Women in Leadership is a blog series dedicated to highlighting influential women behind The Dude. In it, we'll explore topics like how they came to the tech space, what they're working on and where they see the industry going.
This month, meet Niki Dobbins, Senior Manager of Client Support.
Q: What was your experience like leading up to Dude Solutions? Had you worked in a tech environment before?
Not at all! I am a softball player, so the majority of my time was, and still is, spent on a ball field. I went to Peace College and played softball, then graduated in 2006 with a psychology degree. I got my Masters at NC State in 2011 in Liberal Studies with a focus on the psychology of how people interact and perceive environmental issues and policies (sounds fun, right?). I was actually the Head Softball Coach at Wake Tech CC right before joining The Dude. Wake Tech started their athletics program in 2009, and I was their first softball coach ever. I had previously coached at St. David’s High School as well. Softball/baseball is big in my family. My parents are owners of Grand Slam USA, a batting cage in Raleigh, and I worked there as well before coming to The Dude. So no tech experience prior to this, other than knowing how to work a computer.
Q: What is your official title at Dude Solutions? What are the responsibilities of your role? Have you had any other titles or responsibilities at Dude Solutions?
I am the Sr. Manager of Client Support. I am responsible for the entire Legendary Support Team (LST), as well as the Product Operations team. We have six individual teams on Support, broken out by product suites, which assist our clients with any questions they may have. Product Operations is the liaison between CSC and Product and Engineering. When I first came to Dude Solutions, I started in Support. We were structured a little differently, so we did both support and trainings/implementations back then, until we split Support and Implementation apart. I was on Support for about three years, then I moved into an implementation role for about a year and half. After that, I was lucky enough to get a manager role for one of the teams on Support (BizOps!) and was promoted to my current role in April of 2018.
Q: Do you consider yourself a leader at this company? What do you feel you bring to your role that inspires others to see you as a leader?
I try my best to be a leader at Dude Solutions. I think I have a good personal brand and people know they can trust me. If I say I am going to do something, I do it. Trust is the key to leadership, and you have to continuously prove and build that trust with your team if you want them to follow you. This is done by being open and honest with the team, listening to feedback and sharing your experiences. I also think it helps that I can still get in there and get my hands dirty, talking with clients and troubleshooting most things if needed. Being able to show my team that I am still willing and able to make sure clients are happy and that we are delivering legendary service is important because, no matter your role at The Dude, we all have the same goal: happy clients!
Q: What projects or goals are you working on or leading currently?
The biggest project my team is working on is launching a knowledgebase to our clients, as well as to our internal teams. By doing this we will enable our clients to do more self-service and hopefully decrease the number of support cases that come in. With the evolution of technology and the work force, our clients want to be able to look things up themselves before having to reach out. The knowledgebase will have information that can be shared internally across The Dude as well, from product to process questions. The best part? Everyone can contribute to the knowledgebase and share!
Q: What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishments or wins while at The Dude or in other tech-related ventures?
Being part of the team that was in charge of finding a new solution for our Events products was one of the coolest things I’ve done here. It was so rewarding to know that because of how much hard work and dedication I put into learning the Events products and the industry, I was selected to help make this decision that impacts everyone. It was really one of those “hard work pays off” moments. Plus, I got to gain more knowledge and skills with that experience.
Other than that, just being able to call myself a Dude for the last seven years has been an awesome accomplishment. Making the change from running around a ball field every day to working in an office was tough. The Dude has seen a lot of changes in the last seven years as well, and I’ve seen so many jump off the boat. Going through all the changes has made me stronger, both professionally and personally. No one really likes change, but it’s all about how you react. You learn a lot about yourself and your ability to adapt.
Q: What, if any, have been your challenges navigating being a leader in this industry?
At first it was making sure I understood the ‘tech speak’ that people use. When you are working in the product, you get to talk to clients who say things one way, then developers and engineers who talk in what can seem like a different language. As I have moved through The Dude, I have learned a lot more about the technical side of how software works than I ever thought I would need to.
Moving into the leadership role is a whole different ball game. There are so many things outside of the product to think about, like metrics and data. Figuring out what data is important and how to analyze it and make changes based on that has been challenging, especially as The Dude continues to grow.
Speaking of growth, change has also been a challenge we’ve all had to deal with. In a leadership role though, it’s 10 times harder. Just because you are weathering the change well doesn’t mean others are. Leading by example and communication are two key things that help when dealing with changes.
Q: Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share about being a woman in the tech field, or advice for other women carving out a space?
Don’t be scared to jump in and learn something new! I’ve always been a curious person, and anyone who knows me knows I’m not very shy, so when people ask how I got in my role I usually say it was because I tried to put myself in the right places at the right time to learn something.
One piece of advice I give to new hires is to volunteer for everything!
First, it shows that you have ambition and are willing to take on responsibility. Second, it gets your name out there and sometimes in front of people you don’t normally get to interact with. And third, you will learn something! Continuous learning is key. There is always something you don’t know.
Q: What do you think makes for a good leader?
A good leader is someone that is open and honest with their communication. They build trust with their team by not being afraid to be vulnerable or share their experiences with others to help them learn something. They are reliable and do what they say they will. They motivate their teams to do the best work they can and foster a ‘one team, one goal’ mentality.
Q: In what ways do you help create leaders?
I try to help guide people to situations or projects where they get a chance to learn something and meet new people. I encourage them to find something that they are passionate about or that really interests them and see where it takes them. I also make sure they know that failure isn’t the end of the world and that there are always others around them to help if needed.
Q: Who has been a leader you’ve learned from?
There have been a lot of leaders that I’ve learned from in my life. Growing up playing sports, there was always a coach to look up to. For me, that is my dad. He’s been doing what he loves, coaching or playing softball, since as long as I can remember. 2020 will be his 21st season at William Peace University (aka Peace College) so he has a lot of experience leading.
I have also learned a lot from the other leaders here at The Dude. Our team collaborates very well and we strive to give feedback to each other to help make things better. I know when I have something that I need to talk out, I can count on them to help me and some days, keep me sane.
Q: What lessons have you learned being a leader?
It is not all fun and games! People are messy and have emotions and everyone is different in how they express them. You have to make sure that you are thinking about how others perceive and understand things. You also have to make sure that you are leading by example. When change or something happens that causes people to be unsure about something, they will look to you. Model the behavior you want to see in your team.
Lastly, data is key! Are you being efficient? Look at the data. Are we getting better? Look at the data. Do we need more people? Look at the data. Things can get done a lot quicker if you have the data to back up what you are saying.