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Women Who Tech Are Dangerous: Portraits and Stories in the Age of #metoo

All portraits and interviews by John Davidson

johndavidson-photography.com

Amanda Keammerer

Amanda Keammerer

 
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Amanda Lee Keammerer

Job Title: Deputy Director, CyberSecurity San Antonio; CEO of Javilud LLC

Company Website: https://javilud.com

Years working in the tech industry: 9 years

On beginnings:

I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, where I grew up with my mom, my dad, and my younger brother. Nothing was more important than graduating from high school. College was not an if — it was a when. Our family instilled in us an insatiable intellectual curiosity that pushed my brother and me to opposite ends of the country. After high school, I enrolled in Smith College, and moved to Western Massachusetts; my brother enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, and moved to southern California.

On family values:

As Mexican American kids with a German last name, we always stuck out. We learned to be proud of ourselves because we were unique, smart, and resilient. We were raised by a family of teachers, welders, decorated veterans of war, railroad managers, janitors, and strong grandparents — my brother was the first Marine, and I was the first college graduate. What amazes me about our upbringing is that despite the obstacles we faced, we blazed our own paths.

My family raised me to be a strong person, to question everything, to stay open-minded, and to aim for the stars. Everywhere I go, I never forget where I came from because I carry those experiences, my family, and my hometown with me. That pride, love, and strength is what pushes me to succeed, as well as give back to my community. Even when setbacks block my path, I figure out a way around them; resilience, resourcefulness, and persistence run through my veins! That is how I was raised, and that is how I walk with confidence in the world — confidence in myself, in my abilities, in my ideas, and in my potential.

On the impact of a women’s college:

And, of course, look at where I went to college — Smith College, a women’s college. I cannot even begin to describe what those four years meant to me. They were possibly the toughest four years of my life, and I am still processing those experiences.

On finding a mission:

After working in non-profit communications and community relations for three years, I decided to enroll in graduate school at the Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington D.C., where I focused on Global Communication with a double concentration in national security policy and IT policy.

Initially, I entered grad school thinking that privacy policy was the place for me. Did people really understand what kind of data they were sharing — for free — with companies? Were companies really protecting consumer data? Who or what was the bridge between these two worlds? Those kinds of questions led me to the Elliott School because I wanted to learn how to create policy and marketing campaigns that would amplify people’s voices, and change their world — meaning, as we amplify those voices, we are not just shouting into the wind. The result would be more informed consumers, and more transparent organizations.

That outcome has yet to be realized…

On falling in love — with Cybersecurity:

What ended up happening is that I fell in love with the complex world of cybersecurity and information security — because, of course, I discovered another gap to fill: the gap between the cyber world and the privacy policy field.

Nearly everything leading up to my position within the Obama administration was affected or influenced by my views on gender equality and equity overall.

On equity views, and how they shaped the road to The White House:

During the Obama administration, I served as a presidential appointee. I assisted the Federal Chief Information Officer, and the Federal Chief Information Security Officer. Our positions were housed in the Office of Management and Budget , which is part of the Executive Office of the President (EOP).

Nearly everything leading up to my position within the Obama administration was affected or influenced by my views on gender equality and equity overall. Look at the timeline of my life. Growing up, I was surrounded by strong women. Throughout grade school, I was attracted to leadership roles, to languages, and cultures different from mine. I graduated from a women’s college with a BA in Russian (how many Russian-speaking Latinas do you know?). I applied to the George Washington University because I was drawn to defense policy and national security policy; I did not see anyone who looked like me in that field.

Determined to work in the Obama administration, I started the application process a full year before OMB called me. That year included interviews, rejections, and frustration — but I pushed forward because I saw myself in President Obama. The President was a community organizer — just like me. Women are at the front lines of advocacy work around the world. If I could work for a President who understood what coalition building meant, then I knew my unique background in community relations and nonprofits would be understood, and valued.

