Business alumna takes talents internationally with Mastercard
Tammy Hawkins can’t help but smile whenever she gets the question.
“You can never just settle, can you?” Her answer – stated or not – is always the same emphatic no.
Her desire to constantly tackle new challenges was evident when pursuing each of her three business degrees from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and remains in her current role as a vice president of software engineering at Mastercard.
“I like to say you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Hawkins said. “Everything in the technology industry changes constantly. If you sit stagnant and you get too comfortable and not changing, the world is going to pass you by. You can become irrelevant in IT very quickly.”
Hawkins’ most recent challenge brought her to Dublin, where she manages Mastercard teams that develop software for the commercial solution, In Control. Her teams are based in Malaysia, Brazil, the U.S. and Ireland, which provides both personal and professional benefits.
“I feel like to truly be a player in this global, technical world you need to have some real global insights,” she said. “I’ve been in Ireland a year now and really enjoy what I’ve learned about myself and what I’ve learned about the European culture. I really feel like it’s made me a better person.”
Having never lived outside of St. Louis until the international move, Hawkins admits the transition was difficult during the first few weeks. She could no longer rely on muscle memory to navigate what were previously simple tasks such as setting up a bank account or hopping in her car to an errand.
“I’m learning what it’s like to be an immigrant,” Hawkins said. “I’ll be quite honest, in technology, I took that for granted. I’ve managed people who have emigrated from other countries for many years. I feel like I didn’t truly appreciate the hardships that you go through when moving. I moved by myself, but I can only imagine the increase in stress if you are also moving your children and your family. I think it’s made me a more considerate person.”
Even establishing professional relationships was difficult initially.
“There are only a couple of people at my level in the office, and in this culture, there is very much a respect toward hierarchy,” Hawkins said. “I’ve learned that I am an effervescent American. We’re very outgoing with our emotions, especially with happiness. I’m always smiling and laughing out loud in the office. It’s just different than European office culture in which people are often more reserved. There was a bit of a warm-up period before my Irish co-workers felt comfortable reaching out to me.”
Through these lessons, she’s been able to approach her management style with a balance of cultural learning, allowing for personal growth, and cultural training to help her team advance within the global organization.
“We are still run by a company with an American headquarters, so while respecting the European culture, I’m also trying to teach my European teams that there are aspects of American culture that you also need to consider to rise up in your career globally,” Hawkins said. “Because some key decision makers are not seeing what they do every day we have to – especially in a global perspective – almost over-communicate what we’re doing to a respectable level. It’s striking a balance between showcasing your work and being humble.”
Hawkins is adapting well after a year, but she’s careful not to get too comfortable. For future career challenges, she’s interested in a variety of assignments such as leading an acquisition, running a regional office in a Spanish-speaking country and advising U.S. company leaders on the experience of working in an international tech hub.
While these options could take her just about anywhere, Hawkins has one clear end goal in mind.
“I want to make it to the executive level,” she said. “I’ve expressed that, and I’m working toward that at Mastercard. They provide amazing training and on-the-job opportunities for employees to work toward their career goals.”
She has several key accomplishments on her resume to help get her there, including leading an innovative proof of concept in 2015 for Mastercard Identity Check, a biometric payment authentication technology application.
Hawkins’ team, in conjunction with the U.S. government as part of President Barack Obama’s cybersecurity initiative, ran the successful pilot of the app, which uses biometrics like fingerprints or facial recognition to verify a cardholder’s identity. The project was the first of its kind in the industry and was recognized with internal and external awards.
Although she previously approached team assignments with hesitation, Hawkins said the several she completed at UMSL during her BSBA, MBA and Master of Science in Information System programs helped prepare her for the high-level tasks she would encounter later.
“When I was in college, I dreaded group projects,” Hawkins admitted. “I thought they were the worst. Then I got into the real world and realized everything in life is a group project. It’s funny to look back on it now, but it’s really true. I think that was good preparation for me. I learned managerial skills of how to balance different personalities and keep harmony amongst everyone while still allowing people to be innovative and provide challenging ideas.”
As a UMSL student, Hawkins also cultivated meaningful relationships and technical skills.
“I definitely appreciate a lot of the teachers,” Hawkins said. “They really broke down the hardware side of things from a technology perspective as well as from a business perspective. I’ve used so many skills that I’ve learned at UMSL in the real world.”
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