they have been on technology. Ultimately, this allows me to focus on the people part of my work as much as the operational side.” She is grateful for those who choose to work alongside her at Liquid Web. “I am committed to making our environment a positive place where people can learn, grow, and realize their dreams. I want to build an environment where each individual can see their impact and feel recognized and valued because of it.”
Skarda knows that the future of women in technology belongs to those willing to build the roles and work environments they want. “I am so impressed by the confidence and sense of self that the next generation of women in tech have,” she says. “I came from a time where I thought I had to fit in, or ‘not rock the boat.’ It took me years to develop the confidence that I see in the women who are entering our field today. The ultimate future of diversity in technology belongs to everyone. We all have to be committed to continuing the hard discussions and making our workplaces a community where everyone can thrive and feel included.”
Skarda’s three life lessons:
- Being a leader, you get to work with a variety of different personalities, but have come to learn that you can’t teach passion. A leader’s goal is to help your people find their passion, and then lead them to success. You can’t force people to do things they don’t enjoy. Expand on your people’s strengths and lean in on that.
- Nice is telling people what they want to hear. Kind is telling people what they need to hear, in the manner that they can best receive it.
- Be self-aware enough to know where you shine and where you implode. Be smart enough to have trusted mentors/advisors that will check your blind spots for you (even when you don’t ask), and be vulnerable enough to listen to them and ask for help.
Skarda believes that every person has to seek out and acknowledge what their non-negotiables are. Meaning, the things a person will not sacrifice in life or in their careers. Skarda believes that as a human, a parent, and a leader, her responsibility is to continue to grow so that she can be the best person that she can be for herself and for her two teenage boys. “My boys are my world, and they are part of my motivation to continue to be the best person for them,” Skarda says. In order to do this, she seeks out new things, new experiences, and different points of views, even from them. She lives by these words from Walt Whitman, “take in everything around you, and dismiss whatever insults your soul.”
She encourages those interested in tech to discover what their unique talents are. “Figure out what you bring to the table that no one else can. Know your strengths and devote your time and energy to developing those qualities. Your job is to figure out how to use your unique strengths to help solve the problems around you… again and again.”