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StateScoop's Top Women in Technology 2018

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Meet the women of state and local government and industry who are helping to lead as the landscape continues to shift for the technology workforce. This is StateScoop's second annual list of the Top Women in Technology for 2018.

Our editorial team reached out to 50 of the most inspirational women in technology, from high-profile elected officials to project team leaders working behind the scenes. This list is to recognize their dedication, excellence and use of technology in the course of public service.

Each woman answered four questions, by phone or email, recalling their proudest achievement of the previous year, explaining their experience working as a woman in the technology workforce, anticipating the future, and sharing the best career advice they ever received.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser shares some of the projects and initiatives — like a partnership with Howard University to launch the Inclusive Innovation Incubator — that are driving diversity, expanding opportunities for women entrepreneurs and striving to make her city the premier location for women in technology.

Los Angeles Deputy CIO Jeanne Holm succinctly shares her favorite career advice: "Be kind, be generous, be curious, be brave."

Code for America's Jennifer Pahlka recalls a time in the technology workforce when women were so scarce, she never had to wait in line for the bathroom. And while things are changing quickly, she says there's still much more work to be done.

Check out the list of women changing the federal government on FedScoop's Top Women in Technology 2018 list, as well.

The list, featured here below, is far from exhaustive. There are many more incredible and inspiring women leaders across the government IT community, but those found below represent excellence in government leadership and the growing interest and participation in technology by women.

Sharing the stories and observations of these women is a small piece of this progress. Join us in reading, talking about and sharing these ideas in StateScoop's Top Women in Technology for 2018.

ON THIS PAGE

Jennifer AxtGeneral Manager - State & Local Government and EducationDell EMC

What's your proudest achievement in the past year?

The proudest achievement last year was the successful assimilation of Dell EMC coming together with world class technologies, and the way my team kept our government business going without skipping a beat, which brings value to the field sales teams and our customers. Being flexible and agile during a huge merger was key to our successful year. Not to mention being recognized by CRN Top Women in the Channel, and StateScoop’s Top 50 Women in Technology last year, just made my year even more rewarding.

What's your experience been like as a woman in the tech workforce?

I love what I do, and want to be the best in the industry. I love being a woman in the tech industry, and seeing how far we have come over the last 20 years is rewarding. We still have work to do, but I’m a firm believer in hiring the best person for the role and I have never really labeled myself as “a woman” who deserved anything different than anyone in similar roles.

What's the best career advice you've ever received?

Be honest, be kind and have integrity in all that you do. Treat others how you want to be treated. Be relevant, bring value and when you show up have the right attitude!

What's something you're excited about going forward, working in government technology?

I’m very excited in where things are going around digital transformation, digital communities, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and being right here in the middle of all this happening around us today is extraordinary. Not to mention how technology (and Dell Technologies) can help government change the way they serve the constitutes. What we do really matters!


Meredith BickellDeputy Chief Information OfficerState of Wyoming

What's your proudest achievement in the past year?

Overhauling the State of Wyoming’s IT Governance Program. Moving it from a model established under decentralized IT to a model best meeting the expectations of a centralized IT environment. The IT Governance Program formalizes and clarifies oversight, accountability and decision rights related to State technology initiatives and projects.

Deploying an online analytical solution to strengthen the hiring process, which is also being used for team building and generating data to inform succession planning.

On a side note, I was excited to be able to promote the Girls Go CyberStart competition and thrilled that a Wyoming team finished in the top 100.

What's your experience been like as a woman in the tech workforce?

My first job as a software developer, I was the only woman on the team of about 15. It was eye-opening for me because I was somewhat naive to reality and the lack of women in this field. As the deputy CIO for the State of Wyoming, I’m very fortunate to be a part of not only getting more women interested in technology careers but in leadership roles.

What's the best career advice you've ever received?

Don’t forget where you started and use your experience to make it better for the next generation of employees.

What's something you're excited about going forward, working in government technology?

