Pace University alumna, Melanie Madera recently took on the new role of Community Manager of the Seidenberg community (aka, the glue of Seidenberg). Last year in May, Melanie began her new position at the Seidenberg School of Computer Science & Information Systems. Her journey from university student to community manager is full of hard work and determination!
She began her college journey at Pace University on the downtown New York City campus in 2002. As a commuter, she worked numerous part-time jobs in order to pay for her education, gaining experience at Nintendo as a Marketing/Sales Associate and at a non-profit assisting children in the foster care system. She went on to earn her BBA in Marketing with a concentration in Advertising and Promotions.
“I will always remember my time at Pace with fond memories,” Melanie notes. “I still get a pang of nostalgia whenever I walk the halls at One Pace Plaza. They were some of the best years of my life!”
Now, as the Community Manager at Seidenberg, Melanie has the opportunity to make the Pace experience better for new students. Asked what her role entails, she quips, “what doesn’t it?”
She handles all of Seidenberg’s New York City campus events and clubs, as well as managing the student assistants at the front desk. She also assists Dean Hill in organizing his schedule and calendar to improve his time management. Overall, she makes the Seidenberg community better by listening to and observing the dynamics of the office.
Melanie explains, “in general, I keep the office going, make sure the faculty is supported and, most importantly, I always make sure that we have coffee stocked in the kitchen. Gotta keep Seidenberg caffeinated!”
As for what she brings to the office—besides coffee and an overall sense of community—Melanie believes that she has brought both a sense of organization and transparency.
“My work experience here in the Seidenberg School has been one of the most productive and positive community environments that I have had the pleasure of being a part of,” she explains. “I have to say that the culture here at Seidenberg is unlike any other place I have worked at. I have experience in many work environments: start-ups, small businesses, non-profits, large corporations; but the sense of community and comradery here is really refreshing.”
While she notes marketing as her true passion, she is also “passionate about treating the [Seidenberg] space with respect and to value what [the community has], because [she] feels that it starts with one person; once people see how much care and time you take in making it a great place to work, they tend to follow suit.”
She uses the skills that she learned at Pace to better the community of Seidenberg. “When I have the opportunity to flex my creative muscle and take someone’s vision and make it a reality, it really is a wonderful feeling,” she admits.
As long as Melanie flexes her creative muscles as the Community Manager for Seidenberg, the lounge will always be a safe space for students and faculty. We’re thankful for all that she does for our community and cannot wait for all that she has in store for the future.
“I feel like I was destined to be a part of this team and it feels like I just fit right in; everyone accepted me and is thankful for my hard work and dedication,” Melanie notes. “Everyone here takes pride in their work and in helping students and it shows! I’m really proud to be here and definitely have Seidenberg pride!”
On Wednesday, November 14, Peggy Yao, the first Mandarin-speaking Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher in the Tri-State area, is coming to the Westchester campus for a Tech Collective Lunch and Learn on “Mindfulness for Professional and Personal Success.” Peggy will be on campus to meet students and impact our School’s community in a positive way.
Yao, an alumna of the Pace University, attended several classes in Pace University’s Lubin School of Business Masters of Business Administration program from 1979 to 1981. She used her learning experiences to grow a lifelong dedication to community service and charity. As an MSBR teacher in Chinese schools and senior centers, local libraries, and the Tzu-Chi Foundation—of which she is an active member—Yao has served the community with her approach on growing stronger personal physical and mental health.
This event comes at a perfect time as the stressful season of midterms has just finished up. Students will have the opportunity to dive into a conversation about mindfulness and mental health with Yao over food provided by the School.
The event will take place at 12:00pm on the third floor at the Goldstein Academic Center. Students will have the opportunity to network and chat with Yao in the Seidenberg lounge.
