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StateScoop's Top Women in Technology 2018

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Elizabeth RoweChief Data OfficerState of New Jersey

What's your proudest achievement in the past year?

I am most excited about my involvement in the drafting of the 2017 New Jersey Open Data Initiative. This legislation codifies the position of chief data officer and lays the foundation for data standards and information sharing across an executive branch.

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

My experience has been very good. I learned early on in my career that if you can't get the job done it really doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman. I've been fortunate to have had really great managers, both men and women, who made sure I understood that clients want results and that's what we needed to deliver.   

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

Don't be afraid to make mistakes. It's how you're going to learn and how the organization innovates. Take risks and if you really believe in something, don't quit until you decide it's time to give up. Success is a measure of persistence.

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

I'm very excited about the opportunities around mobility and government service delivery. The alignment of academia, government, and industry in the design of data and analytics curriculums, workforce development internships and programs, and incubators to support technology entrepreneurship and innovation.


Jennifer SandersExecutive DirectorDallas Innovation Alliance

What's your proudest achievement in the past year?

The mission of our organization is to bring together and provide connective tissue between organizations and initiatives across multiple sectors to achieve the maximum benefit to Dallas and North Texas. It has been enormously gratifying to see the partnerships and collaboration amongst dozens of organizations, city departments and cities around the world to implement technology, data and holistic solutions to make Dallas a smart city prepared for the future. My proudest achievement this past year has been the launch of our Smart Cities Living Lab, which includes nine active and integrated projects and is the fastest-to-market smart cities initiative in the country — from ideation to launch in 10 months.

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

While like most women I certainly have some less-than-amusing stories to tell, I’m acutely aware that I’ve benefited from the barrier breaking and persistent work of the accomplished women who came before me. I think a key to continuing to break down these roadblocks is mentorship and active support from senior women in the industry. A good friend of mine talks about how critical it is as a human to “lift as you climb” and support those coming after you.

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

To understand that in life your path will not be a straight line, allow yourself the space to evolve and change course, determine what you love, then pour into that — the opportunities will follow. Through everything, always remember to be kind to others and generous with your time. You never know how your interactions (big or small) will impact the lives of others.

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

The bottom line goal of all of our efforts is, "How do we improve quality of life and inclusion for all Dallasites and beyond?" The use of data and technology to enable everything from more efficient government operations, to service delivery, access to traditional and upward mobility, and resilient infrastructure will shape the future of our cities. Technology is a critical catalyst, but ultimately, how it is used to impact daily life is where the transformative power of smart cities lies.


Shireen SantoshamChief Innovation OfficerSan Jose, California

What's your proudest achievement in the past year?

My proudest achievement is tackling the digital divide here in San Jose. Less than half of our low-income families have wired broadband access at home, yet today 70 percent of homework is online. This means that our youth on the wrong side of the digital divide don’t have access to opportunities and the ability to build the digital skills to work in Silicon Valley. We partnered with Sprint’s 1 Million Project to get free internet and devices to nearly 10,000 low-income students for all four years of high school. We are now working to close the homework gap for all students by building free Wi-Fi networks in partnership with our school districts and finding innovative solutions to provide free device and hotspot check outs through our public libraries.  

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

Women lead much of the technology and innovation work in San Jose’s city hall — whether rockstar engineers, IT leaders, or user-experience professionals. It is wonderful to be part of this cohort using technology to improve the lives of our residents. But at the same time, I’ve been to too many tech events here in Silicon Valley and been on too many panels where I am one of the only, if not the only, woman present in the room. I once was at an event with over 60 attendees and I was literally the only woman in the room who wasn’t part of the event planning staff. That is unacceptable in this day and age and we need to work harder develop, attract, and retain women in the technology field.

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

The best career advice I ever received was that if you aren’t rocking the boat, you likely aren’t doing your job. It gave me the courage to stand up for what I believe in and not be afraid to push the envelope to drive change. I had to take this advice to heart when advising our mayor to step down from a very prominent FCC board this past year. We have a philosophy in our team, which is to “amaze and empower.” Sometimes it takes showing people the art of the possible before they start to engage in new ways of working. But, if you can get them past the resistance, then amazing things can happen. After all, you can never get far without taking people with you.

