Have a plan, but be prepared for the unexpected

“I really needed to learn that a plan is really a great thing to have, but then life happens. And sometimes, these really great things happen, and you need to take advantage of it,” said Ann-Marie Johnson, vice president of Business Development for ASI Government.

Johnson sat down with Women of Washington hosts Aileen Black and Gigi Schumm to share her journey towards becoming an executive in the federal IT sector.

Johnson shared that she was always drawn to working with the government, and that her father had inspired her as a civil engineer. However, working for the government had a disadvantage that Johnson hadn’t anticipated.

“I started my career with the federal government, and I figured out that, although I had come in through the most amazing training program, once I had advanced to a certain degree that people would have to die or retire for me to be promoted,” she said.

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Johnson decided that she would try working for a private IT company, because it offered more potential for advancement there. She found that in the private sector, she “could actually make my next promotion, and I found that to be very empowering.”

“In the government, because of the way the government is structured, there are limitations on how far you can advance. Whereas in the private sector, if you can grow the business, you can grow into your next position, and in fact, that’s what I did,” she said.

Johnson then worked in operations and delivery for years before she moved into business development. When she first took the jump, she was skeptical that she would enjoy working on the business development side. She quickly learned that there was more to business development than she had thought

“I realized that I get to help my clients solve problems, which is what I loved about doing delivery,” she said, “And I get to do it from the perspective of setting up the solution in advance.”

She felt a similar trepidation to working in acquisitions before she moved to ASI Government. But once again, she learned quickly with the help of her colleagues.

“I didn’t know that much about acquisition when I came to ASI eighteen months ago. But I’ve had these amazing delivery people who have educated me about how an acquisition should work, what it should be,” she said.

Johnson also discussed her experiences as a woman in the information technology field, which is known for being predominantly male.

“There aren’t as many women [in technology] as I would have thought 20 years ago that we have been seeing now, and I don’t know exactly how that has happened or why that has happened,” Johnson observed on the disparity between men and women in tech.

Johnson emphasized the importance of getting girls involved with STEM from childhood. She shared a story of her own daughter to illuminate the small ways people can foster the next generation of girls’ interest in STEM.

“I have a daughter who is nearly 12-years-old, and she has had an interest in engineering and math,” Johnson. “She took her plastic erector set and created this little car that she put on a string, and the string went from part of her bunk bed into another part of her room. And for me to crawl down into the bunk bed, and have cuddles with her at night, I had to make sure I didn’t get clotheslined with that string.”

She continued, “And a part of me wanted to tell her to take that down, but another part of me said, ‘And you will not.’ You will not tell her to take that down because this is her engineering. This is her creation, and you need to affirm that.”

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