Ep 78: May Russell: Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose

Diva Tech Talk was delighted to interview Ford Motor Company’s Smart Mobility and Tech Engineering Leader, May Russell.

The oldest of three girls, “I loved mathematics,” May exclaimed, recalling her childhood. “But it’s not like I had access” since she hails from Egypt but grew up in Kuwait where her parents were professional expatriates. Later her college physics professor father and civil engineer mother emigrated to the U.S. when May was a senior in college.  “It’s a beautiful country, but at the time was really limited in resources.” As an example, she said “there was one bookstore in the whole country.” A self-described “reading nerd,” May found this frustrating; “I exhausted every single sci-fi book they had!”  She recognized her first “thirst for, and love of technology” through a “very aspirational” science fiction passion. She pointed to Isaac Asimov and his Laws of Robotics, and mentioned that, today, she still refers to those, in her work.  Her much-anticipated first computer science class when she was 15, allowed May to innovate, using an Access database with a Visual Basic front-end, so that a video store owner could catalogue the entire collection of VHS tapes in inventory, and operationalize retail transactions.  “It was an amazing experience,” said May. In “overachiever” mode, May became computer science valedictorian in her high school class.

Matriculating to university, she had the chance to either enter the school of dentistry at Cairo University or the computer science program at the American University in Egypt.  Urged by her mother to “try both,” May simultaneously began first semesters at both institutions to stimulate a “mission decision.”  Quickly though, “it became clear” that May loved computer science, so she dropped her pre-dentistry courses, and focused on technology.  She has never regretted that decision. Each subsequent year has felt like “the biggest year in tech,” to her. “Every company, every business, is a technology company, in one way or the other,” May asserted. “And the depth of the impact in our personal lives is pervasive --- an interesting twist!”  In her senior year, her family moved to the U.S where May entered the University of Michigan - Dearborn. It is another decision May has never regretted, lauding the U.S. tradition of “respect for humanity…the value for human life and civil rights, comparatively speaking” and “the ability to effect change.”

Graduating with a B.S. in Computer Science, May had job offers from E&Y,  Texas Instruments, and Ford. She accepted the E&Y offer. “My advice to anyone is accept the most challenging opportunity; do the thing that scares you the most, the thing that is riskiest to you.” E&Y gave her the chance to work in many industries with many different clients. “You’re expected to learn (each) industry; you’re expected to contribute; you’re expected to work, night and day.”  May loved many of her projects, describing one for Consumers Energy where she had the chance to “create something out of nothing” to enable the utility, in early days of deregulation, to resell energy. Post 9/11, May reached her 5-year E&Y anniversary, and was thinking “I have learned a lot.” That combined with “fatigue from the pace” of 80-plus hour weeks, plus an increasing desire to create and foster products that she could “own” cued her to look for her next challenge.  “I wanted to work for a company where I got to ‘own’ things” she said vs. moving from one project to another. So, she applied to Ford and moved there, 16-plus years ago.

Joining Ford, May learned a valuable lesson: careers are not always linear. “My goals were not to make more money or manage a large organization.  My goals, staying in the technology field, were to join a large company where I had purpose and mastery and got to ‘own’ products. And I didn’t want to travel, Monday through Thursday.”  Within the first year at Ford, however, her salary returned to the same E&Y level, and her hard work was recognized. So, her admonition was “do what is right for you, at the time it is right for you, as long as it aligns with your goals and values.”  

May’s first Ford project overhauled the entire dealer parts order fulfillment system. Then she became the leader of a 150-person development group working to transform the intricate Ford global order system (“an amazing challenge”).  “What I learned from that was how to break down something really, really complicated and break down huge teams, have them work independently, but create mechanisms of communication” to collaborate, agilely. She progressed to manage all business-to-consumer and dealer ordering and communications systems development, where she led a much larger organization, with a variety of team leaders managing sub-teams inside it. “That takes a different skill-set, more strategic thinking, supplier relationship management, and deep thought on how we execute B to C” she said. She moved on to lead the transformation of Ford’s worldwide human resources systems; combining the power of disparate systems and vendors; leading different groups managed by different Ford colleagues; and “creating something from scratch.”  

