Ep 70: Kanika Tolver: Find Your Authentic Self

Diva Tech Talk had the honor to interview Kanika Tolver, Washington, D.C. native, Founder and Product Manager at BrandDMV Inc., (http://branddmv.com/).  Her company is a digital transformation agency that specializes in creating Digital Mobile Visuals. With a diverse and fascinating career in our nation’s capital, Kanika has consistently focused on improving U.S. government effectiveness.  Along the way, she has developed a wide range of impressive technology proficiencies, while consistently connecting those skills to improving the “human experience.”  She is also a career coach, author and mentor.

From high school, Kanika was fascinated by the interconnectedness of the world, and the way that even “dial-up” connections (like AOL Instant Messenger) could be used to make transactions more efficient. “Initially my mom wanted me to be a pharmacist,” Kanika said. “But I said ‘no’ I want to go into computers! It was fun, to me, to be on the Internet.”   

Kanika went to Bowie State University (https://www.bowiestate.edu/ ), an historically African-American college, where she majored in computer science, with a focus on Internet technology, programming in CSS, HTML, and JavaScript.  “That’s when I started to say, ‘wow, I really love creating Webpages and Websites’ “ and also discovered a passion for mobile applications, e-commerce, content management systems.  She worked part-time at the U.S. Department of Urban and Housing Development  (https://www.hud.gov/) , while attending university.  There she found some of her first mentors, and later in this podcast gave a “shout-out” to those who inspired her and offered her early life lessons about work ethic and attitude.

After college, Kanika’s first opportunity was with Verizon (www.verizon.com/ ) where she was a leader at their network control center in Virginia. “I had to learn the telecommunications industry.”  Then she returned to government service, first working for 2.5 years as a SaaS developer for the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics (https://www.bls.gov/ ),  where she “learned a lot about collection of data.”  She then moved to the U.S. Department of Transportation (https://www.transportation.gov/ ). “That was where I really got into digital strategy,” Kanika said. “During the first and second Obama administrations, I got a passion for understanding the use of Internet vs. Intranet: how to build sites, how to do website migration, how to redesign, how to do mobile apps.”  

With a considerable tenure in the public sector, Kanika left in 2014 because “I felt it was not such a great fit for me, because I had such an entrepreneurial spirit; I had an innovative way of thinking.” She was excited to take a role at Deloitte (www.deloitte.com/ ) (“I didn’t even know who the company was; all I knew was government!”). There, Kanika “learned the global aspect of business. “  In the private sector, for the first time, she faced the challenge of working in predominantly white male environments. “I learned I had to ‘boss up’ “, Kanika said.  “I had to come to the table with subject matter expertise. If I was going to make sure I was respected, had a seat at the table, I had to merge my personal brand as a woman of color with my technical experience, so people would not see color, or that I was female.”

Along the way, Kanika formed strong opinions about digital transformation of companies and groups. She believes it is less about the technology tools and “more about the people, processes, and structures.” She sees digital transformation as pervasive.  “It encompasses social, cloud, security, data, and the aspect of governance. As a tech community, we haven’t caught up with digital transformation. It’s hard to get it right, because it’s so many pieces. And we work in silos, a lot.” As a consultant in the private sector with an expertise in government, she grapples with many issues. “The government has had a lot of data breaches. And the government has a huge problem with creating these individual strategies: its own security strategy, its own data strategy, its own digital strategy.” Kanika’s perspective is that they, all, must be coalesced under the umbrella of digital transformation.

Evaluating her own success, Kanika’s credits her penchant for collaboration (“I really love people; it has helped me get the visibility I wanted and learn from people way smarter than me”), laser focus on her goals, fortitude (“I have been knocked down, but not knocked out”), and fearlessness.  She also has changed her perspective, along the way. “Now I look at failures as accomplishments, rather than defeats,” she said. “If I learned something, and was able to move forward, it makes me a conqueror.” Kanika defines true “servant leaders,” as those “who care about culture, people, and about people growing.” In the course of her career, to date, “those are some of the best leaders I have seen.”

In addition to founding her company, Kanika is also the author of LIFE REHAB: DON’T OVERDOSE ON PAIN, PEOPLE, AND POWER written when she was a Federal Government employee in 2013.  “We, all, come to a point where we try to live an authentic life.”  To assist others, Kanika authored this journey of self-discovery, which catalogued “letting go” of relationships which didn’t work, pain that was unnecessary, and superficial things which didn’t matter.

