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Lead(H)er Profile – Holly Knights, VP, Digital Marketing & Analytics at SmartBear banner image

Lead(H)er Profile – Holly Knights, VP, Digital Marketing & Analytics at SmartBear

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Our Lead(H)er series features impressive women leaders in the tech industry. In this Q&A, we are featuring Holly Knights, VP, Digital Marketing & Analytics at SmartBear


Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child? 

I was born and raised in Marlborough, Massachusetts. Growing up, I was very interested in space and jets and always thought I would be a pilot or astronaut. To this day, I still love going to airshows! I was always curious, an avid reader, and loved learning new things. My high school years were spent working hard both inside and outside of school. I was very active in school activities and sports, often taking leadership positions in clubs like drama, chorus, and yearbook.   

Holly Knights SmartBear

What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school? 

I studied Communications in college, focusing in on television production. I loved the coordination it took to put a show together, so many moving parts and the creativity of it all. My senior year, I interned with Hearst Media (parent company of WCVB), working at their Needham facility. While it was exciting being in the TV industry, I quickly learned that was not the career I wanted for myself. I ended up taking a job in the telecommunications sector right after graduation, in customer service. While there, learning the business, I moved up into project management, eventually coordinating large scale data networking projects nationally, keeping them on time and on budget. It was such a learning experience. I feel very lucky to have been able to understand the technical side of the business with IP addressing and the foundations of data networking, while also being able to build my business knowledge with understanding project costs and margin. I credit the people there, from my strong female boss to the engineers, with helping me round out those important skills. 

Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today? 

A key moment in my career path came when the tech bubble burst in the early 2000’s. I was laid off from the telecommunications company I had been at for over five years. I ended up taking a job with a small startup called iProspect. It was a very small agency focused on a new concept at the time called search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). That was a turning point for me. I was able to learn the inner workings of Google, which was in its early stages at that point, how to get websites ranked in the engine and how paid search worked. I managed a number of clients from B2C to B2B, and it was so exciting to see how much search marketing could do for a business. Looking back now, those years were the most impactful of my career and the start of my career in Digital Marketing. I’m still very close to those people I worked with then, and we’re scattered all over the world. What we didn’t know then is we were working in a part of marketing that would become one of the most important drivers for any business. 

After that, I worked in-house for a few companies doing Digital Marketing for both startups and enterprise companies alike. Each one afforded me the opportunity to keep my search engine marketing skills sharp while also taking on more responsibilities from Social Media Marketing to Analytics to Web Operations. I was also leading larger teams and having P&L responsibilities. My technical and business knowledge both came into play across all of those roles, helping to drive better business outcomes and reduce costs. 

What is your current role and responsibilities? 

Today, I am VP of Digital Marketing and Marketing Analytics at SmartBear. This was a net new team I was able to build from the ground up when I started over two years ago, and we continue to grow and evolve as the needs of the business change and mature. My team and I manage all of the digital marketing activities as well as the marketing reporting and tracking across all of the SmartBear product suites. That includes paid advertising, (our biggest channel being paid search), search engine optimization, conversion rate optimization, A/B and multivariate testing, and marketing analytics. We work cross functionally across the business, closely partnering with Growth Marketing, Product, Product Marketing, and Web Operations to ensure our sales team and ecommerce business are receiving the right amount of leads and trials, at the right cost, to achieve our business goals. 

Holly Knights SmartBear

Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally?  Was it always your goal to be in this position? 

To be honest, I was always more opportunistic in my career path, versus deterministic. Saying yes to stretch my skills and learn new things as they came to me was a big factor in where I am today. As I said before, I am a very curious person by nature and love to acquire new skills, so that helped me move forward in every position I had. In a way, being rooted in search engine marketing helped me become an expert in any business I was in, because you have to put yourself in your customers’ shoes to understand their search behavior and intent. I credit that mindset to helping me get up to speed quickly and uncover new opportunities. 

For people who are looking to be in a similar position, what advice would you give to others in terms of helping them achieve their career goals? 

  1. Start at a marketing agency. I have spoken with many grads and always encourage them to start there. Being at an agency gives you the opportunity to work across many different clients and industries in a short period of time. It helps you understand what you like and don’t like - trial by fire. You are also able to try different marketing activities and learn the ins and outs of them all. Then, you can move “in-house” and focus on one industry, business type or discipline. I would not be where I am today without my hands-on agency experience. 
  2. Be versatile. Be open to going outside your comfort zone and try new things, and learn about those new things. It sounds cliché, but you need to be flexible and willing to get uncomfortable to stretch and grow. Say yes, and don’t ever pass up those opportunities because you’re comfortable in where you are. 
  3. Be yourself, be authentic. I think people are at their best when they are fully themselves in their work. You’ll want to think you need to be more like other people, but then you aren’t being true to yourself and that eventually will set you back.  
  4. Take a presentation skills course of some kind. I was lucky to take a Dale Carnegie course early in my career (thank you, iProspect), and I still use those skills today. It was hands down one of the best courses I have ever taken. We all need to learn how to explain our thoughts coherently and with enthusiasm. It becomes more important as you speak with leaders who have limited time. 

What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well? 

Empathy. To be a good leader you need to start by being a good human, and caring is at the heart of it. I need to understand what’s going on with my team not just in work, but outside of work as well. I care about each of them and what they’re dealing with personally and professionally in order to keep us moving ahead. 

Adaptability. Both marketing and analytics are constantly changing. You have to be able to move, pivot, and adapt. That skill is a hard one for me, but I have gotten better at it over time. Practice not getting upset or troubled by change. I learned to take a breath, dig into what’s happening, and move ahead. 

Have a north star. A vision. A good team doesn’t need to be told how to get somewhere; they need guidance on the end point. Knowing what you want to accomplish is key, and communicating that vision to your team, involving them in the development of that vision, making them part of that vision, helps the team all be invested in the outcome. 

What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work?  What’s the most challenging? 

Seeing the fruits of our labor. Achieving, or better yet, surpassing the goals we had set and knowing what we did to influence those achievements. I also love challenges, knowing we have an issue that needs to be solved and trying to solve it. I like to get my hands dirty and dig into the data to see what’s happening. 

On the flip side, the most challenging thing is lack of time. My team has so many things coming at them and things they want to work on that we’re always trying to prioritize and then reprioritize. They do a great job, it’s just a constant challenge of trying to be efficient. 


Q&A 

What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

My husband and I have two small children, 7 and 5, and we love to spend time with them. Whether it’s playing outside, jumping on the trampoline, going to the park, riding bikes, or our annual beach trip to the Cape, we try to be present when we’re with them. 

Holly Knights SmartBear

How do you manage stress? 

Sounds funny, but I actually work better under stress. I tend to get hyper-focused and can block out the noise that way. 

How many cups of coffee do you have in a day? 

I usually have one large one every morning. 

Any book or podcast recommendations?

I don’t have a ton of time so I like The Pivot podcast. I also just started Lost and Founder by Rand Fishkin. 

What advice do you have for recent college graduates? 

Don’t be too picky about finding a job. When you get one, use it as a learning experience and get as much as you can out of it. Learn the business, and always ask questions. If you start at a marketing agency, try and understand your clients’ businesses. It’s a unique opportunity to have a broad perspective across industries to see what works and why. 

And don’t forget to take a presentation skills course of some kind. You’ll learn skills that you’ll need throughout your career.  