I feel technology right now is standing at the edge of a cliff getting ready to take a leap into new areas. Wyoming wants to be on the front edge. Technology is experiencing great support from our governor and legislature, and I believe we’re going to move into a new era of analytics. We are investing in cybersecurity and exploring modern business models for private and government sectors to expand technology in the state. The Wyoming blockchain initiatives and the associated legislation being passed to improve information exchange allowing for modern technologies is just one example.


Deborah BlythChief Information Security OfficerState of Colorado

What's your proudest achievement in the past year?

A couple of months ago, I was recognized by my local peers in Colorado as the recipient of our local “Community Mentor” award. Several of my peers talked about why they voted for me and ways in which I’ve helped them to be successful in their careers. It’s often difficult to feel successful in security since security is a job that’s never done, and even when one security effort is completed, there are always so many more to do. 

However, knowing that I’ve helped so many people be more successful in their cybersecurity careers and having received such a distinguished honor has been my proudest achievement in the past year.

What's your experience been like as a woman in the tech workforce?

I have certainly noticed my entire career that I am often the only woman, or one of only a couple of women, in a roomful of men. When I was younger, it was a little intimidating, as if it was a skill set more common to men than to women. However, I quickly realized that gender had nothing to do with success in technology, and that I had additional skills, such as being able to translate technical scenarios into business language, that made me even more successful than many of my peers. Being a woman in the tech workforce has conditioned me to feel at ease, even in a roomful of people who appear to be very different than me. I am much more focused on our commonalities, such as love of technology, and pay much less attention to our differences.

What's the best career advice you've ever received?

To stop worrying about whether or not I’m good enough. Several times I’ve been pushed to step beyond my level of comfort. Sometimes it involved extremely difficult decisions that were given to me and I worried about whether I was the right person to be making a decision of such magnitude. Sometimes it involved being a subject matter expert to the business when I didn’t feel I had adequate expertise. My mentor at a critical time in my career told me, “You may not think you are smart enough, but you are the smartest person in the room, in this subject, so act like it.” He was right. As I learned to portray confidence, I became more confident. And being told I was the smartest person in the room on a particular subject was encouraging to me, and helped me to seek out those areas in which I needed to learn more, with confidence that I could become proficient in those areas as well.

What's something you're excited about going forward, working in government technology?

I'm so excited to be a part of transformational government. I’m excited about ensuring that security is built into things such as smart roads to help improve traffic congestion. I’m excited about the creation of a resident-facing portal that will enable Coloradans to interact with government services in a seamless and innovative way, making it so much easier for them to get the services they need. This effort requires a security first approach to ensure that residents don’t need to worry about the security of their personal information. I’m also excited about a new bill submitted for approval in Colorado that will enable our state government to consider the use of distributed ledger technologies (such as blockchain) to ensure the integrity, transparency, validity, and confidentiality of transactions and data.


Joy BonaguroChief Data OfficerSan Francisco, California

What's your proudest achievement in the past year?

In the last year, we launched two new services: dashboarding self-service and data science. This helped us realize our vision of an ecosystem of data services for decision-making. Our core services, open data, dashboarding, and data science reinforce one another. For example, we help a department publish data and build a dashboard on top. That dashboard then generates questions that turn into a data science project (or vice versa). All of our work is then reinforced and codified through our Data Academy trainings. Our team finally has all the pieces in place. It’s been fun and we’re working at a new level and speed.

What's your experience been like as a woman in the tech workforce?

Right now, I’m fortunate to work in an environment with a great deal of women leadership. In San Francisco, the chief innovation officer, chief information officer, chief digital services officer and the chief data officer are all women. It’s probably a record! And they are all amazing. Historically, I’ve found it a bit lonely. The network effects can be daunting. That’s why it’s encouraging to see more female led career networks. I do find I still need to be artful about my “assertiveness” and would like to see different models of executive presence, especially as a short woman.

What's the best career advice you've ever received?

Own your career — no one is going to do it for you. (Though a good boss should help.) As part of that, I found the following two books to be very useful (after reading many books that were not useful): “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” and “What You’re Really Meant To Do.” Both books do away with the simplistic “find your passion” nonsense (though it’s still there, just not in the typical form) and provide useful guidance, exercises and perspective. And one phrase I repeat like a mantra: People don’t do what they don’t own.

What's something you're excited about going forward, working in government technology?

I think commodity web services are reaching the point where cities could start experimenting with lightly coupled services as an alternative to large, expensive, risky, custom enterprise systems. Jason Lally, our Data Services Manager, and I have been chewing on this concept and will probably write a blog post in the near term on it.


Muriel BowserMayorWashington, D.C.

What's your proudest achievement in the past year?

We have a lot of tremendous things happening in our city right now, and I’m proud that, right now, people are excited to live and work in Washington, D.C. 

When it comes to tech, I’m particularly proud when I hear of our entrepreneurs making big moves that serve our community. I think of Byte Back, which has helped 60 D.C. residents gain living wage jobs in the tech sector and Mapbox, which joined us in creating an innovative tool that allows District residents to view crime data in their neighborhoods — these are two fantastic examples of what tech looks like in Washington, D.C.

What's your experience been like as a woman working alongside the tech workforce?

Washington, D.C., has long carried the stereotype of being a one business government town, so we saw the tech sector as an opportunity to create more job opportunities for our residents and diversify the city’s economy. But we weren’t just interested in building any tech scene, we wanted it to be inclusive. As such, we have been deliberate in supporting women, people of color and LGBTQ entrepreneurs.

In just the past few years, we partnered with Howard University to launch Inclusive Innovation Incubator, the nation’s first affordable co-working space devoted to diversity and inclusion, and provided grants to the Beacon Initiative which brings together business leaders, investors, government leaders, mentoring networks, and other allies in a unified effort to expand funding and other resources and opportunities for women entrepreneurs.

What's the best career advice you've ever received?

My parents raised me to have high expectations for myself and the people around me. When you hold yourself and those around you accountable, you can get a lot done and help a lot of people.

What's something you're excited about with technology as mayor? 

I’m excited about the progress we have made in creating a diverse and inclusive tech scene. We continue to be the number one city for women in tech. We are launching innovative strategies that will help strengthen our community. But there’s so much more work to do, and I look forward to meeting our residents, nonprofit organizations, and business partners at the table to develop solutions that keep Washington, D.C. at the forefront of inclusive innovation.


Krista CanellakisChief Innovation OfficerSan Francisco, California

What's your proudest achievement in the past year?

One of the most important questions we ask ourselves as an innovation team in government is: how might we scale the impact of innovation in the public sector and institutionalize the work so that city staff are equipped to carry the change forward? The Startup in Residence (STIR) program we started in San Francisco in 2014 is now in nine cities with 19 technology challenges nationwide with an institutional partner to support the expansion. We have spawned a model that accelerates cities’ ability to access new technologies, and as a self-professed procurement nerd, this makes me very proud.

What's your experience been like as a woman in the tech workforce?

I identify as a public servant more than a tech worker. City government is a diverse workplace that values equity. I’m grateful to be surrounded by people in the Mayor’s Office who empower women to lead and who support me in driving change. This experience makes me obsessive about encouraging people to join local government to apply their tech, design and strategic skills to our city’s toughest challenges. Tweet me @kristallakis if you’re gov curious!

What's the best career advice you've ever received?

Work hard, do what you love, and be kind to people. It’s as simple as that. My parents, who came to the U.S. with nothing, drilled in me the importance of rolling up my sleeves and focusing on my passions versus following a “traditional” professional path. From my start in the renewable energy sector to founding my own startup and now to re-imagining city government, these three simple principles guide me.

What's something you're excited about going forward, working in government technology?

Finding all the civic problem-solvers and bringing them together! In the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, we act as a bridge between public servants who are deep experts in their fields with a commitment to improving lives for residents and a community of passionate technologists, designers and strategists who want to give back to their city. Our Civic Bridge and STIR models break down barriers for these people to collaborate and be inventive on civic challenges. It’s exciting to see that, over time, we are driving a culture change and there is a growing demand for new ways of problem solving in a more open and collaborative way.


Karen ConnellyDeputy Chief Information OfficerMaricopa County, Arizona

What's your proudest achievement in the past year?

My proudest achievement is transforming the County’s public website, maricopa.gov. The new design is more engaging and enables the county departments to better manage content and enhance interaction with our citizens and community. The previous county website had not been managed or had any significant updates since 1995.

What's your experience been like as a woman in the tech workforce?

My experience has been both challenging and rewarding at times. My experience has been that I am typically the only woman in the room. As a woman I need to continually look to outperform my peers. Even doing this it doesn’t guarantee the new assignment, promotion or even a raise. Women in IT leadership positions are still underrepresented and until the culture or socials barriers are addressed, women will still continue to be underrepresented in IT leadership positions.

What's the best career advice you've ever received?

Believe in yourself and don’t let others define what you are capable of achieving.

What's something you're excited about going forward, working in government technology?

There are pockets in government where the technology is dated and or deprecated. I look forward to working on replacing these systems while bringing innovation and stability to government systems that support our citizens and the community.


Monica Croskey ChaparroStrategic Planning & Performance ManagerRaleigh, North Carolina

What's your proudest achievement in the past year?

With the establishment of CORStat in 2016, internal accountability and operationalization of the city’s newly adopted strategic plan was set. This past year we turned our attention to increasing public accountability and transparency for strategic plan progress by producing the city’s first-ever Strategic Plan Performance Report and launching a strategic plan website using the readily available Esri platform that was already being used by the city’s GIS staff. By reporting on our progress — both successes and challenges — we help build public trust and inform our community of the returns they are getting for their public investments.

What's your experience been like as a woman in the tech workforce?

As a millennial African-American woman in the strategy/performance management arena, I’ve been fortunate to work in organizations that are progressive and value diversity. For example, the City of Raleigh has eight established organizational values and one of them is diversity. I’ve been very selective about joining organizations that are committed to having an inclusive environment. From StateScoop's to the University of North Carolina’s Engaging Women in Public Service, over the years, I’ve happily noticed more and more intentional efforts to support and recognize women in leadership.

What's the best career advice you've ever received?

I was once deciding between multiple job offers, and my very first boss told me “not to be overly consumed by a position’s title or salary but spend significant time evaluating your potential supervisor because if you choose the right boss, you’ll get the right experiences and hone the right skills — then the more desirable salary and titles will follow.” Based on this advice, during recruitment processes, I’m able to focus less on positioning myself to be the selected candidate and more on evaluating whether the organization/opportunity and I are a good fit for each other.

What's something you're excited about going forward, working in government technology?

I’m excited to see the use of data and technology becoming more and more prevalent in local government decision making. I think as we normalize their use and incorporate them into everyday business practices, we’ll begin to have more focused conversations, take more deliberate actions, see more effective outcomes, and stretch our ever-decreasing resources farther — thus maximizing public benefit and improving our communities.


Patricia CummensGovernment StrategistEsri

What's your proudest achievement in the past year?

Over the past year, I have been encouraged to see more government executives understanding the power of technology and taking steps to apply technology to address very critical challenges in society, like the opioid crisis, better response to preparing for disasters and overall smarter government. The idea of data-driven decision making is taking hold — there’s a growing understanding that the first step to fixing a problem is understanding the problem and that data analytics, visualization and mapping are key tools to achieve that. We are now seeing cities, states and national government agencies using this approach to deal with critical challenges and working to build more resilient communities in the face of ever increasing disasters.

What's your experience been like as a woman in the tech workforce?

