Karen Cheng brings her global experience in infrastructure automation and analytics to help Kyndryl accelerate productivity and outcomes for its customers. Cheng was selected to be part of the inaugural class of Kyndryl Distinguished Engineers, leading innovators who are shaping the future of Kyndryl and driving change in the industry.
How do you describe your day-to-day at Kyndryl?
As an architect, my job is to connect the dots between technology, people and processes to solve business problems. On a day-to-day basis, I partner with customers to drive transformation through automation, and make their businesses run more securely and efficiently. Equally important, I also help them measure and analyze that work through metrics and analytics.
For many years, I was in a global role, architecting standard solutions for infrastructure services delivery. About a year and a half ago, I switched to a CTO role for a large, new account in Canada. By going very deep into one customer, I can experience how these solutions translate into delivery and outcomes, to make me a better architect.
So you are now based in Canada?
Yes. I was born in Toronto and live there with my husband and two kids. My kids were on spring break recently, so we did some hikes, a little skiing, and then ice fishing at our cottage.
Ice fishing? Please share how ice fishing can secretly impact your work at Kyndryl?
Actually, there are some parallels there! For instance, when I was out on the ice with my kids — and we were out there for hours — we only caught one fish. It was barely bigger than the bait, but we had a great time nonetheless.
This is akin to work. We strive for certain outcomes, but lots of time and patience is required when you’re on a big project or big account. It’s important to find little bits of fun and inspiration and opportunities along the way to achieving your deliverables.
Also, when you’re ice fishing in the springtime, you’ve got to be cognizant of the thickness of the ice. I thought we were on thin ice, but there was actually two feet of solid ice underneath. It was a perfect reminder that there are a lot of things you can't see until you take a closer inspection, and change your perspective.
When you think about some of the big wins you’ve had that contributed to your being recognized as a Distinguished Engineer, what comes to mind?
I am most recognized as the Global Lead Architect for a cloud native automation platform based on Ansible Automation Platform and Openshift, which was rolled out to over 800 managed services accounts. This allowed Kyndryl to move away from point solutions to a common automation platform that supported our community model strategy. Leading a global project of that scale and impact helped establish me as a subject matter expert in automation.
It sounds like an achievement that’s been an important inflection point on your career.
For 24 years, I was focused on IBM products and services in my architect toolbox. Now at Kyndryl, my toolbox is so much bigger. I now have the choice of different products, services and vendors — to meet clients where they are — during solutioning. For new hires, the freedom of not being boxed into specific technologies should be very attractive.
On a personal level, I've seen so much commitment from the company towards diversity, inclusion, and equality. For anybody who is thinking about coming to Kyndryl, there are no limits from a professional and personal standpoint.
How do you encourage younger women in their technical careers?
I often get asked by mentees, “Is it difficult to be a woman in IT?” I always try to steer them away from that line of thinking because it's not about men versus women. And it's not even about the workplace, per se. It's really about learning how to gracefully navigate a world full of conscious and subconscious biases, never knowing what bias — sexism, racism, ageism, classism, etc. — is in effect at any given moment, in any given situation. Just focus on yourself, focus on what you're passionate about, what you can accomplish, and ignore the noise.
How does the distinction make you feel?
The Distinguished Engineer appointment is a huge honor. It’s like getting a big vote of confidence from the Kyndryl leadership team that I can be entrusted to shape the technical direction and future of the company. In Canada, I am the first Distinguished Engineer appointed in six years and the only female Distinguished Engineer. It’s a career milestone that has taken me 25 years to achieve, and I could not have done it without the generosity and support of other Distinguished Engineers.