About the
Company

Smartbear's tools are built to streamline your DevOps processes while seamlessly working with the products you use – and will use

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Lead(H)er Profile - Mariah Bridges, Sr. Director, Content & Community at InsideTracker banner image

Lead(H)er Profile - Mariah Bridges, Sr. Director, Content & Community at InsideTracker

Open Jobs Company Page

Our Lead(H)er series features impressive women leaders in the tech industry. In this Q&A, we are featuring Mariah Bridges, Sr. Director, Content & Community at InsideTracker


Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?

I asked my father to answer this question; he said, “Curious, bright, alert, artistic, and stubborn.” – and I grew up in North Carolina. 

Mariah Bridges InsideTracker

What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school?

I studied English and Psychology in college. My first job out of college was a professional dance choreographer for competitive dance teams. 

Mariah Bridges InsideTracker

Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?

I started a traveling dance convention business at a young age that benefited the Leukemia and Lymphoma society. Starting from the ground up, I had to learn (sometimes the hard way) all about building a business, event planning, and leadership. After years of growing that business, I had the opportunity to sell. Then I started planning events and fundraising for nonprofits that eventually led to startups' brand building. Both owning your own company and working in the startup/nonprofit world taught me how to wear multiple hats, organize, and the value of budging. What I didn't know at the time was that community-building skills were etched in everything I did. I quickly learned that my passion and education in psychology was a superpower in the marketing world, so my consulting business took off. I stayed very niche in the endurance/health and wellness space and was lucky enough to grow and learn from some of the best in the wellness marketing space-- which eventually led me to cross paths with the CEO of InsideTracker. Little did I know that everything I had been a part of before then had to lead me to content and community marketing within the biotech space, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

What is your current role and responsibilities?

As the Sr. Director of Content and Community, I lead a team responsible for all aspects of demand generation, email strategy, lead nurture workflows, social media, content strategy, community activation, events, and growth. InsideTracker is full of intelligent, talented humans, and I consider myself lucky every day to get to learn and grow with them. 

Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally?  Was it always your goal to be in this position?

I never thought my career would take me to where I am now, but I’m not surprised by it either. My only career goal has been to help people, grow outstanding communities, and learn along the way. So with that as a goal, I would say I’m right on track.

For people who are looking to be in a similar position, what advice would you give to others in terms of helping them achieve their career goals?

Marketing is constantly changing. You have to acquire and master best practices at the same time you are educating yourself on the latest tactics and trends. And it is critical to always be a student of your industry. The more you know the product, your customer, and the psychology behind how they make decisions, you will have a unique perspective to add to industry best practice tactics. 

What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?

Adaptability, Communication best practices, Creative Problem Solving, Data analysis, and hands down; project management. 

Mariah Bridges InsideTracker

What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work?  What’s the most challenging?

Leadership and Management. The greatest joy of my life is leading a team. I consider it an honor to help others grow their talent, career, and help the company to achieve their goals. It, however, is also highly challenging to adjust working styles for each colleague while at the same time working towards the company's immediate growth needs and long-term growth goals. 

Mariah Bridges InsideTracker

Are you involved with any professional organizations outside of the company? Volunteer work?

Board Member of Healing Canines 

Volunteer Coordinator and Producer for Shop Local Raleigh and WRAL 

Run Coach for Girls on the Run 

Community Development Volunteer for USO 

Mariah Bridges InsideTracker


Q&A

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

My family is number one. We love to sail, boat, workout, and weekly walks around the neighborhood with my dog Maverick. When I’m not with my family, I’m usually crossing something off my “Learn list” or traveling — from skydiving license, Ironman racing, summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp, and more. I love this world of ours and consider myself a constant explorer. 

Mariah Bridges InsideTracker

Mariah Bridges InsideTracker

How do you manage stress?

Before you learn how to manage stress, it is essential to have the proper tools in your stress management toolbox (Mental therapy, physical fitness, nutrition optimization, laughter, gratitude, human connection, sleep, mindfulness, positive self-talk, journaling, organization, etc.) 

I acknowledge all the tools for stress management, and sometimes I’m excellent at prioritizing them and knowing which tools to use, and sometimes the toolbox is all but completely closed. 

Still, some of that is the cost of excelling in your career. There are times you have to push through the stress, as it is nearly impossible to prioritize all self-care and stress management tools every day. So in those times, you focus on the one thing you can do, do it well (give yourself tons of grace), and when that season of your life has subsided, you can double down on the tools in your stress management toolbox. I’m lucky to work for InsideTracker and have access to the platform and an incredibly smart health and wellness community backed by science. 

Mariah Bridges InsideTracker

How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?

I go through phases where I’ll walk to my local coffee shop and grab a cup usually 1-2 a week but then sometimes I go months without. 

Any book or podcast recommendations?

  • Atomic Habits - James Clear 
  • The Power of Moments: Why certain experiences have extraordinary impact - Chip & DanHeath
  • The Secret Lives of Colors - Kassia St. Clair 
  • Any Harry Potter or Fantastic Beasts book
  • Huberman Lab Podcast 
  • How I Built This Podcast 
  • The Tim Ferriss Show  
  • And of course, Longevity by Design Podcast 

Mariah Bridges InsideTracker

What advice do you have for recent college graduates?

Take time to figure out who you are apart from what others have told you that you should be, then go out and unapologetically be that person. 

Invest in your natural gifts, your talent. Because talent finds work, and work finds talent.

It takes time to build up your career but every season of growth has its purpose.

Be humble and know that therapy is your friend. 

About the
Company

We help you improve your overall health and longevity with personalized nutrition, using your blood, DNA, and habits.

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Lead(H)er Profile - Rachel Bates, Chief Revenue Officer at WorkStep banner image

Lead(H)er Profile - Rachel Bates, Chief Revenue Officer at WorkStep

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Our Lead(H)er series features impressive women leaders in the tech industry. In this Q&A, we are featuring Rachel Bates, Chief Revenue Officer at WorkStep


Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?

I grew up in Liverpool, England. I was serious and intense but also could mix into any crowd and had friends within many different groups of people.

What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school?

I attended the University of Birmingham and received my degree in International Studies and Politics. I always liked understanding how the world worked and focusing on the big picture. I also went back to school to get my MBA but my first job out of school was at Explorica, which is a start-up in educational travel.

Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?

When I was first hired at Explorica, I was hired as a program consultant and found out much later that it was a sales role. I never would have considered sales if I hadn’t tried this role, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and found I was very good at it. 

One of the biggest critical moments for me was learning to be good with people and numbers and understanding that that combo is very competitive and important in the sales world.

I also learned that I was very good at building something from scratch and dealing with the ambiguity that comes with it. When I first joined Workable, there was no sales team so I grew the sales team from 2 to 100 people. A common theme throughout my career has been getting really good at hiring and finding good people for my teams and thinking a lot more about the decision-making that goes into hiring. 

What is your current role and responsibilities?

Chief Revenue Officer of a Series B company, WorkStep. I am helping to scale the revenue organization and the go-to-market function to allow us to be successful as we go through hyper-growth.

Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally?  Was it always your goal to be in this position?

20 years ago, I wouldn’t have thought I would be in a professional sales career. I didn’t have the exposure to business to know it could be a career. I continue to find it stimulating and challenging as I keep progressing through my career.

For people who are looking to be in a similar position, what advice would you give to others in terms of helping them achieve their career goals?

The biggest piece of advice I can give is to build a 20-year network. Interactions with every single person you encounter are important. Every relationship at every level matters. Staying in touch with people and keeping the connection even after all the time has passed speaks volumes. You should always be thinking about long-term brand and that comes from the relationships you build.

What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?

