Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?
I grew up in Western Massachusetts. I was a shy kid, studious, but also excited to see the world.
What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school?
In college I started with psychology, then switched almost immediately to pursue a B.S. in Communications, probably because I thought it was a means to travel. After that I travelled through Europe, and then tended bar in Harvard Square before taking a job in tech support for a small software company.
Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?
I didn’t intend to get into technology as a career, but I always had technically minded friends. I hung out in the computer lab a lot in college. I seemed to naturally align myself with the nerds (Turns out I am one), and that was the beginning of the dot-com era, so that made my entry into a career in technology very smooth and natural. In retrospect that was a critical turning point for me.
For 15 years, I wore all the hats there are to wear, tech support, IT, DBA, software engineering, etc., and then I reached a second critical moment when I turned to what I jokingly call “the dark side,” management. I discovered that I love managing engineers. As it turns out, I intuitively understand the world the engineer lives in, and I get a real thrill from helping them simplify their processes, being their champion, and explaining their challenges and successes to the non-tech world. Great engineers make great products, which make successful companies, so I feel genuinely honored to represent them.
What is your current role and responsibilities?
I am the Vice President of Technology at Forward Financing, responsible for the company’s overall tech strategy. That includes Product, Design, and Engineering all responsible for building our core products, as well as DevOps and IT Infrastructure.
Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally? Was it always your goal to be in this position?
No, and no. The short answer is I always aimed to work on interesting projects with interesting and smart people. The longer answer is: I didn’t plan anything, strictly speaking. I followed the path that was in front of me once I discovered what I was good at. It’s not that I didn’t make any conscious career decisions. Of course, I did, but I think, at the risk of sounding corny, it’s a little more soulful than that, less calculated. I get a great feeling from plugging the right solutions into the right challenges, or the right people into the right teams.
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?
First, I’d say, “Congratulations! You have goals!”
Joking aside, I think you have to do things for the right reasons. It’s easy to look at career progress as a linear path, but be warned, leadership is hard and not for the faint of heart and shouldn’t be pursued because it’s the “next step”. Seek out the challenges that light you up and accept where they lead you. Maybe you’ll climb whatever career ladder you think is in front of you, or maybe you’ll just work on a lot of stimulating projects and meet a bunch of great people. I’d say focus less on titles or prestige and more on interesting challenges. The rest will take care of itself.
What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?
I find that I do my job best when I have a team that trusts I have their best interests at heart. Key skills for creating that trust with not just those on my team, but those I work alongside are:
1) Listening - Hear what people are telling you.
2) Empathy - Put yourself in their position.
3) Curiosity - Learn from everyone around you,
4) Discernment - Make good, timely decisions.
5) Transparency - Show your cards, explain why you’re doing something, or why you’re making a decision.
What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work? What’s the most challenging?
I love being the conduit between technology and the rest of the organization, the one who explains and simplifies the technical details, the product and design decisions so everyone else around my team can get the maximum benefit from what we do. I also love guiding product designers and engineers through their own decision making processes.
The most challenging part of my work is integrating all the personalities into a coherent team, but that’s also super rewarding.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
There are three things: watching the careers of those I’ve managed, past and present, continue to grow, having people that have worked for me reach out to tell me how they used a tool I gave them, or they thought back to how I managed a situation when they find themselves in something similar, and finally, knowing I’m playing a small part in creating some of the best technical leaders out there.
Are you involved with any professional organizations outside of the company? Volunteer work?
I am a member of CHIEF, a women’s leadership group.
I also run a neighborhood exercise group, called Suffer Club - we meet early in the morning before the sun rises to get our workouts done and our motto is “We suffer a little more in the hopes that others can suffer a little less”. Every dollar collected to take a class goes directly to a local charity that the group designates. We regularly raise about $750/month!
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Running, hiking, paddle boarding, walking with the dog.
How do you manage stress?
Exercise and meditation. Spending time with my dog.
How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?
Two, in the morning and that’s it. I’d love to have a cup in the afternoon, but then I don’t sleep.
What's one of your favorite places in the Boston area?
I love to sit on the steps of the Institute for Contemporary Art in the summer and watch boats come in and out of the harbor. I love our local woods, where I walk the dog. And I love the North Shore beaches.
Any book or podcast recommendations?
I nerd out hard on podcasts!
If you want to be inspired as a leader, you can’t go wrong with "Dare to Lead with Brene Brown" If you only listen to one episode, I would recommend the episode with Abby Wambach and The New Rules of Leadership.
A lesser-known podcast that I totally geek out on is DarkNet Diaries with Jack Rhysider. They’re true stories from the dark web, wildly fascinating and also great for me professionally as I need to stay up on InfoSec trends.
What advice do you have for recent college graduates?
Probably a repeat of what I’ve said above. Focus on finding work that’s interesting and puts you in the company of interesting and smart people, the rest will come together.