In our world today, technology plays an increasingly significant role in shaping our lives. The way we communicate, work, and even entertain ourselves is being revolutionized by tech. Behind every innovation, there's a person, a human being with unique experiences, perspectives and challenges. Understanding what shaped their perspective is a real goal.
From The Sourced Network remote offices in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, welcome to Real Technologists. Each week we explore the genuine stories and true journeys of folks shaping our digital future. How did they navigate this complex world of ours? What challenges did they face? What are the innovative ideas that continue to propel them forward?
Each episode is crafted to broaden your perspective, spark innovation, and help you make better decisions by showcasing the diversity of thought and experiences within the tech industry. That's what Real Technologist is all about. I delve into the lives of innovators to discover their journeys, their passions, and their motivations.
This is Trac Bannon, the host and storyteller for the Real Technologist Podcast. I've been in the tech industry since the 1990s. Along the way, I've worked with scientists, researchers, consultants, educators, military and hardcore technologists driving digital innovation.
I'm an active member in many technical communities ranging from digital transformation to software architecture, to DevSecOps. With a vibrant network of professionals who are constantly monitoring what's going on, I've developed a passion for uncovering unique stories and perspectives.
I believe that behind every technological innovation, there's a unique individual with a captivating story to tell. Our goal, my goal, is to bring you face-to-face with the real technologists behind the latest tech trends, and to give you a glimpse into their lives, their passions, their motivations.
Real technologists is more than a podcast about diversity. It's about amplifying the goodness that comes from our diverse spectrum of voices and experiences. It's about genuine stories, true journeys, our complex world. Whether you're a tech enthusiast, an entrepreneur, or just curious about the world of technology insights, the interviews are sure to inspire and educate. Consider joining me weekly at Real Technologists. Each episode will leave you with something to noodle on.
Episode #20: End of Season One
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Bob: Ok, Trac , let’s check your levels
Trac: Check 1-2, Check 1-2, Season 1 Episode 20, Check 1-2
Bob: Ok, levels sound great; make sure you are set to record individual tracks
Trac: Roger, got it.
Bob: Ok, I’ll fade out and see you kids later, have fun
Trac: Thanks, Senior
"You are listening to the Real Technologists Podcast. I'm your host, Trac Bannon." (Fade to silence.)
That’s how most recording sessions for the Real Technologists Podcast start. My recording engineer checks the audio levels for me and my guest. I want to back you up just a few moments, though. Senior usually opens up the zoom bridge; he knows that I am often scheduled back to back and will arrive just-in-time.
With rare exception, Senior is always first on the line to greet the guest. In fact, I’ve had a few guests join early just to chat with him. I suppose it is because like each and every guest on Real Technologists, Senior is authentic.
During Season one, a few characteristics have started to emerge with this wildly diverse set of alumni. I’ve mentioned authenticity but how about lucky? To be honest, I don’t believe in luck. I believe in Senior’s definition: Luck is when preparedness and opportunity meet. Each of my guests had moments when a door opened and they walked through. At times they didn’t feel prepared and still they said yes.
Perhaps that’s why so many have felt at times that they lacked what the role needed… that they were posers or imposters. Amazing to think how many of these digital disruptors sometimes doubted themselves.
They don’t quit, though. They have a certain stick-to-it-ness… a real grit…
A few of the alumni shared the stress of working in tech… the coping mechanisms…when mixed with the prevalence of alcohol in the industry, it is amazing that at least two guests have shared their story and the need for us all to normalize sobriety.
This first season has brought me tears and belly laughs, inspiration and awe. It’s given me an opportunity to consider my own journey and what motivated me to start #Real Technologists.
What will Season 2 bring? Well, we already started production and it keeps happening… guests showing up early to talk to Senior…Apologies to John Kaufhold for being one of those rare exceptions when Bob couldn’t join. Without silent time queues from Senior, I kept this artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data science expert on for over two hours. OOPSIE!
I had an awesome chat with Julie Holdren from Wateringhole AI and dug deep with Jess Szmajda
Bob: Hey Trac, its “schm-eye-da”
Trac: “schm-eye-da”, okay, thanks Senior
Jess Szmajda from AWS is also a part of season 2. Without giving you a spoiler, I can say without a doubt that season 2 of Real Technologists will give you, Something to noodle on.
Real Technologists: Tracy Edwards
Doing our normal timeboxed guest research on SBI's Chief Technology Officer, Tracy Edwards, was both difficult and curious.
