From the 20 pet pigeons flying around her home, to the infectious smile on her face, there’s no denying that Sofia Perdigão is content with her life.
Sofia found purpose in her role as a senior engineering manager at PagerDuty and in other positions she’s taken on within the company, including as an employee resource group leader. She’s always enjoyed a challenge, and PagerDuty posed a really interesting one: building an engineering team from scratch in a new region — her hometown of Lisbon, Portugal.
Outside of work, she’s able to fully unplug and enjoy life at home with her 40 animals (including those 20 pigeons), sewing projects, and vegetable garden.
But Sofia doesn’t take this sense of peace for granted.
Prior to joining PagerDuty, Sofia faced many of the hardships that are unfortunately well-known to many women in tech. These challenges taught her to be fiercely resilient and it’s now her mission to support other women along their career paths. We sat down with Sofia to hear more about her lessons on resilience and redefining success.
A young girl’s dream
As a young girl, Sofia hoped to become an engineer (just like her father), own a house with a pool, and become the President of the Portuguese Republic.
While she was certain she could win the presidency if she put her mind to it, Sofia decided to scrap politics from the list. With this narrowed focus, she drew up a plan that was sure to set her on the right path: get a good education, get a job, get promoted, and get a pool!
But it didn’t quite go that way.
There were many bumps and obstacles along the way, from gender discrimination and being passed over for promotions to burnout. Sofia’s path was anything but linear, but she never gave up on herself. Every time she was pushed down, she got back up.
Carving her path in technology
“I was one of 10 women in my program of 100 engineers,” Sofia says when reflecting on her initial steps in technology.
She went on to spend nine years at a company, being groomed for a management position, only to find out that the role was given to someone else one week after it was offered to her.
“I decided to do a master's in management to understand these other parts that we engineers sometimes lack related to vision, strategy, finance, et cetera,” Sofia recalls. At the time, she was 40 years old and had two children. Despite the sacrifices she made to obtain her degree, she was looked over once again for a management position at her next company.
By the time she moved into management with a couple of large Portuguese companies, Sofia found herself exhausted and overworked.
“I was really sick with burnout,” she says. “I had too much work. I knew the expected workload wasn’t right. And I knew I needed to find a company that I identify with. So I moved to a smaller start-up here in Portugal.”
Once in the start-up space, Sofia received a message that would alter her career path — for the better.
“The email said: Hey, are you open to starting a team from scratch here at PagerDuty?”
Developing her leadership strategy at PagerDuty
Sofia didn’t think twice. “‘Yes, totally,’ I told them. This is a company that cares about their people. It’s not just written on paper. They’re genuinely invested in us,” she says.
Once in the role, Sofia seized the opportunity to incorporate the lessons learned throughout her career into a powerful leadership strategy.
“I hired people that fit the way of work of my team and PagerDuty culture and values. I want my people to know that they’ll always have my support. As a team, we have a bond. So I looked for professionals that could work together, complementing each other on their individuality” Sofia explains.
She started hosting informal one-on-ones with her teammates every week.
“Especially in the beginning, it’s important just to get to know the person, who they are outside of work, what’s the mental structure of that person, and how they work and think. If you do that and share your own stories, you will find common ground and create a connection, you’ll create empathy and gradually build trust,” says Sofia.
She also believes that “we are just one,” meaning that every professional manages multiple aspects of their life at once, and that it is hard to separate our work self from our personal life.
“During our one-on-ones, I don’t just want to hear about how they are on the work side,” says Sofia. “I want them to know that it’s okay if they’re having any issue, any concern, if everything is ok with their family, whatever kind of issue it may be. I am there to help them. If they need time off, they can take it. At the end of the day, we are just one person.”
Finding her purpose as a mentor
Looking back on her career, Sofia sees a bumpy road. But today, she is content. She doesn’t feel the need to prove herself anymore. She’s doing work she loves. And the work she cares about the most is paying it forward.
Beyond leading her own team, Sofia is on a mission to inspire as many women in technology as possible, no matter where they are in the country.
“In Portugal, we’re a small group of women in technology. Women, unfortunately, still don’t have the same opportunities as men,” Sofia says when reflecting on the discrimination she once experienced herself. “So now, I really focus on helping other people. That’s part of my values.”
PagerDuty encourages Sofia’s involvement in Portuguese Women in Tech, an organization that supports women in technology through mentorship, training, and networking opportunities. She’s also Co-Lead of the company Pillar and a mentor of PagerDuty’s Elevate, an employee resource group for empowering women in their professional development.
“I mentor women on things that I’ve personally experienced and seem obvious but we often don’t have time to do it — things like how to have time for yourself,” explains Sofia.
“If sharing my story helps someone, I’m happy.”
4 tips for leading with resilience:
When reflecting back on her career journey, through the challenges and the successes, Sofia extracts these four lessons on leading with resilience:
- Look to adversity as an opportunity: “Embrace adversity as a chance to learn and grow. Be prepared with a plan B and maintain the flexibility to adapt to new circumstances,” says Sofia. Twice in her life, she was supposed to be promoted to management only to have the opportunity taken away. Was it a challenge? Yes. However, she learned to view it as an opportunity for growth.
- Focus on what you can control: “Recognize that you can't control the opinions of others. Instead, focus on your own actions and decisions,” says Sofia. For example, instead of giving up when she was looked over for promotions, she decided to get a master’s in management to fill in her experience gaps.
- Make time for yourself: “Self-care is an exercise and it can come in many forms,” says Sofia. “Find out what that means for you and prioritize it to be the best version of yourself in other areas of your life.”
- Define your meaning in life: Sofia encourages you to “start by understanding your purpose in life. Knowing what truly matters to you will help put challenges in perspective and guide your decision-making.” Sofia believes that once you discover your meaning in life, everything else falls into place.