“Lace up your sneakers and race after your dreams,” preached Allison Ritter, creative director, IBM X-Force Command, keynoting the Women in Technology Summit (WITS) Mid-Atlantic last month in Washington, D.C.
More than 300 women in all aspects of technology and varying in age from tech newbie to seasoned veteran applauded Ritter, as they met for two days to learn about new technology and connect with each other. They women learned how to better their own careers but also how to help their fellow women in tech and reach out to the next generation of tech women.
Like many of the women at the conference, Ritter loves her job. She came to the tech industry in a roundabout way, loving theater and then combining that passion with a formal education in computers. For IBM, she develops simulated cybersecurity attacks for companies and helps those companies figure out how to best respond to an attack. Companies come into her IBM X-Force theater to train, both techies and business staff (finance, HR, legal and PR). More than 3,000 companies have gone through her best practices lab and learn how to handle the adrenaline of a crisis and issue a coordinated response amongst departments.
She described how companies learn the OODA Loop, first showcased in military operations. “You observe, orient, decide and then act. And then, you do it all over again,” said Ritter.
That same technique can be applied to how you approach your career. Ritter urged the audience to push themselves and find their passions. “Ask yourself what you believe in, and find a company that you can believe in,” said Ritter.
After the keynote, speaker Theresa Caragol, founder and CEO of AchieveUnite, a professional training and coaching consultancy, spoke to attendees on how to grow their own personal brand and build their leadership skills. She said, “As women, we often focus on all the things we’re not good at it. Instead, identify your superpowers. Find your greatest strength and keep working on it. Then find one weakness – and only one – and improve it.”
For their careers, Caragol urged women to decide who they are and own it, know where they want to go and plan how to get there. Most importantly, write it down, she advised.
Echoing the sentiments of many of the attendees, speaker Genia Wilbourn, senior VP, global network operations and assurance, Verizon, kicked off the second day of the conference, saying, “Technology is changing the way we work, live and play, and I’m fortunate enough to have a front row seat.”
Wilbourn commented that with technology moving so fast, it’s scary to some people and needs our business culture to change in order to support it. Key to that change is to “set a tone of inclusion and inspect it all the way down your team.” She encouraged attendees to “invest time building relationships, foster confidence, encourage risk-taking, and reward and recognize talent. To empower people, lead with creativity and innovation.”
“Building the next generation of innovators must start in middle school. It’s become a passion of mine and my company,” said Wilbourn. As part of Verizon, she’s working to close the digital divide, equip students and teachers with technology, get kids engaged in technology and bring 5G technology to classrooms.
It was an apt message for WITS, since net profits from the summits go to support TechGirlz, which develops fun and educational hands-on workshops to get middle-school girls interested in tech careers. A newly acquired program of Creating IT Futures, TechGirlz already has reached more than 15,000 girls across the country and is on target to reach 20,000 by 2020. So, by attending WITS, not only are women learning more from each other, but they’re helping to get more girls exposed to tech.
Midwest WITS was the first in five summits planned for this year, with the next coming up in Chicago on May 3. Tickets are already almost sold out for the Chicago event, but there’s still room at the Denver and Raleigh events this fall. Register now so you don’t lose your chance at a seat.
To find out more about upcoming conferences, go to https://womenintechsummit.net/.