We are on a journey to share insights into leadership, innovation and breaking down the big issues women face in a tech-savvy world. We interview women leaders all around the world from CIOs and Founders, to creators and nonprofit executives, covering generations of innovation. Everyone with whom we've crossed paths has a story of success that we share with our listeners. Don’t get tangled along the way in your journey; listen in and learn from dynamic divas who share everything from balancing life duties, to negotiating, forging their way in their fast-changing industry, to (most of all) finding themselves. Podcast currently hosted by Nicole Johnson Scheffler, Kathleen Norton-Schock, and Amanda Lewan. Follow along with us here at www.divatechtalk.com.
Ep 99: Sandra Estok: Changing Perspectives Through Storytelling
Diva Tech Talk interviewed cybersecurity expert, author, keynote speaker, corporate trainer, and entrepreneur, Sandra Estok. Creator of the international book series, Happily Ever Cyber, Sandra founded her own company: Way2Protect LLC, after an extensive corporate career.
Originally from Venezuela, at age 11, Sandra and family were evicted from her childhood home. They found refuge in a shack. “It had one window, one door, and no water or bathroom inside,” she recalled. She felt ostracized from other children in the neighborhood, who lived in more conventional conditions. When she tried to join their neighborhood volleyball game, “one of the kids said ‘you’re never going to make it; you’re a loser.’“ Bruised, emotionally and physically, Sandra was grateful for a teacher’s inspiration: “Happiness is a choice. No matter what, you can choose happiness.” She went on to master volleyball and life by choosing to become highly proficient at whatever she tackled, knowing that “whatever you put your mind to, you can achieve.”
“Technology was, somehow, in my veins,” said Sandra. When she graduated from high school at 16, with no money for college, she enrolled in a government secretarial training program that led to an internship at the Heinz Company. There she rotated through departments including information technology. She enrolled in night school, in a tech certification program, that led to full completion of college, and graduating as a systems’ engineer. “Throughout my journey, I moved from company to company” (Kraft Foods, the Coca Cola Company, PepsiCo and SC Johnson), “in tech-related roles, building all kinds of things.” SC Johnson, where she worked for a total of 19 years, transferred her to Wisconsin. “It was my dream,” to live in the United States.
Sandra’s success secrets? “I was able to apply what I was learning at school to my jobs” and built a “connected” fabric between her academic and work lives. She also accepted new challenges readily. Her hard work, focus, appetite for new technology created exciting opportunities along the way. Sandra advises ambitious tech women to anticipate the newest trends and evaluate them in terms of skills you must acquire. Then acquire those skills and “success will find you.”
Her final role, before leaving SC Johnson, was reporting to it’s Chief Information Security Officer, as Director, Global Information Security Business Operations. Sandra developed and coordinated overall worldwide security business functions for SC Johnson on every continent. Her leadership advice is: “Always walk the talk. Don’t try to evangelize with words. Do it with your actions.”
In her transition to the U.S. with her working visa, Sandra underwent a watershed experience. Returning from Colombia, she was detained. Her passport was temporarily revoked. A smuggler from China had appropriated personal information and had been smuggling women into the USA using her identity! Two weeks later, returning from a European trip, she was detained again. Each time she traveled internationally, before she became a full-fledged U.S. citizen, Sandra had to prove her identity incessantly. “That negative experience ‘connected the dots’ and is driving me today. Identity theft and cybercrime can happen to anyone!” Sandra’s gift for making complex tech concepts comprehensible to non-technical people, coupled with passion to make a much greater impact, outside of a single corporation, led her to become a startup founder. “Leaving the corporate world is a big decision,” Sandra acknowledged. “But I say…just go for it!” Like her 11-year old self, longing to play volleyball with kids who were rejecting her, she relied on internal fortitude, focus, faith, and fearlessness to make the
Ep 98: Amelia Ransom: Inclusion Leadership -- Not for The Faint of Heart
Diva Tech Talk interviewed Amelia Ransom, Senior Director, Diversity and Engagement at Avalara, a tech company that ensures global tax compliance is done right. Amelia is dedicated to “trying to solve a problem that the world has not solved. It is not for the faint of heart.”