Kanika is a strong proponent of in-person networking, supplementing online connections.  “For people who want to maximize their opportunities, it’s so important to go out and meet people at conferences, workshops, seminars.” Additionally, she meets people regularly online, using tools like LinkedIn (“the best place for me to connect with the right people, professionally”) including LinkedIn Groups , where she often finds expertise and help. She also gives back often through mentorship, and “it makes me so happy,” she said. “Mentoring shouldn’t be looked at as a job; it should come from a place of passion and purpose.”  Her advice for potential mentees is to concentrate on creating a meaningful relationship with potential mentors, before asking for assistance; formulate a “brand pitch” about yourself; and persist in cultivating a chosen mentor.  In her own life, Kanika’s “dream team” of mentors are diverse, spanning fields, ages, races, and talents.

Kanika is a self-defined “hustler” in the most positive definition of that word, a champion of diversity in the workplace, particularly in the tech field.  She often writes articles for the well-known GLASS DOOR career enhancement community.   In 2014, she was interviewed by CNN, and expressed her candid opinion of tech hiring in a MONEY ECONOMY column entitled “Google Should Hire Me”.  She forthrightly said that Silicon Valley companies, in order to diversify, must “come out to where the people are,” including colleges and universities that have large minority populations. “Diversity in technology is a ‘heart condition.’  Either companies want to do it, or they don’t.” Kanika is planning to develop a diversity roadmap and publish it in a blog. It would include other diversification recommendations like companies should join alliances dedicated to diversity (similar to Black Girls Code); create a database of HBCU’s and aim recruiting campaigns there;  and work on “starting out younger” by making investments in early childhood STEM education programs focused on girls and minorities.

Kanika recommends tools for keeping up-to-date in the fast paced, changing technology world.  She reads a minimum of one tech book per month. Her other tools include:

  1. Podcasts which focus on tech trends (including any that discuss IoT, AI, the “cloud”, machine learning, and big data/data science and analytics);  

  2. Udemy, the technology learning site (https://www.udemy.com/ );

  3. Tech information sites like Tech Republic (https://www.techrepublic.com/) as well as  government tech blogs;

  4. Meetups, and other meetings, which connect a variety of diverse tech experts, in a networking environment.

Kanika’s advice for other women is:

  • “DEMAND respect in a respectful way. You want to be firm in who you are. You have to take the high road.”

  • Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses; capitalize on your strengths. “Bring something that adds a lot of value.”

  • To keep up, read a minimum of one or two focused articles per day from blogs and other informational sites.

  • “Look for ‘virtual’ mentors,” if you can’t find the right kind of mentor, in-person.

Her overriding message to women is “just strive toward equality --- with pay, and opportunity. Keep moving forward; keep evaluating what culture fit is good for you.”  Her philosophy is that when people are in tune with their essential selves, they can evaluate which companies or organizations are truly the correct ones in which to grow and evolve. “We need to evaluate what kinds of organizations work for us, so we can thrive.”

Kanika can be reached via her Website: https://kanikatolver.com/; on Twitter at https://twitter.com/kanikatolver; and on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kanikatolver/.

Follow us on Twitter  - @divatechtalks

Visit us on Facebook -https://www.facebook.com/divatechtalk

If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast channel. 

Ep 69: Christine Rice: Journey of a Successful Leader

Diva Tech Talk was thrilled to interview Christine Rice, formerly President of the three combined divisions of VisionIT (www.visionit.com) Corporation, and now CEO and President, solely of its IT staffing division: VisionPro (http://www.visionproteam.com/). VisionPro has 20 offices throughout the United States, and helps its clients hire highly-specialized technology talent.  The company is also global since it supports its parent, 21-year-old VisionIT, with offices in Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

As a child, from a modest background (“My dad was a blue-collar worker at Ford”), Christine had not been partial to technology subjects. “I got involved through my siblings,” she said. Both her older brother and sister worked at EDS (Electronic Data Systems), a $22 billion company acquired first in 2008 by HP (www.hp.com/), spun into a product division, and then in 2017 merged with Computer Science Corporation to form DXC Technology (http://www.dxc.technology/), publicly traded on the NYSE under the symbol: DXC.  While she was in high school, “hearing my sister talk about IT, and the projects she was working on,” spurred Christine. “You could see the joy in what she was doing.”  When Christine graduated, “I had a choice,” she said. “Did I want to go to school, in the evening, and work? Or did I want to go away?” Close to her religious family, she prayed; and was inspired to assume the multitasking role of attending college while working. She, too, began at EDS, while first attending Wayne County Community College in Detroit (www.wcccd.edu/), and then transferred to Central Michigan University in Midland, Michigan (https://www.cmich.edu/) from which she graduated with a B.S. in Business Management, while still maintaining a fulltime job.