On Wednesday, April 25th, 2018 Seidenberg School of CSIS hosted Leadership in Technology – Pioneering Pace Pride, a technology and networking event with six alumni who were the first generation from immigrant families to go to college. The event was held at 165 William Street and was a great opportunity for our students to hear from and network with inspirational alumni. With six leading personalities in the technical industry, the discussion was compelling and Pace students who attended were privy to a fascinating perspective.
The event started with a warm welcome to all the six leaders from our Dean Dr. Jonathan Hill on behalf of the entire Seidenberg School. Over the course of the evening, each of our guests shared their life experiences, career stories, and as their memories of Pace University which was a great help and motivation to all our current students.
Here are our honorable guests:
Michael J. Lynn – Currently Principal, ARG* Oversight. Michael’s parents are basically from Ireland. They moved to New York when he was a child. Initially Michael was very much interested to pursue his career as a doctor, but due to financial problems in his family he decided against it. After that, he planned to become an engineer. However, during those days there were almost no jobs in the field of engineering, thus he quit this thought too. Michael finally decided to achieve his career in the field of finance and came to Pace University. He worked as a student assistant at the Pleasantville campus, graduated in 1978, and remarked that “Pace gave me lots of opportunities to succeed in the first ”
Dora Gomez – Currently Dora is a board member of ACFE, HTCIA, and INFRAGARD. Initially she lived in Ecuador with her parents and her elder brother. Dora believes in working independently and not relying on anyone. She too got admission to Pace University and loved the environment and the people she met. Dora worked two internships (one during the summers and the other in the winters) during her studies, through which she was able to pay for tuition and books herself. Dora Graduated in 1986. She believes in the thought “Work hard to get what you want.”
Tom Reynolds –Tom comes from Ireland where he is the eldest child among five kids. He was inspired by his father (who worked for 12 hours a day) and so Tom started working at the age of 13 to support his family. After completing his high school, Tom got admitted to Pace University. Tom mentions that fellow panelist Maurice Dimeo was the first person he met at Pace. Due to his financial family conditions Tom wasn’t able to buy professional clothes for his internships that he did during his studies. Thus, he worked for loading and unloading of trucks to earn money for clothes. Tom graduated from Pace in 1982. He says “Pace gave me opportunity to work” and, presently, Tom works as Controller at Stone Harbor Investment Partners.
Vito J. Depalo – Presently, Chief Auditor of Global Information Technology, AIG. Vito is a techy, through and through. He comes from the southeast of Italy, where his father worked six days a week and 15 hours a day to support his family. Vito says: “Every day while getting ready I remember my dad’s hard work.” Vito had a cousin studying at Pace who always had great things to say about it, and so Vito ended up coming here too. Vito believes “No matter be it Columbia University or Stanford or Pace, it’s all about EDUCATION.” He had three internships during his studies. The last internship he had was converted into full time job after his graduation in 1996. Vito says “Coming to Pace was a like a land of opportunities for me which prepared me for the corporate world.”
Joe Nocera – Graduated in 1981 and currently, Deputy Chief Auditor BNY Mellon. Joe was born and raised in Coney Island. He says that he had no idea regarding business before he came to Pace. Joe expressed “Pace not only gave me an education foundation but also many more things apart from academics. Pace provided me opportunities to do different, do better. I learnt to take up and handle responsibilities here.” He advised students to listen to the professors and counsellors who will always help them to get better. He believes “You have to ask questions if you want to learn.”
Maurice Dimeo – Presently, Maurice is a Client Technology leader at EY. He comes from Italy. His father worked in the Navy and was a huge inspiration to Maurice. He has a very strong work ethic and believes in hard work. Maurice says “Work as hard as anybody can!” Maurice graduated from Pace in 1987, and added “Pace is one of the schools where we get a chance to prove ourselves!”
After the highly motivating discussion from the tech leaders, our students were really excited and curious to know more about their success and life achievements. Here are some questions that were asked by our current students to the panel.
How did Pace give opportunities?
