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Three Questions with Alison (Ali) Haughton, Healthcare Marketing Manager at SailPoint

The best results often come from an unlikely place — failure.

As a healthcare industry veteran, Ali Haughton has seen her fair share of success in large part because of her ability to adapt and sidestep any hurdles headed her way.

Ali’s path to healthcare, to IT, and SailPoint was not a straightforward one. Accepted to the prestigious Columbia Law School, she set down a path to become a lawyer. Still, a twist of fate (an online quiz) took her in an unlikely place of IT (well, not too unbelievable because she started coding in the 7th grade). A career change can be unnerving, especially with a not-so-happy family, but more on that later. Still, she was able to embrace that with open arms because of her willingness to be open-minded to change and curious about the world around her. Healthcare and specifically, healthcare IT was calling her name. The lingering part of her brain that thought this might result in a failure would have to wait. And we are glad she carried on.

We caught up with Ali to understand her modus operandi and how she was able to climb the career mountains in front of her. Here are three questions with SailPoint Healthcare Marketing Manager Ali Haughton. 

If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?

 No, I wouldn’t do it differently, but I would have done it smarter.   

I am an immigrant, and essentially, you are raised with three options:  lawyer, doctor, or engineer. Anything outside of those boxes makes you a rebel. After college, the goal was to stay in DC and work on the Hill, but I was burnt out and disillusioned by the political process. I moved back to Boston and the plan was to get a job for 24 months, save up some money, and then go off to law school. I got a job in finance, and I was supposed to be in the communications group doing international and government relations. However, while waiting for the HR person to finalize my paperwork, I got bored and took a software engineer coding test they had on the computer. (I built the first website at my university, and I also started coding in 7th grade.) I got an “impressive score,” but to make sure it wasn’t  just “blind luck,” I was asked to take the test for “real.”  For better or worse, I got the same score. I was informed that I was not going to the communications group; they “needed” me in the international IT finance group.

In a group of 75 folks, there were only five women (aka “The Girls” – we ranged in age from 22 to 55). At first, I was not keen on the switch. The only plus, my compensation changed pretty dramatically, which meant I could save more money for law school. That job changed the trajectory of my life. I got a group of older brothers and sisters, who were willing to be mentors. I got into law school at Columbia, and I had to tell my family, I was taking a deferment and staying in IT. My colleagues were thrilled; my grandparents were displeased (mild understatement).

My boss knew how to motivate the younger members of our team and I got amazing projects in those early years. The deal I made with my family was that in three years, I would go to law school or, at the very least, grad school. I never went to law school, but I did go to grad school because I promised my grandparents I would. So, I got two degrees – one in marketing and the other in public health, but the IT bug stayed. I had to figure out how to stay in IT and follow my passion for healthcare, which is a tad tricky. Healthcare folks are not first adopters when it comes to information technology. And well, IT folks want to disrupt healthcare without understanding how health policy and IT don’t always align. This natural tension has been interesting, which has led to some fantastic health IT products. 

Being the ‘only’ gets exhausting. I inaccurately assumed that that equity and advocacy that I got when I started was the norm. It is not. I had this incredibly wonderful team that treated me more like a favorite sibling/niece, and that became a handicap later in my career. Honestly, I didn’t learn how to advocate for myself for a number of years. I inaccurately assumed:  I did exceptional work; it would get noticed, and I would be compensated accordingly. More often than not, it does not work out that way.

2020 has been an interesting year. What’s the most important business or other discovery you’ve made in the past six months?

I have been in healthcare IT for nearly 15 plus years. I spent years working on mHealth solutions that were “groundbreaking,” but not widely adopted. In less than six months, many of those solutions became essential and widely adopted. It has been surreal to see copy that I wrote a decade ago be relevant today or being used in full. Honestly, it has been exciting personally, but somewhat bittersweet professionally! It took a pandemic for folks to embrace the value these mHealth products deliver, but I wished a pandemic was not the catalyst for adoption.  

Furthermore, my ability to be open to change and being hyper curious has helped me in the last few months. I am OK with being uncomfortable with things that I don’t know. Healthcare is vast. As such, you might be an expert in one area, but no one is “a healthcare expert”! Therefore, you get really comfortable understanding that you don’t know everything, and failure is inevitable. Exceptional healthcare discoveries are a result of failing, failing some more, and learning to adapt.

What is the biggest challenge you face as a leader in your role?

It is easy to say that you are collaborative, however, the true spirit of collaboration is hard for some folks to embrace. More often than not, folks view collaboration as a sign that they are being judged — i.e., “they there are incompetent or weak” ­— which is unfortunate. It takes trust for folks to understand it is totally OK if you do not know something or you need help. As a leader, it is my job to help folks embrace collaboration. Ultimately, I am from healthcare, and collaboration is in my DNA. We learn from day one that it takes a team to save the patient; it’s the individual that kills them. As a leader, collaboration is about trust! How we collaborate is hyper nuanced based on our own life experiences, and that should be respected and embraced. My job is to figure out how to bring out what motivates collaboration from each person that I work with.

Ali Haughton, Healthcare Marketing Manager