“I didn’t plan to be in diversity and inclusion,” Amelia said. She started in sales, moved to management and eventually was tapped to be the regional Diversity Director. “That role was pivotal for me. I felt like I was using my skills, knowledge and background to help make the company better.” After seven years in that role she moved into store management and later lead all the diversity initiatives for the company. Amelia emphasized that it takes the full gamut of business proficiencies to tackle employee engagement, diversity and inclusion. Her diversity and inclusion skills have been self-taught, through reading, face-to-face management challenges, and trial and error. “You have to learn when to use your own voice, and when to pull back and amplify everyone else’s.” The role demands that she be “constantly willing to learn, shift and change as the community needs shift and change.”
Amelia believes a key component of successful programs depend on noticing repetitive patterns coupled with “knowing what’s going on outside of the walls, in the world,” according to Amelia. “You have to be part of society. You have to be asking constant questions.” To gain top-level support, Amelia critiques her own proposals and then goes to her “naysayers” to shoot holes in an idea. By the time she gets to ultimate decision-makers, she has bullet-proofed any concept.
Amelia joined Avalara in 2018, where she supports ERG’s (Employee Resource Groups) who she sees as “a conduit to deeper engagement, a tool to drive more community,” beginning with a prototype woman-oriented global ERG, to “show everyone what could be.” . This was quickly followed by three other groups: Ujima (for African Americans), Veterans of Avalara, and the Prism Group, geared toward LGBTQIA individuals. “They have been very instrumental in driving more inclusion, more voices, and more ‘safe space’ for those voices,” said Amelia.
Avalara measures the success of its inclusion programs through raw data, anecdotal feedback, the level of engagement of various populations, as well as metrics around recruiting pools and populations. Amelia’s goal is that diversity and inclusion are “deep and rooted in the DNA” of Avalara, connected to “Avalara’s goal -- to be involved in every tax transaction in the world.” That implies reaching and engaging every possible permutation of population in the world, too.
Amelia’s personal practices for developing as a leader include 30 minutes each day to read about something she knows nothing about, and retaining mentors “who will tell me the absolute truth.” For her last birthday, she asked people to give her the link to a book that changed their life, so that she could “drive deeper relationships.” She loves to travel and bring those experiences back to others. In her community life, she serves on the boards of Seattle’s Goodwill Foundation, Seattle’s Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, homeless advocacy nonprofit Building Changes, the Institute for Sustainable Diversity and Inclusion, and the advisory board of the Seattle chapter of ALPFA (Association of Latino Professionals For America). “My job is to amplify the voices of the marginalized, and underrepresented.”
In Amelia’s view, “the biggest threat to the planet, and business, is the untapped potential in people’s minds.” She believes in plumbing that potential deeply. “I don’t have time to make people comfortable,” Amelia said. Instead she wants to inspire everyone to think, engage, evolve
Ep 97: Dr. Nicki Washington: Armor Up, Every Day
Diva Tech Talk interviewed Dr. Nicki Washington, author, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Winthrop University, founder at Washington Consulting LLC and passionate advocate for women of color, in technology. Winthrop University featured her work.
“I was born and raised in Durham, North Carolina,” site of world-class universities and home to Research Triangle Park. Her mother was a 32-year IBM programmer, and father was a K through 12 educator and administrator. “I was surrounded by black men and women who were educators, engineers, college professors, business leaders, attorneys, doctors and more: a network doing inspiring things in science and math.” Her mother purchased a new computer every few years and Dr. Washington assembled each one. Her mother “introduced me to programming opportunities,” Pascal and Basic, then more advanced languages. At Johnson C. Smith University, Dr. Washington’s path changed when an influential professor convinced her to concentrate on computer science. Dr. Dorothy Cawser Yancy, University President, nominated her for the David and Lucille Packard fellowship, a $100,000 5-year grant for students to pursue STEM doctorates, including annual week-long symposiums, with professional workshops and “honest safe spaces” for sharing. Dr. Washington graduated as undergraduate valedictorian and won the award. “My trajectory changed from there.”
