How To Send Your Career Into Orbit: Izella Dornell Shares Her Story

Meet Izella Dornell, a Senior Executive Partner on the Gartner Executive Programs Federal Service Delivery team and co-chair of the Women CIO Community for the Americas. Izella joined the Gartner team in Texas after holding several leadership positions in NASA’s Human Spaceflight programs and serving as Deputy Chief Information Officer for the U.S. Department of Commerce. Below, she shares her growth story in honor of Women’s History Month. 

Izella Dornell Shares Her Story

My career started as a technical intern at NASA Johnson Space Center in a role that is viewed today as a “modern-day Hidden Figure.” I had an awesome experience of growth as a young woman of color from the South coming into corporate America in a nontraditional science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) role. I felt that I had adequately prepared by acquiring an excellent education as a mathematics and physics major graduating at the top of my class. But little did I know that I had a lot to learn about the professional world as it was several decades ago. I was fortunate to have a mentor and a sponsor who helped me navigate my early career journey, which had a few detours along the way. However, through hard work and personal commitment, I was able to persevere. This journey ultimately led to my reaching the highest level as a civilian federal government employee, Senior Executive Service (SES), and was a great launching pad for my career here at Gartner.

As I was growing in my career, I felt it was a good practice to diversify one’s portfolio of experiences, so I took an acting program manager role, in which I performed in a stellar manner and felt I would be selected once the position was posted; little did I know that I would encounter a situation where I would not be selected. Naturally, I was very disappointed and in the heat of the moment was ready to leave NASA, but I was fortunate to have someone share with me that my actions during this plateau period could very well determine my future trajectory based on whether I had “the right stuff.” I decided to make lemonade out of the experience and, to my surprise, a few months later I was selected as Program Control Manager for the Space Shuttle Program — a multibillion-dollar program, significantly larger and broader in scope and realm of influence than the position I was not selected for. So when facing situations that we deem are unfavorable, take the lemons and add the ingredients to make lemonade.

The sum of my career experiences provided me with many lessons that I have been able to share with others who are charting their respective courses: Know your personal strengths and opportunities for improvements, and set out to learn the culture of the organization. A successful career is built on having an awareness of oneself and having a “why” mentality. Ask questions often, and seek sage advice from mentors who can help you. And as an added bonus, try to cultivate an opportunity to have a sponsor. Have confidence in your abilities to make contributions to the team, and ask for feedback to validate your efforts. Write your story and establish your chosen path, knowing that to achieve your professional goals, you may have to sometimes plateau before continuing on an upward trajectory. And most of all, laugh often and enjoy the journey.

Are you interested in joining the Gartner team? Search for an available position here.

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