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

It is an exciting time to work in civic technology — innovations like autonomous vehicles, the Internet of Things, and virtual and augmented reality are going to fundamentally change the way people live and work in the next two decades. We are about to launch several autonomous vehicle pilots throughout San Jose and I’m excited to be on the frontlines of this revolution. Autonomous vehicles, if done right, have the potential to radically reshape cityscapes, connect communities, offer independence to the elderly and disabled, and help us create a safer transit system. Engaging now as a government to shape the best outcomes for the public is essential.


Molly ScharExecutive DirectorNational States Geographic Information Council

What's your proudest achievement in the past year?

For any nonprofit organization — and government, for that matter — success if often predicated on serving as a nexus for stakeholders, leveraging different perspectives and contributions so the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I’m so proud of the work we’ve done at NSGIC to build internal capacity as a staff (tripling our FTEs) to support the launch of our Geo-Enabled Elections and 3DEP for the Nation projects, along with increasing resources for our member state geospatial information officers and managers, state and local agencies, federal partners, sponsors, lawmakers, and other GIS organizations.

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

One of the ideas behind NSGIC’s GeoWomen initiative is that we need to find ways to elevate more women into leadership positions in public sector GIS. While women benefit from mentors in our careers, we don’t have fervent champions — senior managers and leaders who advocate on our behalf for career-advancing opportunities — to the extent men do. As a woman in the tech workforce now in a position to be a champion for other women, I’m passionate about addressing the gender imbalance at executive levels. I have such a great respect for the women who have soared to the heights of government leadership, many of them included in this very list, and we need to see more of that.

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

I’ve collected so many pearls of wisdom from mentors along the way, but the best career advice I’ve gotten is, “Don’t be sorry. Be better.” In other words, acknowledge your mistakes and failures, but more importantly, learn from them and put that hard-earned insight to good use. Resiliency is a muscle that gets stronger the more you use it. And while not career advice per se, I've always been inspired by Katharine Graham's declaration, "To love what you do and feel that it matters, how could anything else be more fun?"

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

We’re faced with greater opportunity than ever before to coordinate and collaborate across the public sector technology spectrum to deliver transparent, efficient, and effective government services to our citizens. Current, authoritative geographic information is crucial to making the best possible decisions in government, so spatial data and technology are particularly poised to power the next generation of everything from 911 response and homeland security to coastal management and elections systems.


Anne SchweigerBroadband and Digital Equity AdvocateBoston, Massachusetts

What's your proudest achievement in the past year?

I’m proud of the pro-consumer telecommunications policy advocacy that Mayor [Marty] Walsh has led over the past year. Particularly exciting is advocacy on the issue of enforceable net neutrality protections. Since the summer of 2017 the City of Boston has worked proactively internally and with mayors and county elected officials nationwide to make clear why enforceable protections that safeguard the free and open Internet are important to Boston and communities across the country. In coalition with other cities, we have helped to lead letter writing campaigns that have now gained the support of 76 elected officials.  Additionally, the talented digital storytellers of DoIT created two policy PSAs about what net neutrality is and what is at stake in the potential loss of enforceable protections. These include Net Neutrality 101 and Net Neutrality:  Make Your Voice Heard.

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

Each day in DoIT I have the opportunity to work with the best colleagues in the world. This is obviously great given that DoIT is the home department for the city’s broadband and digital equity work. Incredible and inspiring colleagues in DoIT coupled with the culture of collaboration and openness infused in departments across the city has made for an exceptional experience working in government technology. With that said, I’d say my experience as a woman in the tech workforce has been great.

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

The best advice I’ve received has come in the form of ongoing mentorship. In each stage of my career I have had mentors who demonstrate a passion for public service in their own core work and place a high priority on helping others develop as professionals and put new ideas into action. The quote below by Theodore Roosevelt brings to mind the pride that each mentor has taken in supporting others in applying their talents and passions in a way that serves the greater good. I would like to extend my gratitude to Jascha Franklin-Hodge and Patricia Boyle-McKenna for their mentorship.

“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”  —Theodore Roosevelt

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

I’m excited to see more cities launch programs that fund community-based digital equity initiatives. Following the lead of cities such as Seattle and Austin, the City of Boston launched the Digital Equity Fund in the fall of 2017. As more cities launch similar initiatives in the years to come, it will be exciting to see what funding mechanisms are put in place. Revenue from license agreements between local government and telecommunications companies is a source of funding that I think more cities may begin to explore.