Joe said “Pace teaches to learn to speak, learn to observe, learn to interact which is necessary to succeed”
Tom expressed: There are so many similar students in the same class. You need to be different. You need to stand out from the crowd. Pace helps to choose the right way for this which definitely was a great opportunity.
Dora said: Pace has high level of education compared to other schools. Teachers give good advises not only on academics but also regarding careers. Pace helps in building relationships which definitely helps in building careers.
2. What are the necessary skills that interns and employees must have?
Vito started with a great answer: “Hard work beats talent!” Everyone should be a hard worker, may he/she be an intern or an employee. Another important thing that Vito said, an understanding of the technology is really important and working passionately is a must.
Joe added up to this saying: “It’s all about communication (verbal and written). One must hire people who can communicate really well.”
Dora explained this by saying that interns and employees must have respect and good manners. It’s about how a person represents himself and lastly a person’s language is important too!
3. What slogan do you live by?
Tom: “Be on Time! Be late, be fired!”
Vito: “Regret the things you did, not the things you will do!”
Dora: “Take Risks!”
Joe: “Work hard and never forget where you came from!”
Maurice: “Live by your purpose!”
Michael: “Never give up! Do the best you can! Love what you do!”
4. How should Pace University’s students compete from other top level universities’ students?
Maurice came up with an outstanding answer to this saying that: “School doesn’t matter, what matters is EDUCATION! Show hard work, gain good knowledge, built in great skills and be passionate!”
Joe ended up with an amazing thought. He believes: “No doors will be shut if you are at PACE, all door will be open if you are here!”
The event ended up with our Dean Dr. Hill’s thank you note to all the six great leaders who were a huge motivation for all our current students. We thank our panel and hope to see them all again with an amazing event like this one!
Now in its 22nd year, the Leadership & Service in Technology (LST) award is bigger and better than ever, and this year’s celebration was an unforgettable evening.
On Monday, April 24, 2017, an impressive company of Seidenberg supporters came together as we honored Senior Executive Vice President and CIO at BNY Mellon Suresh Kumar for his pioneering leadership and innovative thinking in transforming finance and technology practices throughout his exceptional career.
BNY Mellon kindly provided the space and the catering for the LST awards at its downtown location. Guests enjoyed appetizers and a full bar during the networking hour before the main event. The room was packed with many of our dearest friends, including Seidenberg alumni, business partners, and friends from the Pace community. It was a warm atmosphere as people greeted old friends they hadn’t seen in a while, made new ones, and shared a fun evening and business cards alike. Seidenberg students were also present to give demonstrations of their projects facilitated by the NYC Design Factory.
When awards time came, guests were seated and Dr. Jonathan Hill, Dean of the Seidenberg School, introduced the first speaker of the night – our student, Niamh Fitzsimon. Niamh is an honors student, vice president of Pace Women in Tech, and resident Googler (she’s interned there twice so far and will do again this summer!).
“Because of you, I have been able to push myself above and beyond what I could imagine,” Niamh said. “You provided me a platform to grow my confidence, network, and skills, and I am extremely grateful for your contributions towards the education of myself and my peers. I am highly honored to share the effect of your donations on my community.”
Following Niamh’s remarks, Lucille Mayer, the Chief Information Officer of Client Experience Delivery at BNY Mellon took to the stage to introduce the keynote speaker. Lucille has worked with the evening’s honoree Suresh Kumar for over 25 years. “Suresh is not only a visionary, as you’ll hear for yourself, but he is also a leader in championing and developing talent,” she said.
Lucille briefly discussed success in the tech industry, including the top tech trends for the year such as augmented reality, which has seen a swift increase in recent years due to the creation of virtual reality headsets and the release of mobile app games like Pokemon Go.
“Success depends upon the user or the client experience of the technology,” she said. “Technology is no longer about being the guy or the woman behind the curtain . . . technology is the business.”
