Ms. Pamela Smith, OIT Deputy Chief of Staff
Ms. Pamela Smith joined OIT in August 2018 as the Director of Business Operations in the executive Front Office of OIT. She currently serves as the OIT Deputy Chief of Staff responsible for, in her words, “…helping OIT move forward to support VA’s mission.” Prior to joining VA, Ms. Smith held leadership positions in the private sector and Federal government, including her service as a U.S. Air Force Lt. Col, retiring with 29 years of service. She is a decorated Veteran and a Bronze Star recipient for her service while on tour in Afghanistan with the Army.
How did you navigate any roadblocks or challenges you experienced as a woman in the military?
Coming up the ranks in the Air Force, being a woman and being a woman of color presented two different challenges. I joined the Air Force because they seemed to have more opportunities for women, particularly in medical services. I felt being a woman in healthcare was an advantage since it was viewed as a caretaker’s field with a large population of females. However, being a woman of color, in a predominantly white environment, presented the most challenges. To overcome these challenges, I engrossed myself in my work. As I rose in the ranks, I found I didn’t always need to be heard at the table, as long as others saw what I brought TO the table. I let my work speak for itself. I would often hear people say, “…we've heard of you!” I’m also not afraid to have direct, respectful conversations. I am who I am, unapologetically, and I perform my duties ethically and with integrity.
Why is Women’s History Month important to you?
Women's History Month is important because it provides a deliberate time to highlight and showcase the contributions of women. It’s also important to reflect on the past and talk about how we got here. To me, when you know better, you do better — so knowing is key. Also, representation is important. Growing up, my parents would tell me, “You can be anything you want to be. You can do it, whatever you wanna do.” That sounded good, but when I looked into being a doctor, I didn’t see many women doctors and fewer doctors of color. I questioned can I really be anything I want to be? When you don’t see women represented in different careers, the psychological effect can be life impacting. By showcasing and highlighting women’s contributions across ALL fields, we can change the narrative about what women are capable of accomplishing. We can see possibilities turn into reality. I think Women’s History should be year-round, but a month is a start!
What advice would you give to women who are new to the information technology (IT) field? And is there anything you wish you had known before you got into the field?
I would tell women new to the IT field, that if IT is your passion, if IT is what you want to do, don't be discouraged by what you have seen or have heard. There are so many areas within IT. You may choose an area where you don't see anyone like you — and that's OKAY! Learn what you need to learn and do what you need to do to master your craft — be the trailblazer. Find your niche, own your niche and stay true to it. Don't let the bumps along the way discourage you because they're going to be there, but you'll come out on the other side even better. Maybe the next young girl or the next young woman looking at you will ask, “How did you do it?” and you can then offer to help bring her along.
Tell us how the VA mission resonates with you?
I am a Veteran, first and foremost. When I retired from the Air Force I thought, I'm retired, how can I help those who have served? How can I make sure that I’m doing something that I hold dear in my heart? The VA allows me to do that, to serve those who have fought for this country. As a Veteran, I have a personal vested interest in the VA’s mission.
What is your mantra for success?
I don't consider myself a very complex person. I always go back to something that my father used to say to us growing up. “Whatever you do, just do the best you can do. If you're going to be a street sweeper, be the best darn street sweeper there is.” Learn your craft and take the time to grow yourself because once you have the knowledge and the tools, nobody can take that from you.” Invest in yourself and let your work speak for you. That is how I try to live my life.
You received a Bronze Star for your service in Afghanistan. As a decorated Veteran, what’s your greatest achievement to date?
My greatest achievement to date is my children. I raised them as a single working parent — they are the best parts of me. They are my two halves and now I have four grandchildren, so they are the four quadrants of my heart. They’re my greatest achievements. As humbled and blessed as I am to have had a notable career and have this amazing position today, raising my children was the best job I’ve ever had and the one I take the most pride in.
Family is so important to me. Society sadly has all kinds of data that speaks the negative impact of children who grow up in a home with a single Black working mother. Both my children are college graduates. My son has his law degree and works for the state of Texas and my daughter is an entrepreneur and works for the government. They're mine! I thank God every day for allowing me to be their parent. I thank God every day for them. Regardless of how my career goes or what happens, I’m full of joy. I think everyone should look at their career as just that, a career, a job. Be proud, be successful but remember that a career or job provides the means to experience and enjoy life. But family is the root of who you are, and it makes you the person you are.
Our commitment to digital and IT transformation is shaped by daily dedication to customer service and the close collaboration of our workforce, managers, and leaders. Ready to join us in improving Veterans’ care? Check out all current information and technology career opportunities on DigitalVA. You can also contact VA’s Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer at 512-326-6600, Monday thru Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST or by submitting a resume to VACareers@va.gov.