Christine’s first EDS position was as an orientation specialist charged with onboarding newly-minted engineers joining that rapidly growing company. “I met a lot of people. It was a great entry into the workplace.” Although young, “I always had a confidence about me,” and that helped her move ahead at EDS, throughout her 15-year career there. After her first job, she moved into employee relations/human resources. “We were very aligned to the company’s legal department,” she admitted. “Our job was to lower the company’s liability in hiring, firing, and disciplining employees.” Starting as a specialist, she was promoted multiple times, working her way up to regional HR manager, directing a substantial team, and working with EDS leaders at every level of that corporation.

Christine left EDS to join her brother, technology leader David Segura (https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidseguravisionit/) several years after he founded VisionIT in 1997. VisionIT, today, is a global software development company, systems integrator, reseller of key solutions (like SAP), and innovation lab for the development of new applications.  But at startup, it was founded as a technology services and Web development venture. As David realized his need for increasing organizational talent “He came to me for help,” Christine said. “I didn’t realize helping would quickly turn into a full-time job. What a journey!”  

With David’s tech background, and Christine’s human resources and legal expertise, VisionIT flourished.  “As a startup company, you really wear multiple hats,” she acknowledged. “I started selling and promoting the company.”  Due to her strong network of established relationships through EDS, Christine cemented a number of large clients quickly, and the customer base multiplied. She concentrated on human resources, hiring/firing, fostering talent at VisionIT. “As we were serving companies, doing application development and a variety of projects, they would come back to us,” and ask for resources to make additional progress. So, Christine decided “why don’t I concentrate on building the staffing side of the business?” Later In this interview, she exclaimed that “we are in interesting times in IT,” (with the rise in connected vehicles, connected homes and connected cities) and that energizes her, and is part of her company’s future vision.

Two of Christine’s strengths are the ability to clearly communicate at all levels of an organization, and consultative business-building. “I like being in front of the customer,” she stated. “As a company, it is where we get our best ROI, because I truly take an interest in the customer’s problems, and how we can solve them.”  She mentioned a variety of recent projects including a large information technology cost-reduction program for a key client that resulted in a $4 million savings. She also points to her relentless work ethic: “I was wired to work hard and deliver. And people will focus on that.”

Christine shared some of her lessons for entrepreneurs. “When you are hiring people,” she said, “hire slow, but fire fast.”  As

a leader she stressed that “integrity is very important,” and that any leader needs to “build trust with your organization.” To do that, she behaves with utmost transparency, freely sharing with her team the reasons why something can or cannot be done at any point in time. In her own life, what offers Christine ultimate happiness is the combination of caring for her family (two college age sons and her husband) and “corporate success and hitting our goals --- I get so much satisfaction out of those. It’s a feeling you just can’t describe.”  To achieve balance, she stresses time management: carving out time for things that have the most priority and being disciplined in using time well.

Christine’s guiding principles for aspiring leaders are:

  1. Surround yourself with other strong leaders “because you’re not going to have all the answers.”

  2. Network, and “get involved” in your community and professional associations.

  3. Listen, attentively, as much as possible.

  4. Never stop learning (“I have a picture frame on my desk that says that!”).

In her philanthropy life, Christine works with children and young adults of Hispanic origin. “It’s important for inner city kids to see people who look like them be successful,” she said. She speaks frequently to students and gives presentations on behalf of Latina/Latino organizations who concentrate on education and career path mentorship.

Her advice, especially for “the young folks” is: “Take that risk.  If you’re not making yourself uncomfortable” according to Christine, you are not making progress.

Her final piece of wisdom is “dress for success --- mentally!  Focus on the positive.”

Christine Rice can be reached at crice@visionproteam.com.

Follow us on Twitter  - @divatechtalks

Visit us on Facebook -https://www.facebook.com/divatechtalk

If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast channel. 