Dr. Washington became “a black woman in a program where only one other person looked like me” pursuing masters/doctoral degrees at North Carolina State University. “I suffered from ‘impostor syndrome;’ and would lean on my community,” since her campus was 20 minutes from her childhood home. She often had to “armor up” every day and was fortunate to gain an empathetic advisor, Dr. Harry Perros, with whom she had “real talks” about struggles as a black woman in a post-graduate computer science program. She won another fellowship in her graduate school: NASA’s Harriet G. Jenkins award, giving monetary support and other unique experiences tailored to graduates from historically black colleges/universities.
Dr. Washington shared advice for programmers, technologists, application developers. “When you reach a roadblock, take a break and step away. Sometimes you are so engrossed, you cannot see high levels.” She decried students’ misconceptions that they must “know everything” and advised “be unafraid to ask for help.” When faced with bias, she said: “It is not you. You are not the first. You will not be the last. Take up space without losing yourself in the process. Maintain a level of self-care.” Dr. Washington’s message is “until there is a major shift in the narrative, we are going to see major challenges. Find the tribe who can get you through.”
Dr. Washington is now doing appreciable research in cultural competence in computing citing insufficiencies on the university level. Approximately 85% of university computing faculty are Caucasian or Asian, not serving as full role models. “We lose students in the middle ground, between K through 12 and careers.” She noted that while undergraduate curriculum emphasizes technology skills, it does not emphasize cultural competence. “We see, every day, technology announcements that are biased,” as a result. She cited self-driving car and healthcare database applications as two examples where “people developing them are not recognizing biases.” Dr. Washington proposes a long-overdue revolution: required assessment for cultural competence in computing. “I am trying to force a conversation around cultural competence for all computer science students before graduation,” beginning with a required 3-credit course called Race, Gender, Class and Computing. Her aspiration is a country-wide movement on computin
Ep 96: Sunitha Vinnakota: Don’t Give Away The Remote Control for Your Life
Diva Tech Talk interviewed Sunitha Vinnakota, tech/IT security leader for General Motors Company, a trailblazer in automotive solutions for almost a century. Headquartered in Detroit, Michigan, global GM employs over 180,000 people; serves customers on 6 continents across 23 time zones in 70 languages; and focuses on pushing the limits of automotive engineering, while maintaining stewardship of the world’s environmental resources. Currently #10 on the Fortune 500 list, GM is the largest U.S. automotive manufacturer, and is led by Mary Barra, the first female CEO of a major automotive company. Sunitha brought 25-plus years of evolving technology skills, intellectual curiosity coupled with drive, and broad business acumen.
Sunitha was always interested in technology, encouraged by her mechanical engineer father who urged her to “look at the science all around you.” One of two siblings, growing up near Hyderabad, India, she was fascinated by the logic underlying every invention, tool, process, in her life. All her close male relatives were engineers. Sunitha said, “from childhood, I wanted to do something different from everyone else.” That fascination led her to concentrate on math, physics and computer science. She completed a bachelor’s degree in computer science and master’s degree in computer applications at Osmania University. During university days, Sunitha instructed high school students in math and physics. She moved to teaching Unix at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science; and was offered a professorship at Osmania. However, Sunitha turned down university life in favor of working on the development of SAT and ACT tests, for 11th/12th graders, at Indotronix International.
Following her 2000 marriage, Sunitha migrated to Michigan. During that first year, she worked part-time, teaching Java and C# programming, on the weekends. After receiving her H1B visa, she became a Java consultant and developer at Chrysler Corporation, now FCA Group Intl. She then moved to GM as a consultant and systems analyst, deployed by TAC Automotive Group. After the birth of her first daughter, Sunitha took a leave of absence. Then she chose Ford Motor Company, the fifth largest automotive company in the world, where she was a systems analyst and then a business analyst over the next six years. In 2013, Sunitha moved back to General Motors full-time, as a senior business analyst in vehicle ordering and management systems. She mastered that before moving over to learn ecommerce, in-depth. “It was completely new. We were developing an e-commerce application.” After that achievement, she became a “quality evangelist” maintaining the integrity of IT applications in global sales and marketing working with 1100 people across the globe. Then, in 2018, she began to work on cybersecurity for GM, worldwide. She now leads security compliance for 230-plus applications, globally. One of Sunitha’s mantras is that everyone must “stay abreast of the latest technologies today” since data is rapidly exploding. Her job encompasses the breadth of GM technology from the “C suite to application owners to the grassroots” and focuses on ensuring that “GM customers know their information is safe with us.”
