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February/March 2012

Diversity/Careers February/March 2012 Issue




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Managing

Pamela Sexton: doing lots at HSBC & driven to do still more

Her team's responsibilities include working with regulators, testing new software and validating documentation to be sure it's up to date


HSBC Bank USA (New York, NY) serves some 4 million customers. Its personal financial services, private bank, asset management, commercial banking and global banking and market segments rely on IT solutions and services provided by the HSBC technology and services organization. Pamela Sexton is a senior manager in the organization's QA office.

"I'm in charge of test managers around the U.S., and we support testing initiatives for major projects around the globe," she says.

Testing new software and validating documentation to make sure it's up to date are among her team's responsibilities. "What we do can be as simple as working on integration testing, or it can be every phase of testing from integration to regression," she says. "It depends on how engaged our customers want us to be. Some of them want to own certain pieces of the testing themselves."

The business units are the customers
Her customers are the various business units of HSBC, and her team touches them all. "Bank card services, human resources and finance are all among my internal customers," she explains.

Much of her day is spent on the phone with team members to see how they're doing, particularly on large projects. "I might be listening in on a status call or reviewing a statement of work for a new initiative.

"If it's something relatively small I try not to get in the way," she says. "I try to work with the leaders and they don't need me all the time."

An important part of Sexton's role is mentoring and coaching employees to reinforce the strategic goals of HSBC. "Part of my day might also be spent in one-on-ones with employees across the country to be sure they have what they need, and let them know we're working on their professional development and coaching," Sexton says.

She has ten test managers reporting directly to her: project managers, senior business analysts and consultants. She keeps her management style engaging and supportive. "My team would tell you I am very calm," she says, "but they'd probably also say that I like to have fun and laugh a lot."

Two years in QA
Sexton has been in her current job for two years. Before that she spent four years as a technology relationship manager, establishing and maintaining relationships with various business execs to help with their strategic planning and technical resource requirements.

"As a relationship manager I was a single point of contact for my customers, whether they wanted to talk about testing, budget, systems analysis or whatever. I was there a long time and it helped me learn a lot about the businesses."

Two languages in IT
The experience also helped in other ways. "When I went into the IT world I could speak both business and technology languages. Moving into the testing area was different for me because I was used to knowing everything about a bigger picture, but I've learned that testing can be a big picture too, when you're talking about million-dollar projects!"

A one-company career
Sexton joined HSBC in 1989 as a team leader in the customer service area. "I've been here practically my whole work life," she says. She began her career at Household Finance Corp, which became HSBC Finance Corp.

She grew up in Chicago, IL and started in pre-med at DePaul University there. "I had aspirations to become a doctor but when I got into the coursework and they were talking about cadavers I decided I wanted to work with live people!"

In the end she went to school part-time and worked part-time, and a friend in HR at Household Finance brought her in as a customer service rep.

"It was nice and I could do it well but I didn't think it was going to be a lifelong thing for me. Then I moved to a different department where they said, 'You should go back to school because we want you to become a technical person.'"

With tuition reimbursement offered, Sexton began to study CS at DeVry Institute of Technology (Chicago, IL). "The one thing I learned there was that I didn't want to be a programmer. I told my manager, "OK, I know how to do it but I also know that I don't want to do it!"

Professional development
Sexton was too good to give up on, so Household began developing her for a management role, giving her assignments of increasing complexity and responsibility. She became a technical resource manager and was promoted to technology relationship manager.

She put the schoolwork on hold when she began a family, but she still intends to complete a degree someday. "I feel blessed with the accomplishments I've achieved but I still feel that a BS is something that is necessary," she declares.

African American: help and hindrance
Has being an African American woman in the IT world been a help or a hindrance? "A little of both," Sexton believes.

"It all depends on what role I was in," she says. "For a while it helped to be one of the few black women in leadership. It gave others respect for what I could bring to the table that they might not have thought about before.

"I've also had my share of challenges, but I overcame them because my work spoke for itself."

Multiple leadership roles
At HSBC Sexton is an active member and former leader of the African Heritage Committee. She's also president of the Chicago chapter of Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA) and VP of strategy and planning and conference director for the national BDPA organization.

She is a graduate of the executive protégé program of the IT Senior Management Forum (ITSMF), the national mentoring program focused on cultivating executive talent among black IT pros. And she's served on the Chicago mayor's council for technology.

She likes her job, but would like to do even more. "I'm always looking for something new to learn," she says. "I still ask for special projects.

"For example, I am definitely driven to become an expert on testing. What I don't know, I will find out!" Sexton concludes.

D/C



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