Ep 68: Pamela Metivier: You Don’t Have to Be Exceptional to Be Equal

Diva Tech Talk was happy to interview Monsoon Strategy Partner, Pam Metivier, Co-Creator of STEAMTeam ®5, a children’s book series focused on getting girls excited about STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math.

Not to give TOO much away, Pam considers this not just a book series but “the beginning of a movement.” The books tell the stories of five amazing girls (Sandia Scientist, Treeka Technologist, Evelyn Engineer, Ariana Artist, and Mattie Mathematician) who comprise STEAMTeam® 5.  They use science, technology, engineering, art, and math to accomplish their goals. Designed to inspire and teach, the series and Pam’s career are both directed to an objective near and dear to @divatechtalks:  inspiring girls (and women) to join, stay and lead in the field of technology. The series can be acquired on Amazon (www.amazon.com) or on its own website (www.steamteam5.com).

Pam was always a tech maven. “As a child I always liked to take things apart.  I took apart my favorite Christmas gift: a Timex watch, when I was about 8,” she said. “And I’ve also been interested in writing my entire life.  So, I got a degree in technical writing” from Oklahoma State University (https://go.okstate.edu/).

Influenced by her brother, a software engineer, Pam’s early career focused on writing technical and design specifications. “I sought out software organizations.” Her first job was as a senior tech writer at hospitality software company, Sulcus Hospitality Group with an office based in Arizona.  “I started out writing manuals. I had to use the product(s) to write about them,” she explained. “In doing so, you identify opportunities to make the product better.”  Her next logical career step, then, was into product marketing. “For me, it was twofold. I became very interested in a role contributing to product features and usability. And in 1995, I was working for a software company (First Data Corporation: https://www.firstdata.com/)  that decided it wanted to create the first online banking application. I taught myself HTML.” Pam was subsequently recruited into First Data’s product development team, writing this breakthrough application. “At that point I was defining requirements, and stuff like that.”

In 1997, Pam moved to Silicon Valley, as a technical writer, for Vantive, a company whose main product was a software suite created to integrate call centers and help desks with field service personnel.  (Vantive was subsequently acquired by PeopleSoft, then swallowed by Oracle Corporation – www.oracle.com -  in 2002.)  From technical writer, Pam was promoted to direct Vantive’s Website development.  “Then I moved to co-found my first startup, and it was a little scary but very exciting.” She headed product marketing at Clip2, her company, one of the first social bookmarking sites.  There she realized: “I’m really a product person at heart, so even through to today, a lot of my activity is connected to product marketing, and technology marketing.” Pam said that “I can always use the tools that I recommend my clients should use.”

She is highly enthusiastic about STEAMTeam®5.  “My business partner and I created this series.  He invented it while he was playing with his daughter.  He wanted to infuse education into their playtime.” But the real breakthrough came when Pam attended the Washington D.C. WOMEN’S MARCH in January 2017 (https://www.womensmarch.com/). “I left there wondering: What can I do to contribute in a positive way to the issues that I care about most, which are education, science, women and girls, and their equality?”  STEAMTeam®5 was her answer.  Her hope is that girls reading it would “identify with role models, who are young and fun and someone they would like to be, someday.”

Having founded two companies, Pam’s advice for entrepreneurs is “you have to be in a position to ‘go all in’.  Watch your budget; downsize if you have to. But you can’t do it, halfway.” As a product marketing consultant for 15 years, Pam has seen what she calls “game changers” in tech marketing:  search and email in the earlier days; and today, the power of social media, remarketing and social advertising.  She avidly uses technology daily.  “I use 5 to 7 pieces of technology to promote the STEAM5 project,” as an example.

In discussing tech equity: “The problem starts with girls younger than we thought.  We need to start with girls when they’re very, very young --- even preschool age.” While STEAMTeam®5 was written for those from 7 to 11 years of age, the audience for the series can be kids as young as 3, with their parents reading to them.    She said “I think that children are born innate scientists. They should be taught that things they do in their typical play, in their typical day, all use STEAM skills.”  Pam stressed that if a parent or teacher connects simple things to engineering and science, children will understand that “science is fun!” She suggested that parents point that out, consistently, because “kids will be less intimidated later.”

Pam emphasized: “You don’t have to exceptional to be equal.  I think that is a message that young girls need to hear. My goal is to normalize seeing women and girls in STEM/STEAM courses at school, and in tech careers.”

