Keeping it weird: 8 leaders share what makes Austin unique for women in tech

by Kelly O'Halloran
April 18, 2019

Austin is no doubt a special place to live. The weather, the people, the music, the cost of living — pretty much everything but the traffic — makes this place our home. It’s a city where people lift one another up, embrace differences and shine light on new perspectives. It’s precisely this culture that has jolted Austin’s growth to the tech hub that it is today.

While Austin’s tech sector is renowned for the community’s willingness to help one another, it can still be tricky to build and grow your professional network, especially for women, given the industry’s dominant male population. We’ve connected with eight women from Austin tech to learn how they’ve flourished in the field.

 

opcity verionica verhoff
image via opcity

Opcity’s Director of Talent Acquisition Veronica Verhoff has thrived in her career partially in thanks to the professional relationships she has sought out. Acknowledging that it can be challenging to determine where to start when looking to grow your network of mentors, Verhoff offered some suggestions.

If your company doesn't have established groups that you can network with, consider talking to your employer about starting one.

What do you think makes Austin unique as a city for women in tech?

As Austin has grown into a tech hub over the years, so has the number of local opportunities for the general population. In parallel, companies have realized the value of having women work for their organizations. As a result, several businesses have taken the initiative to support female-focused groups that help develop and network with women professionals like Women in Technology, Women Who Code, and Breaking the Glass. It's common for Austin businesses to partner, sponsor, or co-host events with female-focused meetups and events in order to help their company attract women into their organizations.

 

Are there any local or company programs, networking events, or spaces that have helped you navigate your career?

I’ve found success by building strong relationships with coworkers or leaders within the company that I’m employed at. If there is someone further along in their career and I’m interested in collaborating with them, I will ask if they'd be willing to speak with me about their background and current role at the company. Most people will openly share their expertise and knowledge, especially if they enjoy what they do.  

Join pods or groups that are within your company. If your company doesn't have established groups that you can network with, consider talking to your employer about starting one. If you do not have any interest in starting one, another option would be to partner with your learning and development department to see if there is any program you could leverage that would assist with your development and relationship building.

 

godaddy women in tech
image via godaddy

GoDaddy’s Manager of Software Development Melanie Moy applauded Austin tech’s prioritization of a solid work-life balance. By working in careers with reasonable work hours, Moy and her husband are able to contribute equally to the care of their children.

When the work expectations of employees are reasonable, it creates a real possibility to have an equitable partnership with a spouse.

What do you think makes Austin unique as a city for women in tech?

Since Austin's culture is so laid back, it seems like work-life balance for both men and women is better in Austin than in other tech hubs. In places where work hours are long, one spouse tends to shoulder more of the non-work responsibilities. But when the work expectations of employees are reasonable, it creates a real possibility to have an equitable partnership with a spouse. I’m fortunate to have a husband that has a good work-life balance and can contribute equally to the care of our children and home-life; it allows me to be as dedicated an employee as he is.

 

Are there any local or company programs, networking events, or spaces that have helped you navigate your career?

I'm surrounded by insightful, thoughtful people, and I've always found their ideas and opinions to be a great catalyst in thinking about my career. In tech, most of our interactions revolve around code or architecture design, and we don't spend as much time talking about careers.  I've found that the best space for those discussions is casually over lunch, so I always try to eat lunch with coworkers or former coworkers. Most of the time you'll chat about things like the last movie you saw, but you'll always walk away with stronger connections and great nuggets of wisdom.

 

khoros meghan
image via khoros

Meghan Brindley Marriott described how the local mantra “Keep Austin Weird” has grown within the local tech sector and how it has impacted women in tech. The director of sales engineering for Khoros, formerly Spredfast and Lithium, also shared key initiatives within Khoros that promote professional growth in the workplace.

Women in our tech community not only support each other, but also go out of their way to cheer each other on.

What do you think makes Austin unique as a city for women in tech?

I am probably a bit biased because I grew up in Austin and have only worked in this area, but I have found that women in our tech community not only support each other, but also go out of their way to cheer each other on. It is that kind of advocacy that has made it more common to see women at every level of leadership. I also think that it stems from our city slogan, “Keep Austin Weird,” which has become the foundation of a community built upon acceptance and inclusivity. That attitude has impacted people from all walks of life, but I think it has especially impacted professions that have historically been gendered as “male,” especially in the technology space.  