She then introduced the evening’s keynote, Marie Wieck, General Manager at IBM Blockchain. Marie discussed the exponential growth of data and the benefits of diversity.
“Some of the stats in tech right now are quite frankly astonishing,” Marie said. “Think about data. In the last two years we have created more data than we have created as a species in the time period prior.”
She added: “Those people who can mine insights of out that data are the people who are going to accelerate their business.” Data analytics is certainly a burgeoning industry right now as companies scramble to make sense of the immense volume of data that is now collected through websites, social media, and other digital interactions.
Marie also spoke towards greater diversity in the workplace, particularly regarding more women in technology. “What constitutes the best performance you can get?” she asked. “New perspectives that help you see things in a different way and that is fuel for innovation.
“It’s not those who have the highest IQ but those who have the biggest EQ [emotional quotient] . . . and what brings higher EQ? More women.
“When you have three or more women on a board, you begin to get financial results.”
Marie noted that 36% of the Seidenberg School’s student base are women compared to a 20% national average – a statistic we are proud of and are committed to improve.
“You have to teach people the art of the possible . . . 74% of girls are interested in STEM, but only a third of them pursue it,” Marie said. Many of the girls who pursue STEM had mentors, teachers, counselors who pushed them.
“When you think about gender partnership, role models don’t have to be people you know. We also have to advocate for the people you don’t know.”
Marie finished with an inspirational request. “We know Pace is a trailblazer. We know BNY Mellon is a trailblazer . . . mentor a student. Share the opportunity to highlight someone who is doing something exceptional. Give people a voice. Share the wealth.”
After Marie’s keynote, alumni and Seidenberg Advisory Board member, Matthew Knell, introduced the Emerging NYC Innovator Awardee, Sara Chipps. Sara is the CEO of Jewelbots, which produces programmable friendship bracelets that can connect with other bracelets in the surrounding area, enabling wearers to send each other secret messages using code. The bracelets are aimed toward middle-school girls to encourage them to get into STEM education.
As Jonathan Hill remarked after her presentation, “Technology isn’t about selling for top dollar; it’s about giving back in some way.”
Dr. Hill then introduced the honoree of this year’s LST award.
Suresh Kumar is the Senior Executive Vice President and CIO for BNY Mellon, where he is leading the Client Technology Solutions organization to become the industry leader in delivering innovative solutions that enable clients and employees to succeed.
Suresh gave a wonderful presentation with excellent advice for our students and the community overall. His exemplary leadership style was apparent as he spoke: “I’m really privileged every day to work with an amazing group of colleagues all over the world,” he said.
“We all come from different places, different backgrounds, but each of us rely on education to get where we are. And the Pace Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems has long leveled the playing field . . . regardless of gender, ethnic background, and income.”
The LST award honoree went on to talk about how companies should embrace innovation and disruption for great results. Using Amazon as an example of a company that constantly innovates its techniques, offerings, and practices, Suresh warned against remaining stagnant, particularly when your competition does not.
He also had four ‘rules to live by’ (or at least conduct business by).
1 – Focus on execution. Being the best is better than being first
Innovation is important, but means nothing if you have a bad product. Google wasn’t the first search engine, but it was the best when it was released. Doing a phenomenal job is 1% innovation, 99% perspiration.
2 – Evolve your business model
It’s important to keep up with (and create) what people want. Suresh described a period of four phases of how business models have evolved and have to evolve to stay ahead: the arrival of the internet in the mid-90s, the social media revolution in the mid-2000s, collaborative spaces (now) and autonomous working (emerging). Successful business models were platform-based and enabled consumers and providers to get together and create something valuable
3 – Reduce latency between end users and developers
Skype had 27 engineers. What’s App had 33. Instagram had 13. What made them create such a powerful product in such a short period of time? Constant innovation, and enough people on the team!
