How many years have you been in tech?
Tell me about your background. What were your early years like?
I grew up as the oldest of what would eventually become 10 children. My biological mother had little staying power with her children, men, reality and addresses so when she was in the picture things were pretty intense. Many times we would be woken up in the night and put in the car and we would move somewhere else without explanation.
At the ripe old age of 6 and with my little brother who was 2, we were abandoned in a shopping mall in Los Angeles. We are from a little farming community in southern Missouri so the big city of LA was a shock! Foster care was my first experience with a ‘normal’ family environment but it was the 1970s and the laws and checks and balances we have today didn’t exist then.
I LOVED school. I went happily every single day. In my entire academic career before college, I had missed only 4 days of school and that was because I had chicken pox. School and learning, especially reading, was my escape from the reality of what was my ‘home life’ so I did everything in my power to include getting myself up and dressed starting at the age of 8. I wasn’t exactly sure ‘what I wanted to be when I grew up’ but I was absolutely certain that no matter what I had to do, I WOULD go to college and I would never be solely dependent upon any other human being to ensure that I had food, clothing and a home.
While the stories I could tell of my biological mother would make most people cry, I don’t cry anymore because she literally taught me how to be who I am because I knew who I would never be because of her.
I was hurt for many years by my past until I experienced my first true experience of unconditional love. Then the wounds healed and the scars faded, but I have those historical experiences to reflect on when I start to doubt myself so I use that history as a reminder, not an excuse and I work harder and I hold my head up proudly because I got here by working for it.
How were you exposed to tech?
In 1979 I was given an Intelivision gaming system with 2 cartridges, donkey kong and frogger. I was and still am a horrendous ‘gamer’ but I found it fascinating that this little box could make things show up on the TV and I could use the little controller to make the stuff on the screen move. From there, I decided there had to be ways to work smarter rather than harder and it became my life long quest to figure out how to use everyday things to make everyday life simpler.
What is your current role?
Program Manager at World Wide Technology Asynchrony Labs
What is your proudest accomplishment?
I have earned a dual bachelor degree in Business Administration and Economics and I hold a Master in Business Administration-International Business, a Master in Information System Management and I am waiting for word on the acceptance of my thesis to complete my PhD in economics. I earned my education through sweat, tears, raising children and all while being told I would never amount to anything because I am just a stupid girl and my only value was to have babies and make a home for some man, if I could find one that would have me.
“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Tell us about a time that this applied to you.
I started in IT when not only were networked computers and e-mail not prevalent in every business, let alone in every home. My first real job was as a team lead/project engineer for an aerospace company. When I walked in wearing my sharp suit, perfect hair and work appropriate cosmetics and was being introduced to the team that would report to me, I was instantly told to fetch some coffee for the men. Their assumption was that I was the new boss’ admin and at their disposal.
I read the man’s name plate, called him by name and told him that I didn’t drink coffee but he could get me a soft drink and some ice while I finished assessing the team. You see, I was the third female in company to work in this role and I was by 10 years the youngest so I had to fake it until I could make it because I had a group of middle aged white men looking at my fresh 20 something face and all they saw was a ‘girl’. I came to hate the word girl after a few weeks because it was used like some use ‘honey’ and ‘babe’.
I issued a warning to cease and desist or face termination and he made me put my money where my mouth was, so to speak. I had 7 weeks with the company and he had 23 years. He was a wealth of tribal knowledge for a division that didn’t find much use in documentation. I fired him anyway. He said I would fail. I. Did. Not. Fail. I have proudly gone on to work heavily in the technology world for my entire career. My strengths are understanding the dynamics of the team, the motivation factors for members of the teams and how to approach them as individuals. I am most comfortable in the role of facilitating the needs and wants of the client with the capabilities of the team and the resources available. I have spent my entire career in the SaaS, IaaS and CaaS sphere as all three of them are strongly tied to each other.
What are you learning right now?
I believe that none of us can do what we do without the help and expertise of the other members of our company, team, family, etc. I do not believe that I am the only person who can do my job, I am simply the only person who does my job the way I do my job because I have a historical understanding of how I got to where I am today and what drives me.
I am learning to build credibility within the organization that I have always just been ‘given’ by title, position and hard work at other companies. I have spent a lot of time learning effective communication, standing up for myself without stepping on others and building effective teams so now I am learning how to integrate within the existing team structures and how to earn the teams’ trust and to show them the value of a position that most of the company doesn’t see value in the position I hold.
I am learning to effectively engage in feedback both giving and receiving. I am learning to be fearless.
Describe a time where you solved a problem in a creative way. For example, did something in your personal life trigger a solution to a problem at work?
I was hired to be the director of IT at a small company of 125 employees. When hired, I was told that the department faced many challenges because of the organization structure within the company. We had 5 owners, in 5 corner offices that ran their book of the business as an independent smaller business within the organization.