May then began to work in “emerging technologies” for Ford. Recruited by Marcy Klevorn, (now Ford’s President of Mobility but then Ford’s Global CIO), she led a team to create Ford’s initial “best-in-class” consumer-facing mobile application, empowering consumers to command and control their vehicles. Even more importantly, May helped create a “software engineering company within a company” ---- helping to recruit talent, build an entrepreneurship culture, adopt the agile processes of a software development company. Starting with just a handful of developers, that organization has now grown to 500 colleagues, and four software development labs on 3 continents, “massive growth over 2-3 years.”  This was a grueling undertaking, since it required Ford to become an “employer of choice” among talented software developers, in a time when (due to the earlier recession and other factors) development talent was not easily found in the Midwest. And the products on the drawing board had to be developed in months, not years, (in an organization traditionally unused to that speed), and then deployed globally in China, Canada, the U.S and throughout Europe. May is justifiably proud that this first app, (named “Ford Pass” and “Lincoln Way”) has been the “highest rated application in every app store” through which it is sold;  won the coveted global 2017 Mobile Marketing Design Award annually bestowed by MMA;  and has been recognized as a leading application for connected cars by Gartner.  “The team that has done this is amazing,” according to May, citing their resilience, ingenuity and talent.

May sees her top strengths, in addition to confidence instilled by her family, brilliance and developed leadership skills, as perseverance (“I just keep going”) and learning to “enjoy the journey.” Her philosophy is that “at the end of the day, you spend more time at work. So, if you enjoy the journey, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy” that you will achieve great things.  She acknowledged that it requires significant effort to create that joyous culture and “uplift the team,” but is so worth it.

Discussing being a female, May shared that “I did feel the burden of being a woman when I had children.”  Her husband is highly supportive but “as mothers we take on more; and there are more physical demands on us.”  Nevertheless, two of her “greatest career catapults” at Ford occurred within two months after the births of her two children.  “That reaffirmed my notion that being a mother wasn’t impacting my career, at all! Having said that, though, it was really difficult.” May acknowledged that while she had educational and career advantages, and has a very strong support system in her husband and parents, not every mother is that lucky.  “There are women out there, who have had children too early. And childcare is too expensive if you make a decent income, and cost-prohibitive if you don’t. It becomes a vicious cycle.” May is currently contemplating initiatives to help women in those situations pursue education and career. While very courageous, May admits to two fears: “A primal fear that something will happen to my children; and that both my kids, and I, may not realize our potential.”

In becoming a leader, May had lessons to share. She emphasized that “every opportunity is an opportunity to excel and shine.  It doesn’t matter how small the assignment is, it is your opportunity to do your best.” She is an advocate for taking more risks, but ensuring that the risks are measured, logical ones. “Master something” before you move on.  Additionally, “always leave something better than you found it. Anything has room for improvement.” In that vein, as part of “the virtuous cycle” May volunteers as the Chief Mission Officer for the Michigan Council of Women In Technology leading programs for girls in grades K through 8; and also serves on the Advisory Board for IT Leadership Women at Ford.  

To achieve happiness, May consistently reminds herself to be grateful and “that instantly makes me extremely happy.”  In her technical leadership role, May received great advice from a former Ford CIO: “you are the CEO of your own business.”  Under that view, the technical leader is fully responsible for everything (P&L, human resources/talent, product development and delivery etc.) as well as the established technical vision for whatever division, unit or initiative he or she is leading, and the future technology path. “I have to make sure that my customers are satisfied.”  Summing up, having “a sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose” creates May’s personal joy.

May Russell can be personally reached at may.russell@gmail.com.

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Ep 77: Wanda Castelvecchi: Always Be Learning

Diva Tech Talk was delighted to interview Wanda Castelvecchi, National Practice Manager for Security and Enterprise Networking at ePlus, (https://www.eplus.com/), a  Cisco Systems (www.cisco.com) reseller.  The breadth of the business for which Wanda is currently responsible is over $500 million, annually.   

Like many of our “divas,” Wanda did not enter the technology industry in a traditional nor linear fashion.  In the mid-1980’s she pursued a career as a law librarian, (“really the first technologist in our law firm” ) using Lexis (https://www.lexisnexis.com) , and Westlaw (https://legal.thomsonreuters.com/en/products/westlaw) research databases before most attorneys had become adept at using those deep resources.  “I worked for a large law firm in downtown Richmond, Virginia, until my son was born,” she said.  During her maternity leave, the law firm closed. “So, I found myself as a brand-new Mom, with a brand-new baby at home, with no job.  I had to figure out how to make this work!” She did that by joining a much smaller law firm, and became their “Renaissance Woman” doing reception work, recruiting, working in their law library, handling billing, marketing and more.  During her tenure, the firm acquired their first computer, with less computing power than “what we carry around on a USB stick today.” Wanda became the firm’s internal computer expert, figuring out how to best use that initial tech investment to empower attorneys and assistants to become optimally effective.  “For me, I am always looking for opportunity,” she said. And Wanda saw this as a strong learning challenge, which she mastered.

From that firm, Wanda was hired by a technology systems integrator. “I was pretty green, but I made a commitment to the company that I would get a couple of certifications.”  She proceeded to obtain both Novell certification, and Microsoft certification, within the first 6 months and “thus launched my crazy career in IT!” She had no master plan for the future; she was simply passionate about learning and “I felt like a student again.”  After entering the field, she noticed the paucity of women working in it. “It felt like a huge challenge to me not only to be accepted as a newbie in the technology field, but to be accepted as a woman,” Wanda said. At the company, she was promoted into sales from a systems analyst role but immediately encountered a resistant manager, who informed her that she would probably “be gone in 90 days.”  In tenacious fashion, Wanda decided to prove him wrong. “It was really him telling me I couldn’t succeed that made me want to succeed.” Through sheer persistence, she wound up being the top salesperson of the quarter, during that very first quarter.  “As women, we could let those words crush us, or we can take those words and say ‘I’ll show you what I can do…” In an ironic note, karmically, Wanda ran into that same sales manager again, many years later, as he was bagging groceries at her grocery store.

Having fluidly moved from a technical role into sales, Wanda counseled that the path is not for every technologist.  “What people don’t understand are all the mundane tasks” with which sales professionals cope, including paperwork. The role requires empathy for deeper psychological issues underlying customer satisfaction, and to acknowledge and diligently attempt to rectify mistakes when they are made --- “the ability to say you’re sorry” to a customer.  She also emphasized that being honest, genuine, consistently reliable, considering yourself an advocate for the customer, and never losing the tendency to ask many questions of a client, as part of sales discovery, is key to success. “I want my customers to know that if they ask me to do something, they can count on me to do it. I always strive to be available.”

Wanda moved from the smaller system integrator to Sycom Technologies (https://www.sycomtech.com/) where she spent the next decade.  She performed at a very high level, becoming the top Professional Services sales leader of the year for multiple years and then “I did the thing that many successful sales people think they should do in their career, I became a sales manager.”  She subsequently realized what many sales experts freely acknowledge: “While I had a really good run at it, what makes a good salesperson, doesn’t always make a great sale manager!” But Wanda learned valuable lessons from sales leadership. Those included the need for patience with a diverse team; understanding that motivation is different for everyone; understanding that not all team members are driven to excel at a high level (and “sometimes that’s ok”); and how to listen, set expectations, and create plans with achievable goals. “I learned to trust myself.  I learned to be humble. You have to be.” But above all Wanda “learned to keep moving and always learning.”

From Sycom, Wanda briefly had a short stint at another Cisco partner company,  and then moved to ePlus, (https://www.eplus.com/) an engineering-centric technology solutions provider with certifications from top technology partners and expertise in key technologies from data center to security, cloud, and collaboration.  She has been with ePlus for 9 years. There she was fortunate to work for her “best boss,” a gentleman by the name of John Doyle. From him, Wanda is continuously absorbing the strengths she admires in leaders.  One is selflessness. “Everything John does is about lifting his team up. Nothing he ever talks about is about himself.” She considers herself in an ideal situation. “Imagine that you wake up every morning and you have the ability to create your own path. And you have a manager who is 100% supportive of that, who has always got your back!”

Selfless, herself, Wanda has been active in a number of nonprofits giving back to the overall community including the Salvation Army’s annual Angel Tree Giving program, and as a leader in two regional animal welfare organization, encompassing a a role on the Board of Directors for the Richmond Animal League (https://www.ral.org).  But her newest endeavor fills her with the most passion. GRIT (which stands for Girls Rock ‘In Tech) is designed to introduce middle school girls to a variety of tech careers, with a specific focus on cybersecurity.  “In addition to there being an overall shortage of women in technology, there is a huge shortage of experts in cybersecurity,” according to Wanda, up to 1 - 2 million jobs going unfilled each year.  So, from her vantage point, it is logical to encourage girls to explore the field. She noted that women are often more risk-averse, have excellent project management skills, and a concern for safety, so the field could be attractive and they can make a significant contribution.  “Organizations who don’t have women in their cybersecurity practice are probably less secure,” as a result of the deficit, according to Wanda.

Currently active in 4 schools, with a plan to be at 6 by 2020,  and then growing even more rapidly, the GRIT program’s name has a double meaning since “one of the things we want to be able to develop is grit” (the ability to persevere against all odds) in the young women it serves. “You can be really great at math, engineering or science, or anything you want, if you work really hard,” is GRIT’s mantra. The initial program, which is complemented by role models speaking to middle school girl audiences, involves teaching public speaking skills, imbuing the girls with courage and tenacity, modeling etiquette/behavioral skills, and sharing the basics of cyber-safety.  Using a suite of collaboration tools, Wanda noted that the program is growing fast, in different states, and aspires to bridge the gap from middle school to high school to college to career. “We want to expose the girls not only in their own communities, but outside of them.”

 Wanda had some additional success tips to share:

  1. As you progress in your career, pull people up with you.

  2. Honesty and integrity are paramount, since they are the basis of trust, and long-lasting relationships.

  3. Learn to laugh at yourself.

  4. Take your vacations, an opportunity to recharge. “It makes us better when we come back.”

Most importantly, she emphasized: “Always be learning. Every day, learn something new.”

Wanda can be reached at wcastelvecchi@eplus.com.

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Ep 76: Monica Bailey: Making GoDaddy the Company Where Everyone Wants to Work

Diversity Leadership Series

Diva Tech Talk was thrilled to interview Monica Bailey, Chief People Officer at GoDaddy (www.godaddy.com). With approximately 18 million global customers and over 8,000 employees worldwide, the 22-year old company is an indisputable market leader, as the largest ICANN-accredited domain registrar in the world, four times the size of its closest competitor. Monica came to her role at GoDaddy “having seen a lot of things I love about the technology industry and having seen a lot of things that I didn’t want to repeat.”

Monica, the daughter of a social worker mother and a residential builder father, was raised in what she described as a “rough and tumble fishing town” on the Washington State coast, populated by “amazing people” who “had to be as fierce as the ocean to survive there.”  She humbly acknowledged that some classmates and friends were “smarter than me” but did not have equal access to opportunities. Monica said: “I hustled as hard as I could,” applying for every scholarship for which she was remotely eligible. She graduated from Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow School of Communications with a double major in psychology and communications, and a special focus on women’s studies. Early in her career exploration, she knew “I wanted to help people; I wanted to make an impact” and “work in a company, helping people in that company --- speaking for them, and helping them.” Monica stays connected to her hometown for two decades of volunteerism on behalf of abused children, through a nonprofit called Camp Victory for Children.

Fate intervened in Monica’s landing her first job. Fortuitously armed with her resume, after graduation, she visited a friend, doing temporary work at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington. She spotted her third cousin in the building and importuned her to facilitate interviews. She was hired as a technical recruiter for Microsoft. “That’s when my journey in tech began, and I have spent my whole career there. I feel so fortunate. It’s a place where we don’t ponder for too long. We get to experiment, try things, iterate, and hopefully make change in the industry, and the world.” Her career at Microsoft spanned many roles including recruiter, recruiting team captain, senior human resources generalist working on Microsoft’s consumer internet group, manager of Microsoft’s merger and acquisitions, senior talent assessment manager supporting President/CEO succession and development planning, and also did a stint as HR partner for Microsoft’s Research arm.

Monica is a life-long champion of diversity, shaped by enlightening lessons from that 17-year Microsoft tenure.  She has the highest regard for Microsoft’s current CEO, with whom she had the chance to work on important projects, and who she acknowledges is a profound change agent.  Earlier, though, “I grew up in a work environment that was pretty internally competitive. I was fundamentally impacted by that system; but that system has now changed a lot. Having lived through that experience shapes your views on what you can strive for, in a company.”  

A few years back, Monica engaged in an exercise called “I BELIEVE IN…” where participants take 2 minutes and write down things in which they strongly believe.  In Monica’s case, she is adamant that “I believe there is enough pie for everyone. I don’t want to compete with folks. I don’t want my folks to compete with each other.”  In her industry, and company, “we are better together.” To that end, she encourages, and works toward, collaboration in all endeavors. Monica also has deep feelings about characteristics that comprise personal success. “That grit, that drive, that resilience” exemplified by some of her personal experiences “will ultimately make a difference in the world.”

Monica defined diversity as “having different perspectives around ‘the decision-making table.’ The more folks you bring around that table, from different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different socio-economic classes, the more holistic you get to be.”  She stressed that if you don’t have diversity, as an organization, you can “miss the market.” Her transformational work at GoDaddy has been propelled by a partnership with Stanford University’s 40-year old Clayman Institute, a nonprofit extension founded to inspire innovative solutions that advance gender equality. “We gave them unprecedented access to everything” she said, including wide-ranging employee surveys, various data cuts of the employee population, raw hiring data, redacted performance reviews, a seat to observe top-of-house talent review sessions,and much more.  After their in-depth review, “they said: you have two choices. You can continue to refine your hiring to reduce unconscious bias, similar to what many companies are working on. Or you can go for the ‘Holy Grail:’ career advancement for women, knowing that there is very little research in this area, at this point.”

Making the “Holy Grail” choice, GoDaddy’s first step was to revise their unique performance review process that encompasses both the “what” (targets, objectives, activity,) and the “how” of achieving goals.  “We want wonderful people doing wonderful work,” Monica said. “So, we had to reimagine the ‘how’ in order to strive for true diversity. The ‘how’ is how you exemplify our values; how you live them every day; how you help each other do great things for our customers.  We included ‘how do you introduce diversity and different perspectives ‘around the table’, in order to innovate.” Monica stressed that there has also been a robust effort to block unconscious bias in every human resources’ process as a result of the Clayman Institute counsel. “We just decided to build diversity into everything we did. Diversity is not siloed. It lives in every piece of work we do. The bummer is you’re never done!”  

GoDaddy is making great diversity progress.  “Our employees are super-clear about our culture and values. They come to GoDaddy because it is a really different culture --- hard-charging, yet collaborative. We overtly talk about it and more importantly, our people talk about it.” Monica said. “And we have record low attrition.”  She proudly pointed to a recent survey that shows that 89% of GoDaddy’s top individual contributors and leaders would recommend the company to others.

By following Clayman’s recommendations to break down all the company’s work into a simple, clearly accessible set of behaviors, “women and men have a statistically equal shot at top performance in the company.”  Monica is justifiably proud of GoDaddy’s pay parity goal attainment. “For the last four years since we started measuring pay parity, we pay a dollar for a dollar, women to men.” And, “last year, we were at 31% women in our most senior roles.”  She also cited the GoDaddy college campus intern program as a successful feeder to diversity, noting that in 2015, only 18% of the company’s entry-level engineers were women. But as a result of the intern program setting a goal of 40-50% female interns, the company moved to 42% entry level female engineers, by 2017.  Additionally, in 2018, 67% of incoming interns were ethnically diverse.

Monica has diversity-strengthening recommendations for other organizations:

  1. Creatively formulate what unique success looks like for your company, and then proactively act on that vision

  2. Examine performance by ethnicity, gender, and all other criteria, and evaluate whether the system is fair to ALL your people; if not, then experiment and try new approaches

  3. Use a tool to constantly survey and obtain deep feedback from your talent base, and aggressively make changes based on the data (Go Daddy has a consistent tool called “GoDaddy Voice”)

  4. Engage in systems like GoDaddy’s “promotion-flagging” to ensure that no one is forgotten (particularly women and minorities who may not normally “self-promote”) when it comes to promotion paths

Monica was emphatic about the positive return on investment that diversity represents for all companies. At GoDaddy “We believe that diversity creates better innovation, better products and services for our customers.”  Her mission at GoDaddy is “making the company we all want to work for!”

Monica can be reached through her LinkedIn profile: linkedin.com/in/monica-bailey-1a11462.

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Ep 75: Scarlett Ong Rui Chern: Passion Plus Perseverance

Diva Tech Talk enjoyed interviewing Scarlett Ong Rui Chern,  budding entrepreneur, founder and CEO of Peerstachio.  Scarlett represents the epitome of entrepreneurship:  courageous, persistent, yet agile in her approach to creating a technology venture.  She grew up in a small town in Malaysia and left to pursue her higher education in the United States. “I had one year of community college in Kuala Lumpur, and then transferred as a freshman into the University of Michigan (https://umich.edu/).”  As a 10-year old girl, Scarlett said: “I was interested in tech, especially the gaming field. I was very ‘into’ role-playing games, and multiplayer, collaboration games. I was always interested in the collaborative aspect of tech, which is the basis of what I am working on, right now.”  

Scarlett matriculated to the University of Michigan, after researching online, and looking for a sense of “community” among colleges she evaluated. Everyone was very friendly, from her perspective. But her first year at the university was difficult. “My first year was not a good year. But I really believed in myself, although I was struggling to adapt to the whole situation,” she said. “Besides being an international student, I was a first-generation college student in my family. And I didn’t have any family members around.”    Scarlett initially faltered, academically, particularly with calculus. “It was a shock to me, to realize that I was coming from far behind. Not having enough peer support, from an academic sense, brought me into a space where I felt very alone, and not sure of what I was doing.” She had to swallow her own pride, and “figure out strategies of how to reach out” for help, which was time-consuming and difficult. Even with her assigned academic advisor, she felt that “there was a barrier in communicating.” Scarlett initially closed herself off; but now “I have grown to be a more open person, more self-aware” knowing when to reach out and ask for help.  “It really motivated me. There are a lot of other students that face this issue, too.”

Scarlett had one certainty as she began her time at the university.  “I knew I wanted to ‘do’ business. But I was not certain WHAT business,” she said.  She was influenced by some of her friends to join the university’s “optiMize Social Innovation Challenge” in her freshman year. “Initially, I was just there for the experience,” she said.  Her first project created a “gamified” classroom experience for elementary school students.  She learned a lot and then successfully entered the university’s business school, with an emphasis on consulting, in her sophomore year.  “I joined a pro bono consulting club on campus. I actually learned more about myself and how to give back to our community.” She worked with the famed Zingerman’s, (renowned for leadership in employee engagement) as one project, and helped create the framework to enable past employees stay in touch with the current Zingerman’s community.   During this time, Scarlett discovered that consulting was NOT her personal life mission. “I am the kind of person who likes to get her hands dirty, make that ‘hands-on’ impact, and see things through,” she said.  “Everything was too high level for me. I wanted to do something, create something. This is when passion comes into play. Not only did I pick myself up, but I wanted to create something that would help others pick themselves up.”

