Lead(H)er Profile - Bela Labovitch, VP of Engineering at athenahealth
What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school?
I earned my Bachelor’s degrees in both Computer Science and Psychology from Brandeis University and my Master’s degree in Computer Science from Northeastern University. I have always loved to code, and my first job out of college was as a software engineer (no surprise!).
Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?
My career path was not linear - I started out as a Software Engineer and then went down the management path. I was working long hours as the Director of Engineering of a dynamic and fast-moving organization when a critical moment in my career occurred. My second son, then eighteen months old and possessing a limited vocabulary, said “Mom, I hate, hate that you work.” It was then that I decided it would be better to balance work and mothering two boys by returning to an individual contributor role. So, I stepped down from my Director position and spent my children’s formative years working part-time as a developer and architect. Ten years later, when I returned to full-time work and eventually a management position, I realized that you could toggle between management and individual contributor functions effectively. For those managers who miss being hands-on, it is possible to go back and forth - in fact, it can make you a better manager.
My 18-month-old has since grown up. I am pictured below with both of my children.
What is your current role and responsibilities?
I currently lead engineering for athenahealth’s flagship Revenue Cycle Management (RCM) product athenaCollector. athenahealth’s vision is to create a thriving ecosystem that delivers accessible, high-quality, and sustainable healthcare for all. I lead a team of architects and developers whose goal is to deliver stable, scalable, performant and secure software to support our healthcare provider community. I am proud that our product has received a 2020 Best in KLAS award for Ambulatory RCM Services.
Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally? Was it always your goal to be in this position?
Earlier in my career the only thing I knew was that I wanted to be doing what I was passionate about, while making a difference in this world. I was always enthusiastic about building excellent software that has an impact on people’s lives. I am lucky to be in a position where I love my job and find it very rewarding. One of my goals also includes developing and retaining women in the technology field and cultivating women leaders. Being on the steering committee of one of athenahealth’s Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) – the Women’s Leadership Forum — and founding our Women in Technology initiative has given me an outlet to express myself, mentor, and help achievethis goal.
For people who are looking to be in a similar position, what advice would you give to others in terms of helping them achieve their career goals?
Visualize where you would like to be and then work hard with a sense of optimism. It is important to enjoy your journey - if you are passionate and work hard but with ease, and help others along the way, there is a good chance you can achieve your career goals. Early in my career, I learned to take initiative, not let fear hold me back and that I didn’t need the title of a leader to be a leader.
What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?
My job is to create and sustain high-performing teams that deliver great outcomes for our customers. Towards this, it is important for me to focus on creating a culture for my team to do their best work, optimize processes and imbue software excellence in my organization. I need to care deeply about and understand my team, communicate well, empower my staff and make sure I keep learning and stay on top of technology and healthcare trends. In short, I need the skills to be both a great leader and technologist.
What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work? What’s most challenging?
There are so many interesting things about my work - different pockets of my organization are solving various problems of automation, scale, performance and creation of value for our customers, who are healthcare providers. Most challenging (and interesting!) for athenahealth’s engineering team is our microservice journey, as we work towards partitioning our software into independent pieces of functionality, while continuing to delight and deliver value to our healthcare community.
Are you involved with any professional organizations outside of the company? Volunteer work?
I am passionate about bringing and keeping women in STEM - particularly technology - and I mentor and speak at various local organizations such as Girls Who Code. I belong to The Boston Club and work with women across technology companies in the Boston area on programming for women. I am looking forward to joining and getting more involved with the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association this year.
What’s next for you and your career?
I am perfectly happy with where I am right now and someday look to be on an Executive leadership team for an organization. I would also like to serve as a board member for some organizations whose values align with mine.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I am a reader and belong to two book clubs. I run and practice yoga, and I love being outside. I also like to volunteer and have been a long-time parental stress counselor and serve on the board of a non-profit called Parents Helping Parents.
How do you manage stress?
Between meditation, yoga, and running, I have had a good handle on stress (mostly!).
How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?
I love my coffee! Two cups a day, maybe three if I have a break from meetings and can get a third.
What's one of your favorite places in the Boston/New York area?
I love the water - take me anywhere - the Boston Harbor, Crane Beach or Lake Waban and I am happy!
Any book or podcast recommendations?
Here is what you will find on my bedside today - books that I am reading right now:
What advice do you have for recent college graduates?
My son graduated from college this month, so I have a lot of advice! This is a hard time - college graduates have missed much of their final semester, time with friends and find themselves graduating into a tough job market. They are learning early, that things don’t always go the way you imagine they will. But this is an opportunity to purposefully learn resilience and grit. Be grateful for all that is good and stay optimistic, every day. Confront your fears, and then move forward with a sense of purpose - you can make a difference every day, to your community and to the larger world. Take this privilege, give to others and work hard - life will fall into place and be good.