Aileen Wong knew it was time to leave her job in reality television production. The long hours, intense work and less-than-stellar pay had left her burned out, and she was ready for a new adventure.
So she signed up for a software development bootcamp. Little did she know her mid-career pivot would land her right back in a role at a media and entertainment company.
As she finished her course, Wong posted her profile on a career development website for women in tech and soon found herself interviewing for an entry-level position at NBCUniversal.
Since joining the company, Wong has found room to grow, with support from leaders, mentors and NBCUniversal’s culture of inclusion and opportunity.
And — fortunately for women in tech — the growth and support she has experienced at NBCUniversal is not unique.
Built In sat down with Wong and three of her colleagues to learn more about the varied and often non-traditional journeys each woman took while on the way to thriving at NBCUniversal.
Since beginning her career at NBCUniversal as an associate software engineer, Wong encountered a culture of unwavering support from her managers and mentors.
Early in her time at the company, her manager showed true investment in Wong’s development through regular one-on-one conversations, transparent feedback sessions and mapping a clear path toward development. After a year, Wong transitioned to a mid-level engineering role and, shortly thereafter, moved into a management role.
“My growth is not necessarily unique,” she noted. “I have seen similar growth and support from management for many of my peers as well. Because of that, I now try to offer that same direction to the people working on my team.”
Beyond interpersonal coaching, structural support also helps provide direction for employees’ growth at NBCUniversal. The company’s career compass helps employees see where they stand on their career path and what they need to do to seek the next step, allowing them to set clear goals and achieve career milestones.
“For me, that level set was crucial for me to see where I was going,” Wong said. “So often, you’re at the mercy of your peers to understand what to do and how to do it, and the compass helped me see where to focus. I structured my day to meet the goals that NBCU had laid out and that I had set for myself as to where I wanted to be next.”
Here’s what else Wong had to say …
On leadership: “In order to step up into the next position, you have to find a space to let your voice be heard. All the teams at NBCU are very receptive to anybody who wants to take the lead. If you see a need, they’re happy to let you fill that space — and once people see you in that role, people want to support you as you expand. There’s always room for another voice to be heard.”
“You have to find a space to let your voice be heard.”
On what makes NBCUniversal great: “The people at NBCU treat you like people first. They understand that you have a life outside of work. I had a baby last year, and my managers have always prioritized asking about myself as a parent and about my baby because they recognize that I am a human first and not just someone trying to pump out code. And when you’re good personally, you’re going to produce better work — but they will always put the person over the work.”
Brittany Bruegel’s path at NBCUniversal is a testament to the power of mentorship — and seizing opportunities, even when they may be unexpected.
When Bruegel’s mentor, Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Steve Makofsky, first reached out to her about possible opportunities at NBCUniversal, Bruegel was drawn to openness for innovation in the space of tech strategy.
“He described a little bit of what was going on in this space, and the questions were spongy and not quite solid,” she said. “I came in knowing that there were problems that we were going to solve, and we built a team of technical program managers and scrum leads to help us solve those problems.”
Bruegel’s work addressing complex technical questions across the organization mirrors other challenges she has taken on with encouragement from Makofsky, both while working together at NBCUniversal and while colleagues at a former employer. “He’s always been in a position of pushing me forward to go and do bigger and better things,” she said.
One notable challenge: the 2017 New York City Marathon. Makofsky encouraged Bruegel to enter the lottery for the New York City Marathon along with a group of other runners — but only Bruegel secured a spot. As Bruegel trained for the race, she tracked her progress with the hashtag #makowhy, honoring Makofsky’s support and detailing her daily push past the edge of her comfort zone. Ultimately, the experience was an apt metaphor for Bruegel’s professional growth — a journey marked by support, encouragement and a passion for taking on new challenges.
Here’s what else Bruegel had to say …
On growth at NBCUniversal: “Leadership prioritizes individual growth over keeping someone in a role where they’re succeeding. If someone is ready to move on to the next stage and we don’t have a role for them, we want to offer room to develop rather than stalling someone amazing at a lower level. We’re prioritizing people over projects because we can backfill that role and find that individual opportunities to grow, as well.”
