Lisa Rokusek

How many years have you been in tech?

20+ Holy Crap! That is wild.

Tell me about your background. What were your early years like?

I majored in philosophy in school. I was a word person, and an idea person and an understanding frameworks of power and the landscape of society person. I was interested in both the development of individuals and the same applied to the macro level of society.

I was a little bit odd.

Hmm.  I suppose this has not changed much.

How were you exposed to tech?

I was an early user of technology in high school and college. In high school that meant we knew more about computers than the business and accounting teachers who were charged with teaching us. Since then I’ve always been a super user of technology and was a cross platform Mac/Windows person from way back.

After school I started a startup before I realized using other people’s money was an option, and might have been smarter. ComUniCom networked coffee houses with public terminals for chat, email, and discussion. We also offered alpha-numeric messaging over pagers. I remember we had morning traffic announcements at one point, and I had an office above Mokabes.

Yes, this was before the web made a wide scale entrance into public life. We used a Mac2 as our server and MacTVs as the public terminals. My father helped me build the housing. I could have been a contender!

My problem was I didn’t know how to sell very well, so I had to get a different job.

I sent my resume in to a local staffing firm thinking I could be a tech support person. They hired me as a technology recruiter.

I eventually learned to sell.

What is your current role?

I went out on my own about 10 years ago so I run my own recruiting company finding people for both direct-hire employee roles and contract positions. I work locally but also do a fair amount nationwide and a little bit in Mexico and Canada.

I know many people sigh when they think of technology recruiters, and that sigh is often deserved.

I work hard to be different. I work to master the ever changing technology landscape so I have more than half a clue about the roles I represent, and I always value the people in every interaction. There is always a 3-way win, and I make an effort to find it.

I think my training in philosophy and my later interest in cognition and bias and meditation helps me stand out a bit. It certainly helps me as I help companies create position descriptions and also open their minds regarding candidates and how to interview. Our hiring processes could use a lot of tuning up. My outsider perspective can be really helpful, but what I have learned overall is that the people stuff matters more than everything else.  So that is the thing in which I specialize, though I have yet to meet any recruiter who understands the depth and breadth of technology the way I do.  Know the tech as a landscape and always be learning it as it changes but never forget the people.  The people matter.

One of my favorite sayings is, “In business as in life and love.” I treat them all like a practice of heightening awareness of my own habits of thinking and being and trying to reduce less skillful behaviors in all of them.

This focus is especially useful in areas of diversity which are front and central in technology and deservedly so. I’ve been an out queer woman for all of my business life. This has–at some points–been a challenge, as you can imagine. I like to think I am doing my part to make it less challenging for others.

I have some mad skillz in that area, for sure, fostered through my own often painful experience.
For me recruiting and business is a laboratory for working with my mind, examining the many ways we communicate and understanding persuasion.

And folks pay me to do this!

What is your proudest accomplishment?

The fact that so many people with whom I have worked feel like our interaction was useful, that they were heard, and that relationships were genuine. Even if sometimes we had to cover challenging terrain, I’m often told my encounters matter.   Nothing is harder than giving someone news they don’t want to hear. I try to do it with empathy, kindness and honesty.

Of course hearing so many people say they wouldn’t have the careers or jobs they have without my involvement is pretty swell, too.

Companies are made of people, and it is good to hear to emphasizing the people stuff in my approach is a good one.

I like being helpful and I’d like to think my experience can be useful to others, especially to women or other folks who don’t meet the straight white and male default that is so often a part of our tech landscape. I also like that my success comes from helping my clients and the people I represent find theirs.

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Tell us about a time that this applied to you.

This, as it does for so many women, describes my whole career every single day I wake up and saunter into my life as me.

Every time I am literally the only woman at the table, every time I am writing a job order and the person described is always “he or him,” every time I walk into a room and the conversation stops, every time I have been called names I am pretty sure you don’t want me to write here and I’ll bet you have heard many of those same words. We are stretching the possibilities of the default definition of technology workers by being and that is sometimes exhausting work.

I can laugh about these things on my good days now, and I mostly have good days. But there have been times when I felt alone, erased, and ignored. I have felt like persisting was both the hardest thing I would ever do and yet, what choice is there?