4 – Organize innovation efforts by service
Unfortunately, the IT department in many companies is still not considered to be the backbone of operations. That said, an emerging model of IT looks promising – teams are small, self-governing, and are empowered to make decisions and make a difference in a large company. When given the freedom to innovate, IT teams can change the whole way an organization works for the better.
We are truly delighted to honor Suresh Kumar and his wonderful work as a leader in technology and in his work with staff at BNY Mellon.
Thank you to Suresh Kumar and BNY Mellon for your contributions to the Seidenberg School and for hosting this year’s LST Award reception, ensuring it was a fantastic night for all.
“The gifts you have provided tonight are much needed,” Jonathan Hill told guests in his closing remarks. “Thank you.”
Our deepest gratitude also goes out to everybody who attended the event and showed their support to the School, whether by buying tickets or donating. Thank you to Lucille Mayer, Marie Wieck, Matthew Knell, and Sarah Chipps. Thanks also go to Deth Sao, our director of development, for her unending commitment to organizing an incredibly successful event.
We look forward to seeing you all again next year!
Helen Altshuler is a Seidenberg alumna (BS in Computer Science ’97) of whom we are particularly proud. Not only does she have a fascinating life story, but years of hard work have enabled her to progress to a position of thought leader today. Recent articles have described her as one of the top female “engineering leaders closing the gender gap in NYC tech” (builtinnyc.com), despite her status as a noteworthy woman in tech being quite unintentional and unexpected on Helen’s part! She’s also a member of the Seidenberg Advisory Board, so we get to enjoy her presence frequently.
As a senior engineering leader at Google, Helen is responsible for managing a multi-year transformation program in Google Cloud, and an Open Source platform called Bazel. Prior to Google, Helen was the CTO at the fintech startup PeerIQ, where she built data and engineering teams, created a cloud based analytics platform for peer to peer lending, and sold it to key institutional clients. She started her career as a software engineer at JP Morgan, after obtaining a CS degree at Pace University. She grew into technical leadership and Executive Director roles, becoming responsible for technology delivery in Credit Risk, Big Data and Analytics.
Helen is passionate about talent development and is a frequent hackathon mentor/judge, women in tech guest speaker, and Girls Who Code facilitator. She actively promotes diversity and STEM initiatives at Pace University as a member of Pace Women in Business Steering Committee.
I visited Helen at Google the day after a snowstorm in NYC. When I emailed her to check we were still on, she responded that, yes, “the city is open and so are we” – my first glimpse of a woman with extraordinary work ethic.
Not long after we sat down, Helen began to describe her life. Born in the former Soviet Union (now Ukraine), Helen didn’t experience the same societal norms concerning gender as in the USA. “Women leaders were everywhere!” she said, listing the Russian astronaut Valentina Tereshkova, India’s first and only female prime minister Indira Gandhi, and British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
She moved with her family to the United States following the collapse of the Soviet Union, where limited opportunities and discrimination caused them to come to America as refugees.
“I came here for the opportunities that weren’t available to me in my country – nothing was going to stop me from doing that,” Helen says. “I also came here as a woman, from somewhere where I wasn’t restricted by anything.”
One would expect that coming from a background of gender equality to a place where society treats the sexes with discrepancies ranging from subtle to outrageous would be quite the culture shock. However, Helen’s experience was different. Her background had escalated her to the point where her interactions with people were based on them as individual personalities. “I feel like I had blinders on; those blinders helped me. I never saw men and women at work – I saw people and colleagues who were there to work together.”
In fact, Helen never even thought of herself as a “woman in tech” until, 10 years into her tech career, she was invited to speak at a women in tech panel for the first time. Technology was just something she did, like everybody else she worked with. It was something she had always done.
“Since I was the only child, my father wanted to raise me to be as technical as I could be,” Helen explains. That said, when she first moved here she was interested in doing art but a swift reality check made her change her mind. “I walked down Broadway seeing artists selling their work for nothing and I couldn’t do that as an immigrant. I needed a make a living!”