There was no sense of collaboration or unity between the departments. We weren’t a team in any form or fashion. I started with the department I was going to lead and began collecting all of their information from processes to accomplishments to complaints. I spent 6 months getting my hands around what they each did and what they did as a unit and then I expanded that to each of the other departments within the company.
I didn’t hold meetings, I had lunches and happy hours. I poked around and asked questions of the people doing the work. Once I collected a reasonable amount of data, I began to formulate a sticky note kanban board in the windows of my office. I decided to take the top 3 areas of concern and work to improve them.
The largest issue was that the technology had not kept up with our competitors and that fell solely on my shoulders as I reported to that owner. I had to figure out why he was so hostile about making improvements and listening to other people’s feedback.
When I figured it out, I was stunned at how simple it was and how we as a collective group had totally missed the point of it all. It was our delivery method. We would tell the owner I reported to that his child was ugly (he created the software literally all on his own and received several patents). Since most of us were parents, the analogy I gave was this:
If I am your child’s teacher and I come to you and say, “Susie is problem and she never pays attention and she complains and talks all the time and I can’t stand her”, your reaction is going to be very hostile because I just insulted you, your parenting skills and your child.
Instead, if I am the same teacher but come to you and say, “Hey, Susie is a really fabulous kid. She is fabulous to work with and her peers all adore her. I could really use your help on something. I am trying to get Susie to spend a little more time on her math work because her grades aren’t quite as strong as I expected and I would love your help in the best way to reach her, would you help me with this?” You are going to be far more interested in helping me help her.
So I used this analogy and this philosophy and I did serious research on our competitors. I found out their cost, their business practices and where their technology was standing and I compared it to ours. Then I had to put my money where my mouth was and I had to approach my boss (who was NOT an easy man to communicate with). At the core, I knew he was very much about the bottom line and making money.
I said, “Hey Joe, can we talk for a little bit? I have been working with a lot of our clients as I am getting up to speed and I have received a lot of feedback. I did some competitor research and found some interesting information. We are the best in the industry at delivered communications and that is solely because of the patented technology you designed. Hands down we are the most reliable. There are a few requests that I have received over and over again from our clients and after going on site and seeing how they use our SaaS, I have the top 5 enhancements that we could put on our road-map to take us from good to fantastic and increase our revenue. Within 18 months we will see the tech debt paid off for these enhancements and our bottom line will continue to grow. Could we look at these and see if there are any we could start on now?”
He agreed. Not because I said anything that everyone else had said for the previous 16 months but because I spoke in his language. I did not tell him that his baby was ugly. I did not insult the existing technology. I simply offered research and feedback from clients.
What was the last fear that you faced? How did you feel after you conquered it?
At an age and point in my life that I was very happy and comfortable I experienced a very personal loss that shook me to the core. I was emotionally and mentally drained and terrified that I would fail at being on my own after so many years of marriage and children. I am 6 months out from that devastation and here I am with a new version of me and I am thrilled. I don’t relish the way I got here but I am very pleased and proud of myself for holding everything together and diving deeper into my work, family and friends. My feelings are now of pride, contentment and a kinder version of me because I learned to receive as much kindness from others as I had always given.
What advice do you wish someone had given to you? What advice would you give to others starting out?
Advice for me: You can do anything you want to do and to hell with anyone who says you cannot. Do not believe what people say, believe what they do. Advice for you: Do not ever for any reason whatsoever allow another human being to dull your shine or steal your fearlessness. You are worth kindness, encouragement, love and happiness and so much more. If you believe, you can and will.
What are your hobbies?
I have entirely too many hobbies and I make time for all of them. I am an avid reader and have gone to audio books in the last 2 years so that I can ‘read’ while still doing other hobbies. I practice yoga 6 days a week, I work out 3 days a week. I knit every single day, even if only a row or two on a project. I spin fleece into yarn, I garden, bake and cook from scratch and I volunteer with several organizations in St. Louis. I am a mentor at an inner city, public all girls middle school that specializes in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I am also a animal advocate and volunteer at Stray Rescue as well as doing fundraising for Police K9 First Aid Kits and I am heading the Alzheimer’s Hackathon this year for my company.
What do you like about St. Louis? The midwest? Why do you live here?
I have lived all over the world, literally. St. Louis has so much culture and diversity while still offering a sense of community. We have had our growing pains and issues, but at the core of us, we are kind and believe in the best of each other.
Who inspires you?
So many people. My 21 year old daughter because I raised her to be fearless and she is so I know I got it right. My best friend Lisa because no matter what I do, what I try or what I screw up; she loves me and never says I told you so but holds me accountable for my actions and behavior. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook.
How would you describe yourself?
I am me. I am a mother, a friend, a sister and a cancer survivor with an invisible illness and I am strong.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Never apologize for being who you are because you are amazing. Never allow anyone else to discount your value. Know your value and make people come up to you or walk away before allowing anyone to devalue you.