LST Honoree Speaker Series kicks off on International Women’s Day with Judy Spitz

Although it wasn’t planned, the fact that the first of our LST Honoree Speaker Series fell on International Women’s Day was serendipitous to say the least. The event was part of a run-up to the Leadership and Service in Technology (LST) Awards, an annual benefit for the Seidenberg School during which we celebrate outstanding individuals who best exemplify leadership and innovation in the tech field. This year’s award will be going to Suresh Kumar, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer at BNY Mellon. Tickets can be purchased at various levels for this fantastic opportunity to attend the reception, network with industry professionals and alumni, and support the Seidenberg School.

Judy Spitz is the Founding Program Directory of the Initiative for Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York (WiTNY). She received the LST award in 2012, when she was the Senior Vice President and CIO at Verizon. On Wednesday March 8, a crowd of over 100 students, alums, and friends from the Pace community got to hear an incredible interview where Judy shared the wisdom she has collected over an eventful career.

The event was introduced by Seidenberg advisory board member, Helen Altshuler, a senior engineering leader at Google, who remarked that “progressing in technology and making strides is a common goal for women and for men. The more people we can bring into this conversation, the more we can progress as a community.”

Progress was a key theme of the event. As Seidenberg student Niamh Fitzsimon opened the interview by asking about Judy’s career and advice for success, it quickly became clear that being open to different paths of progress is crucial.

“Don’t be so tunnel visioned,” Judy cautioned. “While you’re en route to doing what you want to do, there will be opportunities that come onto your radar and the key is not to be too rigid about whether it meets your checklist; whether you think it’s the right move. It’s a jungle gym, not a ladder. This idea where you’re going to get the next job then the next and the next in a linear fashion – that’s not going to happen. In a jungle gym, there are lots of different ways to get to one place. If some paths opens to you, move in that direction. You might end up having to turn back, but you’ll have learned something along the way.”

Words many of our extremely driven, motivated students needed to hear. When you are so focused on following a strict career path to get to where you want to be, you could become blinded to opportunities that offer an alternative route to the end goal – or even ones that take you somewhere else entirely, somewhere that ends up better than your original plan.

Judy also outlined her 5 steps to success. Given the 8 step plan offered by Amtrak CIO Jason Molfetas during his Big Data Innovator talk last fall, perhaps the first and foremost step should be “Come up with a list of steps”!

Judy Spitz’s 5 Steps to Success

1. Be a great storyteller

“It doesn’t matter where you are in your career,” Judy said, “Whether you’re at the beginning and you need talk to the people you work for about what you are doing and why it matters, or you’re middle management and it’s about collaboration with your peers, or whether you’re in a leadership potion and you need to motivate the people you expect to follow along, you’ve got to be able to tell a great story.

“Storytelling has a beginning, a middle, and an end. You get better by thinking about it ahead of time, finding a hook; that hook is how people follow along. And rehearse your story. There has never been one time when I’ve had to stand up and give a presentation when I haven’t rehearsed it beforehand, out loud. Just standing there and reading what you think you want to say is a cognitive process. If you just practice in your room beforehand, I guarantee you will fumble it.”

2. Think non-linearly but execute in a linear fashion

“See both the forest and the trees: you have to be able to stand back and get the big picture so you can get an idea of what matters and what doesn’t,” Judy said. By seeing the big picture, you learn which smaller parts are the most important and can execute tasks in a way that makes sense on both the minute and grand levels.

“However, you also have to be the kind of person who can go down to the minute letter and actually do the work.”

3. Have passion

“Passion is what drives you to go to work when you have reasons not to.”

4. Be accountable

“Don’t ask yourself ‘did I do what I was supposed to do?‘, but ask whether the project did what it was supposed to do. If you just think about your own performance, you’ll never get promoted. Ask people what you can do to help them.”

5. Have humility

“It’s never about you.” As close as you can get to a project, sometimes the decision you want to make isn’t always the right one for the project. Remember that it’s not about you, it’s about the work.

Continue reading part 2 of Judy Spitz’s interview here!

This was the first event in our three-event series, with the next taking place on March 22nd with Nicholas Donofrio, IBM Fellow Emeritus (Ret.) IBM Executive Vice President, Innovation and Technology, on our Westchester campus. The final event will be an interview with Austin A. Adams, Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer (Ret.), JPMorgan Chase, at our NYC campus on April 19th.

The LST Honoree Speaker Series is part of a run up to our annual benefit, the Leadership and Service in Technology Awards. Tickets are available now!

Part 2

1st year student, Niamh Fitzsimon returns to Google!

Niamh (pronounced: Neeve) Fitzsimon is freshman computer science and art (studio) double major from San Francisco. She’s Irish, and went to a small all-girls high school where she was forced to program in her freshman year. Niamh’s plan is to go into android mobile app development and work in Europe.