Kendra SkeeneDirector of ProductGeorgia Office of Digital Services

What's your proudest achievement in the past year?

It’s been a big year, so it’s hard to pick just one! In the past year, my team launched an Amazon Alexa skill that pulls information about state services directly from georgia.gov. We converted our web platform, which hosts 80-plus state websites, to serve all our sites over https for secure browsing. We also developed and launched our Certified Content Specialist series, a workforce training initiative to help our state agency partners level up in critical skills including digital content strategy and user experience strategy.

But the achievement I’ve been most proud of from this past year is in the transformation of our team at GeorgiaGov Interactive, which had a charter to support state web properties, to a restructured office as Digital Services Georgia. I worked closely with now-Chief Digital Officer Nikhil Deshpande to develop the business case and charter to expand the state’s vision of state digital service delivery. I am now working to expand our team’s technical offerings in accordance with that expanded vision. I’m excited to see the fruits of that labor play out in the coming months and years, as we work with agencies to further improve digital service delivery across the state.

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

This question is difficult to answer tactfully! Ha! Like most women in tech, it’s not uncommon for me to be the only woman in the room during meetings with technology vendors or customers. And I’ve lost track of the number of times someone in a suit at a conference has assumed I’m in marketing, simply because I’m a woman in “their” technology space. I would be lying if I said I didn’t notice the challenges. There are times I’ve asked my boss to lend his presence to a difficult conversation simply because I knew his male voice would achieve the impact I would struggle to achieve as a woman. It would be naive and dishonest for me to say that my gender isn’t the reason some interactions in the technology sector are challenging. And that can be really frustrating.

But with that said, I see encouraging signs within the smaller ecosystem of the Digital Services Georgia team and the agency partners we work with. Our team is 80 percent female and our technical roles are all held by women. My direct boss is very encouraging and supportive of women in tech, and has always been a strong ally. In that way I think I’ve been luckier than many, and I believe that support and trust has been critical to my ability to succeed.

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

I think one of the most difficult parts of charting a career in the digital space is in defining and identifying where particular skill sets fall. Because so much of what we do in the digital space is so [diverse], often it’s hard to know what kinds of titles or career paths define what it is that we [do]. Certainly, the education sector struggles to keep up. Anyone in human resources or hiring knows this struggle, too. I grappled for a long time with finding the right words to define my skill set and interests so I would know where to look to build up and hone those skills. In speaking with friends and colleagues a few years ago, I got the advice of two women who were both technical project managers. One suggested that my skills and interests might align with solutions analysis, while the other recommended I look into product management. For me, just having those to define what I was interested in helped me define and chart a path for myself in a way that was invaluable. Once I had the words, I could more easily define where I needed to grow, and how I could use those skills to build up our team and mature our offerings.

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

We have two big projects in flight right now that I’m really excited about. As our team has shifted focus from web-only to the broader digital landscape, our vision is to provide a consistent and intuitive user experience for interacting with state government, regardless of which agency they’re working with, which service they’re looking for, or which channel they’re using to find answers. It shouldn’t matter whether someone comes into a physical location, calls an office, visits a website, downloads an app, or tweets at an agency — they should expect the same high quality customer service and consistent information. In addition, Georgians should be able to look to a uniform branding and user experience to trust that the digital property they’ve visited belongs to a state of Georgia entity, rather than someone posing as government.

Ultimately, all our state agencies and elected officials are representing Georgia. We like to say that we’re all one GeorgiaGov. Our team is supporting that vision by building a unifying branding and design library that agencies can use across digital tools, as well as an API-first technology stack built in Drupal 8 that can serve as the underlying framework as we expand our ability to provide for both information and service delivery across the enterprise.

At the same time, we are updating and expanding our enterprise governance; that is, our statewide digital standards and guidelines needed to meet these goals at the state — regardless of whether or not an agency uses our technology stack. We’ve recently organized a Digital Center of Excellence, pulling talented individuals from across multiple agencies and sectors to work on these standards and guidelines and ensure we are working across the state to serve the needs and empower all of our agency partners.


Elayne StarkeyChief Security OfficerState of Delaware

What's your proudest achievement in the past year?

Hands down, I am most proud of MY TEAM!  They are amazing — working hard every day, finding ways to meet business needs while protecting data from attackers. I am pleased that they were recently recognized for their efforts with the SANS Difference Makers Award and our 4th consecutive Best of the Web award.