The number one thing is listening. Listening above, across, externally, internally, etc, and practicing active listening.

I also need to be able to think creatively in order to create the vision of where we want to be 6 months to a year from now.

Lastly, it is leading with confidence and hiring!

What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work?  What’s the most challenging?

The most rewarding thing for me is helping people develop their own career paths and seeing what is really good in someone to leverage them forward in their development. 

What is your proudest professional accomplishment?

Seeing the impact I have been able to make on other people. Everything is a team effort. 

Are you involved with any professional organizations outside of the company? Volunteer work?

Pavilion, a revenue collective.

Always volunteered for my kids with school.


Q&A

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Family time, running, traveling

How do you manage stress?

I go and find something equally intense to do!

How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?

4 a day easily

Any book or podcast recommendations?

60 songs explained in the 90’s

About the
Company

At WorkStep, we build software that makes the supply chain a better place to work.

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Lead(H)er Profile - Nicole Hildenbiddle, VP, User Experience at Rue Gilt Groupe banner image

Lead(H)er Profile - Nicole Hildenbiddle, VP, User Experience at Rue Gilt Groupe

Open Jobs Company Page

Our Lead(H)er series features impressive women leaders in the tech industry. In this Q&A, we are featuring Nicole Hildenbiddle, VP, User Experience at Rue Gilt Groupe


Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?

I grew up on the eastern end of Long Island, New York, in a small town called Amagansett. It's a beautiful part of the country with a thriving art and design community, which captured my attention at a very young age. I would describe myself then and now as a deep thinker with an appreciation for beauty and detail. When I was thirteen, I began training with a local artist named Linda Capello, who focused on figure drawing. The five years I spent working with Linda motivated me to pursue a formal design education.

This is a photo of my son and me last summer in my hometown:

Nicole Hildenbiddle RGG

What did you study in college?

I studied industrial design at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, Rhode Island. I went to college thinking I wanted to focus on painting, but during my first year at RISD, I was exposed to human-centered design and fell in love with it. I found it fascinating that a well-designed object or experience could influence behavior and positively impact the daily lives of others. Every project was an opportunity to connect with new users, understand a unique problem space, and use creative thinking to develop a solution.

Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?

The beginning of my career was not glamorous. After working hard in college, I graduated during a recession, and finding work as a junior designer was very difficult. I took freelance jobs and did contract work where I could find it and eventually joined a design agency in Seattle, WA. As a young designer in a small but growing agency, I had to wear multiple hats. I managed client relationships, conducted research, designed web experiences, and wrote code. It was a challenging period in my life, and I often felt like I was burning the candle at both ends, but I learned a broad set of valuable skills that helped differentiate me from my peers later on in my career.

I joined a luxury department store chain in 2013. It was an exciting opportunity to help establish user experience as a new discipline for the popular retailer with a growing e-commerce platform. For the first time in my career, I was working on a single product suite with a team of designers at a large organization. As I grew into a leadership role, I became more confident in my abilities and learned how to drive transformational change within a corporate structure. I was also introduced to the philosophy of servant leadership during my time at this company, of which I'm an advocate to this day.

I moved to Austin, Texas, to join an online marketplace for coupons and deals in 2019. My role was to support a growing team of designers, establish a strong design culture, and deliver impactful changes on an aggressive schedule. Within the first year, my team redesigned the complete product suite, which put the company on a new growth trajectory and played a significant role in its 2020 acquisition. This opportunity challenged me in new ways and helped me grow into a stronger people manager and business leader.

These experiences have led me to my current role at Rue Gilt Groupe. Each one has shaped who I am today and compelled me to push through self-doubt and self-imposed limitations.

What is your current role and responsibilities?

I'm the VP of Product Design at Rue Gilt Groupe. Rue Gilt Groupe is a leading off-price eCommerce portfolio company that operates three complementary sites: Rue La La, Gilt, and Shop Premium Outlets. I joined the company last year to establish an influential user-centered design, research, and writing discipline. I'm excited to be part of the leadership team focused on accelerating the company's growth by connecting with customers and supporting top talent. My day-to-day activities consist of helping my team navigate design challenges, identifying opportunities for the product, promoting our discipline throughout the organization, and connecting with our customers to gain insights. I love my role at Rue Gilt Groupe because there's a ton of opportunity to influence and significantly impact the customer experience. 

For people who are looking to be in a similar position, what advice would you give to others in terms of helping them achieve their career goals?

As a leader in the design industry, I believe it's essential to understand your craft and stay curious. We are in a quickly evolving field, and I think people do themselves a disservice when they become too comfortable. It's also imperative to be kind and respectful inside and outside your professional life. Relationships matter. Positive relationships do more than grow your network; they improve the quality of your work and your day-to-day life by making collaboration more efficient, enjoyable, and ultimately more rewarding.

What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work?  What’s the most challenging?

I love demonstrating the power of design and bringing people from other disciplines into the creative process. I've led multiple companies through design transformations at this point in my career, and the first phase is always focused on building trust. You need to inspire your colleagues to innovate and push past established norms, which can be challenging because there are many different personalities, agendas, and working styles to navigate within an organization. I've successfully built trust by bringing cross-functional partners into the creative process and working with them to create an inspirational vision that we can work toward incrementally. Getting in a rhythm of incremental delivery is when the magic happens. The organization begins to see how gradual design changes can dramatically impact the customer experience and business, and they want more. There's a dopamine effect when a new design, feature, or copy change goes live, and the numbers start to climb in the right direction. When I see that shift happen and people within the organization begin asking for more design and user research, I'm reminded why I love this industry so much. It is incredibly impactful and rewarding!

What is your proudest professional accomplishment?

If I had to choose one, I would say I will always be proud of my work on the e-commerce platform of the luxury department store chain. When I joined the company, it was funding major renovations to the retail stores, but there was little investment behind re-envisioning the e-commerce space, which was lagging behind the competition. I initiated and drove an effort to demonstrate the importance of modernizing our customer-facing, digital experiences, resulting in full funding for redesigning our digital product suite. This redesign generated significant wins for the company year over year. A future-thinking concept from the initial board presentation also evolved into a product, which was a big success.

I look forward to leveraging my learnings from past experiences like this one and making a significant impact at Rue Gilt Groupe. I believe the best is yet to come!


Q&A

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I'm very interested in health and wellness and I’m currently studying nutrition. I think it's remarkable how seemingly small changes we make to our lifestyle add up and have the potential to transform our health. I also highly value the time I get to spend with my family. My husband, son, and I have a very close bond and enjoy exploring new places together.

Nicole Hildenbiddle RGG

How do you manage stress?

Poor relationships are a significant source of stress in the workplace; therefore, I prioritize building positive relationships with my team and colleagues. I also make time for a walk each day and practice breathing techniques to reduce anxiety. The power of breath is impressive! Here's a good book recommendation on the topic: Breath The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor.

How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?

I don't drink coffee. I gave it up two years ago when the pandemic started because I noticed it triggered anxiety, so I now opt for caffeine-free herbal teas. My new favorite is a Lavender Mint blend by RISHI teas. You can still find me in coffee shops though because I like the ambiance, and my son is a hot chocolate connoisseur. 

Any book or podcast recommendations?

Two books that shifted my perspective recently are Atomic Habits by James Clear and Untamed by Glennon Doyle. My team is also reading Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek right now, and I'm enjoying it.

Do you have any open roles?

We have a Product Manager role on our Business Intelligence team open right now, and our Engineering organization has several open positions as well. It is an opportune time to join Rue Gilt Groupe because it's on an exciting growth trajectory, and there's a strong appetite to innovate and improve the customer experience.