‘Leading from the top’ — on the experience of working for the Obama administration:

From my first interview with former Federal CIO, Tony Scott, I knew that working for the Office of the Federal CIO (OFCIO) at OMB would be an exciting and challenging opportunity. During our conversation, Tony asked me a question that no one else had ever asked before: How would he know when I was overwhelmed? Everything about that question showed me that this was a whole new world — no one had ever asked me that before. The job was going to be tough, but I was ready to hit the ground running because I could already see that Tony cared about me as a person, not just as a worker.

In my role, I served as a chief of staff, if you will, for a team of 60 federal employees and contractors. From reviewing memos and briefing executives, to brainstorming solutions with senior advisors, and managing large information flows — every day was different, every challenge had profound implications, and every person was deeply committed to serving the United States of America. There is no greater honor than serving one’s country, and it was a privilege to contribute to the strengthening of the nation’s cybersecurity posture.

Learning from my boss was a phenomenal experience that no textbook could supply. Tony insisted that I sit at the table with him, instead of behind him — this was huge. Inviting me to contribute to policy conversations, and to witness how difficult decisions were debated at the highest levels of government, was invaluable. Being in those rooms, learning from our team, brainstorming with other agencies and Executive Branch components led me to where I am today — I can give back to my hometown, and elevate our cybersecurity community to a new level. That kind of leadership starts at the top, and I am proud of President Obama’s commitment to inclusion and diversity in his administration.

Often, I was the only Latina in the room. There were hardly any Black, Asian, or Native American women in the room, either. This is unacceptable, and we need to reach out to young women, keep students interested in STEM studies,

But wait. On room for improvement:

Though men still outnumber women in the Federal government’s cyber and IT departments, the number of women who are Federal agency CIOs are still higher than the private sector — and I think that number will continue to grow in the years to come. This is exciting for women like myself who are building careers as managers, policy experts, and public servants. However, we still have a long way to go — often, I was the only Latina in the room. There were hardly any Black, Asian, or Native American women in the room, either. This is unacceptable, and we need to reach out to young women, keep students interested in STEM studies, and show them how to leverage this knowledge into an exciting career. Our nation, and our world, is in dire need of our perspectives, particularly in cybersecurity and technology.

On giving back:

Mentoring other women and minorities in tech is very important to me. If someone else can learn from my mistakes, and climb higher and faster than I did, that brings me so much happiness.

For example, students often feel like they need to have their lives figured out by graduation, or else they are failures, flailing through life without a future. This is false! As a mentor, I love tearing apart this myth. Look at my resume, I tell people — doesn’t it sound like I got demoted? I went from a Manager to an Associate to an Assistant — job titles are not everything. Life is too short to reject a job (and its accompanying title) that brings you joy, offers you an opportunity to learn, and provides a paycheck. Figure out what is important to you, and use that as your guiding star as you navigate your own path. Comparing ourselves to others is futile because we can never truly know what someone else has sacrificed to get what they want. This is a tough muscle to build, and we have to remind ourselves to keep flexing it.

On mentoring lessons — how it’s only a ‘failure’ if you quit:

Storytelling is a powerful weapon, and one of my favorite stories to share with mentees is about my college experience. During my first year of college, I had a horrible time adjusting — from homesickness, cold weather, and tough classes to not asking for help, imposter’s syndrome, and working too much — and I failed. After Year 1, my GPA was less than a 2.0, I withdrew from Smith, and returned home to attend San Antonio College for a semester. I rocked it out, earned As and Bs, applied for readmission to Smith, got accepted, went back to Massachusetts, and graduated on time. Did anyone care about my grades when I interviewed for my jobs? No. Did I go on to graduate school three years later? Yes. Am I still struggling today, and trying to learn, and be more disciplined? Yes! But my story is powerful because it shows that our winding paths bring us to the right place at the right time for us.

We do not have time to second guess ourselves, our talent, our ideas — we are enough. We are the CEOs of our lives. Our lives, our stories, are way too important to hand the reins over to anybody else.

That is the most important message I can share as a mentor, particularly in tech. Everyone can be an entrepreneur. Everyone has something extraordinary to share. Everyone can learn. And when it comes to cybersecurity, and technology, we need everyone to contribute — women, men, young, old, everyone. We do not have time to second guess ourselves, our talent, our ideas — we are enough. We are the CEOs of our lives. Our lives, our stories, are way too important to hand the reins over to anybody else.

