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Speaker series focuses on preparing, mentoring women in IT field

“Columbia has an insurance and a technical support hub,” said Lauren Liles, senior project manager for Sagacious Partners, adding there are jobs for people looking to break into this particular field as well as employers in need of technical and IT talent.

More so, there is a need for women in the IT-related fields which is why ITS|SC sponsored a speaker series forum at Columbia College for women interested in this particular field. Five different women spoke about their passion for the technology field, mentorship and growing professionally. The panel included: Lola Jordan, Companion Data Services; Kate Ingram, Blue Cross Blue Shield SC; Lyn-Ellen Maass, Duck Creek Technologies; Tracy Cobb, Blue Cross Blue Shield SC and Renee Evans, Insurer Analytics Professional Services.

Growing Passion 

Ingram and Cobb represented the younger generation making a move into the tech field. Both ladies always had a passion for math and science at an early age and knew they wanted to somehow enter the field.

“I’ve always had a passion for math,” said Ingram. “Initially, I started college interested in engineering but about a year into college, I decided it wasn’t for me so I decided to focus on math. I began (my career) at PriceWaterHouse Coopers in the consulting industry and about a year later I received a call from a recruiter at Blue Cross for their apprenticeship program. It surprised me because I didn’t have a computer science degree. I went through 18 weeks of the apprenticeship program and learned everything in technical background. About a year to two years later, I transitioned to leadership.”

Cobb had a bit of different experience. She majored in food, science and nutrition and had an opportunity at Blue Cross Blue Shield of SC. “I was scared to death because I didn’t do anything technical but I went in and found amazing coworkers and learned how to succeed. I spent a year as a technician which gave me a foundation in the tech world and I found I had a passion for it. I then moved up to the leadership,” she said.

While Cobb and Ingram went to college in the math or science field, Maass studied English in school. She recalls the beginning of her career in the insurance industry.

“I worked in insurance and the company I was working for started introducing a software program for agents and I got to work with it. I dealt more with the application side. Eventually, I went to work for a software vendor in Columbia,” said Maass, who has worked in several different areas of the technological field but made a return back to software at Duckcreek Technologies.

While Maass eventually found her way to technology, Evans always had a fascination with computers and math. “I was first exposed to computers in school and math was my favorite subject. I went to Carolina and got my degree in computer science,” she said. For five years she was a programmer but then decided to take the leadership route so she could help mentor other young ladies expressing concern that she does not see a lot of women in the IT field and would love to see more.

When it comes to pursuing dreams, Jordan is all for it but she also is very practical. She admits to growing up poor but wasn’t aware of it because of the work ethic her parents instilled. She pursued computer science and math to help take care of her parents when they got older.

“Dreams are awesome but you need to realize there are so many things out there you can do with technology. You grew up with technology but do you know technology? Do you want to be the one creating or do you want to be the one that displays technology? Holding a phone or playing a game is not being a technologist. Being the one who forces someone to play the games… that’s a technologist,” said Jordan.

Growing Professionally

Passion is a start to entering the technological field but developing and pushing oneself takes effort. Jordan is all for mentorship to help the younger generation grow. “Find good mentors. Don’t rely on others to train you,” she said.

All of the ladies emphasized having a mentor as it helped them develop and continue to develop into stronger women. Sometimes it may be hard to hear what the mentors have to say as Jordan relates to this herself.

“There are days you might be very irritated with them,” she said. “Having mentors who you trust is key and they should be giving you advice, not just yes answers. When I have someone ask if I can be their mentor, I ask them to talk to someone else who I have mentored.”

Ingram agrees completely, “The more honest a mentor is, the more valuable they are. The honest feedback is the best feedback.”

Asking for feedback is also really important. Cobb mentions telling people what you’re interested in is important as ladies need to take opportunities themselves. Ingram echoes this as this is something she has learned which has helped her get into the leadership position she is currently in.

“I was very content with staying behind the computer monitor all day. My manager called me into her office one day and told me she wanted me to try out the team lead role and that she thought I’d be good at it. I had fear in my face,” said Ingram. “It’s been an adjustment and a transition. The hardest part has been not doing and letting others do for me (as a leader). Every day has new challenges but I’m glad she took me out of my comfort zone and challenged me.”

Maass also talks about the challenge of stepping it up as a leader. She always thought that if she did a good job, it would just be recognized and she’d be promoted.

“I’ll never forget after I joined (former company), I thought I knew everything. We had an opening for a team lead and this guy who just came into our company who didn’t know squat was promoted into this spot. I talked with my manager and he said, ‘we never knew you wanted to go into this career,’” said Maass. “You have to take charge and make it know that you want to progress. Where you want to see yourself in the coming years, make it known.”

Evans added, “You do have to speak up and you do have to ask. I learned quickly if you don’t say anything you’re not going anywhere. People can help you get there but you have to help yourself.”

Thoughts from the Younger Generation

Not only were their soon to be college graduates but high school females also attended with a high interest in the tech field. Several students from Westwood High in Blythewood were excited to hear words of wisdom as they prepared for life after high school.

Azjanae Anderson, Akili Nipper and Savannah Azize are all interested in either math or computer science. Anderson enjoys working with computers and has learned about technology because of her parents.

“My mom has a degree in criminal science and we watch that all day long. It’s just amazing that you can find evidence from a piece of hair,” said Anderson. “I want to be a math teacher.”

Azize said she really connected with Ingram, “My big thing is math. I love computer science and coding.” She isn’t quite sure of what she wants to do as a freshman in high school. All girls realized the importance of mentorship and the importance of having someone older who will speak truth and help them grow. In fact, Nipper said she has a mentor through her volleyball team who helps her excel on and off the court.

For more information about ITS|SC, visit: its-sc.com to learn more about the insurance and technological hub in South Carolina.


Featured image: the female panelists speaking on women in IT: Kate Ingram, Renee Evans, Lyn-Ellen Maass, Lola Jordan and Tracy Cobb 

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