Why curious? Prior to 2018, this Tracy Edwards spent her career more focused on humans and not technology. Once exposed to the idea of product management and bridging the divide between business and tech, she completely reinvented herself and her career, pivoting to product development and leading engineering teams.
Why was the research difficult, though? There are multiple Tracy Edwards from New York City.
Until recently, the most famous Tracy Edwards was the person who escaped Jeffrey Dahmer, which was a real interesting thing in the Google searches. Then there is a Tracy Edwards, n y c, who is almost an exact doppelganger to me with like glasses, blonde hair, whole bit, although she seems to have a much more fabulous socialite life. So I kind of like that runoff. And now there's Tracy Edwards, the very famous sailor who has a full documentary about her.
So I feel like I'm in good company and I don't mind if I'm buried on the second or third page.
Real Technologists: Jonathan Rivers
I'm noticing a few core traits in the many guests I've hosted for the Real Technologist podcast. Authenticity and a willingness to say yes. This rings true for guest Jonathan Rivers. He was recommended to me as somebody who absolutely is passionate about making opportunities for others.
Talking with each guest is filled with surprises and challenges my own preconceived notions. Jonathan Rivers is the CTO of Fortune Media which includes Fortune Magazine. In doing some research, I came across Jonathan's headshot. Sometimes his photos show a mild smirk though often the photos have an intensity that you feel. This looks like the kind of person that you want on your side, especially when the chips are down.
Interestingly, my expectations for the Zoom call were that I would see an opulent executive office in a high rise overlooking a spectacular view. Perhaps with some modern art chandelier. What I encountered was an average guy in what looked to be like an average cube spot or office touchdown spot. The lighting was less than average, though it doesn't really matter for audio. Over his shoulder was the only discernible decoration: a whiteboard with an architectural diagram scribbled in marker.
He doesn't smile often, though when he does, you feel a sense of satisfaction that he is human. I would not say that he's a big old teddy bear like my close friend Bryan Finster. Instead, I would say that this is a super intense and intelligent human.
As we discussed his origin story, and going from a kid in Texas to the CTO of Fortune Media, we touched on myriad topics including his philosophy on diversity. I was very curious what I was going to hear from this white, middle aged biker dude.
It's incredibly near and dear to my heart. For so many reasons. One, I'm really proud of the team that I've built here at Fortune.
I built it with that in mind. And I'll tell you why... One, 'cause it's the right fucking thing to do. But more importantly , you look at this from a tech industry perspective, the moment that you establish a bro culture in tech, if you hire a bunch of white nerds out of suburbia that all wanna talk about Fortnite, you are sunk, right?
If I hire me, me number two is gonna have all the same blind spots that I have.
And I want a team of really different people that see things from different backgrounds, that see problems from different angles, that want different things out of life. Frankly, they all behave better. Everybody behaves better when you're in mixed company than when you do when you're with your buddies.
Real Technologists: Rebecca Bilbro
The incredible Jennifer Ives has become a champion for the Real Technologist podcast. She's been introducing me to an Uber broad set of deep technical experts of all different shapes and sizes. Given Jennifer's depth in AI and her new company, Watering Hole AI, it came as no surprise when she introduced me to Dr. Rebecca Bilbro. Dr. Bilbro is the founder and CTO of an AI firm called Rotational Labs. She's also a founder of the popular Open Source library called Yellow Brick that provides visual analysis and diagnostic tools to facilitate machine learning model selection.
When Rebecca appeared in our Zoom room, I asked her how to pronounce her last name. I was smiling from ear to ear when she said "it's like the Hobbit, but with an R". Yep... she said that and my inner geek cosplay toes curled.
It was 9:00 AM on the east coast and Rebecca had just finished a morning walk with her mom, a retired professor of computer science. I was about to ask her about the walk when she volunteered that they had been discussing data structures. The computer scientist and the data scientist had complementary points of view though Rebecca adds that she thinks of data from the vantage point of being a data consumer. Her origin story was starting to peak out... she grew up in North Carolina as the eldest daughter of two university professors.
My parents were both faculty at North Carolina State University, both in the engineering department, just like real technologists from the very beginning.
Real Technologists: Leyla Samiee
Leyla Samiee is another amazing real technologist that I met through Shutterstock CTO, Sejal Amin. Lately, I've been pretty amazed watching how networks grow organically and even more excited at the incredible humans willing to share their true stories, their genuine journeys.
Genuine is probably the most descriptive, single word I can use to describe Leyla. The first time we spoke, she had a gentle smile, and I introduced Bob and myself. When I started to explain the rules of the road Leyla looked directly at the camera and said "I'm not at my best and I want this story to be heard. Could we reschedule in a few weeks?"
