AT&T Women in Tech: Sarita Rao, Vice President of Wi-Fi and Data Patterns

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Sarita Rao has seen her career at AT&T take many turns. Along the way, she has learned how simple truths can solve complex challenges.

She started in sales supporting large national accounts, then moved on to handle custom contracts for Fortune 1000 customers. Sarita was a pivotal member of the team that established the AT&T wholesale business, followed by assignments back in sales and with a larger operations team.

For a while, Sarita ran the wireless business segment and supported IBM through a multi-billion-dollar outsourcing deal. She also has worked as a program manager in network sourcing, and did a stint helping to improve the customer experience.

Today she leads AT&T’s Wi-Fi and Data Patterns team, transforming existing network investments into a profitable managed services opportunity. What’s next for her?

Before we answer that question, let’s find out more about how she first came to AT&T and what other insights we can gain from her business accomplishments and acumen.


How did you first come to AT&T?

For me, my decision to join AT&T right after my college undergraduate years was more about the company’s appeal than working in the technology industry per se.

Earning a degree in accounting and commerce, I interviewed with several top firms, but I was most impressed with AT&T’s approach. It was less transactional and more about building a relationship. The recruitment process was very personal, as I connected with veteran employees while participating in a multi-step interview process that included business case studies. This engaged, personal approach won me over.

In context of your many roles here at AT&T, what do you see as a defining moment? And how did it influence your path forward?

I have to say the most defining moment came from my time in Chicago running the operations center there. It was my second director-level position, and it provided me tremendous experience working with a large, diverse team that happened to be part of a union organization.

This is where I learned how important it is to take the time to listen to people.

I also learned the value of taking the time to make sure your team understands the big picture, so they can see how their individual contributions are truly significant.

An early mentor told me, “Don’t hide in the office! Get to know the people you are working with.” It’s sage advice. No matter their position on the org chart, each person should have their voice heard.

To this day, I still think about this team and the job we did – and how it taught me the power of listening.

What other qualities and skills do you think are needed to succeed in the tech industry?

You have to be open-minded and adaptable. I also think your business and people skills are equally important.

Technology is never a black-and-white solution, and it’s changing constantly. The possibilities are limitless – but we have to also make decisions based on what meets our customer needs. To make those decisions, you have to listen and understand the capabilities to be able to figure out how it can deliver the results you want.

What next?

I’d like to see an opportunity come along that will get me back in front of customers on a more regular basis –  business, consumer, or the broader community. I love having conversations with customers and seeing what AT&T can do to support them.

Changing directions a bit. . . Who are your role models and mentors – those who have encouraged you throughout your career?

My mentors here at AT&T would certainly include Kathie Morrissey, a senior officer who is now retired from the company. She was exemplary in the way she treated people.

I learned two things from her. One: Be open minded and don’t be afraid to try something new. And two: Know when to delegate (and just as importantly, know when not to – as in roll up your sleeves and get involved).

I see role models as anyone who can be direct and honest with you – with no filters in place. And that can mean someone who is not necessarily at a higher corporate level than you. It can also be someone out of your immediate business environment. In my case, my mother is my greatest role model. She taught me my work ethic – stay focused, work hard, and be true to myself.

Building on your experiences, what advice would you give young women interested in a career in technology?

First off, I’d say, try it out. When in school, take an extra class or join an extracurricular activity. And talk to someone working in the field now. Then fasten your seat belts! Technology is such an exciting field. because it changes so quickly. I think you need be someone who is hungry for constant learning, who adapts readily to change, and is always willing to listen. You don’t necessarily need to have a background in science or math. We can move beyond those stereotypes. Technology touches all of us – and that’s a good reason why it’s so rewarding!

Balancing life and work goals can be a complex challenge for all of us. What’s your best advice for succeeding on all fronts – at work, at home, and in your community?

Let me share these three simple guidelines.

Be yourself. Bring your whole self to work every day – and in to everything you do. Be genuine. If you’re not, you won’t be believed. Be yourself and take the time to invest in yourself.

Think differently. How many times do we hear, “But that’s the way we’ve always done it before.” Don’t just say “no.” Find a path to “yes.” Thinking differently and looking at things from different perspectives helps us grow our business.

Thank people. I think there is not a thing you can do that is more impactful than thanking people. We all do a lot in our day. It’s not a time-consuming, heroic effort to send out quick thank-you notes to acknowledge and recognize the efforts people put into the job. I keep a big basket of thank-you notes in my office, and I always tell folks to help themselves. I think if we all spent more time acknowledging others, we’d have an even greater sense of company pride than what we already have here at AT&T.

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