Job Title: Program Manager of CivTechSA
Company Website: http://geekdom.com
Years working in the tech industry: 7
On the CivTechSA mission:
Geekdom is one of the fastest growing co-working spaces in the nation. My role is to build out the CivTechSA Program that is a partnership between Geekdom and the City of San Antonio’s Office of Innovation.
On family values:
When we were growing up, my mother made it clear to my twin brother and me that while we are different people, I am no less capable than he is. She constantly encouraged and dared me to take on challenges, and fully expected me to achieve difficult goals. As a speech pathologist, she instilled in me a great love of language and a passion for effective communication that influences much of what I do now.
On tech beginnings:
I never thought I would be working in emerging technology markets, or so heavily involved in civic tech initiatives in my community in the way that I am today.
My tech career began in college when I started doing market research for a consulting firm in San Antonio that started up a Machine-to-Machine (M2M) Communications division. After I graduated, I joined another consulting firm specializing in the Internet of Things industry, and loved every minute of it.
When I left the firm to start my non-profit, the Smart Texas Alliance, I had the opportunity to build bridges between education, industry, and government, which led me to my current position at CivTechSA. As Program Manager, I help connect the City with students and startups in order to solve community problems and help develop civically-minded tech talent in San Antonio.
On the value of mentors:
Aligning yourself with people that not only share your experiences, but also help you identify your ability for success and encourage you to be brave in your pursuit of it, is necessary to make it — in almost any role you take on.
My advisor, Dr. Letitia Harding with the University of the Incarnate Word, really focused my passion for communication. She helped me tailor my degree so I can serve as a “translator” for what is happening in emerging tech and the rest of the world.
Sara Brown, a phenomenal marketing professional for MultiTech Systems, Inc., gave me the opportunity to stretch and grow my skills by her side at the consulting firm. She not only respected my request to work “with” her rather than “for” her at a time when I had negotiated a promotion for myself, but guided me as I took on additional responsibilities. There was trust there — and maybe a little bit of risk on her part — but it paid off in the end. I learned much from working with her, and we are still very good friends. She currently serves on the board of my non-profit.
These women demonstrate daily that there is always more to do for yourself and others, more to learn, and that there are endless opportunities to enrich your life through compassion, grit — and most of all, a sense of humor.
On giving back:
I try to give back to my community as much as I can. Currently, I volunteer as a facilitator in an IEEE Women in Tech monthly meetup group, I serve as a board member for a woman-owned transportation startup, and co-organize an informal meetup group of professional women in downtown San Antonio to inspire and encourage each other in our passions.
More young people, women and men alike, need to recognize their sense of personal agency and that they can achieve much of what they want right now. Learning how to maximize opportunities and resources, and knowing that you can ask for what you want is vital to feeling like you really own your future. In this current social/political climate, it is critical that we recognize our potential to effect positive change in ourselves and our communities.
On the path to career advancement:
Being a young, female analyst and business owner has actually helped me stand out and gain opportunities in areas that I have seen a lot of young professionally ambitious men get passed over.
I was fortunate to find my way in as a research analyst and content director via a consulting firm that had clients of various sizes across the globe. There were projects and responsibilities I was able to take on because of how small the firm is, which allowed for me to level-up faster than some of my peers in larger companies. I worked with some amazing clients and was able to travel often to conferences, build a solid portfolio of work, as well as a robust network of connections in the industry.
While there are some incredibly talented women in my immediate community, I have worked primarily with men, most of whom do an excellent job presenting me to the industry. But, this is what it takes for young women like me to succeed: more experienced professionals in the field, both men and women, that recognize talent, grit, work ethic, a desire to learn and be helpful, and maybe a little imagination, to create a space for us.
No one gets to the top of anything alone, and by creating room for women in this industry, we expand on what we can accomplish together.
On what it looks like — changes in tech:
The climate has changed, there are a lot more programs focused on women in tech and there’s a lot of recruitment. There’s still more that needs to be done, however, in terms of what happens outside of those initiatives. Representation on panels, particularly for women of color, is a constant struggle. I know of several passionate women and men that are actively fighting to change that.
Particularly at conferences, it’s almost a surprise to some that women like me are knowledgeable — and more than that, capable. I’d like to see the industry get to a point where capable women are really seen as the norm rather than a surprise.
On women being the change:
I feel like I am tripping over so many people working on impactful projects, fighting to bring about real change in our communities and industry. I can easily name 10 or more women who are reshaping the industry in Texas as we know it, and several more beyond that. We have never been more connected, more vocal, or more able to leverage powerful tools to our advantage. And that’s true for everyone now, not just women. We’re experiencing a global awakening as to what is possible mixed with a collective sense of urgency to bring those possibilities to fruition.
On smart cities in Texas working towards diversity and equity:
While I cannot speak for the City of San Antonio, I will say that from my experience the City is incredibly passionate about equality. Many of the projects inside City departments, including the Office of Innovation, are centered on improving and ensuring equity in San Antonio. San Antonio has always been a diverse city, and our leadership reflects that.
The other two main points of contact on the CivTechSA Program are Anna Guitierrez, Director of Programs at Geekdom, and Kate Kinnison, Innovation Manager for the Office of Innovation. In addition to promoting equity and inclusion across each pillar of our program, we have committed our entire marketing budget to women and minority owned businesses.
For smart cities in Texas: Jen Sanders is the co-founder of the Dallas Innovation Alliance and has spent the past several years building a dynamic public private partnership that is reshaping downtown Dallas as well as the launch of several smart city Living Labs focused on piloting and advancing smart city projects across the city.
Chelsea Collier and Sarah Sharif in Austin are changing the smart cities landscape by focusing on workforce development and civic engagement. Chelsea’s work at Impact Hub and Digi City — along with her work at the Smart Cities Connect conference and more, makes her a tour de force. Sarah’s latest endeavor Experimental Civics has been shaking things up in Austin and produces amazing innovation and community impact, building off of her work at ATX Hack for Change.
All of that to say, we have never been at this point of self-agency and action — and we’ve only just begun.
On recommended reading:
The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile.
This book advocates for the creation of a better work environment, one that encourages employees to not only do “meaningful work” at the office, but to pursue positive “inner work lives”. Self-development and fulfilment will spill over into daily professional efforts, particularly if someone is working in an environment that facilitates positive inner discovery and meaningful professional impact. Amabile points out that meaningful impact isn’t synonymous with massive social impact, but that it can be found even in the smallest of tasks at the office. We can affect change wherever we are, and this book is a great tool to unlock that potential in yourself and your work environment.