Scarlett admitted that “it was pretty hard to get a job”, but she needed one to defray expenses. “I am a pretty stubborn person. When people tell me: ‘no’, I like to prove that ‘no’ means ‘not yet.’ I’ll get there.”  She began to explore the world of venture capital and acquainted herself with U of M’s Zell-Lurie Institute, dedicated to advancing knowledge and practice of innovation.  “They offer a lot of support in terms of mentorship, grant-funding; they have been one of our biggest supporters.”  She also got an opportunity at the Michigan Venture Capital Association, as a summer intern, where she worked on the association’s 2017 annual landscape guide and “changed the game” in terms of its data collection, data collation, and interactive reporting.  

Scarlett also decided to “get more serious” about EdTech projects. With a fellow student, she entered U of M’s CAMPUS OF THE FUTURE competition, which “reimagined” techniques and spaces for teaching and learning in the 21st century.  Scarlett and her partners tried to create a “study mentor” using artificial intelligence (AI) as its engine. Her team was one of 5 finalists that had the unique opportunity of meeting with Amazon’s Vice President of Development for feedback.  From this, Scarlett learned one of her key life lessons: “What makes a startup successful is not just a cool idea. Ours was too far in advance. There wasn’t yet a market for it.” Scarlett then made a big pivot; shed that original team; and used the kernel of the concept as the foundation of her current startup: Peerstachio, conceptually launched in September 2017.

Scarlett stays abreast of technology by taking both computer science classes and Udemy courses. “But I knew, deep in my heart, that even though I love tech, I wouldn’t be a professional coder by any stretch. I partnered with a friend of mine, who is currently our co-founder and CTO (Chief Technology Officer).”  She also recruited a UX designer and front-end engineer (currently founding members of the startup) to implement the “front end” of the Peerstachio platform while the CTO manages the back end operational database engine. Scarlett manages fundraising, the company’s overall vision and strategy, market research, marketing, competitive analysis, and sales.  Peerstachio’s main mission is to help students improve their grades by connecting underclassmen with a trusted cadre of older students --- mentors connected with mentees, tutors connected with students needing support and tutoring --- to get academic questions answered in a highly responsive fashion. “Kind of an instant messaging platform,” Scarlett said, “where students pick a course, go to the topic, and then ask their questions, with access to trusted upperclassmen.”  Peerstachio’s MVP (Minimum Viable Product) launched on a django, html5, scss and javascript coding stack Website, and sqlite3 (PostgresSQL in future) on the back-end of the site. Having learned from her previous experience, Scarlett ensured that she validated real customer need by conducting detailed surveys of potential clients. “It was a lot of work,” she said. (At the time of our Diva Tech Talk interview, the Peerstachio team had interviewed 110 students, all over the world.)  

Through all this, Scarlett is becoming a highly experienced entrepreneur.  For instance, she said “If any startup tells you there is no competition, they need to do more research.”  For Peerstachio “I feel fortunate we have competitors. That means there is a market, and room for us to improve.” Scarlett thinks that passion, perseverance and sense of purpose are propelling her future success, as well as her empathy for the customer. “I would add one more: positivity,” she said. “In a startup, not everybody can see it through.  Positivity helped me keep at it to find resources to get to that better future. A ‘growth mindset’ has kept me going.” Scarlett shared her fond hope that she, and others like her, can show that “if you have some goals, and you try to get what you desire, that is ultimate happiness.” Scarlett has a strong fear of having regrets in her life --- a fear of missing something that she could accomplish.

Scarlett’s leadership lessons for women interested in tech and/or entrepreneurship are:

  1. Develop deep listening skills – “Listening has really helped me to understand strengths and weaknesses” particularly in her own team;

  2. Collaborate – “In a team, I think the most important thing is making sure everyone is inspiring everyone and building a vision, together;”

  3. Be confident and decisive– “Decisions that you make may not be the best decisions but that’s life. Give people faith;”

  4. Lead by example – “No matter what I say, I try my best to SHOW it. “

Scarlett stressed that, in a startup, “there is no such thing as 9 to 5. Work and life are intertwined.”  To balance that, she follows a “process of layers of priority” so that she can juggle multiple goals, successfully. And for Scarlett, many of the goals are tied to making life better for others. She also recoups her physical and psychic energy through exercise and by reading, watching videos, and reflecting.

