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EPAM Women in STEM: How Leaf Chi Pivoted Her Career from Programmer to Business Analyst to Find Her Passion

Leaf Chi

Business Analysis Manager, EPAM China
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Leaf Chi, Business Analysis Manager, leads the Business Analysis (BA) Group at EPAM China. With more than 15 years of experience in the IT industry and 7 years as an EPAMer, Leaf has demonstrated her passion and love for the dynamic and disruptive realm of technology through her career path as a programmer-turned-business analyst. Learn from Leaf what it’s like to work as a woman in STEM, what inspires her as a leader and the greatest lesson she’s learned in her career so far.

Leaf, you started your career in tech as a programmer. Tell us a little more about how you became a business analyst.

I started my career as a programmer after graduation. At that time, most of the IT industry was becoming web-based. I wrote Java, JSP and html codes to build function transitions from different platforms. Because of where the advancement of technology was at that point, I had to complete many things by myself from gathering requirements from business users to writing codes, testing on different environments, developing new features, deploying them to the production and providing operational support.

After working in end-to-end delivery as a developer for years, I realized I found more joy in discussing requirements with users and proposing solutions. My happiest moments are communicating with users and understanding how I can help. I always knew communication and analysis were key strengths of mine, so I used these skills to help me pivot into a business analyst role.

What motivates and inspires you to keep developing in your career?

The world never stops changing, and the IT industry is no exception. One of my favorite Chinese proverbs is: learning is like sailing against the current, either you keep forging ahead or you keep falling behind (学如逆水行舟,不进则退). To me, this means when we are complacent in our current state, we are not improving. I always feel excited when seeing new changes because it opens my mind to learn new things and enriches my experience. It also reminds me that I must keep developing myself in order to catch up with the new tide. For example, I usually set up yearly learning goals when a new year begins. These goals may focus on learning more about technology, developing new skills or gaining knowledge, all of which will help me prepare for the future.

I often ask myself how I can motivate my colleagues to invest time in their self-development. The best answer for me is to keep learning and sharing lessons that shaped my professional life. The great thing is that EPAM is evolving too, and we can easily find helpful resources to support self-development.

Tell us about one of the greatest lessons you’ve learned throughout the course of your career.

Let me set the scene: I was working on my second project at EPAM as a business analyst. I was part of a great team–there was so much team spirit after working together for more than a year and we were looking forward to a new project. However, the second project ended up being a totally different program set-up. We were responsible for six scrum teams’ backlogs and the product owner also served as the senior manager from the client’s side in Europe. There were three teams located in Europe and three teams located in China. The European teams were much more familiar with the project requirements than our teams in China because we were most recently introduced onto the project. 

Without proper stakeholders and expectation management, I often could not confirm requirements with the product owner because of conflicting schedules. The time zone difference gave our China teams very little overlapping time to catch up with him, which resulted in us starting to fall behind.

I asked my manager for help. As time went on, I was transitioned onto another project that played more to my strengths, but I had trouble recovering from the failure of not completing the initial project. What surprised me next was that many senior managers started to come to me and share their own stories of “failure,” advising me to live with failure and learn lessons from those experiences instead of hiding from them. They were right. It did not make sense for me to hold on to my past; I had to let it go and shift my focus onto what I could improve next time.

From this experience, my advice to anyone experiencing failure is to remember that everyone experiences it, not because of lack of effort, but because there are many uncontrollable factors. Don’t let it deter you because what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Particularly at EPAM, our established systems, kindness from peers and leaders and team spirit will help you get through these experiences!

What’s it like to be a woman working in a STEM field at EPAM? What advice would you give to other women in STEM who are looking to be inspired, develop their career or manage a team?

I feel excited and comfortable working in a STEM field, especially at EPAM. I feel lucky I found my passion after graduation. I’ve loved my career from day one and never regret choosing it. Working in STEM, you will never get bored because the digital world changes so fast. You always have opportunities to demonstrate expertise while knowing there are new things waiting for you to explore. For me, it is really important to have an environment where you can develop yourself with support around you. 

Two EPAM values I like very much are “Value the Individual” and “Strive for Excellence.” EPAM cares for and respects individuals, but also values the spirit of team collaboration. EPAM encourages people to strive for excellence, not only in their own career path but among their teams as well. Great teamwork makes achieving success that much more meaningful. 

The advice I want to give is: don’t limit yourself to what you’re doing at the moment. You will never know how much you could achieve until you actually do it. In my journey, I haven’t limited myself to a specific scope of work. Instead, I find what I can do to boost my overall success. So far, I’ve tried different roles, taken on numerous challenges, made mistakes and grew from all the above. You will be given opportunities that you don’t think you’re ready for. However, it is okay not to be fully ready if you have the courage to try your best. Be humble, learn from others, challenge yourself to develop new skills and go above and beyond what is required of you–this will help you become stronger.

If you’re interested in developing your fullest potential and finding your passion like Leaf, visit our Careers Page to explore opportunities at EPAM today!