As a busy Mom and entrepreneur, Pam said that she takes it “one day at a time.  Did I balance on that particular day?” Also, “I take little breaks from work to check in with my child to just make sure that he is engaged; or we’ll do something fun together.”  Additionally, she said: “I’m working really hard on putting my phone away.”

Pam Metivier can be reached on Twitter at @metivier.

Follow us on Twitter  - @divatechtalks

Visit us on Facebook -https://www.facebook.com/divatechtalk

If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast channel. 

Ep 67: Eboni Mack: Always Forward-Thinking

Diva Tech Talk was delighted to interview Eboni Mack, Senior Manager, Analytics, at GTB (www.gtb.com). In high school, Eboni originally had her eye on a thespian career, but instead decided to specialize in communication studies in college (“the way people think and how they consume media.”).  The firstborn in her family, she feels lucky because “I had two amazing parents who encouraged me to be what I wanted to be, do what I wanted to do and figure out what my passion was. The sky’s the limit.”

During her college years at the University of Michigan (www.umich.edu), Eboni benefited from a public relations internship at Lapides Publicity Giragosian, a media internship at Fox 2 News (http://www.fox2detroit.com/), a writing stint at the Michigan Daily (https://www.michigandaily.com/)  and an internship at Radio One (https://urban1.com/radio-one/).  “I accrued a lot of experience with the media field,” said Eboni.

Post-graduation, her first job was working as an account executive for the advertising and publishing division of AT&T (www.att.com). Simultaneously she went back to school for her MBA, with a dual concentration in marketing and management, from Wayne State University (https://wayne.edu/ ).  Two years into her tenure at AT&T, Eboni moved into a market analyst position, a role she held for four years.  She then shifted to MRM McCann (https://mrm-mccann.com/), a large advertising agency (part of the global MRM Worldwide Group) that specializes in helping large companies effectively convey their brand value and deeply connect with customers.  That agency focuses on six interrelated specialties:  marketing technology and its use, relationship marketing, data and analytics, e-commerce implementation, search engine optimization and website development.  Eboni’s first MRM McCann assignment was as senior data analyst for behemoth General Motors (www.gm.com).  Initially she dove into CRM (customer relationship management) analytics, dissecting email campaigns for Buick and GMC.  Then Eboni moved to a senior site analyst role, evaluating consumer behavior across all GM brands, including interactions with their individual brand websites, and GM’s owner center website (for instance, www.chevy.com, www.cadillac.com etc.) “I spent a lot of time on GM’s owner center website, since that was the time of the recall crisis,” she said.

Eboni migrated to Team Detroit, for an analytics opportunity, working on the Ford Motor Company (www.ford.com) account. Team Detroit subsequently went through a brand change to GTB (which stands for Global Team Blue) and is proud of their heritage as a full-service agency.  “We have creative, project management, strategy and a huge marketing science unit, that has different analytics disciplines from media to online search to attitudinal and survey.” Eboni exclaimed.  “Bringing all those disciplines together to serve our singular client,” is GTB’s key differentiator in the competitive advertising world.  Eboni’s current role is concentrated on website optimization. “My team executes all of the personalization, audience targeting, and A/B testing across the communications around Ford.com” (the Ford Motor Company global website).  “As an example, if you were to come to Ford.com as a first-time visitor, you would typically would get a very generic experience. But let’s say you decided to shop for a specific vehicle, the next time you would visit the site, you would get a very vehicle-specific experience,” explained Eboni, describing outcomes of her current work.

In evaluating her career success to date, Eboni catalogues key strengths as diligence, drive, and inquisitiveness. “I am always looking to learn,” she said. “Technology is an industry that is always changing. You need to constantly be feeding your brain with knowledge and information just to keep up!”  She recommends brainstorming, reading white papers and publications, to keep the brain sharp, and information current.  Eboni also admitted that “I like process and structure. The fact that I have been very organized has helped me in my career.” She said that “being a woman of color has definitely shaped my experience.  Throughout my career, there have been many times when I have been ‘the only’ in a room! But it has shaped my experience in a positive way and has allowed me to bring a different perspective to the table.”

Eboni is ambitious.  “Within a few years, I see myself moving into a director role, where I am leading a division or department. Long-term, I see myself exploring entrepreneurship.”  She understands that the technology-oriented skillset she is continuously developing has value to a wide range of customers, aiming to grow their businesses.  She also plans to get her PhD, at some point in the future, with the aim to teach at the university level, later in her career.