On what gender bias looks like:

Unfortunately, gender bias exists in every industry. To me, it is tough to compare across industries — what would those metrics look like? What would we define as more biased or less biased? Speaking from my own experiences, the bias that I saw or experienced varied from day to day — sometimes, it was the unjust way that a male superior assigned tasks to junior staffers. Sometimes, male staffers who interrupted others were rewarded with attention because of their impromptu brainstorming, while female staffers who did the same thing were chastised, and isolated like insolent children. Often, women who worked hard, listened to others, and promoted teamwork were viewed as fantastic supporters, and critical cogs in the machine, but not leadership material. Other times, gender bias was layered on top of racial bias, which complicated workplace interactions and collaborations even more. How do we know when a slight is a slight, and not related to being a woman? Or being young? Or being a minority? How do we know who to trust? We never know. It is exhausting.

On strategies:

Last year, I removed my engagement ring before interviews, so that my commitment to the potential job would not be questioned. Even now, someone will call me “sweetheart” or “mija” — words that strip me of my authority during a meeting or conversation, words that can come from a woman or a man, words that are meant to remind me of “my place” as a younger, “junior” person in the room.

Yet… before meetings, sometimes I strategize with men, and ask them to communicate my ideas to mostly male groups. This way, the group will listen more intently until I have developed a personal accord with them. Remember that these groups include women — men are not the only ones holding women back. These things do not happen in one place, in one industry, or in one room full of men — they are pervasive, and the only way we fix them is by talking about them. And by calling people out who repeatedly attempt to make me or others feel “less than” — it is not enough for us to say sexism, racism, and homophobia are horrible and vile. We have to be brave, speak up for each other, and call things out for what they are — at work, at home, at school, with younger children watching us, and older people living with us. There is bias in every industry, and we need everyone to be aware of it and its intersectionality.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. On being a part of the change:

Twice in the past year, men in tech and cybersecurity told me that we should not have all-women panels just to have them. That we can’t just add women to panels because we need to fill a quota — and that we can’t hire in that way either. Women have chided me for going after management positions in San Antonio, saying that I should wait my turn, lower my expectations, and/or take whatever job came my way. Opportunities exist, careers abound, work climates are tense, and bias weaves it way into all of it — the only way forward is to own our talent, rock out our ideas, collaborate across difference, and bring our authentic selves to the table. What we experience, how we work, who we know, how we create — the tech industry does not exist in a vacuum, and neither do we. Women are innovators, inventors, and executives — and need to be respected and valued in order for the industry to change.

On not living ‘single-issue lives’:

As Audre Lorde said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Women, queer folks, the disabled, people on the spectrum, blind, deaf, folks with heavy accents, undocumented, international students, immigrants, Muslims — we all need to listen to each other, work together, and advocate for one another. Our fates are tied together.

We need men to listen to us, speak up with us, and trust us — even when cameras are not rolling, even when they will not get credit, even when they are scared.

On lessons learned — the ‘three P’s’:

Nowadays, I have a name for the lessons learned in DC: the three Ps. Purpose, path, and power — we all have a purpose, a path, and power. They sound simple, yet those three words are three of the most important lessons I took from my eight years in DC.

When I embrace my power, and use it to help people find their purpose, their path, and their power — it feels like a great fog has lifted.

On setting the tone — women are leaders!:

Women are leaders. But the weight of the world should not rest on our shoulders, no matter who is in charge. We need men to listen to us, speak up with us, and trust us — even when cameras are not rolling, even when they will not get credit, even when they are scared.

I strongly believe that women cannot wait for the world to change; we must change it ourselves. If an industry refuses to change, then we will disrupt it together — men and women. Leveling the playing field for those who are coming after me is critical, and I believe that small steps now will add up to systemic changes in the future.

Women are leaders, and we are setting the tone.

 
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Ashley Jennings

Ashley Jennings

Joyce Deuley

Joyce Deuley