Encourage, Educate, and Empower: Changing the conversation for women in technology

It’s been nearly two years since I traded in my suit jacket for a Think|Stack t-shirt and stepped into the fast-paced and ever-changing world of technology. After just one month on the job, traveling from one event to the next and learning to “talk tech” on the go, the COVID-19 pandemic sent us all into lockdown and I found myself at home. I was grounded quite literally, staring at the digital faces of a new team I hadn’t met yet, working to find my footing and establish my personal brand as a woman in the technology industry.

It’s never easy starting a new position, in a new industry, let alone doing so remotely in a pandemic. Fortunately, our COO at Think|Stack, Andrea DiGiacomo, is a passionate leader who understands the people behind our technology and is an advocate for empowering women in technology. With women making up just 20% of the technology industry, we agreed that the final installment of our 2021 Cloud Champions webinar series would focus on the “Women leaders changing the conversation in the cloud”.

On September 15th, women leaders from Think|Stack, AWS and innovative credit unions will come together with CUInsight’s Lauren Culp to talk about life, technology, leadership, and culture.

In advance of the event,  I sat down with Andrea for a chat about how she has navigated through change and continued to deliver on her vision of an equitable technology workplace.

Me: Andrea, prior to Think|Stack you held roles at several non-profits, including coordinator of third-party events for the Kennedy Krieger Institute, an internationally-recognized institution dedicated to improving the lives of children and young adults with pediatric developmental disabilities and disorders. You were there for four years – how did you see the power of technology manifested?

Andrea: I saw the great power of technology to bring about innovation and enhancements to life changing treatment, but also the struggle that organizations face. For example, not having a modern, flexible technology infrastructure. That push-pull and constantly shifting balance fascinated me.

Me: I’ve seen that too in our work with credit unions and it’s one of the things that drew me to Think|Stack –  to help good people doing good work be stronger through technology. How did you first hear about Think|Stack and what compelled you to make the jump from an NPO to a fast-growing tech firm?

A: It was through mutual friends. I started to hear about this cool company trying to disrupt tech culture. It was not only about delivering interesting projects and being able to leverage my PMP but also that Think|Stack was determined to build a different style of company built on a “People Before Tech”, a human-centered design philosophy.

Me: Right!! They had me at human-centered design too! What have you found this means at Think|Stack?

A: It’s at the center of everything we do. In addition to Human-Centered Design, our culture is built upon three other core values: Entrepreneurial Spirit, Passionate Rebels and Family Trust. The Human-Centered Design was one that really resonated with me. In that technology wasn’t just a product and service, it could also be a solution focused on the people who use the technology to help their organizations transform and grow.

Me: So, you made a leap of faith, just like me? Honestly if I hadn’t seen women like you succeeding at Think|Stack I may not have joined, so thank you for blazing the trail. You’ve made a rapid rise up the ranks to COO, what helped propel you?

A: I started out as Director of Project Management in early 2016. I was drawn to the unlimited opportunities of working at a technology company and I really embraced our Entrepreneurial Spirit value. Chris and Travis [CEO and CFO, co-founders, and brothers] gave me the space to try things, fail and find new ways to work. Having that family feel is a big deal at Think|Stack. I know if I screw up, I won’t be reprimanded, instead we regroup, learn, and grow. I was able to use design thinking to imagine new processes and build out my department of project managers and operations people and ultimately bring those practices to bear across the whole company. Thankfully this led to my promotion to COO in 2018. Now I sit on the leadership team and am directly influencing the direction of the company. The most rewarding thing is the ability to share my journey with women candidates like you and help them see that anything is possible, even in a traditionally male-dominated industry.”

Me: It’s been great to be here and watch that momentum. We have some amazing women in roles from marketing and accounting, to operations, engineering, and service delivery. It was so cool to see Larissa Gelis our Service Delivery Manager win our MVP award this year! What is your vision for our female employees, and the future of our team and the tech industry at large?

A: I like to say Encourage, Educate and Empower. There are more women working in tech today, but still not nearly enough! In the last few years there has been more awareness and education brought to women at a younger age regarding the opportunities within technology. Continuing to expose women and girls at a younger age through mentorship programs, STEM programs, internships, and the like will only enable more women to see what is possible for them. I’d like to see more women in all roles of technology, especially in engineering. There is still a big gap there, we have made big strides on the operations side of the business, but there is still a lack of talent and opportunity for women on the engineering side. As we grow, we’ll be striving to develop community partnerships and provide new pathways for women in the industry. We are working with local organizations and nonprofits to continue providing more education and awareness of opportunities available to young women.

Me: We are certainly getting there – it was awesome to be at our first company visit in nearly two years and to see all the women we have hired during the pandemic. What are some of the reasons you were able to help navigate Think|Stack through this challenging time?

A: I have benefited from strong female (and male!) mentorship and that enables me to pass that encouragement and wisdom on. Chris recently launched an internal leadership program and that has expanded to include external leadership support, and I have a terrific female coach who is helping me continue to build on my success. The systems and processes I have had the freedom to build over the last several years served us well during the pandemic. We have been able to modernize not only our foundational technology infrastructure and those of our clients, but also our business processes. We are resilient, and secure both as an organization and as people in our lives and jobs, which I’m proud of. That parallel is something I pay a lot of attention to – again, if your focus is on human design and People Before Tech, you will build tech that works for people and makes their lives better! These philosophies especially during the pandemic, proved critical.

Me: What are you most proud of in regards to our work during the pandemic?

A: We were built for situations like this. Ultimately my passion and DNA that I brought from the NPO sector hasn’t changed. We work with credit unions, and they are often serving the underserved and people that really need the support of their financial institution during a crisis. With many of our clients having to shift to a mostly remote workforce in a very short time, it was a great feeling to see them thrive. Because of our support in advancing their digital transformation journey, they were prepared. Most of our clients didn’t skip a beat and were able to continue serving their members the whole time without any downtime. We found ways to maintain a personal touch because we really missed getting onsite and seeing our clients. This put a challenge in front of us to look at how we can re-imagine that onsite experience. We’ve been able to successfully find new virtual ways to connect. We’ve even made some aspects of this experience better, such as getting groups of clients together for lunch and learn-style sessions with our engineers. Being virtual has allowed us to quickly bring groups together around ideas and topics – like the Cloud Champions series! I am sure many of these new experiences and practices will continue post-COVID as well.

We’ve seen credit unions taking the last 18 months as an opportunity to explore how they can innovate and adapt to make banking easier and more accessible for their members. We work with a lot of Women CEOs, and seeing them challenge the status quo and rapidly innovate has been amazing. That has inspired us to do the same at Think|Stack and ask the same questions of ourselves – How can we better serve our people, our clients and in turn our communities? I am excited to see how we collectively continue to evolve in the future. I’d love to see more women in technology and I know we’ll get there, we are already making great progress.

Join us on September 15th for “Women leaders changing the conversation in the cloud“, the third edition of our CU Cloud Champions series with CUInsight.

Ashley Casey

Ashley Casey

Ashley Casey is the Director of Sales & Marketing at Think|Stack. Web: www.thinkstack.co Details

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