Our TT Women in Tech group at Trading Technologies recently kicked off the new “Prominent Women in Tech” speaker series by welcoming Kim Greuling, VP of Engineering at Backstop Solutions Group, and Lindsey Perez, VP of Operations at the Illinois Technology Association (which was just acquired by 1871).
In her current role with the newly acquired ITA, Lindsey works to bring Chicago’s tech community together and help make Chicago technology companies thrive. Lindsey told the group she didn’t set out to be in tech. It wasn’t until she was working as the “power user” of a software program at a hedge fund that she realized she wanted to work in technology.
Kim, who currently runs engineering for Backstop Solutions Group, switched her major from industrial engineering to computer science after her first year in college. Though she started her career in California, she’s spent the vast majority of her working years in Chicago, alternating between developing software and managing people.
In an informal roundtable conversation with a diverse group of women representing a cross-section of departments at TT, Lindsey and Kim shared their career paths, discussed some of the issues women and others who work in technology often face, and offered their thoughts on how to drive more women and diversity into engineering. Here are some of the takeaways from that discussion.
1. On gender challenges in their careers
Lindsey said, “Either I haven’t been super attuned to [gender discrimination] or I haven’t encountered it. Maybe I had to work harder to get people to take me seriously, but also I was younger. I never felt unwelcome or pushed out.”
Kim echoed Lindsey, explaining, “Either I was oblivious to it or it wasn’t happening. My previous company was run by a woman, and there was a sense that gender didn’t matter. It’s not a big deal in my present job either.”
2. On hiring and the hiring process
Lindsey recalled how a past employer used a questionnaire that gave more insight into how a candidate would handle the actual work, and how anything that could identify a candidate’s gender was deleted to remove bias. She encourages others to do this, saying, “It can be easier to do than you think.”
Kim added that although the interview process at Backstop is fairly long and very technical in nature, it’s also important to assess soft skills. “We added a slot to have people outside of engineering meet [candidates] to make sure they’re easy to talk to, and that they’re good communicators.”
3. On suggested go-to questions for surfacing a candidate’s soft skills
Lindsey offered, “I always ask, ‘What motivates you?’ And on the flip side, I’ll also ask, ‘What demotivates you?’” She explained how these two questions help an interviewer go beyond the skills to understand the person and how they’d fit into the role and the organization.
4. On the tendency of tech companies to promote the best developers
Kim said, “It may not be effective to take the best developers and make them people managers.” She explained how they may lack those management skills. “Ultimately when you’re looking for a manager, you need someone who can surface issues to upper management and help make the right decisions, and that’s not necessarily the top coder.”
5. On attracting more women into engineering and the value of networking
Kim suggested: “Get out there and meet the people you want to hire. I don’t necessarily want to just find women…but I do want to get girls and women into technology and onto an even playing field. A lot of women who work in this field don’t have computer science degrees. I push them to get training-not necessarily degrees, but mostly online training. Mentoring them with other developers or testers is also critical; that helps them get the experience they won’t get through a course.”
Lindsey stressed the importance of networking with other women: “I learned the value of networking with people in other organizations. It felt ‘icky’ to me when I was younger, but now I realize that if you approach it through the lens of broadening your circle of influence, it can help you in terms of hiring. People will have a sense of your brand, of who you are, and they’ll want to work with you.”
6. On finding opportunities to network
Lindsey took the opportunity to plug ITA: “We have 120-plus events a year, and we’re always promoting events from other tech organizations in the area.” She also mentioned looking for interesting groups on meetup.com and exploring events on Eventbrite.
Kim related that she gravitates primarily towards charity events, explaining, “I’m not a huge networking person, but I enjoy going to roundtable events and conferences where I can learn.”
Thanks to Lindsey and Kim for sharing their stories and insights with us. If you know of a prominent woman in tech who might be a good guest at our next event, or if you are one yourself and would like to be considered, please reach out to me.