At a young age, Julie Papagiannis knew she wanted to pursue a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). A senior customer executive at JDA, Julie brings a unique perspective to this week’s Wednesdays for Women blog sharing her journey from computer programming and pre-sales to her current role, which combines her passions for travel, people and technology. She also shares her love for volunteer work, being a woman in a male-dominated field and her secret to a comfortable work-life balance.

Tell us a little about yourself (where you grew up, family, hobbies, school)

I grew up in Detroit, the third in a family of four children, and I was the first in my family to go to college. I did my undergrad at Wayne State University where I got a degree in computer science, and I went on and got my master’s in business from Central Michigan University. I moved to Indianapolis about 22 years ago where I met my husband, Greg we’ll be married for 19 years in August – and we have a nice, quiet home on the north side of Indianapolis.

Julie with Dress for Success

When I’m not working, I enjoy gardening, spending time with friends and family and I also do a lot of volunteer work. My husband and I volunteer for veterans’ organizations including Gold Star Families (families who have lost a loved one in military service), and I’m an active volunteer at Dress for Success where I help women attain gainful employment and help them all the way down to finding the perfect interview attire as a personal shopper.

What are three key words you would use to describe yourself?

I would say I am honest, very patient and loyal.

How do you live the JDA values?

Out of all our values, the one that really stands out to me is teamwork. Both within JDA and outside with customers, teamwork is key and something I strive for when collaborating with a customer, working with them and helping them be successful. The second value that jumps out at me is learning and innovation. If you don’t continue to learn and innovate, you tend to stagnate, so continuing to learn and evolve to stay on top of the technology and help your customers be successful is important.

Why did you choose a career in supply chain/tech?

I began my career in tech when I was in college. My undergraduate degree was in computer science and I’d always loved science and tech. I started computer programming part time to work my way through college.  I found my way to technology sales where I am fortunate enough to combine my love for working with customers with the challenge of helping them achieve their goals through innovation. I feel like I hit the lottery being able to combine those two passions and I’ve been doing this for longer than I will admit.

Julie (center) at JDA customer vineyard vines

I’ve been with JDA for just over one year. I am a customer executive, so I view my role as the front line with customers. It’s our job to understand our customers, their challenges and their goals so that we can align the JDA organization and JDA solution (the solve) to meet their needs.

Can you point to a critical moment in your career that really made a difference in your path?

I think it was when I transitioned from the programming/tech side of this industry to a pre-sales role in this industry. The turning point was when I moved from that role, which I was very comfortable in, to the sales side of things and became a customer executive, which was outside my comfort zone.

How did that opportunity present itself?

I had a great boss and mentor who gave me great advice early on in my career. She was very positive, said I could do it and was there to help guide me through the transition. She was the reason I transitioned into the sales path, which I love.

What was that transition like?

It was scary initially. At the time, being the typical sales person wasn’t something I thought I could do, but it worked out as I made the role what I thought it should be. At first, I doubted myself and my abilities, so it took some time to really dig in and feel confident.

It was very male-dominated. Even when I was in college, I remember walking into computer science lecture halls of 200 people, and you could count all the women on one hand. It’s a lot better today. I think we still have a long way to go, but I also believe in finding the right person for the job.

What is the best advice you ever received? Who gave it to you?

When I first read this question, I thought about my mom – she was a great lady – but I thought about this story from when I was in middle school. They were introducing us to a music program and musical instruments and whether we wanted to play. I came home, and my mom asked me if it was something I wanted to do. I said yes, so she asked me what I wanted to play, and I said, ‘all the girls are playing the flute or clarinet, so maybe one of those’. She said, ‘No, I didn’t ask you that. What do you want to play?’, and I said, ‘the drums’. I became a drummer through the encouragement of my mom and it was at that age that I learned gender doesn’t matter, or shouldn’t matter, and to follow my dreams.

What was your dream job as a kid and why?

I wasn’t exposed to a lot as a child, so I had to find my path. My dad worked at the auto company, and Mom stayed home to raise the four of us.  I early-on discovered that I loved math and science. I loved the right and wrong of it, I don’t know why, and I was really good at it. I was also enamored with wanting to see the world, so I feel lucky to be able to combine the two with my job here at JDA.

What advice do you have for someone taking on a leadership role for the first time?

Listen. Listen to your customers, listen to your team. That then leads to collaboration, but if you’re not an active listener on all fronts and you’re jumping ahead and answering questions before someone’s even done asking, you’re not listening.

What is your leadership style?

My leadership style is very collaborative – working with the team, making sure the team is aligned, and making sure everyone is comfortable in their role and in our goals.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

It’s such a difficult thing to do. I try to set boundaries, but it’s difficult because I work out of the house when not in front of customers. When I’m not traveling, my office is off the kitchen and it seems like it’s always calling me, so I tell my customers I’m available between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. If I’m on the road, I work crazy hours, but on Fridays I tell myself to walk away around 5:30 to 6 p.m. I try to limit my weekend work, but sometimes I find it helpful to work for a couple hours on Sunday morning and then walk away. I think you just have to set boundaries, but boundaries you’re comfortable with as well. You don’t want to let things get overwhelming.

What’s your super power?

I pride myself in thinking five steps ahead and having a plan. I’ve found that if you are five steps ahead, you can lead, and I’ve worked really hard to achieve that in my career.

Have you ever found yourself as the only woman in a meeting? How did that feel?

All the time. Back in the day, it was not uncommon at all to be the only women in the room. I work within retail and have a very big focus in apparel/footwear. There are more women now than I’ve ever seen, including C-level positions, but it still happens. Regardless, I’m there to do a job and do my best like anyone else.  Earlier on in my career, you really had to prove yourself as a woman to have a seat at the table. It is getting better. The gender gap has gotten smaller and it’s about focusing on goals and working together.

What advice do you have for young women seeking a career in technology?

For young girls coming up in STEM: Don’t be intimidated. You can do anything you set your mind to. You’re going to have to work at it, it’s not going to be easy, but don’t let anyone tell you you can’t for any reason. Second, follow your passion. Find the thing that creates that spark, whether it’s in your professional life or personal life. Last, find a mentor. I’ve had multiple at different points in my life, both male and female, and peers or people I’ve reported to, and I would recommend this to push yourself and evolve.