No typical days: What 6 of Austin’s female tech leaders want you to know about the industry

by Katie Fustich
November 28, 2018

Women in Austin Tech

A mere generation ago, the idea of female coders, UX designers or CFOs would have elicited more snickers than applause. Today, women are making bold strides across the tech sector — and in Austin especially.

We recently caught up with six of the ecosystem’s leading women to learn about their unique experiences in the industry. They offered honest insights on current projects, assessments of Austin and invaluable advice for those looking to follow in their footsteps.

 

Allison O’Hanlon
Consultant

Headspring helps companies solve their toughest tech challenges by designing and building custom software. Consultant Allison O’Hanlon shared how the company’s ever-evolving projects are reflective of a culture based on growth and collaboration.

 

Tell me about your day-to-day work and responsibilities. What is your favorite thing you get to do on a regular basis?

From adding front-end features to creating a continuous integration and delivery pipeline, my day-to-day work depends on the project. The variability of my role is one of the awesome parts of my job, but my absolute favorite thing that I get to do on a regular basis is learn. Most days, that means taking on a new task that will push me to the next level, and I’ve been lucky to have awesome mentors on the team who are always willing and available to help me get there.

 

If you could go back to the start of your career, what advice would you give yourself?

I was able to pull a 180 in my career from marketing to software development because of an awesome coding boot camp — and a lot of late nights studying after work. I didn’t go into college thinking software development was even a career option, because I was such the stereotypical opposite of what I thought a developer was. I wish I started college knowing that code affects everything, and a career as a developer can open doors across industries.

 

How would you rate Austin as a city for women in tech?

In my opinion, Austin is an awesome place for women in tech. I’ve found that the Austin tech community is genuinely kind and collaborative — people aren’t hyper-competitive with one another. I feel like there are a lot of advocates for women in tech, from those implementing company initiatives to support women in the industry, to the many female mentors willing to contribute their time and knowledge.

At Headspring, I’m really fortunate to be part of an amazing women’s group, where I can candidly talk through my challenges with women I look up to and work alongside with. What speaks the loudest is that most days, I feel like a developer. Not a female developer. Not a girly-girl developer. Not a token for diversity. In Austin, I’ve discovered that sense of equality.

 

Kate Kolchier
Senior Product Owner

NSS Labs builds tools that advance transparency in the cybersecurity space. Senior Product Owner Kate Kolchier explained her passion for problem solving and revealed why Austin is her favorite place she’s ever lived.

 

Tell me about your day-to-day work and responsibilities. What is your favorite thing you get to do on a regular basis?

Each day I bounce around talking to developers, QA or DevOps or meetings with stakeholders. It’s my responsibility to make sure that the engineering team has all the information they need to do their jobs. I love staying busy and moving fast and having a new adventure every day. My favorite thing I get to do is solve problems. The satisfaction that comes from having a problem, digging for data, weighing all the options, making a decision, then seeing the problem get resolved is so amazing.

 

If you could go back to the start of your career, what advice would you give yourself?

Don’t be afraid to take chances. It’s okay if your career isn’t linear. If you’re feeling comfortable in your role, you’re not growing or pushing yourself enough. If you’re scared and feeling the imposter syndrome kick in, great! That means you’re pushing yourself to do bigger and better things. Always ask yourself: “What’s the worst that could happen?” In most cases, the worst that can happen is you feel a little silly, but no one else notices or remembers your “failures” like you do. Shake it off and let it go.

 

How would you rate Austin as a city for women in tech?

I’ve lived in Ohio, Phoenix, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and I love Austin the best. Austin has something for everyone. Outside of work, no matter what you’re into, we’ve got it here. Like being active? We’ve got loads of wonderful places. Like being social? There’s plenty of options to keep your calendar full. Like just hanging out with friends and chilling? This city is full of great people and pretty much everyone is new to town, so you’ll make friends in no time. Like getting together with other women in tech? Perfect, there are lots of great groups in Austin, including a monthly group I help organize: Women in Agile. We’re a group of Agile professionals who strive to provide a safe and supportive place to learn, network and grow.

 

Kinga Vajda
Director of Agile Practice Office

Social Solutions is dedicated to providing nonprofit organizations with the tech tools they need to succeed. For Kinga Vajda, the company’s director of Agile Practice Office, working for someone whose mission you admire is key to cultivating individual success.

 

Tell me about your day-to-day work and responsibilities. What is your favorite thing you get to do on a regular basis?