Note:  Peerstachio has received grants since this interview including a grant from DTX, at TechTown Detroit: https://techtowndetroit.org/?press-release=u-m-startup-peerstachio-receives-inaugural-10000-gm-go-award

Scarlett can be reached at ongruich@umich.edu/scarlettong@peerstachio.com

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Ep 74: Grace Hopper Conference 2018: Diversity Leadership Series Launch

The Diva Tech Talk team was grateful to have the amazing experience of attending Grace Hopper Conference 2018. We highlighted many conference details, discussed the Abie awards, and shared the voice of attendees on the Episode 73 Podcast. If you didn’t get a chance to listen, please check it out here: http://www.divatechtalk.com/blog/ep73

There was so much material and insight that we had to create another article and episode for our listeners to stay with us on this journey. This podcast features a special announcement for our listeners.

One incredibly worthy outcome of the Grace Hopper Conference and the AnitaB.org effort is the Top Companies report for women in technology. This is a national program that identifies key trends around the representation of women in the workforce. First launched in 2011, it pairs wonderfully with the conference “vibe.” Although there are many other female technologist benchmarking programs, this is the only one that measures technical employees using a rigorous, standardized definition of the technical workforce. The 2018 Top Companies report was compiled with participation by 80 companies, 628,000 + technologists with 150,000 + women technologists in that group. Congratulations to the companies who took top honors for female tech diversity for 2018. They include: HBO Inc, Morningstar, Inc, Securian Financial, ThoughtWorks, XO Group, Airbnb, Blackbaud, GEICO, State Farm, Ultimate Software, Accenture, Bank of America, Google, IBM, and SAP. Every company is scored along the spectrum of seven identical metrics. There is no weighting nor subjective or black-box evaluation of the results. Everything is simply data-driven, with pure statistics.  Special Diva Tech Talks “shout-out” to Tarsha McCormick and Shuchi Sharma, two leaders in that cohort we were fortunate to interview.  

The complete Grace Hopper Conference 2018 Press Release on Top Companies is here: https://anitab.org/news/press-release/2018-top-companies-report/

In addition to the keynotes, and breakouts on topics ranging in complexity from exploratory data analysis to mentoring, there were also some amazing women with whom we spent time to capture their experiences for our Diva Tech Talk audience. After reviewing their insights, the Diva Tech Talk team is proud to announce a new Diversity Leadership Series, following this event. The series will feature senior level leaders from a variety of organizations, who lead diversity and inclusion programs in their respective organizations. In this Grace Hopper Event Recap podcast, we include audio teasers for these full-length episodes, rolling out over the coming weeks and months. Here are some of the women we will include in our upcoming Diversity Leadership Series:

  • Monica Bailey, Chief People Officer at GoDaddy, the world’s largest company managing domains and domain names for the worldwide Internet (www.godaddy.com)

    • Monica prides herself on being a very strong advocate for diversity at GoDaddy. She spoke about her opportunity to lead, creating an even playing field for everyone through specific targets, and highlighted research from a Stanford study. She shared applicable, real world tips to help expand workplace equity.

    • “Having seen a lot of things I loved in the industry and also having seen a lot of things I didn’t want to repeat,  I got to take all of that and make GoDaddy a company we all want to work for.”

    • One of her recommended mental exercises to inspire and focus you is: “Take 2 minutes to do an ‘I believe in _____’ ”

    • Monica believes “there is enough pie for everyone”. It's a grounding philosophy. She wants to discourage enervating and demotivating competition. “I don’t want my folks to compete with each other. Together, we are way better, than we are apart.  When it comes to promotion velocity at my company, I wanted to make sure everyone has equal access to promotions and career advancement, but I didn’t want any of my employees to suffer so other employees could benefit.”

    • “We just decided to build diversity into everything we did. It doesn’t live in a silo.”

    • “There is a ton of unconscious bias built into people and processes.”

    • “By the nature of not being really specific about what you are looking for, you are excluding a large group of people”

  • Sonja Gittens Ottley, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Asana, a company that provides a world-class application for teams to track their work with greater ease, clarity, accountability, and efficiency.(www.asana.com).  Asana is one of Fast Company's (www.fastcompany.com) Most Innovative Companies, the top work-tracking vendor on Forbes's inaugural Cloud 100 list, and the only enterprise software application to win Google's 2016 Material Design Award

    • Sonja never thought she would be in a technology field.  She is a lawyer by trade, but after a temporary job with Yahoo doing management and consulting in 2005, technology “hooked” her. She began working on a human rights program at Yahoo, and then naturally pivoted into a diversity and inclusion specialty.

    • “In my role, I get to work across the entire company, which allows me to be thinking about it in two aspects. Diversity is really about how you are thinking about the people that are coming into your company. That allows me to think about recruiting. How are we attracting the best applicants from everywhere and how are we ensuring they are assessed in a really fair manner? The inclusion part is how are we ensuring that they get here. The culture is really supportive of inclusion as well as supporting those communities that are existing in the company. I think about it as those two pillars. And one cannot exist without the other.”