She started the Bachelor of Science in Computer Science here at Pace University in 1993. This was around the time the world wide web was really becoming worldwide, and the internet was rolling out and developing faster than ever. What was it like being in the middle of that frenzy?
“Everything was moving so fast at that point that I didn’t have time to stop and think about it. I was an intern at Marsh & McLennan (insurance company) through Pace’s co-op program, and HTML and CGI had just become popular. My boss bought a book called HTML for Dummies and put it on my
desk and said ‘hey, we need an intranet site’ – it was a continuation from my studies at Pace. It was pretty organic; my job was all about building technology and this was a new thing to build.
“Pace had IRC chat before the world wide web. The amazing thing was that only the computer science students at other universities had access at the time. We had mainframes that allowed us to connect with CS students across the world; I chatted with students in Canada, Israel, Russia – it’s how I met my husband who was at Polytech. It brought us together through our curiosity about technology. It was a way to get perspective from different tech students. Later on, more students from other disciplines got on, but for a while it was just us tech students.”
After she graduated, Helen started out as a software engineer and grew her career from there. She learned that progress was good and that taking opportunities was a way to move on to bigger and better things. “But don’t move up so quickly that you have to play catch up for the rest of your career,” she warns. Even in her senior position now, Helen is an advocate of gaining and maintaining technical knowledge. It isn’t fun moving into a new position where you feel lacking in the knowledge department – in the long run, progressing too soon can hold you back.
One should never shy away from progress, on the other hand. Helen’s list of recommendations for corporate career growth is short and simple:
Become a domain expert
Align yourself to your manager’s success
If you see an opportunity, raise your hand
If you’re tapped on the shoulder, go for it
… but resist the temptation to move up too quickly before building your domain expertise
But what if opportunities don’t seem to come your way? Women in particular can find it difficult to say yes to progress, even when offered to them – and when it’s not? Many struggle to start conversations and end up waiting for a promotion that either won’t come or comes much later than it should, whereas if they had asked for it they could have received it sooner.
“Sometimes women rely on their managers to appreciate them,” Helen says, echoing a sentiment expressed by another of our alumna, Kim Perdikou.
Kim, who graduated in 1993, said in a previous interview: “I had this very wrong belief that if you worked really hard your boss would recognize it and you’d eventually get a job doing what you really should be doing. That is utter rubbish.”
Interestingly, another Seidenberg friend who recently spoke at our LST Honoree Speaker Series (which Helen introduced), Judy Spitz, told a story about advancement as a woman: “Once, early in my career, I got called into the senior executive’s office and he said ‘I want to give you this job’. I said to him ‘I’m not sure that I’m qualified for that job’. He looked at me like I had three heads. I’m not sure he’d ever had anyone in that office he’d offered a promotion to who said no, thanks.”
Imposter syndrome and plain societal conditioning are big problems for many women in technology – and in other fields. As someone with experience having these conversations and self-advocating, Helen has some advice.
“Bring your data with you,” she says. Your manager can’t deny your good work if you bring along proof. “Sometimes, you need to put your foot forward, show your data, and negotiate.”
Negotiating doesn’t have to be confrontational, either. “You don’t want to go too aggressive; it can affect your self-worth. When I came to Google, I took a leap of faith – I did not negotiate aggressively, because I looked at this opportunity as a longer term career path rather than just the next job.”
The notion of women in technology being a movement and of being a woman in technology herself took a hold on Helen. It was also what spurred her interest in board memberships. When I asked her why she joined the Seidenberg advisory board, she replied that she’d always been curious about it.
“I attended a women’s leadership panel where they stressed the importance of being on boards. It’s important to establish yourself as a thought leader – that helps with a broader perspective and gets you recognized within your industry. Women on boards is kind of the same thing as women CEOs and other high positions – there just needs to be more of it!”