What advice do you have for recent college graduates?

There's a Martin Luther King Jr. quote that I revisit, which is: "You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step." I felt so much pressure to have it all figured out when I graduated college, but there was no way I could have foreseen how my journey would unfold. Each step introduces you to new people and opportunities, so forget about the five-year plan, focus on the now, and take your first step. The steps will build upon each other organically, and one day you will be looking back on your life from a new vantage point and appreciate all the twists and turns. 

About the
Company

Rue Gilt Groupe (RGG) is the premier off-price e-commerce portfolio company comprised of Rue La La, Gilt, Gilt City, and Shop Premium Outlets.

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Lead(H)er Profile - Amory Wakefield, Chief Product Officer at Hydrow banner image

Lead(H)er Profile - Amory Wakefield, Chief Product Officer at Hydrow

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Our Lead(H)er series features impressive women leaders in the tech industry. In this Q&A, we are featuring Amory Wakefield, Chief Product Officer at Hydrow


Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?

I grew up in Orange County, California. I was (and am) an intensely curious person as a child, interested in the ‘why’ of things. I loved school, as well as books, swimming, and playing volleyball.

What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school?

I went to MIT, where I started out believing I wanted to be a scientist and ended with a Masters in electrical engineering and a minor in physics. My first job was at Texas Instruments designing pressure sensors for the automotive industry.

Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?

My career at TI was pretty typical of a large company. I was identified as a potential leader and within 5 years was managing the largest new product launch in my division. Two years later, I was managing a team of people in ‘marketing,’ which at the time was responsible for long-term strategy, revenue forecasting, and identifying growth opportunities for the business. I was the youngest, and only woman, on the strategic leadership team for our global automotive business. 

While successful, I became less happy with the intense pressure and focus on financial results and began to look for a different industry and company culture. I re-evaluated how much of my life I wanted to commit solely to work. That led to a big career change. I took a role at MathWorks as an individual contributor. I learned about software development. I found the mission-driven culture (beyond making money) to be inspiring and have sought that out ever since. My mentor, boss, and role model there, Brett Murphy, helped me match my skills to a career in Product, and my interests and curiosity to technology startups.

After leaving MathWorks, I’ve worked at four startups. I love the growth stage after a company has launched a product and has identified a target market and users. Hiring, developing, and leading product teams has been exciting and fun and is what I continue to do today.

What is your current role and responsibilities?

I am currently the Chief Product Officer at Hydrow. I am responsible for the hardware and software product roadmaps, product design and UX, and customer engagement. I like to think of my team’s top goal as making sure anyone who sits down on a Hydrow feels great about their experience. Here’s a picture of me on a ridealong with the crew that films workouts.

Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally?  Was it always your goal to be in this position?

Yes and no. The role of Product did not exist when I was in college, so leading product teams was hard to imagine. What I realized in college was that I was more drawn to the stories of successful technical business leaders than Nobel Prize winners, so ending up in a position of leadership in a technology company became a future I could imagine. 

For people who are looking to be in a similar position, what advice would you give to others in terms of helping them achieve their career goals?

When I was in college, I asked every professional woman I encountered about career and life balance. I was especially interested in balancing parenthood and career. I found as many different answers as there were women and learned there were hundreds of ways to  be a successful working woman and have other commitments.
I feel the same way about achieving career goals. There is no one path to achievement; there are hundreds

My best advice is that it is more important to enjoy the path than to reach the end of it. 

What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?

Empathy, patience, and a deep understanding of data. 

What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work?  What’s the most challenging?

Creating an environment where people can succeed is my favorite part of work. Whether it’s Hydrow’s members writing us about how an exercise routine and supportive community has changed their lives or a team member designing an amazing new feature, or someone finding a new solution to a problem, I delight in all the wins, big and small, of the people around me.
The most challenging part of work right now is the amount of change that comes with dramatic growth is a challenge for individuals, teams, systems and organizations. It requires constant adaptation and communication. 

What is your proudest professional accomplishment?

This question was the hardest to answer. I think it is that people who have worked for me would work for me again in a different organization–and several have! 

Are you involved with any professional organizations outside of the company? Volunteer work?

I serve as a Trustee of Cambridge Friends School, where I Clerk the Diversity Committee. I also have long been a member of IEEE, and have participated in many of their Women in Engineering conferences, as well as the Consumer Electronics Society annual conference.


Q&A

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I knit! Here are some of my recent creations.

How do you manage stress?

I knit! Or I work out on my Hydrow. I also play board games with my daughter and friends. I read all kinds of things.

How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?

1-2

Any book or podcast recommendations? 

I love the Reboot podcast for professional development.
The book Becoming A Manager by Linda Hill was one of the first and best things I read about the transition from individual contributor to leadership. For my role at Hydrow, Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg has been very helpful.

For fun, I like the Hidden Brain and On Being podcasts.

What advice do you have for recent college graduates?

Find a work culture that feels comfortable to you. You will do your best work when you feel a sense of belonging and connection to the mission and people around you.

About the
Company

This is actually not a machine at all.

This is a true human experience.

And it’s beautiful.

This is Hydrow.

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Lead(H)er Profile - Mary Kaufman, SVP Product at Takeoff banner image

Lead(H)er Profile - Mary Kaufman, SVP Product at Takeoff

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Our Lead(H)er series features impressive women leaders in the tech industry. In this Q&A, we are featuring Mary Kaufman, SVP Product at Takeoff


Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?

I grew up in Wethersfield, CT, the 5th of 7 children in a very athletic and competitive family.  That sense of competition spanned academics, athletics, and board or card games. My high school sports were swimming, gymnastics, and track & field - participating in sports was a big part of my youth.

Mary Kaufman Takeoff

What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school?

I majored in Engineering Sciences at Dartmouth College - because it’s a liberal arts college, I actually graduated with a bachelor of arts in Engineering!  I found that I enjoyed the entry level course in each of the engineering disciplines, but was less enthusiastic about subsequent courses, which made me realize I didn’t want to be an engineer.  So I got a job as a consultant, figuring that would allow me to decide what industries & types of jobs I enjoyed most.  I had done some programming in college and so joined Computer Partners, which had been recently acquired by CSC, to do systems consulting. 

Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?

I realized pretty early on that I liked being able to understand the business and their needs and help translate that to system needs.  I liked that more than solving the tough architectural or technical problems associated with implementing a system.  So that put me on the path of business analyst or business architect as we called it in those days, and eventually included more management consulting type work.  

I remember the first supply chain-related project I was on - it was like a light bulb went on and I was just so intrigued and enthused about how computer systems can completely transform a physical operation like warehousing & distribution.  Compared to a financial services project I had been on earlier, it just felt so real, so tangible and impactful.   And as I continued in my career, I’ve found that working with operational products is more appealing to me than consumer-facing products.  

The final inflection point was joining CSN Stores, which then became Wayfair.  I found the thrill of working at a startup - no bureaucracy, nobody who is just “punching the clock” - just a fun, fast-paced environment with a little bit of chaos thrown into the mix, and building something that everyone believed in.  I was hooked from the start. 

What is your current role and responsibilities?

I currently head up the Product organization at Takeoff Technologies. Our solution provides retailers with the most cost-efficient way to fulfill their online grocery orders, using automated, hyperlocal  Microfulfillment Centers.  The product team listens to clients, keeps a pulse on the industry, partners with our operations teams who are working to drive success at clients, and works with our engineering team to bring continuous improvements to our solution.  

Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally?  Was it always your goal to be in this position?

This position didn’t really exist until somewhat recently - along with the Agile methodology came a new type of role so I certainly didn’t aspire to it!  

To be honest, after spending 15 years in consulting, and much of that time on the road, I was well and truly burned out by the time my first child was born.  So I actually thought at that time that I was retiring to be a full-time mother, never to go back to the workforce.  And I spent 7 years in that occupation.  But when my younger child started school, I realized I missed exercising that part of my brain and the feeling of professional accomplishment so I looked around for a local company and found Wayfair.  It was serendipity that I happened upon them and it was definitely the most rewarding chapter of my career to date. It also led to my move to Takeoff Technologies as I was recruited by a former colleague.  So I think I’ve been lucky more than planful in my career. 

For people who are looking to be in a similar position, what advice would you give to others in terms of helping them achieve their career goals?

Get comfortable with data - be able to pull your own data & do your own analysis.  Zoom out occasionally to make sure you understand how your work is aligned to your organization’s objectives & strategy.  Make sure you take a step back and articulate to yourselves & others why you are building something and how you will know if it’s successful.  Finally, get good at saying No but in a way that convinces people that No is the best answer at this time - prioritization is everything in product.  

What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?

Communication skills are crucial - both listening and then translating what you’ve heard to other audiences and then circling back to replay.  It took me a while to learn that you can’t over-communicate as a product manager.  

What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work?  What’s the most challenging?

When I was growing up and we would talk about professions, my dad always said that the most important thing, more than money or prestige, was that you enjoy what you do at work.It was such great advice, and I’ve kept that forefront in my mind as I reflect on changes I want to make in my career.  I find that working with a small team, using data to get insights & figuring out how a product investment can help solve an operational problem is what gets me out of bed in the morning.  Several times in my career, I’ve ended up in a place where my team & area of responsibility had grown to be so large that I felt disconnected from the problems they were solving and as a result felt less fulfilled by my job.  At that point, the ego and external forces are telling you that you should be striving for more & bigger but I recognize that it doesn’t make me happy.  So each time, I’ve swallowed my pride and taken a portion of my remit and spun it out to somebody else.  In many cases, it’s been somebody on my team who I’ve seen grow & become ready for the challenge, and that’s been rewarding as well.  

What is your proudest professional accomplishment?

There were so many at Wayfair and I feel so fortunate to have been part of that growth story. My team helped launch their Castlegate 3PL business along with the Wayfair Delivery Network.  Both were such audacious goals and we accomplished them so quickly - it got me hooked on the power of a small group of talented people to do amazing things.  That’s what ultimately attracted me to Takeoff; the desire to make an outsized impact with a small team of really smart people, and to have fun doing it.  

Are you involved with any professional organizations outside of the company? Volunteer work?

Pre-pandemic I was more involved in CSCMP and Boston Product Managers Association, but I find I have limited appetite for virtual events after spending all day working remotely.  When my children were still in elementary school, my husband and I were active in volunteering and supporting their school in various ways.  


Q&A

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I picked up tennis several years ago and I’ve really enjoyed playing recreationally and on a USTA league team.  It's one of the only sports I’m still getting better at.  My husband and I snowboard and our kids ski, so we try to do that a few times a year though not as often as we used to.  And we’ve always enjoyed playing cards & board games after dinner - I’m amazed that as teenagers my kids are still enthusiastic participants.

Mary Kaufman Takeoff

How do you manage stress?

Exercise, games, reading, and crosswords are all stress relievers for me - any activity where you need to be present and focus helps to destress.  I also love taking my dog on long walks in the woods.  Getting in some cardio while being out in nature is the best medicine. 

Mary Kaufman Takeoff

How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?

Usually 2, but each is about half skim milk.   When it’s summer and I’m drinking iced coffee, I am tempted to sip all day long but I have to stop myself after about 2pm because then I don’t sleep well.  

Any book or podcast recommendations? 

I’ve been in the same book club for 20 years and we’ve read so many great novels - a recent favorite was The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo.  During the pandemic I started to listen to podcasts during long walks or runs.  I always enjoy RadioLab, Freakonomics Radio, and The Future of Everything (Stanford Engineering). 

What advice do you have for recent college graduates?

Find a job that sounds interesting to you and see where it takes you.  Remember the job you will love 20 years from now might not exist today so just build your skillset out and learn as much as you can.  So many career opportunities come from people you know or have worked with in the past, so keep in touch with those people you’ve enjoyed working with. 

About the
Company

Takeoff is helping grocers thrive in eCommerce.

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Lead(H)er Profile - Nandini Karkare, VP of Sales Operations at EDB banner image

Lead(H)er Profile - Nandini Karkare, VP of Sales Operations at EDB

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Our Lead(H)er series features impressive women leaders in the tech industry. In this Q&A, we are featuring Nandini Karkare, VP of Sales Operations at EDB


Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?

I grew up in a small town called Kolhapur in India. My parents chose to be in Kolhapur because they wanted to offer their services as doctors to the community versus moving there due to family ties. As a young family, my parents relied on that community, as well as their friends, to help them raise us. All these wonderful people became our family, and we built friendships that, to date, are important connections in our lives.

As a child I loved making friends. Academics was something that happened on the fly. Theatre, cultural programs, and my friends always came first. But to be honest, I always did rank first in class if the ranks were published in a descending order!

Nandini Karkare EDB

What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school?

I studied psychology in college and my first job had absolutely nothing to do with my academic pursuits.

I was married even before I graduated. My then husband’s work would have had us living in places with a flourishing tourism industry. I pivoted and decided to get IATA (International Air Transport Association) certified, and after six months of knocking on doors, a travel company, Travel Corporation of India (TCI), took a chance on me. This was in 2000. If you, dear reader, have ever flown into Goa airport (India) I may have been holding a placard to greet you! Maybe we’ve met.

Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?

With my grades not being anything I would want to talk about, being a homemaker was probably what I would have bet on to be my long-term goal if I had been looking from the outside in. As I settled into my married life, my restlessness started to become apparent. Looking back, it would have been easy to choose being a stay-at-home wife and later a mom, but I could not give up on trying to find employment that was right for me. This was the first critical moment in the trajectory of my career. 

Although I was loyal to the company I worked with at the time, I felt compelled to look for jobs outside of the travel and tourism world. In 2006, I applied and was hired for a role leading a small sales team for a life insurance company (ICICI Prudential). Saying yes to something I had never done before was probably my second critical moment. That’s because if I wanted to work in another industry I would have to be willing to learn on the job. I realized that I was ok with that discomfort. 

A few years later, having already pivoted once, an opportunity came up to work with EDB. Saying yes, although scary, was not an entirely new experience.

All along the way, I have had incredible mentors, and I am grateful for all the people who took a chance on me - bosses, colleagues, teammates and most importantly friends - and who saw something in me that I could not see. 

In all of this, the willingness to say yes to work I had never done before was probably the most critical thing that has shaped my career.

What is your current role and responsibilities?

I lead the Sales Operations and Financial Planning & Analytics teams at EDB. EDB is an open source innovator and the leading contributor to the database, Postgres. My team’s mission is to enable EDB’s growth through increased sales efficiency and data-driven decision making.

Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally?  Was it always your goal to be in this position?

No way! I often reference the game Snakes and Ladders because I find a deeper meaning in that game. All you need to do is keep rolling the dice because, even if the snake brings you down, there is a ladder waiting for you to climb up. It is always a few steps forward and a few steps back, but you are on the board and in the game! C’est la vie!