Sunitha characterized her major strengths as intellectual curiosity, ambition, learning agility, and passion. “Whatever I do, I dive in deep,” she said. She wants her stakeholders to say: “I have given this job to Sunitha. It gets done. I can sleep!” Sunitha was honored by a 2019 IT All Stars Women of Color Award for her work in improving GM application quality by 49% in less than 8 months, achieving 95% in standard compliance in record time.
Sunitha’s method of tackling subtle sexism in work situations has always been to “double down.” She increased her skill se
Ep 95: Linda Rose: Raise Your Personal Ceiling
Diva Tech Talk interviewed Linda Rose, merger and acquisitions advisor at RoseBiz Inc., and author of GET ACQUIRED FOR MILLIONS --- offering wisdom and a practical roadmap to business owners interested in divestiture. Linda has owned four companies and has served hundreds of others.
In 7th grade, Linda knew she wanted to become a CPA, after visiting with family friends in that field, who had an idyllic lifestyle. Fortunately, her PSAT’s pinpointed strong math proficiency. She graduated with a bachelors and a master’s in accountancy from San Diego State University and spent four years at Arthur Andersen “working on very esoteric tax applications and issues.” Since her future husband was in the running for a partnership, and there were strict firm policies on fraternization, “I left and went to work for a customer of the firm.” Then, many life circumstances converged simultaneously. Linda got pregnant; laid off; and became a Southern California homeowner, an expensive proposition. “I found myself implementing an accounting package for a company that needed assistance. That’s what got me into tech!” Once in the technology field, “I never looked back. I didn’t aspire to have my own business, but I did like what I was doing.” She recruited others as independent contractors, and after several years incorporated. “I really liked the work, and the flexibility it gave me as a mom. And I hired a lot of other moms.” Then, Linda got “the growth bug,” and began hiring other experts. Her clients spurred her to diversify into staffing, and data center hosting. “For ten years, I had three companies at three separate locations. That forced me to hire very capable people, to delegate, to not have the businesses centered around me.” Linda’s epiphany was “I loved the flexibility and the control that having my own company afforded me.” Beginning in her 40’s, Linda took five years to self-reflect, analyze markets/trends, make hard decisions, and architect a plan. She sold her staffing company; then the others, including her final 2017 divestiture of RoseASP, a Microsoft channel partner and MS dynamics hosting company, “which I sold for millions.”
“I was at a crossroads.” Inspired by the self-discovery odyssey in WILD, Linda trekked 40 miles around Mount Hood and then took a 6-week 500 mile hike of the Pacific Crest trail. She concluded “I had this knowledge of selling three companies and buying another company. And I wanted to put that knowledge into the book.” Linda took 18 months to write her book, aimed toward an underserved niche: smaller companies, in technology channels, “written from the owner’s viewpoint. It’s a book that prepares you for the process” of selling your business.
Linda shared some wisdom for women in leadership roles. Her advice included:
Take control of your finances early. “Find a mentor or mentors you can depend on, who really care about you.” Build your “home team.” This is whomever you can rely on to help with all aspects of life: nannies, transporters, personal chefs, errand-doers and more. Create your personal brand. Linda’s own “brand” is centered on “always about being fair, ethical, and servicing my customer --- doing what’s right for the customer and doing what’s right for the employee. It’s important to decide what you stand for.” One of her recent insights is that “each of us has our own ‘glass ceiling’ “and most of the time, it is lower in our minds than it should be, when viewed objectively. “So, it is important we break through our own limiting beliefs first” before tackling big challenges. During her 500-mile trek, Linda said: “I raised my own personal glass ceiling.” She faced bears, rocky trails, boulders, and other frightening challenges. She overcame the
Ep 94: Jeanine Heck: No Day but Today
Diva Tech Talk interviewed Jeanine Heck, Vice President, AI at Comcast, the world’s second largest broadcasting and cable television company; the U.S. largest pay television, cable TV and home internet service provider; and third largest home telephone supplier in the U.S.