The tone of her voice and her gaze made it clear that this was a genuine request and not simply for convenience in balancing other meetings. As it turns out, Leyla had been listening to other episodes and wanted to share her story with a clear head. We calendared another invite for a few weeks out. We exchanged a few emails in the meantime to check in and send positive energy Leyla's way.
When we met again, she had the same glow of authenticity and we began to navigate her origin story. Over her shoulder hung a beautiful picture of her little ones. When asked, she blushed a bit and shared that those cherubic faces were now 20 and 22.
Having done some brief investigation, I saw references to Leyla being a Persian woman in tech. Sometimes I forget the present day Iran was historically known as Persia. To me, the first place to start learning more about meta's, senior engineering lead for AI and ML was simply to ask where she grew up.
I'm Iranian. I grew up in Tehran, the mega city of Iran for 20 something years I was there.
My education finished in that city. I moved to Toronto after I finished my bachelor degree. And unfortunately for political reason, master degree was in a path in my country. So, I divorced that and came to Toronto.
I am one of those typical Americans who is horribly monolingual even with nearly 8 years of German language studies. Learning a language has a shelf life without the opportunity to speak in practice. Leyla learned English as her second language and shared that she still thinks in Farsi and then translates to English.
Leyla was born and grew up in Tehran, Iran until the late 1990s. Her early years in Iran were when the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomein was the supreme leader of Iran. He was both the political and religious leader. He came to power in 1979 at the culmination of the Islamic Revolution and the overthrow of the prior dynasty. American University describes the transition as replacing an authoritarian regime with a religious authoritarian regime.
When he died in 1989, Leyla was still a young teen. I asked if she would be comfortable sharing a bit about Iran.
Of course I can... I definitely can share. And honestly, these days, nothing is personal for a woman in Iran. Like everything is about everybody.
Real Technologists: Jennifer Ives
I was introduced to Jennifer Ives through a mutual colleague, Sejal Amin. Sejal is one of the growing alumni of the Real Technologist podcast. Sagel and I were discussing how to move the needle from mentoring to refocusing on sponsoring others. What's the difference? Mentoring is often talking, teaching and strategizing. Sponsoring means taking steps to make opportunities. Sponsoring means investing in someone and truly advocating for them. In this context, Sejal talked about the value she personally gets from being part of an industry organization called Chief. Chief was founded to drive women forward into positions of power and to keep them there. Another Real Technologist alumni, Shannon Leitz also shared with me how important Chief was to her.
Jennifer Ives is a founding member of Chief which now boasts over 20,000 experienced, diverse and influential executive women. I'm not a shy person, nor am I someone who is easily intimidated. That said, when Jennifer rapidly responded that she would love to be a guest, I started to wonder what sort of powerful or possibly intimidating presence I would encounter.
I always do a light amount of research putting a time box around the effort bob or I put into our detective work. We scheduled the recording and sent the invite.
I dialed in one minute before the meeting was set to start only to find that Bob and Jennifer were already online and deep in conversation. As it turns out, Jennifer had done her own detective work to find out more about me, and in the process, had learned about "the Ops to my Dev", that is Bob. I listened for a moment to a delightful conversation that I can only describe as Jennifer interviewing Bob.
What I encountered embodied in this life force known as Jennifer Ives is something unique and insightful. She is simply lovely in every dimension. Visually, she was wearing gentle lace on a modest blouse and an absolutely glowing smile. She positions her camera so she's looking directly at you, and as we all know from our lockdown days, that can be pretty tough to do... you know, positioning a camera so it's pointed at you straight on as opposed to looking downward at it.
I noticed Jennifer make constant eye contact, nothing distracted her. She didn't reach for a phone to turn off the ringer and no messages popped up on her screen taking her eyes away from me. Jennifer is instantly warming. When she speaks, you immediately sense how smart she is. There is a natural sense of trustworthiness.
I can see why C-Suite executive women and those like me, who drive change want to engage with her. She's authentic. When I found out that she's a geospatial engineer who worked with super secret government agencies, I was hooked. Our 60 minute conversations stretched into nearly an hour and a half.
We are both passionate about humans and about technologies. We both believe that the best solutions are those that have a wide range of diverse thinkers involved. We both seem to position ourselves between diverse positions, ever negotiating.
It turns out we are both middle children. Middle children are considered the "stealth leaders" of the birth order pack, according to Katrin Schumann, author of The Secret Power of Middle Children. Jennifer has all the telltale signs: she's a negotiator, a consensus builder, a risk taker, and an innovator.