For people who are looking to be in a similar position, what advice would you give to others in terms of helping them achieve their career goals?

Don’t be afraid to pivot and experiment. There is never just one way to get to a destination. Pick the one that you think best suits you and show up. 

Also, to be effective in my field, you need to become skilled at simplifying business problems. People often come to my team with requests to solve what can appear on the surface to be complicated math problems, which can seem big and scary. But usually, it’s not a math problem, it’s a business problem that needs to be simplified. You need to think about what the intent is behind the request. It helps to draw from your personal experience so you can come up with an analogy. For example, Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) is an important concept for a subscription-based business like ours. But you can think about it this way: you offer a monthly news service through an app. Customers subscribe to your app, and as long as the content is good, they’ll keep paying a recurring fee month after month. Now, you can upsell that customer if you, say, add “premium” content, but you’ve also built a base, which gives you a stable foundation to go out and find new customers too. You’re not always starting from scratch trying to find new customers.

What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?

In addition to the problem solving skills I mentioned earlier, operational excellence and business forecasting are both fairly vast topics without clear guardrails. What has helped me in solving problems is taking a step back to understand the big picture and goals and then diving into one area to improve - aim to get 1% better each day. Also, the work I do is not the job of one person or team, so cross-functional collaboration is critical. Cultivating an environment where each person feels safe to ask questions and feels ok with saying “I don’t know but let me find out,” is a crucial priority for us at EDB

What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work?  What’s the most challenging?

My biggest reward will always be watching how the work we do at EDB impacts people’s lives and the capacity I have to give people chances just like someone once gave me. 

Also, EDB has over the years since I started working here, grown exponentially. We have built a truly global environment with team members in 30+ countries who are unified by a commitment  to improve and contribute to the Postgres project. 

We also know that building personal connections is important for respecting each individual and creating strong teams. The inability to meet in person during the last two years due to the pandemic has required additional effort on the part of the company to forge and encourage these connections. We are constantly striving to find new virtual venues that allow each of our employees to share little snippets of ourselves outside of the work we do. 

Nandini Karkare EDB

At EDB Conference Postgres Vision with Steve Wozniak

What is your proudest professional accomplishment?

My proudest professional accomplishment has been helping to build a team that has enabled EDB to be a hypergrowth company with a 30%+ YOY! It is a privilege to be part of EDB’s incredible ongoing success story!!

Are you involved with any professional organizations outside of the company? Volunteer work?

Not yet, but I aspire to. Thinking through these topics has inspired me. I'd love to be part of groups that encourage sustainable businesses, help young entrepreneurs set up their business processes to scale, or speak to young minds about taking a chance and a leap of faith to try something new.


Q&A

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I am a plant parent. I raise two tropical Bird of Paradise plants in cold snowy Massachusetts among many others in our apartment. I love taking care of them. On weekends, connecting with friends and family in different parts of the world keeps me busy. 

I am also passionate about sustainability and like to advocate for and research sustainable solutions that are right for our planet, like bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic!

I recently learned to read Tarot cards and am an amateur Tarot card reader.

And, I love doing absolutely nothing when I can. Being constantly on, managing a global team, strategizing to scale, and continuing to stay in hypergrowth mode requires recharging. Rest is essential, and I am an advocate of "bite-size" recharge moments and power naps. At the start of COVID, EDB launched “Wellness Fridays” so all offices and personnel in all countries could shut down and refresh. I think this is a great initiative and one that I take full advantage of. I encourage my team to do so too. I also strive to do no weekend work (or only planned weekend work when absolutely necessary). I cannot emphasize enough the effectiveness of rest and sleep for those running marathon lives and careers.

Nandini Karkare EDB

How do you manage stress?

I talk! I love having conversations and building safe spaces for those who are close to me. Through it all, I deal with stress by sound boarding, which allows me to resolve every unnerving thought and situation. I also love decorating my home, watching rom coms, going for walks and admiring nature, and allowing for empty brain space by doing nothing!

How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?

Let’s not go there! Coffee or tea…either one works.

Any book or podcast recommendations? 

I enjoyed listening to Michelle Obama’s Becoming, and Girl, wash your face by Rachel Hollis. Both are a good reminder to take one step at a time. 

What advice do you have for recent college graduates?

Be curious, ask questions. Sleep on it before you act or answer. And keep rolling the dice!

About the
Company

The world loves Postgres. If you work with developers or data scientists or anyone wrangling data, you’ll probably see a sticker with the tusks and trunk of the Postgres elephant on the lid of a nearby laptop. EDB has a lot to do with that.

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Lead(H)er Profile - Anupama Sharma, VP of Engineering at ALICE banner image

Lead(H)er Profile - Anupama Sharma, VP of Engineering at ALICE

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Our Lead(H)er series features impressive women leaders in the tech industry. In this Q&A, we are featuring Anupama Sharma, VP of Engineering at ALICE


Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?

“Class, we have a new student joining us today” describes my childhood in a sentence. Due to the nature of my Dad’s job, we moved almost every year. I lived in different states of India and in Bhutan and loved being in a new city and a new school each year. As a kid, it was very exciting to make new friends and learn new languages. There was a time when I could converse well in seven Indian languages and read and write in five of them. These initial years of travel fuel my passion for traveling and exploring different countries and learning about their culture and people.

What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school?

I did my Bachelor of Engineering in Computer Science from my home state of Karnataka, India. During that time, Bangalore (capital of Karnataka) was growing into the technology hub of India. This brought in students from all over the country to study and work here.  I had an enriching experience learning with a diverse group of students.  I came to the US to pursue my master’s degree. I completed my Master of Computer Science from the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD).  My first job out of college was as a software engineer developing medical informatics software for US Department of Defense and National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?

I started out as a Java Developer and grew to the roles of Tech Lead, Manager, Director and now, VP of Engineering. I have built high performing, global engineering teams to deliver strategic business outcomes through software innovation. I have always been curious, challenged the status quo, been an eager learner and never shied away from taking on more responsibilities. I love to focus on the big picture and take on end to end ownership of initiatives.  My leaders recognized these strengths in me and gave me opportunities to grow and succeed.

What is your current role and responsibilities?

As the VP of Engineering at ALICE, I lead the global Engineering, DevOps and InfoSec teams. ALICE is entering a new phase of its journey with its recent acquisition by ASG. The vision is to build a unified platform for all hospitality backend operations. This requires partnering with the Product Team to define and prioritize the business outcomes, along with hiring and retaining top engineering talent and focusing on automation.

Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally?  Was it always your goal to be in this position?

When I started out as an individual contributor, I didn’t imagine being in this role. Being an introvert, I thought I was not cut out to be a people leader. But as I took on the role of a technical lead, I started enjoying my interaction with the teams. I thoroughly enjoyed guiding teams, working closely with Product to translate business requirements to technical designs and delivering innovative solutions to our clients. I continue to grow as an individual and as a people & technology leader and cannot imagine any other role that is more gratifying. 

For people who are looking to be in a similar position, what advice would you give to others in terms of helping them achieve their career goals?

Be open to learning, be open to taking on new opportunities and challenge the status quo. Define your core values and ensure that your company’s values align with your own. Network and seek out guides/mentors from different functional areas of the company. Form a holistic view of the company’s goals and determine how you can make an impact. I recently heard a conversation with Indira Nooyi where she mentions that we should start preparing for the next level role – “observe 2 levels above you and see how they act and the maturity they show”.

What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?

Ability to lead the teams through change is an important skill.  Change is constant and everyone handles change differently. Guiding teams with openness, clarity, purpose and empathy is very critical for any leader. 