While I’d love to give you an exact answer, the truth is my day to day is always evolving. I keep my focus on coaching and facilitating agile best practices among my program managers and scrum masters. Simultaneously, I’m providing status and progress updates to our leadership team on varying projects and commitments. My favorite thing about working in the tech industry is that I am living out my passion daily, utilizing my creative abilities to provide workable solutions to obstacles my teams is facing or streamlining data into a concise, usable visual our leadership team can easily digest.

 

If you could go back to the start of your career, what advice would you give yourself?

Strive to work for a leader or mentor whom you respect and appreciate. Doing so will inspire you and encourage you to produce quality work you can feel great about. You will begin to strengthen your own voice and drive your career to new heights.

 

How would you rate Austin as a city for women in tech?

I think Austin is a phenomenal arena for women in tech. When I started at Social Solutions, I was actually a remote employee and I took the initiative to make the move to Austin. For any women considering Austin, my biggest suggestion is to network, get connected and find a mentor in the industry.

 

Claire Vo
SVP of Product

Optimizely helps companies innovate product and marketing experiences through their one of-a-kind experimentation platform. SVP of Product Claire Vo shared how this experimental approach keeps her inspired.

 

Tell me about your day-to-day work and responsibilities. What is your favorite thing you get to do on a regular basis?

I oversee product development, strategy and design, which means I look after our product roadmap and manage a team dedicated to making our platform the best in the market. I also help drive deep customer empathy within our organization. The best thing about my role is that I get to work with some of the brightest product managers I’ve ever met and see them build things that have a true impact on some of the largest businesses in the world.

 

If you could go back to the start of your career, what advice would you give yourself?

There’s no reason to make excuses for other people’s poor behavior. If people aren’t treating you fairly, and you feel it could be because you’re a young woman, you shouldn’t stand for it.

 

How would you rate Austin as a city for women in tech?

Austin is a very welcoming community where it’s easy to network. It’s slightly less competitive but more collaborative, so you’ll always find someone who is willing to help you. It’s also a family-friendly city, so women entering their childbearing years can easily balance a thriving career and a family life.

 

Datical is changing the way companies use databases by accelerating speed and increasing security. CFO Patti Soch highlighted the importance of working for a company that helps set you up to achieve your goals.

 

Tell me about your day-to-day work and responsibilities. What is your favorite thing you get to do on a regular basis?

I don’t have a typical day. I’m responsible for finance, accounting, HR, facilities and legal. I know that sounds pretty dry, but it is actually quite interesting. I’m either trying to help the company become more efficient, decide whether to invest in a certain area or become a more compelling place to work. I really enjoy working on customer deals with salespeople and interacting with our great team. Winning is important, but having fun while winning makes me happy.

 

If you could go back to the start of your career, what advice would you give yourself?

Life is short. Make sure you are enjoying what you are doing and the people around you. That is probably the biggest lesson that I’ve learned.

 

How would you rate Austin as a city for women in tech?

I think it is mixed. It comes back to the question above. There are many companies that create an environment where women can lead and excel. Datical is one of those companies. Women need to make sure that they are choosing a company that will allow them to meet their goals. It really is about the leadership and the culture. Whether you are in NYC, Silicon Valley or Austin, it is important to look closely to make sure you are joining a culture that will support you.

 

Tiffany Spizzo
VP of Global Partnerships and Business Development

Shopgate helps online retailers create top-notch, conversion-driving mobile experiences. VP of Global Partnerships and Business Development Tiffany Spizzo explained why Austin, and Shopgate in particular, is a great city for women in tech.



Tell me about your day-to-day work and responsibilities. What is your favorite thing you get to do on a regular basis?

My day-to-day responsibilities are centered around the ongoing outreach, relationship management and support of our partners. Comprised of best-of-breed technology providers and systems integrators, our partner ecosystem complements, extends and enhances the merchant and consumer experience on the Shopgate platform. The thing I’ve found most enjoyable about working in partnerships is the opportunity to build meaningful and lasting relationships with some of the best and brightest people in the e-commerce industry.



If you could go back to the start of your career, what advice would you give yourself?

Always be be open to new opportunities and strive for personal growth. It’s easy to get comfortable in any role or company, so always make sure to have clear personal and professional goals to work toward, and make sure you are in the right position and company to achieve those goals.  



How would you rate Austin as a city for women in tech?

We still have a ways to go with regard to women in leadership positions, but the number of women climbing the ranks is definitely on the rise. At Shopgate, half of our executive leadership team is made up of women. The number of female engineering students is also on the rise and with a large pool of leading colleges in the surrounding areas, like Texas A&M and University of Texas, the number of women in tech here will only continue to gain momentum. I speak from personal experience as a transplant here, and I love living in such a fun and vibrant city.

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