Being on the board means bringing unique ideas with her to the Seidenberg School. “I started teaching through my son’s school Girls Who Code program, and started thinking about when I first came to New York, wanting to be an artist. I want to create a web design & developmente program at Pace. There is a benefit to combining the arts and sciences school and the computer science school. There are coding boot camps for Web Design and Development, but they fall short in giving CS fundamentals, impacting the quality of front end engineers on the market. Pace is uniquely positioned to do it, with the perfect combination of art and computing.”
Working with Girls Who Code (GWC), a national not-for-profit organization that aims to close the gender gap in technology, has created a reciprocal relationship for Helen. She started working with GWC around the same time she started at Google – late summer, 2016. “That’s usually how it is for me: when you start something new, you try to put yourself on a path that’s going to change your life to some extent.”
Helen teaches web design and development, which was what inspired her thought process about potentially combining art and computing in a program at Pace. In fact, her participation with GWC, Seidenberg, and her work at Google are mutually beneficial: “The logical connection between Google, GWC, and Seidenberg, is that learning one helps the other. I had to re-learn some HTML and CSS for GWC, then one of the first things I had to do at Google was update a roadmap page on our website using those same skills.”
“Similarly, I bring suitable Google concepts, like material design and design sprints, to GWC and other programs. What I learn here, I apply in class, and what I learn in class I can sometimes apply at Google as well!”
Despite having been with Google for less than a year, Helen has, as she put it, “drank the Kool-Aid.” The company’s focus on community meant a focus on integration at the beginning. “I learned that newcomers to Google get to wear a stylish hat complete with a propeller on top and are referred to as “Nooglers” for the first six months.”
Working at the coveted Google company means Helen knows a thing or two about career paths. So what’s her best advice for tech students? And what about getting beyond the infamous Google interview?
“You need to build your domain expertise. In technology, that expertise manifests itself in two areas. One, which is the most important in interviews, is hardcore tech skills. You need to know your algorithms, etc, and it helps you do well in interviews. The second one is, I meet a lot of students who want to be managers. They should be more thoughtful about their longer-term career plans. You can’t manage until you understand your domain well. A lot of women are drawn to technical leadership – you need to be a domain expert first, which could take 4+ years of coding before you can move on.”
“Camille Fournier [a technical thought leader and former chief technology officer of Rent the Runway], said that she worked as a software engineer for 10 years and achieved mastery; at that point, she could apply herself to any technology, even if she was out of practice.
“At Google, you are constantly pushed in technical directions. Even as a leader, I’m expected to code – and I welcome that extra reinforcement. On the other hand, where I achieved mastery is in systems design and scalability, and understanding how to process data and work with data at scale. That’s what Google is all about and that’s what you learn, and it’s also important in the fintech sector. You want to keep your systems working under different conditions. Those are the skills that help you get a job in any industry. No matter what systems you work on, they need to scale and they need to be reliable.
“A lot of my interview at Google had to do with understanding of scaling large and complex systems. Google has billions of users; how do you keep that data usable? When you click on an email, how do you get it to load instantly instead of in 10 minutes? I may not achieve mastery on the pure coding front, but I certainly achieved it on systems design/scalability front.”
Having domain expertise is something that can only be achieved after years of practice. Anyone can get into casual coding, but it’s the hours you put in that really count. Helen is clearly someone who has put the hours in. “I try to tie in everything extracurricular that I do directly to work or to family,” she says. “I do hackathons with my son, coding camps with my daughter.”
And all of that is against the backdrop of NYC. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I like having lots of options to explore with my kids. When the kids were little, I took them to celebrate every international holiday – Chinatown for Chinese New Year, Little India for Independence Day, so we could celebrate international culture.”
Diversity is one of the things that makes New York great. It’s a city of hard workers, a landscape that is reflected within the walls of the Seidenberg School as students rush from class to internship to workshop to co-op job to networking event.