What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work?  What’s the most challenging?

Coaching and mentoring team members is the most rewarding and purposeful part of my work. I am very passionate about 1. building a highly cohesive, engaged and a motivated team and 2. recognizing talent and growing the next generation of leaders.The most challenging are the times when we are unable to retain talent. 

What is your proudest professional accomplishment?

One of my fairly recent accomplishments is building an internship program at one of my previous organizations. I set up a partnership with University of Dallas at Texas (UTD) to build a pipeline of talent into the organization. In the Summer of 2020 when most companies cancelled their internship program, I was able to guide the organization to pivot to a remote internship program. This was a huge success and the organization was able to leverage the interns to deliver some key deliverables. We were able to train the interns on coding best practices, automation and give them an incredible hands-on experience. I advocated to build a two-way partnership with UTD by encouraging the Engineering team to speak at Virtual tech talks hosted by the UT Dallas Computer science Outreach.

Are you involved with any professional organizations outside of the company? Volunteer work?

I am a member of the DFW-ATW (Dallas Alliance of Technology and Women). Until recently, I was a board member at Bold Idea, a nonprofit education organization which imparts computer science education (STEM) to elementary kids.  I continue to be an ardent supporter and champion to this organization and STEM education for young girls. I have been a mentor to kids teaching them coding through the Bold Idea mentoring program.


Q&A

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Spending time with my family, running and reading (both fiction and nonfiction).

How do you manage stress?

Running and meditation help keep me calm.

How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?

I don’t drink coffee, Indian chai is my source of caffeine.  2 cups of chai a day!

Any book or podcast recommendations? 

I highly recommend Radical Candor by Kim Scott and Dare to Lead by Brené Brown.

What advice do you have for recent college graduates?

Take risks, don’t be afraid of failure – raise your hand to take on new opportunities even if you are new to the functional area. These are great learning experiences.

Travel and explore different countries and cultures.

About the
Company

Actabl is the first integrated BI, operations, and labor solution in hospitality.

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Lead(H)er Profile - Maayan Arbili, Senior Director of Customer Success at Aqua Security banner image

Lead(H)er Profile - Maayan Arbili, Senior Director of Customer Success at Aqua Security

Open Jobs Company Page

Our Lead(H)er series features impressive women leaders in the tech industry. In this Q&A, we are featuring Maayan Arbili, Senior Director of Customer Success at Aqua Security


Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?   

I grew up in Jerusalem, Israel and moved to Boston in 2014. (Right in time for the worst winter on record – the weather only could improve from there.) 

As a child, I was outdoorsy and carefree. Times were simpler then! As I grew, I discovered a passion for aviation and wanted to be a pilot. I trained in gliding and aeronautics during middle and high school. When I joined the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) upon graduating high school, women weren’t allowed to be pilots, so I was unable to continue that track. 

A group of people posing for a photo with a dogDescription automatically generated

What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school? 

Following two years with the IDF, I went to Hadassah College Jerusalem (HCJ) in Israel to pursue a degree in Computer Science B.Sc. Unsurprisingly, there were few women who attended the program. 

While earning my degree, I started my first role as a Network Operations Center technician or NOC Operator. In Israel, it is common to start your first job while in university. 

The role was at a VoIP startup — a technology that was just emerging at that time. The company was small, but it was a vibrant culture, and I was working on cutting-edge technology. This experience gave me my first glimpse into innovation and entrepreneurship. 

Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today? 

In my last year of college, I moved to a new role with Comverse Technology, a flagship Israeli tech company. 

While very different than the VoIP startup, both organizations offered cultures with a sense of family and belonging. I was drawn to the mission and people. It’s very similar to what drew me to Aqua — the values and the team. 

I grew a tremendous amount during my 14 years with Comverse and progressed from a software developer to a software team leader to eventually a software project manager and then a senior program and project manager. My responsibilities expanded from strictly development to business-oriented strategic leadership.  Although I spent many years with one company, it was a dynamic, fast-paced environment, and my role was constantly evolving.  

In addition to the pivotal moments, I also think of the critical people who impacted my career path, and my mentors along the years. My mother had a significant influence. She is a strong independent woman, who balanced family and work. She was able to be very present in our household but also had her own path. She showed me that women can have their own career, and she inspired me to pursue all of my passions. 

A person standing next to a bicycleDescription automatically generated with low confidence

What is your current role and responsibilities? 

At Aqua, I lead the global Customer Success department and oversee a team of over 25 amazing CSMs (and growing!). Our team is responsible for the customer journey beginning at day one, focused on maximizing adoption and value in their goal of securing their cloud native applications and infrastructure.  

We have a 360 view of the customer’s experience and act as trusted advisors and advocates internally for Aqua’s customers. We partner with Aqua’s engineering and product teams and prioritize new integrations or features that are requested by customers. We see ourselves as an extension of our customers’ teams to ensure they are successful. In other words, we help amplify the voice of the customer. 

Aqua is maturing its customer success offerings rapidly, and I’m responsible for building our global team. We are expanding into new regions including Singapore, Australia, Europe and across the United States -— we plan to hire 15 ppl in 2022 (so check out our openings!).  

Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally?  Was it always your goal to be in this position? 

Not exactly. Customer success is still a relatively new profession that really emerged within the last 15 years.   

I was always drawn to roles that required collaboration with key stakeholders across multiple departments. I’ve also always had a passion for both the interpersonal side as well as the technical. Moving into customer success was a natural evolution. Each role I held throughout my career helped prepare and shape me for my current role. 

For people who are looking to be in a similar position, what advice would you give to others in terms of helping them achieve their career goals? 

I was the first Customer Success Manager at Aqua (I’ve been promoted 4 times since I was hired if it shows anything about the opportunity for growth at Aqua!). I can say that perseverance, hard work and the drive to learn is what’s helped me be successful. 

Those who are considering customer success need to enjoy working with people and see customers beyond the numbers. It requires dedication and a “do whatever it takes” mindset to help customers achieve their goals. 

I’d also stress the importance of investing the time to understand product, the market, and trends. This is the foundation for success. 

What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well? 

Grit and flexibility along with the right balance of technical and interpersonal skills. You need to be able to build partnerships internally and externally. 

Project management skills are also essential. You must be detail oriented but also strategic and able to see the bigger picture to set goals (and work backwards to achieve those goals). 

What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work?  What’s the most challenging?   

I love being a part of a company that is growing so quickly (aka a high growth unicorn!). I can see firsthand how my contribution has a direct impact on the company’s success.  

A challenge I face, like many in cybersecurity and tech, is hiring in a dynamic and competitive market. We are extremely focused on retaining talent and nurturing professional growth within the company. I think this is unique differentiator at Aqua that is helping set us apart. 

What is your proudest professional accomplishment? 

I left my role at Comverse after 14 years to move to Boston with my husband, three boys and our dog. We left our family and friends for a new city and new careers. When I landed my role at Aqua, it was my first role in customer success, and I embraced the opportunity. I spent weeks learning the market and the technology and simultaneously understanding our customers and their needs.   

I built a new “Aqua” family in Boston and at the same time built the company’s first customer success team from its inception to a robust program with 28 people today. The opportunity to drive the processes and create the programs have been very rewarding. We continue to listen to customer feedback and are always evolving and improving. It's really exciting! 

Are you involved with any professional organizations outside of the company? Volunteer work?   

I participate in executive MVP customer success forums, and I volunteer with both the Israeli Scouts and the Israeli American Council Community Leadership Forum. I also act as an internal mentor within Aqua. 