I have been very fortunate and have had great work environments, in both public sector working for state government and private sector. I was very fortunate to get involved with technology in the early days. I’ve been encouraged to be creative about how to apply technology to solve problems. In the early days of my career in state government, so much time was spent on creating data and finding ways to do that efficiently, we didn’t have much time for analysis. Now we are on the other end of that spectrum — an abundance of data requiring a focused approach to make it more applicable to inform decisions. 

As far as being a woman in that environment, I used to be very conscious of being the only woman in meetings or among few at conferences but I never felt that held me back. I was raised believing I could do whatever I wanted if I worked hard and just carried that belief forward. And now, I sense the numbers have shifted substantially, and I am encountering many more women in the work environment. I was struck by one public partnership project I worked on last year, exploring impacts of increased heat events on health — the core team of seven that worked closely to formulate the idea through to creating and launching tools, all but one were women, and they were amazing, smart and dedicated people. I also appreciate that I have great women role models at Esri. For example, our chief scientist and chief medical officer are both very accomplished women.

What's the best career advice you've ever received?

First, I think it had to be advice from my parents to go to college and study something you really enjoy. I was fortunate to be exposed to very early GIS technology in college in the regional planning class. I quickly knew this was something that interested me. Then, early in my career, I was working in state government designing and managing GIS projects and was considering going back to school to get a computer science degree — computer programming was the hot new thing then — but a mentor from private sector told me programmers are relatively easy to find but what we are going to need are people who understand how to apply technology to solve real problems. That was sound advice, though I may not have realized it at the time. It really matched my skill set and  helped to set me on path to help bridge the gap between technical staff and executives, to understanding policy goals and how technology can help achieve them, and communicate those ideas.

What's something you're excited about going forward, working in government technology?

It is such an exciting time to be in the technology field. So many technology disciplines are maturing; the ease of data analytics and visualization, machine learning and the ever-growing number of sensors, and I see great opportunity for GIS platform and location intelligence to bring these together to help make sense of it all. GIS is perfectly positioned to drive informed decision-making for smart cities and states and efficient government, to enable the use of data to drive informed decision making and engage citizens in new ways. To make this happen we need to work from the bottom up and the top down. We need to nurture and develop technical skills in K-12 to grow the workforce pipeline, make sure governments keep up with modern technology and help executives understand and tap in to the power of technology like GIS to enable smart government. Technology can make a difference; collaborating and working together, we can make this a reality. I look forward to playing my part in helping to make that happen.


Brenda DeckerDirector, Global GovernmentIBM

What's your proudest achievement in the past year?

This past year I have had the opportunity to work with some of the best professionals in IT on projects that will transform governments and how citizens are served. These opportunities have been with government clients, the IBM team and our business partners. The outcomes will truly change how governments work and serve their clients, internally and externally. The projects where I have helped modernize a government's infrastructure or worked to strengthen the security/resiliency of a government or co-created a future vision of citizen interaction across agencies, all have left me with a sense of pride as government works to deploy citizen centric services.

What's your experience been like as a woman in the tech workforce?

When I first started to work in this field, it was not unusual that I was the only woman in the room. Even in the courses that I took, the women were highly outnumbered. I am fortunate in that I never felt that I was treated any differently then the men in the environments where I studied or worked. I was mentored by men and women in the workplace. I am not saying that I did not encounter resistance as a woman in IT. I just learned how to work with all kinds of people to accomplish the goal rather than "win" the argument. 

What's the best career advice you've ever received?

There are two pieces of advice that I received that I continue to live by:

1. If you commit to something, do it — your reputation depends on it.
2. Perform for the job you want, not the job you have — that may mean giving more than 100 percent.

What's something you're excited about going forward, working in government technology?

I am excited to see the fruition of all of the work we are doing today and how we can continuously improve government services. I look forward to a time where greater trust in government exists and interactions with government are seen as something enjoyable. I have seen many people in government working with their private sector partners to improve services during my time in the government industry. People who choose government work are truly altruistic and our partnerships can transform government services.



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