Richmonds 5th annual rvatech/women Conference

This year I had the pleasure of attending the 5th rvatech/women conference (previously called Women in Technology ETC) with a few coworkers. Each year it seems to get better; the speakers are always wonderful, the topics grow more impressive and the impression it leaves with the women, and men, in attendance is that much bigger than the year before.

Courtney Ferrell

Once again Courtney Ferrell was the MC for the conference; she started off with a bang! Her opening talk centered around forming a community.  One of the quotes that resonated with me was that “Richmond is on fire. It is a creative explosion.” Courtney said that we can find inspiration in the form of community and that the greatest form of inspiration is life itself. She told us that to be a part of a community you have got to feel it. Being a part of a community is deeply connecting with others. She encouraged us to truly connect and be a part of the day. She then introduced the first keynote speaker of the day, Yvonne Wassenaar.

Yvonne Wassenaar

Yvonne Wassenaar is the Chief Information Officer at New Relic. She gave a very informative talk about a variety of topics. She started off by discussing why women need to be in the tech industry and gave some advice. She said that we always need to reach for the next level above where we are. She wanted us as women to feel empowered to be in the technology field so that we can use our differing perspective to debate and help push technology to change for the future. She finished this part of her talk by posing a question to us all, “How has technology changed your life in the past ten years?”

Yvonne then switched into discussing the connected world that we all live in. She started with an example of a company Watsi and how they were able to use technology to create a crowdfunding platform for global medical treatment. But beyond just the money raising aspect they were able to create a personal connection between those donating the money and those receiving the money. She also spoke about the all-popular mobile navigation app, Waze. Waze uses technology to update traffic information in real time to appropriately route drivers on the quickest path to get to their desired destination. Goldieblox was the last company she brought up. Goldieblox brought the talk full circle, back to women being in technology and focused on the stereotypes that not only men instill on women but also women instill on themselves. They aim to break girls out of those stereotypes at a young age.

“Change is the new constant.” This saying in particular stuck out to me. Technology is everywhere, in everything we do in our daily lives. Yvonne pointed out that it doesn’t matter what field you work in, you use technology. Technology touches everything. She said change is hard and scary but that is what should motivate us to get up, stand up and grab attention! Gain confidence in yourself to make a difference.

The last part of the talk was telling the incredibly personal story of her childhood and how that impacted her as a leader. She used it as an example that your childhood has a profound impact on the type of leader you become. She said that confidence is key and therefore, you need to acknowledge your fears, embrace success and lead with success. She also made sure to point out that the lack of women in c level positions is not a pipeline issue because there are many qualified women. We just need to stand up and say “Yes! I am qualified.”

The lasting impression of this talk is to be confident and you will be successful. Yvonne said to acknowledge your fears, embrace success and lead with confidence. A great plan for the future!

Laishy Williams-Carlson

The next talk was by Laishy Williams-Carlson, the Chief Information Officer at Bon Secours. Her talk was about her experiences as she was transitioning into the position of Chief Information Officer when they were in the middle of a security issue because of an audit. After a second audit was completed she had to go to the board members and explain that the positive reports given to them were incorrect; not only were the previously audited issues not fixed but security had gotten worse. She was yelled at by the board, “you have not been being truthful”. She mentioned that in some ways the security was a cultural issue and not only an information security issue. How often do people complain about how often you need to change a password? Until everyone buys into the security measures from a cultural perspective people will not be trying to skirt around the security protocols.

I admire how Laishy did not just back down to having adversity right when she took a new job and immediately had issues. She took ownership of all the issues and learned from them. She shared with us her 10 career lessons learned.

  1. Cultivate your own personal brand.How do you want to be known? Who are you? Be intentional and act that way.
  2. See things the way they are not as you wish they would be.
  3. Give credit and have humility.Never stop doing your best just because someone does not give you credit. Give credit generously.
  4. Perception is reality.
  5. Create relationship trust.
  6. Get to know your team and play to their strengths.
  7. Lead by example.“What you do has a far greater impact that what you say” – Stephen Covey
  8. Know your business.
  9. Don’t be a victimMake choices, then own them.
  10. Joy and fulfillment at work.Know why you show up. Find meaning in your work. Do what you do best each and every day.

Jocelyn Mangan

Jocelyn Mangan is the new Chief Product and Marketing Officer at Snagajob and walked us through her career from her start as a waitress, at Ticketmaster/CitySearch and eventually OpenTable. She used different quotes to frame the discussion of her career progression.

“There is value in all experiences.” Jocelyn used this quote to document how her job as a waitress actually helped her at her future jobs at CitySearch by using that experience to do restaurant reviews and develop skills to determine what people want as a product manager. This was a great reminder because everyone had a job that was not exactly what they wanted to be doing but being able to apply that experience is key.

“Build relationships with people who push you to do better.” Jocelyn recounted her experience with a women who pushed her to have an interview with CitySearch.

“Do the job you are given.” While you are working there will be tasks and unexpected assignments that are not exactly what you thought they would be. She described taking jobs with no description and doing the job regardless of what it turned out to be. As new opportunities arise, your experience will only grow.

“Always love the job.” Passion for the job should push you on. Make sure you are doing what you love!