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

I really try not to think about it too much. I am the eternal optimist, believing that most people judge me based on my skills and how I work rather than my gender. I am a big advocate for encouraging young women to pursue STEM careers. We reach out to 8th and 9th grade girls every year with the Delaware DigiGirlz program and I am a lifelong mentor.

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

Find your personal passion, turn it into a career path, and then go for it with gusto! That advice has served me well. When you pursue a career that aligns with your passion, you end up loving your job and it will never seem like hard work.

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

There is so much to look forward to: blockchain, cloud services, digital disruption, IoT and more. There’s no better time to be in government technology!


Maria ThompsonChief Information Risk OfficerState of North Carolina

What's your proudest achievement in the past year?

It’s hard to single out just one achievement. Working in state government has its challenges, but when you are able to implement a solution, a governance structure, etc., it makes the job that much rewarding. But above all, I would say my proudest achievement has been around building relationships and trust. Without those foundations, its makes the journey that more difficult.

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

I would think my experience has been similar to many women in the tech workforce. There is a small percentage of us, though I am pleased to hear it is growing in some disciplines, but that percent gets smaller as we become members of a leadership team. It is very important that we receive mentorship and in turn mentor others while on our IT journey. I have been very fortunate to have both male and female leaders that helped to mold and guide me in my career decisions, whether directly or indirectly. Having spent 20 years in the Marine Corps and in IT has prepared me for many challenges in the public and private sector.

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

Do not be afraid to take chances with your career.

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

I am truly excited to be on what I would consider “the winning team” at the North Carolina Department of Information Technology. Having the support of leadership from all levels has been key. The leaders that I work for and with have a strategic vision for where and how IT, with a heavy influence on cybersecurity, can lessen the digital divide and move North Carolina in the right direction. I am excited at the prospect of the state’s leaders embracing technology which will facilitate us in becoming a leader in providing secure, efficient and cutting edge services to its citizens. It is truly an exciting time to be in government IT.


Amy TongChief Information OfficerState of California

What's your proudest achievement in the past year?

I’m proud of our staff and our executive team. Over the last year they’ve made huge strides in all of our focus areas: technology services, information security, project delivery, digital innovation and workforce development. All of these components have a part in creating “One CDT.”

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

I try to think of my own experience from the perspective of how to be a role model for others, especially young women and girls. It’s no secret that STEM fields are traditionally male dominated fields. I try to use my position and experience as a way of inspiring young women and girls to not be afraid to pursue a career path like mine.

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

I’m lucky to have worked with so many great mentors in my career so it’s hard to pick just one. I would say the advice that I most consistently receive is the old saying “be yourself.” While it’s a bit of a cliché, it has always rung very true with me.

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

Continued collaboration. As we outlined in our Vision 2020 Strategic Plan, creating one digital government that serves all Californians will never be something that CDT can do by itself, nor should it be. It takes collaboration and engagement with the entire statewide technology community. I most look forward to building on our existing partnerships with other state entities, local governments and the vendor community. In addition, providing ways to identify where we can forge new partnerships.


Michelle VillaDeputy Director - Enterprise ApplicationsSan Diego, California

What's your proudest achievement in the past year?

My team was involved in the implementation of several large multi-million dollar projects within our SAP framework.  We implemented the Infrastructure Asset Management (IAM) module, which will allow accurate tracking of all fixed assets and provide predictive analytics for operation, maintenance and repair. We also implemented the SAP Ariba procurement solution which brings the world’s largest procurement platform into the public sector. The City of San Diego is only the second municipal organization to implement this private sector best practice. We completed these endeavors while continuing to support our SAP production landscape for the city’s daily operations. 

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

I didn’t set out to be part of the tech world — I’m actually a CPA. You might say the tech world found me. I gravitated to this exciting arena due to the experiences of implementing financial systems. As a woman in predominantly male environment I have found that your gender doesn’t matter as long as you can set a vision and empower your team to accomplish the impossible.

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

Be passionate about what you do and you will do it well!

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

I’m excited about all the possibilities that exist for making life and work easier through technology for both city employees and residents of the City of San Diego. There is a myth that municipal governments always lag behind the private sector in technology. That may be true in some environments, but I don’t ever see that as an excuse not to reach for excellence. Look for the best solution and make it a reality.


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