Lead(H)er profile - Stephanie Bourdage-Braun, Head of Technology Operations at SS&C Intralinks
Growing up in Quebec, Stephanie Bourdage-Braun never aspired to climb the corporate ladder, and her ascendance to her current position as Head of Technology Operations at SS&C Intralinks is a testament to her natural curiosity and fearlessness.
SS&C Intralinks provides cloud-based financial technology for global banking, dealmaking, and capital markets. “Basically, we deliver virtual data room solutions that support dealmakers, corporate development and finance professionals” explains Stephanie. “Companies looking to buy another company or offer their company for sale can use the Intralinks data room to share relevant information with each other. Our solutions are secure, reliable and auditable”
Because Intralinks is a SaaS (Software as a Service) company, it is accessed through the internet, which means that Stephanie’s team of 90 must ensure that the software is available, reliable, and secure at all times. “We’re responsible for release engineering, database support, performance testing, security, automation, networking and infrastructure. If you want software that’s reliable, you need people to be focused on making that happen. It’s a big job.”
Stephanie didn’t start off with a big job. She attended University of Sherbrooke, where she studied business, with a concentration in management information systems. “I always loved computers, but I didn’t want to be a programmer. I thought you had to be a math whiz, and that wasn’t my thing.”
After graduation, her first position was in technical support, answering phones at a small software company that provided tablets for physicians. In 1995, while surfing the internet on her dial-up connection, Stephanie came across a job board. “I saw this job working with collaboration software, Lotus Notes, and I thought it looked interesting. I wasn’t sure if I was qualified, but I figured I could learn it. So on a whim, I applied!”
A few weeks later, Stephanie received a call from an area code she didn’t recognize. “It turned out to be from Seagate, a tech company that makes hard drives.” After a series of interviews, she was offered the position of Lotus Notes administrator — in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Just for context, Quebec is a place where people grow up and stay put, because you speak French. People thought I was crazy to leave. But I thought, I need something bigger.”
Stephanie started by taking a week-long training class. Not only would this class teach her to be a Lotus Notes administrator and launch her into her career, it would also alter the trajectory of her personal life. She met her husband during the class, and the two of them eventually moved to Boston, where Stephanie’s expertise with Lotus Notes landed her a job at IBM. She would work at IBM for the next 19 years.
“The beautiful thing about IBM is that you can be whoever you want to be. If you can convince someone you can do the job, you can do it. You find out what you love, but also what you never want to do again.” Stephanie moved from managing a field support team into business operations, then marketing (which she didn’t like) and product management (which she did like), and finally ended up as Director of SaaS Operations. “I would enter a position, learn it for a few years, then ask, what can I do next?”
Stephanie was enticed to work at Intralinks by a former IBM colleague. One of the first things she had to do was convince the company to upgrade their infrastructure. “I had to get them to understand that if you don’t replace the network, you won’t have a business any more,” she says. “It’s been rewarding to make things happen. I see how much the team has accomplished, in terms of stabilizing the product, improving reliability, the numbers don’t lie.”
But even though Stephanie’s title is “Head of Technical Operations,” the most important skills, she says, “are not technical skills. My team does that. As a leader, I have to enable my team. I have to take technical issues and explain them to the rest of the company, frame the problem so the person who’s in charge signs on the dotted line.” How does she do that? “Sometimes when you’re trying to convince someone to do something, you explain the benefits. But sometimes you also have to explain what blows up if you don’t!”
As for what makes Stephanie proudest? “Helping people do their best. I have to be the one breaking down barriers, making sure that leadership understands what my team needs.” She is also the one rallying the troops, “making people feel like they’re part of something big. Emotional intelligence, empathy, knowing where people are coming from is really important. Making sure my team knows I care, so they should care, too.”
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I have two kids, 13 and 15, so there’s a lot of chauffeuring, and my husband and I try to divide and conquer. But we love doing things with the kids. I also like reading, skiing in the winter, walking.
What are your strategies for managing stress?
Taking the time to do those things. There’s always a pile of work, but I’ll tell myself ‘right now I’m going to cook dinner, I’m going to have dinner with my family.’ A role like mine can be 24/7, so I’ve learned I really need to disconnect.
How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?
Two. If I have coffee after 2pm I won’t sleep, so I’m very disciplined!
What's one of your favorite places in the Boston area?
I live in Acton, but when I get a chance I love to go into the city, go shopping, go to the theater, Celtics games. Boston is a beautiful city, despite the traffic!
What do you consider one of your proudest accomplishments?
Looking at where I came from, I’d say having the courage to pick up and go. I remember leaving Montreal, landing in Minneapolis all by myself with three big suitcases. I loaded them up on my cart, went to get the rental car, and then all the suitcases tumbled off the cart and I was in tears! I was so lonely. But I kept going, and I pushed the envelope every step of the way. I’m not someone who ever said ‘I’m going to be a CEO,’ but I figured out what I was good at, and kept building on that. That’s how my whole career has been.
Is this where you thought you’d be 10 years ago?
No. Ten years ago I was in a director role at IBM, so I thought I’d still be there. I also never thought I’d climb the corporate ladder, but the last few years have accelerated that, and I’m enjoying the ride.
What’s your advice for recent college graduates?
Look for things you want to do. When you put yourself in a place where you’re excited to go to work, it shows, it makes people want to work with you. And when you love what you do, the sky is the limit. Don’t be scared of doing new things, just go for it!