Ep 33: Danielle DeLonge: Building a “Jungle Gym” Tech Career

Diva Tech Talk interviewed Danielle DeLonge, Technology Learning Consultant at Plante Moran, the 14th largest accounting/consulting firm in the United States.For 18 years, Plante Moran has been recognized on FORTUNE magazine’s list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in America. They have also been honored by Human Resources Executive Magazine as one of the top places to work for millennial professionals; and most recently Great Place to Work® named Plante Moran to their lists of “50 Best Workplaces for Recent College Graduates” and “Best Workplaces in Consulting & Professional Services.”  Danielle deliberately targeted Plante Moran, as she was building her career, for the support and quality of life/work that the firm offers its team members.

Describing her career path as a “jungle gym path” vs. a “ladder career path,” Danielle began her technology journey with a breakthrough Michigan-based organization:  Automation Alley, the technology business association and accelerator dedicated to growing the Southeast Michigan economy.  As a recently-minted MBA degree holder, Danielle participated in Leadership Oakland – a cohort of regional leaders delving into issues facing Southeast Michigan.  From there, she became the facilitator for an Automation Alley 8-chapter grant-funded statewide network of technology professionals (ConnecTech).  “I didn’t really know what that was going to entail,” Danielle said. “But my brother worked at IBM, and my father was at Oracle, so I thought – well I have two good backups!  And I just fell in love with the people, and the culture at Automation Alley, and in love with technology, too, for what it made possible.” After the grant ended, Danielle worked at Automation Alley full-time as the intermediary between entrepreneurs who wanted “seed” money, and those who funded them.  

Danielle also obtained her PMP certification and her Salesforce administrator certification as additional proficiency badges.  “Who knew that someone could have a non-traditional path, and end up where I did!”

From her Automation Alley experience, Danielle realized that she wanted to “be in the field, out with clients, making things happen.”  She moved to Davenport University, where she sold a program called ICD10, to fundamentally change the way that healthcare providers were paid.  Then she led the development, as Executive Director, of Davenport’s Lansing campus.  But “education is a different mindset than technology,” Danielle found.  “I knew that I wanted to be back in technology.  I felt that I was really connected to the entrepreneurial spirit when I was with technology folks.”  So her next move was to become project manager for entrepreneurial Xede Consulting Group, working on the implementation of Salesforce.com projects for clients.  “That was so much fun because I got to do the high level change management stuff. How does technology impact the work that you are doing?  It can change the shape of the way you do business!”

Danielle always knew she was interested in Plante Moran. “When I was at ConnecTech, we had someone from Plante Moran come in and do a Salesforce.com and SharePoint implementation for us,” she said.  “I saw what that made possible for my 8 chapters across the state, and I thought ‘boy, I want some of that.’  I want to be around those people.”  When Danielle was returning from maternity leave, having had her first child, she was fortunate enough to land her initial role as an IT consultant with Plante, which morphed into becoming the Technology Learning Consultant she is, today.

In thinking about work/life balance “Technology makes so much possible for our practice staff, and the clients that we work with,” Danielle exclaimed. “We practice what we preach. We absolutely use the tools available to us, Microsoft tools like Skype for business, and SharePoint, to do our work. The technology makes the job possible. It also makes the work that I do so interesting because this stuff is always changing. There is always something new to do.”

Discussing her current work at Plante Moran, Danielle said “I believe that the work I am doing with this technology team is something that other organizations need, as well.  There is a need for a tech transfer strategy. I would like to be able to package some of the work we are doing, and bring some order to the natural chaos that exists in technology departments so that the investment technology organizations are making is leveraged across each organization.”

“It’s funny I never really intended to be in technology,” Danielle said. “What inspired me was looking at my father, who had a flexible role, in sales support at Oracle.  I saw him at home working on presentations, and research.  And then my mother was a project manager, and I saw her in an office.  So I thought wow, technology and project management; there’s got to be something there. That really helped shape who I wanted to be in my career.”    

Ruminating about life balance and nurturing her own child, Danielle said: “I feel like I have been a mentor, I’ve been a role model, for moments like an hour with somebody over coffee. I’ve never, before, been a role model for somebody every waking moment she’s awake. And that is the biggest thing about being around my daughter. I have to be conscious constantly – because she is emulating me.  I think it’s about being deliberate about the environment you’re creating because you’re not the only one living in that.  Your responsibility is so much greater than yourself.  And that is something worth getting up for.”  She is also very grateful for the efforts of her husband, who has been a strong partner throughout her career progression.

In surveying her own talents, Danielle cites her ability to be adaptive as being essential to her development.  “We moved 5 times when I was growing up,” she said. “In a new situation, I know what I need to do to come in, get established, get my basis, and get off and go running. That is all made possible by this thing that we call ‘agile.’  It is a practice but it is also a way of being.”  She also discussed the pivotal role that her network has played in her success. “My network is huge,” Danielle said. “And my network is something I have to nurture.  It is not something that just happened by itself.  I continue to ensure that my network is alive and vital.”  Additionally Danielle says that one of her personal strengths is the skill to “vacillate between listening and creating. And I come back to jobs that allow me to do that.”

Danielle divides her days into 3 parts:  “The early morning is for me. The remainder of my day is for Plante Moran.  My nights are for my family. I structured my life so that by this time, my school is finished.  And when I come home from work, I am spending the time with my daughter and my husband, until she goes to bed.”

In support of life-long learning, and because “books are for me like cooking is for others” (a joy to share) Danielle recommends a number of books including: LOVE IS THE KILLER APP, THE GIRL’S GUIDE TO HUNTING AND FISHING, REALITY IS BROKEN, and two books which her father gave her:  THE POWER OF NICE and NICE GIRLS DON’T GET THE CORNER OFFICE (all five of which can be downloaded as part of an Audible 30 Day Trial at www.audibletrial.com/dt2.)

“I really had to learn that I would probably get it wrong the first time,” Danielle said. “I had to learn to build in room for failure.  There is a mantra out there about ‘fail fast.’ I would add to that:  and keep going!  Do you know what they call the woman who graduated last in class at Harvard Medical School?  They call her ‘Doctor.’ ”

Danielle’s top four leadership lessons for other tech women include:

  • Never underestimate the value of clear communication.  “A lot of what I do is help develop succinct messaging; helping the organization think through what do we want to say about the way this technology is going to impact staff members.”

  • Learn how to facilitate productive conversations.

  • Know your numbers. “Know where you stand. You have to know your data. You need to have an awareness of your output so you can leverage it so you can go where you want to be.”

  • The tech field is growing and evolving, and you are always growing and evolving. There is a way for you to carve out a niche in this community, if you persist.

Enthusing about the ramifications of technology, in general, Danielle shared that “you can still achieve your dreams, working in any particular industry, by being a part of technology. I don’t know very many other spaces where that is possible.”

Danielle DeLonge can be reached at ddelonge1@gmail.com.  Plante Moran’s website is www.plantemoran.com.

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