As a child, Jeanine sometimes felt like “the lone soldier” as a female “mathlete,” consistently drawn to numbers, and science. “I loved things that had to do with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Engineering popped up” as she chose a college major. “I loved programming.” As an undergraduate, she felt fortunate to graduate with her BSE from the University of Pennsylvania, which also housed Wharton. “I got a really good, well-rounded perspective on both tech and business.”
Post-graduation Jeanine spent six years at Gemini Systems (now EssexTec), serving the New York Stock Exchange, first as a programmer. Then “my main responsibilities, over time, shifted. I raised my hand pretty often to become one of the people who decided what we were building: a business analyst role.” One watershed project was a Java-based visual tool/system that helped monitor and regulate the behavior of individual NYSE traders. “I liked all the technical challenges. But I didn’t have a passion for the financial markets,” Jeanine admitted. With a “career switcher mindset,” Jeanine entered Columbia University to get her MBA, and “discovered that I missed technology.” She landed two internships, first at Google in advertising sales and then at NBC, where she worked on an online Web video player. “In both jobs, I was not on the software team, but craving to be.” The good news was “I found an industry that I loved: the digital media industry.”
Jeanine honed in on getting a role at Comcast. “It was more of a humble culture, which stood out in the media industry” and a great opportunity for her to return to Philadelphia. Her first role was as a product manager for TV Planner, “the first time we brought together all content in one place.” With 1.5 million unique users, “when you have that kind of scale, you see amazing trends, patterns and data insights.” Jeanine became impassioned about data discovery and “I have built a career, on that, since then. “ One of the key products that Jeanine managed is Comcast’s Voice Remote, “the most loved” of Comcast products “synonymous with our brand.”
Shifting into team leadership, directing 70 employees, has been “a little bit bittersweet for me,” Jeanine admitted. But she has enjoyed mentoring team members, sharing her experience, leading and learning from “the brilliant people” on her teams. Jeanine’s immediate Comcast goals include “developing products that people become attached to” like the successful Voice Remote. She is on a quest to find “the next big product that will take us to the next level of love from our customers.” She has tasked her team to discover “brilliant products” to bring to market. The biggest impact that Jeanine sees in AI developments has been in productivity, and quality. “It (AI) helps you do things more efficiently.”
Jeanine’s success-oriented qualities are optimism, collaborative inclination and urgency married to agility: “One of my philosophies is ‘no day but today.’ If we have an idea, I am constantly thinking about how we get that out to customers, sooner.” Jeanine has spent introspection on the essential role of women in business. Personally, she has inculcated wisdom from Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and concentrated on being taken seriously as an executive. She has also stayed open to feedback in her evolution, going so far as to assess her vocal presence and presentation skills to achieve “gravitas” as a leader. Jeanine has also become a devotee of Brene Br
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This is an amazing podcast full of inspiring stories of women in Technology. I learned a lot and now have more tools in my toolbox to continue my journey in the Tech World! Thank you!
great podcast on women in tech
Love the Diva Tech Talk podcast that is working to support the growing movement of emerging female leaders/engineers in the tech field.
I love that there was one episode featuring a female engineering student from my former coding school, Hackbright.
Although the title of the podcast is "Diva Tech Talk", I find that these inspiring stories and valuable information can be applicable among males and females and across industries like business as well.
I am looking forward to future episodes, and seeing what awesome conent is published next.
You don’t even need to be in tech to enjoy
... this show is for all men and women interested in leadership... and tech. The hosts and guests are inspiring.