05/08/2015 07:58 am ET Updated May 08, 2016

Women in Business: Julie Gutierrez-Farley, Director of Professional Services, Key Information Systems

Julie Gutierrez-Farley is the director of professional services at Key Information Systems, Inc., a leading regional systems integrator with world-class compute, storage and networking solutions and professional services for the most advanced software-defined data centers. A 23-year IT industry professional, Julie directs the company's professional services group responsible for analyzing, designing, implementing, managing and supporting enterprise data center solutions. Prior to Key Information Systems, Julie spent nine years in day-to-day IT operations, an experience that gives her insights into the needs and concerns of IT operations and data center managers.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
There are so many things in my life that have made me the leader that I am today and continue to help me improve my leadership skills, but my biggest role models have been my parents.

With 10 of us growing up together, there was a definite need for teamwork and great communication skills to get things done. My dad led by example. He was a good listener and made a point to invest time and focus on whatever he set his mind to. He was also a servant-leader, and as my church pastor, he taught me what was probably the most important lesson of my career: that in order to lead others, you need to learn to serve others. Those you lead need to feel heard, supported and respected in order to follow, and they need to be supported in achieving their goals to be successful.

I learned lessons from my mom, too; she managed many relationships, set priorities and was effective at time management. She is the strongest woman I know and demonstrated for me confidence, consistency, honesty, fairness and directness. Mom was the first to teach me how to establish a rapport with others, trust and be trusted, build teams and use available resources to achieve goals. I applied the skills I learned from both my parents to be the leader I am today.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Key Information Systems?
I started in IT very early on as a technician with Orange County. Marian Ryan Henry, who was the manager of health education services at the Health Care Agency, gave me the best piece of advice that I still benefit from today: learn to play golf. In a male-dominated industry, golf helps me establish relationships with my clients, partners and customers. I enjoy the sport and love taking time in an environment that isn't the office to work through issues and negotiations and come up with good action plans. Moving meetings and negotiations to the golf course allows you to spend some time learning about each other. Often, if you can get someone outside of his or her element and make a personal connection, you'll be more likely to establish a rapport and get things done.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Key Information Systems?
In my role as director of professional services at Key Information Systems, I run the field technical team, as well as pre- and post-sales delivery personnel. The most satisfying thing I have done so far was to build out the delivery methodology for professional services and the framework for how we deliver services to our clients. We still use this delivery method today; it's always a highlight to see something you architected yourself implemented on a large scale. Another highlight is seeing my team succeed and observing individuals as they grow both personally and professionally.
One of the biggest challenges of my position is the fact that technology is an ever-changing industry. With that in mind, I want to ensure that we are hiring people with the expertise to deliver results to the clients, which means keeping our staff constantly retrained and certified to stay abreast of trends and innovations.

What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
I have two suggestions for women entrepreneurs. One of the most vital lessons I've learned is that no idea is a dumb idea. When someone brings up an idea that's been heard or tried before, all too often that idea is quickly dismissed. I've found that if you revisit the idea, you may gain insight into different perspectives or angles that are valuable. Never be afraid to express your thoughts or pursue an idea that you truly believe in.

Another piece of advice is to trust your experience and expertise. Too often, women are concerned about what others think and say. As a business owner, you will have to stand on your own as the thought leader. Let your past successes bring the confidence you need to take on new challenges.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
It's as simple as learning to stop and listen. As a part of a team, it is so important to listen to your teammates. I lead a field team, so I am constantly collaborating with others in the field when solving issues, and when I take the time to hear what my team in the field is saying, it's incredible how much I learn. Listening to the client is equally as important. I consider our sales team to be my internal clients, and the external clients are the accounts we serve. We grow when we listen to our clients, learn from our successes and identify areas to course-correct our shortcomings.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It's important to maintain a work/life balance, even though it can be challenging. I spend time working on my golf game, even outside of business meetings. I enjoy playing with friends and being outside. Speaking of physical activity, I am also training for a mud run in June with some of my colleagues. It is really fun to run and workout together and encourage one another. As I get older, I am realizing how important it is to make exercise part of my lifestyle. My other involvement is in community service projects. I love being a mentor and coach to college-aged people trying to make their way.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace? In the technology industry?
I think women struggle to be their own advocates and ask for projects or promotions. If you are a woman in the tech industry, you already passed the initial test of having technical proficiency. I see women, including myself, who want to be fully prepared before we ask for more, by gaining more experience, taking a class, waiting until we have more expertise, or earning a certification. Men do a very good job at stepping up and asking for what they want, even if it is a stretch. We need to do the same. Take on a stretch opportunity to learn and grow; you may be surprised at the results.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I've been fortunate to have more than one mentor, and they have helped me raise my expectations for myself. They've been great as sounding boards and they take interest in my success. Marian Ryan Henry, my first female manager/leader, helped guide me through my first job out of college and led me down the path to success. She had great passion about her position, a great work ethic and knew how to get things done, which made learning and working with her very enjoyable. Greg Meland, who is a board member at Datalink, has been another strong influence on my career and continues to be my mentor to this day. I met him in 2003 when I was a young manager, and I was blown away by his strong work ethic and business experience in managing risks and people. Greg really helped me learn to serve others, invest in client and team relationships and have the patience and forethought to make good business decisions. My other mentor is Pastor Pat Lopez, a leader in community service and my sister. Pat helps me see the importance of a work/life balance and sets an example that I try to follow. She invests in relationships, cares for others and gives back to the community.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I have a lot of respect for Meg Whitman, the president and CEO at Hewlett-Packard. I had the opportunity to hear her speak at HP Discover last year and was so impressed. She is a genuine woman with an impressive education who rose through the ranks to where she is today. Meg is an inspiration to many women in the technology field.

What do you want Key Information Systems to accomplish in the next year?
In 2014, Key Info focused on integrating a new acquisition and transforming the business from a traditional value-added reseller (VAR)/systems integrator into a comprehensive data center services provider, offering technical reseller services, professional services, colocation, connectivity and managed and cloud services. In 2015, it is about executing and capitalizing on those investments. Customers will see more service offerings and an active field team providing value to our clients.