Friends from CSSI and Niamh, in a teacup at Google with an Android bot
Friends from CSSI and Niamh, in a teacup at Google with an Android bot

Q: This will be your second stint at Google. It can’t be just “Irish Luck” What’s your secret?

I am naturally an over planner which causes me to think a lot further into the future than most. Because of this I went on an extensive scholarship search during my senior year of high school and happened upon the Generation Google Scholarship. Applying for the scholarship meant automatically applying for Google’s Computer Science Summer Institute. Although I didn’t get the scholarship, I did get into the program. There I found out about the Engineering Practicum Internship, which I will be part of this summer. Honestly I was just shooting for the stars when I applied the first time, but I decided to put my doubt aside an just go for it. I think my “secret” to pass onto others is to ignore all the voices and apply for things. You have to tell yourself that the worst that is going to happen is nothing, and if you never applied it would be the same without the possibility of success.

Q. Tell us about Summer Camp at Google. How will this time be different? What are you looking forward to?

Last summer’s camp was days filled with classes, mentorship, and getting to know about the industry. It was only three weeks and included learning Python in a day and a half, thinking up and building an entire web application from scratch with a team in a week and a half, and presenting the application. The entire time was in Google’s Cambridge, MA office so I got to explore one of the Google campuses, but most of the day was spent in the same conference room. It was a wonderful experience and I learned a lot (You can find my team’s application at currentcssi.appspot.com).

This summer will be a completely different experience. First of all I will actually be working for Google, which means getting to work on one of their real teams on a real product and getting paid for it. The team I will work on, an internal Android app development team, is more in my specific area of interest. My team will be made up of full time Google employees, plus one other intern. I will be working at the New York campus, which is much larger than Cambridge. Besides the actual work I will have some computer science lessons and mentorship. Although the application I will be working on is internal, I am excited because people in Google will be using it. I am also looking forward to micro-kitchen access, nap-pod access (yes, they look exactly like the ones in the Internship), and meeting more computer scientists from outside of Pace.

Q. So is GOOGLINESS a real thing??

Googliness from what I have witnessed is teamwork. The employees work in teams and the offices have an open format, with each team basically sitting around a table. It is being able to have creativity and finding your own way to be productive. Googliness is wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and flip flops to work and having to worry about the Google twenty (the food is really good and free).

Q. You will be studying abroad later this year. Where are you going?

I will be studying abroad in Spring 2016. I am going to John Cabot University in Rome. I went to Rome on a pilgrimage the winter before I came to Pace and fell in love with it. I am looking forward to experiencing the Italian culture (and hopefully improving my Italian) and all the history Rome has to offer. I am excited to take a fresco painting course and an art history course that will have a trip to Pompeii. While there I will not only get to experience Italy, but also travel to different parts of Europe and experience the cultures (and the food) there.

I think every student should do a semester abroad at least once if they can, and if not at least do a summer or travel course. You get to learn more about the place (and the world) than when you go for a vacation. Hopefully you will also learn more about yourself. Even just being on the other side of the country from my home has taught me a lot about myself, I cannot imagine what I will learn while abroad. I like how Pace has events such as the Pace Path Live to expose students to the idea of studying abroad.

Niamh's ode to the Stars and Stripes - photographed and edited by her.
Niamh’s ode to the Stars and Stripes – photographed and edited by her.

Q. We saw you checking out the Ms. Marvel collection at Seidenberg. Big graphic novel fan?

Being a graphic artist myself I love looking at different aspect of design. Since I began art I have looked up to Andy Warhol and Banksy and more recently Fintan Magee (who I discovered through Buzzfeed: http://www.buzzfeed.com/simoncrerar/jaw-dropping-works-of-fintan-magee-street-art#.rwggV1KD6J), but the more I have gotten into the digital world I have appreciated the look of websites more. The websites with amazing graphics that move as the page does are my favorite. I am hoping to learn more about it in the Design for the Internet class I am taking next year.

Q. Tell us about the path you’ve traversed at Pace. How has it been different from everyone else?

My path at Pace so far has been mostly planning. When you take on two majors it takes a lot of planning ahead to fit all the classes needed in, and adding study abroad on top of that complicates things further. I have tried to keep a balance of CS, Art, and general education each semester. Because the two majors are so different my day is sometimes polarized, like walking into Mathematical Structures for Computer Science last semester covered with paint and my portfolio in hand, but I enjoy the balance it provides. I think my path at Pace hasn’t been very different than everyone else. If I had to point out one difference it would be that my exact plan was formulated early than most. Part of the reason I chose Pace was that I would be allowed to double major in two very different subjects and by the end of the summer I had solidified my decision to double major instead of just minoring in art.

“I will be attending Pace Path Live on April 25th. I am hoping to take away some new ideas to organize my time at Pace. Although I have planned out a lot I know there will be some curveballs and room for improvement in my plan. Overall, I believe it will be a fun and informational day.” – Niamh Fitzsimon, ’19, Pace University