Recently, the New York Times ranked Pace University #2 nationwide for the upward mobility of our students. Students who come through our doors from less privileged backgrounds end up graduating and going on to great things. When Helen moved here in 1993 with $3000 to her name and the determination to make a good life for herself and family, she exemplified that quintessentially New York attitude – and ours.
This is the third in a three part post covering the Judy Spitz’s incredible interview with Seidenberg student Niamh Fitzsimon. The event is the first in a series featuring previous winners of our prestigious Leadership and Service in Technology (LST) award.
The event was rounded off with a brief Q&A session. Judy had excellent responses for our students, such as Ava Posner’s (BS in IT) question about her motivation for making a path for women.
“In my opinion, the technology field NEEDS us,” Judy replied. “It’s proven that in teams with more diversity you get better results. Women control the majority of purchasing power around the world. With product developers being mostly men, we may not be getting the best product ideas.”
Another question was about the hardest hurdle Judy has come up against. She immediately demonstrated her finesse with her first step to success – being able to tell a good story.
“At one point in my career, I oversaw the organization that delivered software to the networking engineering organization within Verizon. The network organization is the engine room in a company. The guys- all guys – who ran that organization were all engineers from the south. These were guys who were working for the phone companies their whole lives. They were older than me and they were true blue engineers. Well, in walks Judt Spitz with her PhD! I didn’t know anything about engineering or networking and I was supposed to be the partner that helped deliver the software. They had no interest in working with me. It took me a long time to figure out how to get past that.
“What I ultimately did was I brought my entourage with me – a group of people who knew me and liked me and supported me. We went to meetings and there I was surrounded by these guys who WERE comfortable with me. There’s two things you can say in this kind of situation, which are ‘gosh darnit you’re going to GET comfortable with me’, or you can say ‘what can I do to make you comfortable?’ Because the end goal is not about me, it’s about getting the software delivered. I’m being paid to deliver the software that the organization wants – remember, it’s not about you, it’s about whatever you need to accomplish. Over time, they began to realize I did have some skills – not necessarily in engineering, but about management, delivering software on time; the type of thing that makes their lives easier.”
Another question came back to women in technology. One of our students, Kendra Jackman, asked if Judy had thoughts on why fewer women are interested in tech careers, or why they choose not to pursue them.
“The lack of women in technology is not universal,” Judy said, indicating that the issue of so few women pursuing computing careers is not replicated in other countries. “I don’t think there’s anything different genetically between women here and in the rest of the world. It’s cultural. There are a lot of disincentives and cultural bias. In the 90s, when personal computers came into the house, it was assumed to be a toy for the boys: they took them apart, gamed on them, games were created for boys, and it was around then that women started to be less interested in technology and computer science. Once it gets going, it perpetuates itself. When you think about role models in technology, who do you think of? Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates: it becomes a stereotype. When you’re a female student and you peek into the Intro to Computer Science class and all you see is men, you think ‘I don’t see anyone like me’. And there are all kinds of unconscious things that go on in those classrooms. Guys don’t want you on their teams, they’ve been hacking longer than you, they don’t think you’re as good as them.”
Judy’s solution to the problem is simple: “The more women in computer science, the more women in computer science. As you get more women into the classroom in computer science, the classroom culture starts to change. The more the culture changes, the more women in the classes. I think the most effective you can do is require every undergraduate to take an Intro to Computer Science class and make that class fun.”
Finally, Judy rounded off the session by answering a question about leadership. “The most important thing about leadership is to understand that it’s a relationship. It’s a relationship between you and the people you want to follow you. It’s about them, not you.
“Make sure you surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. Don’t think the key to success is to be the smartest person in the room. You don’t have to be the smartest, you have to be the person who can assemble the best team.”
Judy’s last remark was to advise everyone to surround themselves by leaders who act the way described above as they will learn from their habits.
The event was closed off with a raffle for a $100 gift card, which was won by student Rachel Gonzalez – congrats, Rachel! Coffee’s on you, right?