“Push through the ‘bless your heart’ moments.” She describes times where people would say “bless your heart” because they would not agree with what she was doing at that point in time. She would take risks due to passion. This was great advice because there is always someone who has an opinion on decisions and if it is what you want to do you should push through those opinions and do it.

“Help your people win.” Work is done by teams not just by individuals so it is important to make sure that people are in the correct position that can help both the individual and the team. Everyone has a superpower so making sure that their superpower is being utilized is key to their success.

“Be a woman.” She wanted everyone to be proud of being a woman and to help other women be empowered. She has started a ‘women at snag’ group at her company to meet and work through shared experiences. This is important because for every 100 women who are promoted 130 men are and this should change to be more equal.

Lego Serious Play

For one of the breakouts there was a demonstration of Lego Serious Play. First we were walked through the psychology of why this works. Individuals can only have a small part of their knowledge in the conscious part of their mind but our hands have access to all parts of our subconscious so working with legos we can come up with ideas we would not be able to otherwise.

We walked through different exercises building lego models to build on an idea. The first question was to build a tower to demonstrate how each person has different ideas and built a completely different tower with the same instructions. Next we had to build a moose where different pieces represented the moose’s antlers and feet. This was to show us how the legos are not actual things but they can be representations of whatever we need them to be. We then were asked about what our biggest obstacle at work is. We walked the table through our metaphors. This led us to create metaphors for what we needed to overcome that barrier. The last exercise was to create one representation of everything that we as a table needed to have to get over our barriers at work. At the table the things people needed were time, confidence, to be able to step over the bridge, to choose the right path, get a vehicle for the resources needed to complete the job, and support from others to do their job. Overall this was a very productive but quick walk through of the power of lego serious play and how it can help teams solve problems by using the lego’s to create the solutions to the problems and then work through those solutions with the whole team to create the best solution. This was able to get everyone at our table engaged and talking where at many meetings only a few people are talking and coming up with ideas. This methodology encourages everyone to participate.

Design Thinking

Another breakout session was about design thinking. A few ladies from Capital One took us through the idea of design thinking, a tool that many companies are applying to their design and implementation processes to develop more innovative solutions.

Design thinking starts with really understanding the root causes of a problem. Each group in the room spoke with a different “customer” on their needs and concerns. My groups customer was concerned about her spending. She wanted some sort of way to maintain a budget and keep herself in check with her money. She wanted to save for a wedding in the near future, but she also wanted to be realistic about it; she outlined her current bills and what she really did need to pay for versus what she wanted. Of course, the first thought is “use Mint!” Keeping your bank accounts and such inside an application on your phone seems the best route, but she was very wary of this option. She did not like the fact that she would have to enter her username and password in order to get the data from her bank.

So now that we had clear points on the problem and wants of the customer, we thought through solutions. Each of us took a post-it-note pad and wrote down a solution to each small problem. Something we could do inside an app that would solve one of the key issues.

Next we compared, combined and constructed what we thought would be the ideal application for her. Hashing out the problem and pairing it with a post-it-note we created a great rough draft. This is called the ideation phase, where developers should brainstorm and attempt to think outside the box for a solution. We shared our thoughts with the customer and ask more questions. In the end we had a good idea of what we wanted to do.

Lastly, my group started the prototyping phase. On the table were a wide arrangement of crafting things. We created both an apple watch application and a mobile application prototype. Each had several screens showing the customer how she could navigate through the application. During this phase we asked more question and even redid a few of the screens to better answer the problem set.

In the end we all had a great time collaborating and designing our faux application. It was interesting to go through those design process steps. I can see how something like this would be seeing excellent results in the technology world!

JOEY ROSENBERG Women Who Code

The afternoon keynote session began with a wonderfully, motivating woman named Joey Rosenberg. Joey is an innovative global business and nonprofit leader. She is passionate about inspiring girls and women to achieve their fullest potential and driving sustainable change.

She began her talk with a demonstration that inspired change for me. First she asked for a volunteer to join her on the stage, making note that if you did not volunteer this time there would be another opportunity. In a sea of more than fifty women only three raised their hands! Joey selected a woman from the audience and the woman joined her on stage. Then Joey did something amazing; she gave the volunteer a gift and turned to the audience with the question “Why didn’t more of you raise your hand to volunteer?”

This gesture represented for me the fear and insecurity that many of us feel when given an opportunity. Next she asked for volunteers to share their career achievements or promotions. It was great to hear what amazing accomplishments the women around us had strived toward and gained.

Joey continued her talk with five key areas WWCode focuses to help women engineers. She had us evaluate these areas for ourselves. Then she encouraged us to pick one area and work on it for three to six months.

  1. Technical Skills: build them up and learn more.
  2. Writing: blogs or technical writing
  3. Speaking: meetups or conferences
  4. Career Navigation: career roadmap, role modeling, resumes, interview training, portfolio pages, or entrepreneurship
  5. Leadership: influencing others, managing projects, or leading teams.  

The grand finale of Joey’s talk was the announcement of a Richmond, VA Women Who Code group. We are all very excited to join the Richmond WWCode group for their kickoff on October 27!

A common theme among all the speakers today was to build your confidence. Do what you love, do it well and with confidence and you will get any and every goal you make for yourself. No one goes out into the workforce, especially a woman in tech industry, imagining they will be a follower. Know what you want, make a plan for achieving those goals, then start your journey to greatness by being a leader!


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