For Eboni, “happiness is about being fulfilled in whatever it is I am doing.”  Her current sources of happiness include her stimulating career, strong relationships with friends and family, and traveling the world.  “That criteria may change as I enter different parts of my life.”  Eboni acknowledged, matter-of-factly, that “I have a fear of failure. In life, there will be adversity; there will be disappointments; there will be challenges. It’s really about how you deal with those things and learn from them,” she said. “But my greatest fear is allowing my fear of failure to hold me back. When I leave this earth, I want to know that I’ve accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish. I don’t want to miss out on anything because I was afraid to take a risk.”

As an aspirational leader, Eboni’s advice to women destined to lead includes:

  1. “Always be in a constant state of learning.”

  2. “Don’t be afraid to ‘think outside the box.’  Some of the craziest ideas turned out to be the most successful for me.”

  3. “Give back along the way.”

In terms of her own giving back, Eboni said “I have been very fortunate to work with leaders who supported me over the course of my career.  So, for me, I want to be able to provide that support for someone or a group of people” mirroring the mentoring she has received. Eboni has served as an advisor to the Dr. Betty Shabazz Delta Academy for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated (http://www.deltasigmatheta.org/educational.html).  “I also studied abroad, in South Africa, so I did a lot of volunteering with youth, including the St. Philomena’s Children’s Home, an orphanage.  And I volunteered for an organization called LoveLife, a health awareness organization geared toward youth in South Africa.”

Reflectively she said, “What I would tell the ‘younger Eboni’ is that you don’t have to have it all figured out. I literally thought I was going to be ruling the world by 25. When that didn’t happen, it was a little disappointing. I had held myself to this unrealistic standard of perfection. Now I would tell myself to ‘allow yourself to be human.’  You don’t have to have all the answers. And that’s ok, because life is really about the journey, and not the destination.”

Eboni’s axiom for living, from her dad, is to “keep your eyes on the prize. Always be forward-thinking.”  The best way to contact Eboni J. Mack is through her Linked In Account.  

Follow us on Twitter  - @divatechtalks

Visit us on Facebook -https://www.facebook.com/divatechtalk

If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast channel. 

Ep 66: Chris Rydzewski: Believe In Yourself

Diva Tech Talk was thrilled to interview Chris Rydzewski, long-time tech veteran, now serving as Executive Director for the Michigan Council of Women in Technology (www.mcwt.org).  Like many of our other “divas” Chris did not originally plan a path in technology.  “Ironically, I stumbled into it,” she said. Matriculating at the University of Michigan (http://umich.edu/ ),  “I loved math and stats,” she said, “but I wound up with a degree in marketing.”

Having lived in Texas for a while, Chris returned to Michigan and joined Compuware (www.compuware.com) in the early 1990’s. “Ironically when I interviewed with them, I hadn’t been following them.” Chris soon discovered that Compuware was a leader in application lifecycle and performance development/productivity solutions, particularly on mainframe computers; and she got hooked.    “They had 5 lines of business, and were really big, at that point.” For eight years, Chris sold Compuware solutions, supporting the Rocky Mountain states (Colorado, Montana, Utah, Arizona, Nevada – “lots of travel!”), primarily in the financial institution and state government vertical markets. She subsequently moved into covering parts of the Midwest until 1998. Then she became an international product line sales director responsible for coaching both direct and channel sales teams in South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. “It was one of my favorite roles since one of my personal passions is travel and culture. But it was also one of my most difficult jobs because of the language barriers and time differences,” Chris said. “I would be out on the road for a couple of weeks at a time. You’re constantly working when you’re doing that. Didn’t have a social life because I was always traveling.  As much as it was fun, when I came back I felt so disconnected.”

This led Chris to her next decision to move to BMC (www.bmc.com), “another big company”, she said.  She spent 5 years at BMC focusing on sales to large Michigan-based corporations like Kmart, the automotive companies, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan etc.  And then subsequently, she moved back to Compuware as a strategic sales manager for key “named accounts” that interested her, regionally. “I always loved working at Compuware,” she said; and the move allowed her to explore other products the company had developed including product portfolio management and change management offerings.

