I’d love to start broad, tell us a little bit about who you are and how you came to be where you are now.
My path to where I am now was not a straight line. In my experience, that’s not uncommon for women or minorities in the tech space. I grew up in a single parent home. It was all girls in our household so there were no “boys jobs” or “girls jobs”, no gender specific roles. We all did everything because it had to get done. If there was garbage to be taken out or something to be cooked or cleaned, everybody shared the responsibility. It was a great way to grow up, it kept me from having limits to what I thought I could do. My mother was young when she had us, she didn’t go to college. When I went to college, I didn’t figure it out straight away. I was always a bright person but it took time to figure out where my superpowers were. I had a lot of interests, at first I was going to be a nurse, then a music teacher, then work in PR. I eventually found my passion for problem solving with regard to technology. I’m a hard worker and I found that when I leaned into something I could get good at it.
When/where did your passion for technology start?
In hindsight, it began watching my mom’s career. She was always good at fixing things and putting things back together. When she graduated with her GED and was looking for a job, she took an aptitude test for a job at IBM. They trained her to repair typewriters. She had a small territory she was responsible for, she carried a toolbox around and repaired typewriters for companies. As her career progressed, she moved into mainframes then printers and computers. That’s really where my interest began. It was my first glimpse into the world and possibilities of technology.
You’ve worked across several different functions in technology, from product to engineering to strategy, how has this experience informed the work you do now as CTO?
My experience across different technology functions has given me a beautiful breadth of experience as well as empathy for all the areas that people work in and the challenges those roles face. It’s also given me the opportunity to work with an amazing, diverse set of humans. Working with so many kinds of people has helped me understand the different types of people who succeed in different roles. One of my favorite things about being in this leadership stage of my career is finding where the people that I work with will thrive and helping them see it for themselves. I love witnessing the feeling they get when they realize they’re really good at something.
What kind of work are you doing now and what emerging areas do you see in your industry?
I’ve been the CTO of PhotoShelter for about two and a half years now. PhotoShelter is a digital asset management company that focuses on helping creative humans thrive. Right now, we’re really leaning into AI. I know that sounds kind of cliche, but it has been transformational for us. PhotoShelter helps companies keep track of their digital assets - specifically their visual content. For example, imagine a company that has billions of digital assets, and one employee is trying to find a specific picture. They know it’s there but they can’t find it. The old way of storing those assets would require having a human to physically tag the assets with metadata so that the photo can be found later via search technology. If that person mistypes or doesn’t tag the image correctly, you can never find the asset again. It just gets lost. At PhotoShelter, we recently launched our metadata-less search. Our software identifies all the subjects that could possibly be represented in the image. That way, our customers can use natural language to search for any asset whether or not there is a physical tag on it. Instantly, content becomes more discoverable, more usable, and our customers get more ROI from their content investment.
How do you mitigate AI-introduced bias?
It’s an interesting topic. We’ve put together a board to discuss this topic and establish rules and parameters for the industry. We operate as a very ethical company and work hard to ensure that there isn’t bias in our product. One way we’ve mitigated bias is not allowing searches for specific terms. Also, our customers are only searching their own assets so the input is controlled from the start. There is a lot of learning still to be done but I’m happy to have a seat at the table to drive ethical AI behaviors in what we do.
What advice do you have for others who want to make it to technology leadership like yourself?
Don’t be afraid to say yes to things. I was not looking for a job when PhotoShelter found me and I was really happy in my last role. It was the first time I had a C in front of my title and while I’m not super title driven, it carried a some “I made it” feeling. I was super proud to achieve that. This new opportunity found me because I leaned into self- promotion and celebrating my own wins more publicly, and learned not to feel bad about doing that. It didn’t come naturally to me, I’m definitely an introvert. I hate to say this, but when PhotoShelter reached out, I doubted that I would get the job. But when I give advice to friends or colleagues, I always tell them to just go for it. There is nothing to say no or yes to until an offer is made and you’re going to learn something new or meet someone great in the experience of going through the process. I took my own advice, I leaned into the interview process. Two and half years later, here I am.
What needs to happen to help more women and other underrepresented groups get into tech and stay in tech?
It is so important to be intentional about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. It sounds obvious, but companies are often rushing to fill an open role. With the weight of the work piling up, sometimes they just hire the first qualified person they can find. You really have to take your time to find a pool of diverse, qualified candidates. Diversity alone (without qualification) takes away from what we’re trying to achieve here, it’s not about putting a female in a role, it's about putting a qualified, kick-butt female in the role. To do this practice, you have to be thoughtful. I’m still learning how to do this, I don't think there’s one answer, I’ve experimented with different strategies. Companies need to take the time to look for diverse candidates.
How do you pay your success forward?
I try to pay it forward every day. With every new company, I've looked for ways to help. I've been a mentor, created mentorship programs, at one company, I created a speaker series to connect women leaders from other companies whether they were our customers or not. I try to help people see the opportunities they have in tech. In mid-stage growth companies in technology, every role has a tech aspect to it. You can’t sit in marketing or sales or finance and not know tech. There is no single space for tech, it’s everywhere.
How do you hire? What do you look for in people?
I look for someone who’s smarter than me in their discipline and different from me or the team. I also look for soft skills, communication, empathy, ability to work on a team. I enjoy working in smaller companies with a strong sense of community, it’s just a fun place to work and help people thrive.