I have, perhaps, made a lot of people angry over the years what with my refusal to not be, and by refusing to not be me. But as my Mother always says, “They have the same clothes to get glad in as they got mad in.” My Mother was the very first woman school principal in Quincy, IL, and so I suppose I get my sass and my grit naturally.

What are you learning right now?

Resilience. Kindness. To hold my views lightly and with precision. To face fear without closing down. To seek clarity and discernment.  To appreciate the humanity in even those with whom I disagree.

Self employment in technology is a fabulous laboratory for working with all of these things.

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?

Getting people to be honest with you in regards to their careers takes a knack and a level of skill, especially in recruiting where people are used to recruiters acting badly.

I’ve learned over the years that I have to signal it is okay for people to tell me things I do not want to hear in order to make it easier for them, which allows us to get to the heart of things faster. This signaling is often best done subtly.

So as a practice I make a space for folks to in essence “break my heart” meaning tell me what they think I don’t want to hear, whether it be that they don’t want a position, or that they don’t fit the requirements, or that they are going to choose something other than what I’d prefer.

In truth the more reality I know about where they are and what they want, the better off we all are.

I do the same with companies.

I think it is part of why my statistics are so different than many other recruiters, in favor of precision and mutual wins.  People often tell me more than they think they will.  I work hard to not abuse that trust.

What was the last fear that you faced? How did you feel after you conquered it?

Every day after November 8th has been a little traumatic. But we are all working through that, right?

In all sincerity I navigate fear all the time. Anxiety and fear are no cakewalk for someone who is self employed and I have learned not to always believe my fears. I work hard to stay in the moment and not catastrophize. I may be slightly tuned toward anxiety and fear by nature, so I have to work pretty hard at it.

So it is less that I conquer fear than I learn to surf it skillfully. I do not think that is such a bad thing, really. I sure understand the fear of other folks because I work so much with my own. Fear is human, if we are honest.

What advice do you wish someone had given to you? What advice would you give to others starting out?

  • Do not try to be perfect. Be kind to self, because that helps you be kind to others.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t let failure be the finish line.
  • Break the rules if you need to, but it is always better to do that on behalf of self aligned with and in service of others than just on behalf of yourself.
  • Don’t postpone joy.
  • Love the life you live.
  • All we have is each other. Resilience is not about your bank account, it is about relationships.
  • But there is nothing inherently wrong with money, though.
What are your hobbies?

I have a space on the first floor of my house that is an intersection of public/private space where we have Jazz Brunches, poetry, meditation, yoga, an art gallery, political organizing, book groups and other things. I am interested in cross pollination and encouraging an appreciation of difference. Its kind of cool, it is named Human Spaces. It is available for tech user groups, a few groups have meetups there. This thing keeps me pretty busy.

I’ve been doing a lot of working out and that is kind of fun.  Getting physically strong at 50 (I can dead-lift 140 lbs, y’all!) has given me a lot of mental strength too.

I read a lot. Nonfiction and fiction, poetry, scifi.  I often passionately discuss things online.  Virtual world is a part of me, as it is for many folks.

What do you like about St. Louis? The midwest? Why do you live here?

It is cheap! This allows us to attract and retain a lot of people and companies.

It also lets us experiment with things like Human Spaces and doing non-predatory startups and our exciting art/culture arena. We have great restaurants and a growing food scene.  I love St. Louis even as I see where it can do better.  I like to think I am part of that as well.

We are practical. We are learning, also, to open our minds. This is a powerful mix. St. Louis and the Midwest are the future.

Who inspires you?
  • People who allow themselves to be inconvenienced on behalf of others.
  • Kind people of all flavors.
  • Tough and wise and smart women that are all around us.
  • Activists.
  • Straight white men who are doing the work to open their own minds and opportunities for others.
  • Companies working to benefit the whole.
  • Cities working on serving everyone.
  • Poets, writers, artists.
  • Tech people who are using it not as a panacea but as a tool to build a better society for all.
Contact Information

Twitter – It is kind of a flaming dumpster of politics right now. But hopefully not too painful to dip into.  I’m a nice person, really!

Facebook – is pretty active too.

LinkedIn –  I am there, reluctantly.

Human Space on Facebook is a good place to see whats happening on at the space.

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