On team culture: “The camaraderie on our team has opened up opportunities for peer mentorship across leaders in our space. We recently had a pen pal program that connected people to get folks talking across the organization. By having friendly and casual conversations, we are able to build the relationships we need to holistically create visibility and accountability around pain points and how to solve them.”
When Karissa Goellner began her career, she didn’t anticipate that her path would lead from a quality assurance role in the pharmaceutical and supplement industry to working in tech and media. But Goellner’s journey helped her build the core competencies that have led her to thrive at NBCUniversal.
When Goellner’s resume reached the Peacock team, something unusual stood out.
“I put ‘making it happen’ as a skill on my resume,” she said. “And so when I interviewed, they asked what I meant by that. I explained that I’ve always been that person who, when there’s something that needs to get done and no one really knows how to do it, they hand it to me.”
“If there’s something that needs to get done and no one really knows how to do it, they hand it to me.”
Goellner’s resilient approach to problem solving, her self-motivated drive and what she calls her “willingness to go on a goose chase to get results” stood out to the Peacock team, and she has called on those traits while building her network at NBCUniversal.
Since joining the company, Goellner has participated in four formal mentorship programs that have been instrumental in her career growth, offering both personal guidance and new insights into different aspects of the business.
Goellner also emphasized the value of employee resource groups as a way to build deeper connections with colleagues and grow personally and professionally within a larger organization.
“Joining ERGs and eventually taking on a leadership position helped me to build my leadership skills outside of the tasks of my job description,” she said. “I was intentional about getting involved, and then I was so impressed with how quickly I was truly able to become deeply involved and step up as a leader — it really is what you make of it.”
Here’s what else Goellner had to say …
On growth: “Before I worked here, I had never heard the term stretch project, and that’s something we discuss often here for people seeking growth. Mentors will ask, ‘Do you have a stretch project?’ Or your management will say, ‘OK, let's find a stretch project for you.’ And that has been a great way to build skills that expand my abilities.”
On team dynamics: “When I first started, I was struck by how positively everyone here talked about each other. If someone’s not in a meeting, people still talk kindly about them and give credit where credit is due. It is a very positive and encouraging atmosphere, and people are genuinely treated well by their teammates and their leadership.”
When Avril Powell joined NBCUniversal after a long career in telecommunications technology, she found clear pathways for growth, and leadership committed to supporting her as she reached for her next objectives.
“About a year after I joined NBCUniversal, my manager said to me, ‘I think you need to be a senior engineer. Here’s what you need to do.’ And I looked at the milestones and realized that I was doing all of it already,” Powell said. The challenge? She needed to make sure that her abilities had the visibility she needed for growth.
And so, a plan was put into action over the next six months. As a remote employee, Powell soon had opportunities to work with other distributed teams and contribute to their work, to lead projects, to train new employees and to work cross-functionally with architecture and design.
“It’s really unusual to have this much opportunity and flexibility as a software engineer,” Powell said. “Working with other groups across the organization has been a fascinating puzzle to understand how we can work together and help each other be more successful.”
“It’s really unusual to have this much opportunity and flexibility as a software engineer.
Here’s what else Powell had to say …
On opportunity: “Our team is managing a bunch of different projects at once, and our manager gave every single employee the opportunity to to lead one of the projects — from setting up design meetings to connecting with the teams we need involved to getting input from across the organization. Often, there is one person who becomes the point person because they’ve experienced the work on other projects and the team follows their lead, but our manager wanted us each to have the opportunity to understand whether we enjoyed taking on that kind of role. I appreciated growing my experience on the project, and I learned that I love working closely with our designers.”
On her colleagues: “We hire good folks here, and it’s a pleasure to talk to everybody you meet. They’re friendly. They’re kind. They’re intelligent. They’re willing to help. They know what’s going on. I cannot recommend joining NBCUniversal enough.”