There are so many things to say about Heather Arthofer.
Leader. Coach. Mentor. Engineer. Wife. Mother. Inspiration. All words that thoroughly describe her. Yet some are missing.
There isn’t enough room on this page to describe all the things that make up the “authentic Heather Arthofer”. But sit down with her for an hour and you will quickly get a sense for who she is, what she is passionate about, and lessons she has learned. She doesn’t try to hide it and it makes her a better employee, a better mentor, a better wife, a better mother, a better human.
Her story is not unlike many who have had a 20+ year career at Deere. She started at Deere after college as a software engineer, and progressively obtained roles of increasing responsibility. Her story, though, in the final years of her career has taken an intentional pivot. One that many might not pursue. But, for Arthofer, it is that pivot that offers her the opportunity to leave a legacy. And that legacy is important to share.
Bumps in the road
For the first 15 years of her career, Arthofer was in software engineering and development roles in the SAP space and then moved to Enterprise Architecture, where she used her skills to design and create roadmaps for the future. This strategic mindset based on a technical foundation led her to a role working on strategic people initiatives for IT, a more challenging assignment.
Arthofer is a person who loves learning, strategizing, and seeing things through to perfection, so this new role was a little bit outside of her comfort zone, and she struggled.
“When I couldn’t produce the outcomes I wanted, I wasn’t feeling valuable and was not happy,” she said. “It is hard for people to change, and I was asking them to do that.”
Additionally, she was going through changes in her personal life that added to her sense of value. Her kids all left for college.
“As a mother, this is what you prepare them for,” she said. “But what was I going to do now? I felt like I wasn’t valuable at home or at work.”
Nevertheless, she persisted.
Coach to the rescue
Over the years, Arthofer has been a mentor and a coach, not only to John Deere employees, but to high school and college students looking for career guidance. Now, it was her time to benefit from one.
When her manager realized she was struggling, she was paired with a coach who reminded her of her strengths and helped her work through her struggles.
“One thing she helped me realize was that I can’t fix everything or everybody, and I have to be ok with that, and that all I can do is bring my best self to situations.” said Arthofer. “It made so much sense. You might not get through to everybody, but if you bring your best self, you can control that and be happy at the end of the day. It helps me have that confidence that I don’t have to be perfect. If I continue to be true to myself, that is a huge win.”
Through the coaching process and Arthofer’s reflection of her struggles, she took a step back to really understand who her true self was, and what kind of a legacy she wanted to leave.
“I had to ask myself what do I want the next 10 years of work to look like? What is going to motivate me each day?” she said. “And I realized that not only do I want to intentionally focus on hitting my goals but passing forward the opportunities I received at Deere to others.”
Reflection leads to a new direction
Arthofer emphasizes how much she loves her career at Deere and how appreciative she is for what it has allowed her to do, such as be a part of her children’s lives and to live a life outside of work. And she credits her supervisors and managers who were there for her when she was low, believed in her, encouraged her, and helped her navigate her career.
“That experience has become my passion, and I need to pass that along to others,” she said.
In her reflection, she took note of what her current role was and what she needed to do next to be able to pass on that passion to others.
“In my role with the strategic people initiatives, I talked a lot about the advantages of the expanded career path. I continued to relate it back to times in my career I really enjoyed. And then, I thought about a new path for myself,” she said. “The engineer path and the continuous learning mindset topics were what I was talking about to others. I reflected that I wasn’t practicing what I was preaching. I thought, if I am leading this, why wasn’t I doing it? Why am I not?”
So, she made a drastic pivot and decided to go back to coding and took a role as a Senior Software Engineer.
She dug right in and learned that so much had changed since her last engineer role and she had to rebuild her confidence by upskilling her technical capabilities and learn new technologies and languages. Since being in the role for more than a year now, she feels confident in her skills and is proficient in integrating with AWS, creating new APIs, and ingesting data into the Enterprise Data Lake.
“I’m not a master, but I am confident that with the networks I have now, I can learn anything. I built confidence in my technical capabilities, and I love it,” she said. “I have a reason to come into work now. I’m inspired to learn this new stuff so I can pass it along to the next generation and help them build the same career and bring their best self to work.”
She credits her success in her new role to the vulnerability she expressed while trying to transition. She made it clear to people that she was willing to start from scratch but emphasized her learning ability and agility. She expressed her commitment to learning and being successful and admitted it would take time. “I was clear about what I know and what I don’t know, and I think people appreciated that.”
Passing along the passion
Arthofer has been described as a person who leads the change she wants to see. And that is apparent in her approach to her new role and her work as a mentor at Deere and through the local Quad City organization “Lead(h)er”, where she mentors young women and offers career guidance. She particularly seeks out opportunities to work with young women looking to get into software engineering.
She currently acts as a coach/manager for 5 apprentices (3 high school, 2 freshmen in college) through the Deere apprenticeship program, and 2 summer interns, one who is now working as a part-time student and the other who recently accepted an offer to work full time at Deere when he graduates in May.
“I encourage them to reflect around the roles that are the most interesting to them, what excites them, what motivates them. I ask them to leverage their networks to really understand roles and see if it is something they would like to do. Find that next role they are inspired for and motivated for. It may be uncomfortable, but test it out,” said Arthofer. “A coach helped me get started and when there were roadblocks, he gave me enough to keep me going to learn and gain confidence. Now, I can pass that forward.”
Maybe more words aren’t necessary to describe Heather Arthofer. Her actions speak loud enough.