In 2013, Chris moved over to Compuware’s application performance management division, a growth segment for the company. “A company called Dynatrace was acquired and a lot of good technology came with it.” Within a year, Chicago and San Francisco-based private equity investment firm, Thoma Bravo LLC purchased Compuware for $2.4 billion. Under the agreement, Thoma Bravo split Compuware into two separate companies: the mainframe software business (under the Compuware name) and Dynatrace (www.dynatrace.com), continuing to focus on real-time software management and maintenance. Chris stayed with Dynatrace, selling for them for the next four years.  “One of the things I really loved about my whole sales career was identifying relationships and where the business drivers were. It was always about solving problems.  That’s what I love about technology.”

In the summer of 2017, changes at Dynatrace spurred Chris to leave the company. “I ended up doing some soul-searching,” she said. She asked herself questions like “what is my gift?” and “what is it that I should be doing, moving forward?”  As it happened, she was “tapped on the shoulder” to consider an opportunity with the Michigan Council of Women in Technology. “For the previous 12 years, I had always been a volunteer,” Chris said. “I had been on the Board of Directors, and had handled fundraising for many, many years.  I so enjoyed it and was super-passionate about it. There were many aspects of the organization that I loved and helped build!” So, Chris assumed the role of Executive Director. “We were at a point where we had grown so fast. There needed to be improvements from an operational perspective.”  In her new role, Chris is responsible for full MCWT P&L management with oversight over the organization’s fiscal health, its budget, fundraising, staff, and much more. She is laser-focused on “operational improvements and efficiency.”

With a mission to “grow and inspire girls and women in the field of technology in Michigan,” MCWT consumes most of Chris’s energies. As a successful sales leader, ironically, “in my career, I was always one of the few females with teams of men” she lamented.  “This is the ‘give-back’ time for me.” MCWT runs 35+ large and small events each year; has given over $1 million in scholarships to college-bound and post-college women and girls pursuing technology careers; will run 10 summer tech camps for 5th through 8th graders this year has 13 after-school girls’ high school and middle school tech programs; hosts an annual Website design contest for high school and middle school girls; a mentorship program for mid-career women, and much, much more.  While still small, compared to other nonprofits, MCWT “has lots of programs and stakeholders,” Chris said.  And she is now responsible to work closely with the Mission Officers, Infrastructure Leads, Staff, Volunteers, and the Boards to help drive success for all of the programs and events!

In looking at herself, Chris’s main personal strengths, thus far, are relationship-building skills, her penchant for problem-solving, and affinity for staff career growth.  She likes to “develop folks.” Chris has been grateful, too, to observe “many great leaders over the last 12 years” of her volunteerism at MCWT. “Everyone had a different style and approach, and I really learned” from each of them.  Key leadership lessons that Chris cited include:

  • “Be passionate” about whatever you choose to do.  She commented that at one point in her career, her volunteerism at MCWT became a “platform” for her and help cement her identity as a leader in her own company.

  • “Be open to new opportunities” Challenging opportunities may just appear, provided you have worked hard, and consistently have done your best.

  • “Believe in yourself.  Have confidence.” (dropped the Nike comment that was here)

  • “Be relevant.”

For girls and women of all ages, Chris exhorted them to “take some risk!  You are not really going to know what you are good at, until you try different things, and see what bubbles up to the top.”

Chris said that being a woman leader in a male-dominated technology workplace can be “a good thing.  I think women have different characteristics. I think we listen better. I think we communicate better.”  Some of her former colleagues “would be amazed at how I could pull out information” when she was making joint sales calls with them.   She emphasized that “you have to make yourself heard” particularly when you are in the minority in the workplace. “It is still, sometimes, a struggle for women to be in leadership roles,” she said. But she also noted that persistence and tenacity when attacking that struggle is key.

A self-admitted “workaholic,” Chris admits to occasionally having a problem balancing family, and work.  She has deployed a few practical tactics to address this. “My husband and I have ‘date nights,’ because if you don’t plan it, it’s not going to happen,“ she said.  She has also tried to make the time between dinner and when her teenage daughter went to sleep the time when everyone focuses on family. When she is driving her daughter anywhere, she turns her phone off.  As a family, they also plan big trips that all of them can take, together. “You should not always have your work drive you. Your family is super-important; there is so much more,” said Chris.

“Technology makes everything relevant” according to Chris.

She can be reached through the new and improved MCWT website (www.mcwt.org), and chris.rydzewski@mcwt.org.

Follow us on Twitter  - @divatechtalks

Visit us on Facebook -https://www.facebook.com/divatechtalk

If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast channel.