 

Are there any local or company programs, networking events, or spaces that have helped you navigate your career?

I have been fortunate that my company invests heavily in providing opportunities to help its employees grow professionally. These programs come in a variety of forms including internal training programs, networking events and conferences. In my experience, some of the most valuable sources of growth have come from the amazing roster of female leaders that make it a priority to lead by example. Many of these women also participate in the Khoros Women’s Leadership Forum, which is a group that we created to empower our colleagues to share their experience, thought leadership and, of course, encourage each other in all of our professional and personal pursuits.

 

HEB tech office austin
image via h-e-b

At H-E-B, over 50 percent of its Austin-based technology team consists of talented women in product, design, and engineering, including Senior Director of Product Sushma Zoellner. Zoellner discussed how Austin companies hire for culture fit and talent, which has opened up more opportunities than ever before for women.

Austin's diversity in the talent pool creates opportunities for women leaders to mentor other women, opening doors that were previously closed for women interested in tech.

What do you think makes Austin unique as a city for women in tech?

Austin has a unique blend of top-quality academics and an array of technology professionals, from newcomers to seasoned veterans. This diversity in the talent pool creates opportunities for women leaders to mentor other women, opening doors that were previously closed for women interested in tech.

Many employers in Austin, like H-E-B, focus on talent and cultural fit when making a hiring decision. The advantage of this approach for women is a natural ability to connect with potential team members and foster collaborative environments that yield the best outcomes. Our company is also focused on hiring practices that are respectful and inclusive for people of all backgrounds.

 

Are there any local or company programs, networking events, or spaces that have helped you navigate your career?

In my lengthy career in technology — from starting out as an engineer to dipping my toes into sales engineering and then making my way into product management — I’ve primarily used the networks I’ve built along the way working at various companies. I understand not everyone has that option, but fortunately, Austin has a diverse set of women in the tech scene who’ve established organizations to fill this need and interact with the community including Austin Women in Technology, Texas Conference for Women, Women in Product, Fresh 2 Design, Rails Girls, Society of Women Engineers, and Girlstart.

 

bright health austin team
image via bright health

Amy Coughlin, Bright Health’s VP and data platform architect, used one word to wrap up what makes Austin special for women in tech: spunk. It’s Austin’s spunk that helps keep her from realizing she’s the only woman in a meeting full of people.

I focus on building relationships with current colleagues, as well as joining a handful of community gatherings.

What do you think makes Austin unique as a city for women in tech?

Austin has a cool, cosmopolitan vibe, smack dab in the middle of a state-wide culture that has historically valued resiliency, perseverance, courage, independent thinking and respect. In a word: Austin’s got spunk. It is a word with a positive connotation regardless of gender, and it represents character traits embraced and pursued by good employers, as well as highly successful tech workers — both women and men. In an industry where I am quite often the only woman in the room, I am rarely consciously aware of that fact, because spunk is contagious, and it overwhelms negative energy and petty bias.

 

Are there any local or company programs, networking events, or spaces that have helped you navigate your career?

When I conjure up an image of “navigating my career,” I get a picture of passing hand-to-hand through a square dance line of friendly faces. I don’t know why that comes to mind. I don’t even square dance! I guess that’s networking, Texas-style. Regardless, networking is making genuine professional connections with people you respect and admire. Unfortunately, events billed as “networking opportunities” are just too short to fulfill that goal. Instead, I focus on building relationships with current colleagues, as well as joining a handful of community gatherings, where richer connections can grow naturally. Then, stay in touch through LinkedIn, as well as at those “networking” events.

 

alertmedia ginger blacnkenship
image via alertmedia

AlertMedia’s Chief People Officer Ginger Blankenship praised Austin’s efforts to boost women’s presence throughout the tech sector through programs like GirlStart and GenAustin. Blankenship is one of many women leaders for Alertmedia, where women make up 46 percent of the leadership team.

My network is my North Star and how I have landed every job.

What do you think makes Austin unique as a city for women in tech?

You'll find talented women in all areas of tech in Austin, from engineering to sales to HR to marketing. There are women in leadership in all of these departments who then help other women develop their careers.

As a community, Austin strongly supports groups like GirlStart that focus on getting girls into STEM programs early, and GenAustin, which helps girls develop confidence and leadership skills throughout adolescence. More women are showing up in companies of all sizes. Larger companies have fully developed programs to recruit women and develop them into leadership roles, which is truly important. A nice addition to these efforts is seeing more women in startups, both as founders and early hires. At AlertMedia, 48 percent of our employees are female with 46 percent in leadership roles.

 

Are there any local or company programs, networking events, or spaces that have helped you navigate your career?

Women in Austin make a concerted effort to help one another. My network is my North Star and how I have landed every job. Throughout my career, I've built a network of trusted advisors and mentors. Starting with this network, I know I can call on people and get advice on just about any topic or issue that comes up. Groups critical to me in my role are the Austin HR High Tech Roundtable, HR Executive Roundtable, and the ATX HR Meetup.

 

aceable
image via aceable

Aceable’s VP of Learning Experience Emily Lawrence may have only recently moved to Austin, but she was quick to pick up on the value our community places on thinking differently. This position has led to some of Lawrence’s biggest wins in the workplace.

 

What do you think makes Austin unique as a city for women in tech?

To get an idea off the ground, three things matter: access, credibility and having an original idea. You need to find your way into the conversation, be credible and be confident enough to zig where others zag. At times, credibility and confidence have been defined by conformity: having the right pedigree and looking the part. But that pattern hasn’t served women well, and that’s where Austin creates opportunity.

Austin prides itself on being a place that sees things differently. Entrepreneurs here can lean into that to their advantage. I’m an MFA amongst MBAs, and I’ve had the greatest success when I’ve used my unorthodox experience to develop a novel point of view. Do your homework and then lean in to your difference. You’ll get noticed and be remembered.

 

Are there any local or company programs, networking events or spaces that have helped you navigate your career?

I’m a recent transplant — my family and I moved here from Boulder in August — and back in Colorado, I benefited from engaging with the Techstars community, through their events and by serving as a mentor. Involvement with incubator communities is a good way to stay energized.

The best career investment I’ve ever made was to work with an executive coach. I’m keenly aware of all the things I don’t do well, and working with a coach helped me recognize my unique strengths. I now focus on becoming even better at the things I already do well instead of beating myself up for my weaknesses. I get a lot more energy and career mileage out of this approach, and I’ve learned to surround myself with people who complement my gaps.

 

uipath austin team
image via uipath

A long time Austinite, Bojana Bowremon boasts a 20-year career in sales, sales management and leadership at high-growth tech companies and startups. Today, she is UiPath’s leader for the Americas velocity sales division. Bowremon shared how she has seen Austin change over time, specifically in the tech industry, and how her network of mentors prepared her for the most challenging career move to date.  

Always seek for those that inspire you and those that you can learn from.

What do you think makes Austin unique as a city for women in tech?

I have seen Austin reinvent itself numerous times. Austin is no longer just for engineers. Many large brands have moved their sales and customer service functions here, which has brought new jobs and talent. UiPath is no different, and when the opportunity opened up, I had to be part of it. I knew this would be the hardest job I have ever done, but I was up for the challenge. What prepared me for this endeavor, building a team to more than 60 people, was all of the mentors that I’ve encountered throughout the different stages of my career. Always seek for those that inspire you and those that you can learn from. You have to take chances and have the confidence to know that if it doesn’t work out, you have maintained your professional network, and another opportunity is always around the corner.

 

Are there any local or company programs, networking events, or spaces that have helped you navigate your career?

I spend more time on LinkedIn than Instagram. I belong to at least 10 LinkedIn groups relevant to sales organizations. If you are in a sales development or customer success, AA-ISP is a must. They have local chapters, and it’s a great source for networking and learning about innovative ideas.

 Capital Factory provides some great mentoring services as well as monthly events, like job fairs, networking events and user groups. If there is only one piece of advice I can offer it’s to never stop learning, never stop reading and never get to the point that you think you know everything.  

 

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