Q&A

What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

I am very active and a bit of a workout junkie. I enjoy a range of activities including yoga, soul cycle, lifting, rowing, biking, running and triathlons. I love the outdoors, the beach, hiking with my boys, dogs and husband and also traveling. 

I also like to carve out time for healthy cooking and baking as well. I am proud to say I just won the first annual dessert contest at Aqua with my mini tiramisus!   

How do you manage stress? 

See above! Being active is my secret. 

A group of people in a body of waterDescription automatically generated with medium confidence

How many cups of coffee do you have in a day? 

Too many to count. More than 3 — we'll leave it at that. 

Any book or podcast recommendations?

I like to listen to Customer Success podcasts. One in particular I like is Planhat:  

https://www.planhat.com/tags/podcast/ 

I read a lot of leadership books and anything related to well-being and health. 

What advice do you have for recent college graduates? 

  • Start networking as early as possible. You never know where opportunities will come from! 
  • When the time comes for an interview, preparation is key. Put in the effort, it will show.   
  • Lastly, don’t settle. Take the right role where you are happy, challenged and find the right cultural fit.   

I understand it’s competitive as a new graduate, but look for companies that welcome young, emerging talent. Aqua for example has an associate, entry-level program where we take recent grads. This has been really successful for both Aqua and the incoming talent. Hard work is acknowledged and rewarded, and these team members are moving up the ladder quickly. 

About the
Company

Aqua Security is the largest pure-play cloud native security company.

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Lead(H)er Profile - Christina Nelson, VP of Sales at NuvoAir banner image

Lead(H)er Profile - Christina Nelson, VP of Sales at NuvoAir

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Our Lead(H)er series features impressive women leaders in the tech industry. In this Q&A, we are featuring Christina Nelson, VP of Sales at NuvoAir


Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?

I grew up on a farm in Kansas. From a very early age, I was helping out with the farm and learning about the value of hard work. I spent the majority of my time outside hiking around the farm and caring for my own herd of animals. I went to a very small school (graduating class of 30 students!), so there were many opportunities to participate in every club and sport. I participated in every sport at some point and most of the clubs! I took on leadership roles early including being president of my 4-H club and student council. I also helped found the FCCLA Kansas Peer Education teams. 

What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school?

I’ve always had a strong interest in service and non-profits and studied public relations in the school of journalism and communications at Kansas State University. I was very much interested in public service at a community level. Unfortunately circumstances didn’t allow for that dream just yet. After college, I started my career in inside sales in Chicago at CDW. 

Christina Nelson NuvoAir

Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?

The biggest breakthroughs in my career came from being intentional and aligning with my personal mission. In the beginning of my career, I took opportunities that were interesting and moved me forward, but about a decade into my career I realized that I was successful, but I wasn’t fulfilled by my work. I hired a career coach and worked for a few years on my next steps. During that time, I was able to advance within my current company to a role that I found interesting and start to work on my long term plan. Interestingly enough, my long term plan was very much aligned with my original goal of working at a community level. It just looked a little different. With a background in care management, I saw the opportunity to modernize healthcare access in all communities, rural and urban, through technology to allow access to more people in need. Once I set my sights on digital health, I did research and gained new skills until I was ready to make the move at one of my targeted companies. I aligned with a role in health plan sales and Omada and was able to gain so much from the people there. My move to NuvoAir came unexpectedly, but the opportunity to continue my mission in digital health by launching the brand in the US, while building a team and working in a startup couldn’t be passed up. 

What is your current role and responsibilities?

I am currently the Vice President of Health Plans at NuvoAir. NuvoAir is a person-first, relationship based virtual care platform that proactively monitors and manages members with chronic respiratory conditions such as COPD, asthma and cystic fibrosis to flag deterioration risk and improve care. I was brought on to launch our digital health program in the US. I am responsible for sales strategy and execution. I have a small team, which will continue to grow as we scale the business. 

Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally?  Was it always your goal to be in this position?

It depends on how far I look back! When I started my career, I couldn’t have imagined I would be here, but over the past decade I have definitely been working toward this place in my career. Particularly, I knew I wanted to be in a strategic sales leadership role in a company that helps provide care to those that might not otherwise have access. I have always been drawn to developing talent and expanding worthwhile causes.

Christina Nelson NuvoAir

For people who are looking to be in a similar position, what advice would you give to others in terms of helping them achieve their career goals?

I’d start with just that -- set goals. I can’t stress enough the value of setting clear and measurable goals that align with your personal mission. Don’t be tough on yourself around timelines and don’t be afraid to change your goals and your knowledge grows, but do hold yourself accountable for making incremental progress along the way. Reach out to others for help and advice. Most of us in these positions had help getting here and are more than happy to provide counsel. Also, don’t be afraid to hire a career coach! They are by far the best option to help you focus and, most importantly, to give you objective feedback and help you stay accountable to you. 

What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?

Communication is key. It’s imperative to be able to provide a clear message around what needs to be done and more importantly why to both internal and external stakeholders. Keep in mind that communication is a two way street. To communicate expertly, you must first be a good listener. Also, don’t forget those soft skills -- show up on time, network in your industry, and be a team player!

What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work?  What’s the most challenging?

I love the idea that I’m playing a part in a pivotal shift in US healthcare. Technology has opened so many doors for people to be able to obtain care and improve their health at home. Growing up in rural America, I saw all my neighbors skip out on healthcare due to two to three hour drives to specialist care. Now, living in downtown Atlanta, I see different issues around obtaining healthcare such as not being able to take off work or childcare. Some of these problems can certainly be assisted by remote care. The challenge lies in awareness and adoption from those very people, as well as getting buy-in from health plans and physicians for access. 

Christina Nelson NuvoAir

What is your proudest professional accomplishment?

For me it’s not any large accolade or promotion along the way, but seeing those I’ve helped along the way. Whether that be someone I have mentored or led succeeding or a person that now has access to care due to my work. 

Are you involved with any professional organizations outside of the company? Volunteer work?

I represent NuvoAir through organizations like the Digital Medicine Society and the Digital Therapeutics Alliance. I also stay active in community organizations such as Junior League of Atlanta. 


Q&A

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I absolutely love trying out new things and having new experiences! It could be a new travel destination, restaurant, state park for a hike or taking a pottery class. I tend to be analytical at work, so love to stretch myself creatively in my personal time.

Christina Nelson NuvoAir

How do you manage stress?

I have spent a lot of time working on my meditation practice. My practice is easier some days than others, but it’s always there when needed. I consider it a superpower to be able to step away for 10 minutes, reset via meditation and go back to task.

How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?

Zero. I’m not a coffee person. I do, however, indulge in hot tea of all kinds throughout the day and will treat myself to a latte on the weekends.

Any book or podcast recommendations? 

I listen to The Daily by the New York Times. I love the deeper dives into current topics and the rundown of the day’s news. I also listen to a mix of industry and health podcasts with a good mix of my personal favorites like Brene Brown.

What advice do you have for recent college graduates?

Don’t be afraid to fail or just start over. You’re not stuck in one path just because of your major. Find your passion and go for it.

About the
Company

We envision a world where all people have the opportunity to manage and achieve better respiratory health.

Every decision we make starts and ends with patients. Our fully integrated digital solution is used by patients and their doctors, as well as clinical trials to help improve the lives of people living with severe respiratory diseases like COPD, Cystic Fibrosis, and severe Asthma. With proven clinical and economic outcomes, we’re one of the leading Nordic HealthTech startups with a global presence.

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