    • “People inside the company needed to understand how people outside the company were using products. Part of that involved having people inside the company who looked like those people and had those perspectives.”

    • “Imagine the product that we could build if people inside the company reflected those users. The potential of that is so huge.”

    • “Because we talk about diversity and inclusion or we talk about women in engineering all the time, we have an understanding of it. But we often forget that this is new and uncomfortable for a lot of people --- to talk about race or gender or any other identities that people possess. It is an uncomfortable topic. So, I want us to be doing more work to get people more comfortable to being in that sort of icky place of comfort because I think that is how you change things. I don’t think you do it by ‘saying this is too hard, so I am not going to touch it.’ It has to be ‘this is hard, I need to know why this is hard.’  ”

  • Tarsha McCormick, Head of Diversity and Inclusion, North America for Thoughtworks (www.thoughtworks.com), which is a loosely-confederated community of passionate individuals, whose purpose is to revolutionize software design, creation and delivery, while advocating for positive social change.

    • “I’m a great example of someone who was given some opportunities, and was able to make a way where society probably said I shouldn’t have a way. I fell into the tech industry by chance. I would like to say it was intentional, but it wasn’t. But once I got into the tech industry, I realized how important it was for people of color, for women, and for other marginalized groups to have a say in what we are doing in technology because it really is impacting all of our lives. So I am very passionate about what I do in the diversity and inclusion space because I know we all have a voice, but unfortunately we all aren’t being heard right now.”

    • “Diversity has always been sort of baked into the fiber of who we were as an organization, but honestly we were not always intentional. We were doing it on an adhoc basis. And as we continued to grow,  we saw the disparity of women in other under-represented groups in the tech industry. We realized we had to be more intentional with our approach.”

    • “Diversity is important, but more importantly I think you have to pair that with inclusion. We can get people from different backgrounds and race and gender and socioeconomic status, etc, but if they don’t feel like the workplace is supportive. If they don’t feel like it’s a place where they can be their authentic selves and they can grow and learn, we aren’t going to retain them.”

  • Shuchi Sharma, Global Lead for Gender Intelligence at software industry giant, SAP (www.sap.com), a 4.5-decade old solutions leader:

    • “I started my career as a scientist. I studied chemistry with the aim of being a doctor, but then realized that probably wasn’t the best option for me for many reasons. What I actually excelled in was economics. I went into management consulting for many years in healthcare. I loved technology. I discovered technology in that line of work.”

    • “What I observed was that women were not really helping one another. I saw that opportunities were being missed because of that. They were missing opportunities to help each other excel. I thought ‘well what can I do about this,’ so I founded an organization dedicated to women’s leadership and professional development.”

    • “Be comfortable with failure. If you aren’t failing, you're not trying new things.”

  • Rebekah Bastian, Vice President of Community and Culture at Zillow Group (www.zillow.com), the leading cloud-based real estate and rental marketplace

    • Rebekah  leads Zillow’s efforts around equity, belonging, and social impact. She was also one of Zillow’s first employees. Prior to that, she worked at Microsoft.

    • “I ended up getting degrees in mechanical engineering, following things that were interesting to me. First time I ever went to college was for music and I failed out. I just wasn’t quite focused enough yet. When I did start going back to school, I started taking a series of classes that were interesting to me and it led me to math and physics. I was pretty good and liked the problem-solving and exploration that went along with it. I ended up transferring to the University of Washington and getting a Mechanical Engineering degree. After that, I ended up at UC Berkeley getting a masters in Mechanical Engineering.”

    • “I did answer an ad on Craigslist and was one of the first employees here. Zillow was still in stealth startup mode, so I didn’t really know what I was going to be working on.”

    • “We generally have this philosophy: hire better than yourself.”

In addition, we got to meet with Dr. Paulette Gerkovich from Micron (www.micron.com), a 40-year old semiconductor giant.

  • Senior Director, Diversity and Inclusion, Paulette offered a vast amount of knowledge from her years of experience in the field of diversity and leadership. It was incredible to hear about her data-driven diversity development mindset and some of her cool work at Catalyst (www.catalyst.org), a 56-year old nonprofit working with some of the world’s largest companies and CEO’s to accelerate the progress of women in the workforce .

We are excited to add this special series to the Diva Tech Talk “mix” along with our traditional podcast format. We know it will be a great fit.  It will continue to inspire women in the field of technology, and the unique perspective these leaders share will get you thinking about companies you might work for in the future or do work for today. We still continue our tradition of learning about women’s  personal journeys, but the series goes deeper into what it means to lead a diversity effort, and innovative ways to approach the challenge to get more diversity and inclusion in technology.

We hope you enjoy this teaser and look forward to the upcoming series as much as we do. Make sure to subscribe today so you don’t miss an episode.

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