Women in Technology Career Panel cultivates insight from non-traditional experts

By Linda Pang

women in tech
CCNA certification students Kristin Canale and Rita Pang chat with Jennifer Orazi, associate director of Student Employment and Co-Op at DCCC, during the Nov. 16 Women in Technology Career Panel. Photo by Linda Pang

DCCC’s Division of Business, Computing and Social Science hosted its third Women in Technology Career Panel Nov. 16 on Marple campus. Keynote speaker, Leah Fox, executive vice president of Technology and Services Delivery at LoanLogics, a mortgage software company, shared her insights as a female leader in the information technology (IT) world, followed by a panel featuring women leaders in technology and an informal networking session.

Panelists included Fox; Roxanne Ryan, a java web developer at JW. Pepper & Son, Inc.; Emilia Janczak, a social media manager at Evolve IP; Wendy Reczek, an intellectual property paralegal; and Stefanie Gjørven, a former creative technology executive at ESPN and current adjunct professor at DCCC.

The event was sponsored by the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act.

During the Q&A, moderated by web development student Stacy Finnegan, panelists spoke up about their biggest hurdles and barriers in the technology field, false perceptions, and the importance of being fearless of the subject matter if students are creative-types.

“Science can be an art too,” Reczak said of her paralegal work. “There is an art to science and it’s beautiful. Once I realized that, it was no longer terrifying. And once the fear was gone, I loved it.”

Ryan, who works at one of the largest sheet music retailers, J.W. Pepper & Son, thinks of their programmers as musicians working with “scores of code.”

“Art is a lot of patterns and repetition,” Ryan said. “And programming is a lot of patterns and repetition. Art and science are more connected than society gives them credit for.”

The closing event, an informal networking session, expanded by 15 minutes as attendees sought advice from panelists and additional experts about careers and opportunities, filling the room with chatter and laughter.

Fox and other panelists emphasized the importance of staying current in the field to understand the business, building support systems, and embracing new opportunities.

“And network, network, network,” said computing science professor Ann-Marie Smith, echoing many of the panelists’ sentiments. “I always say to my students, ‘it’s about relationships’.”

In 2016, Smith, along with Marian McGorry, dean of business, computing and social science, created the event for students to network and learn about opportunities from technology experts, with an aim to host one panel per semester. Although the Division of Business, Computing and Social Science and the Division of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics division at DCCC have been separate historically, Smith said that she tries to have events that will cross-over, inviting students and faculty from both areas.

Smith also works with the admissions office to connect with local high schools for interested students and recruitment.

“For panelists, we focus on non-traditional people that work in the field,” Smith said. “I always emphasize to all of my students that everyone should come to these things because although they’ll talk about their experiences as women in the field, the panelists will also talk in general about working in the field of technology and the outlook for jobs in IT.”

Many of the panelists, such as Reczek, Janczak, and Gjørven, shared how they started their careers with bachelor’s degrees in marketing, english, or art, not intending to work in a technology field. For example, Gjørven said she earned her bachelor’s in fine arts, but minored in computer science only because her mother asked her to. At her first job as a graphic designer and animator at a startup company, she said she was “bit by the technology bug” when the computer-generated compilation images were taking too long to display so she decided to write her own code to distribute the process across multiple computers.

Fox, who also serves as vice chair on the board for the Innovative Technology Action Group (ITAG), which focuses on workforce development, said her main takeaway is to find one’s niche and do it well.

“A lot of the questions tonight were around ‘Will I be able to do this?’ and ‘How can I enter into this area?’,” Fox said. “Showing confidence in an interview is huge; showing confidence in your abilities helps the hiring manager see more of your potential.”

During her keynote, Fox shared statistics from a recent study from SmartAsset that ranked Philadelphia as the 10th best city in the country for women in technology. According to the study, although women only fill around 30 percent of technology-related jobs in Philadelphia, it still beats the national average of 25 percent. The study also examined the country’s gender pay gap, where Philadelphia came in at eight percent versus the national average of 15 percent difference in pay.

“Some stats that I’ve read is that women leave technology for other careers at higher rates than men,” Fox said. “So I would like for the next generation of technology leaders to figure that one out and figure out how to retain them. I don’t know if that’s better maternity policies, more recognition, or pay equality, but let’s figure it out.”

Ekea Salter, 32, a computer programming major, heard about the event from her professor.

“I actually enjoyed myself,” Salter added. “I learned that I can do it and that it’s not too hard.”

Both Smith and Fox stated that they were both shocked and saddened that more students did not take advantage of the free event and other similar career-focused opportunities.

“We just didn’t have programs like this when I was going through school,” Fox said. “And the fact that all of these programs are put together just to help the students build their careers? It would be great for them to take advantage of them more.”

Contact Linda Pang at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu