Across the tech space, women are making waves and redefining what it means to be in the industry and succeed. Last week we heard from some of our partners who are leading the way across the space at our Making HERstory: Female Founders in Tech webinar. During the webinar they shared their journeys, gave advice to future leaders, and discussed what’s next for women in tech.
We’re taking time this month too to recognize some of the incredible women at Shockoe who make our work what it is. We recently sat down with Jessie Atkinson, HR Manager, Misty Smith, Vice President of Operations, Rebecca Thomspon, Engagement Manager and Paulina Hidalgo, CFO to learn more about the work they each do.
- What does your day-to-day look like:
Jessie Atkinson: Honestly, it depends on the day! Most of my time in human resources tends to be filled with activities that help our team grow, learn, and feel appreciated. My goal each day is to clear the obstacles in front of our team so they can focus on doing what they do best, creating and building beautiful technology! I create and strengthen programs that enhance our employee’s growth and balance. It’s really inspiring!
Misty Smith: My day is an interesting mix of reflecting on what has occurred to try to predict and plan future outcomes — identifying stumbling blocks and setting us on a path to avoid those pitfalls in the future. I also spend quite a bit of time supporting those around me with tools and guidance.
Rebecca Thompson: I start my day attending some of the stand-ups on the projects I oversee. Usually the Project Managers have everything on lock, but I always like to lend a helping hand or just pop in to make sure everything’s going smoothly. For the rest of the day, it’s usually a mix of project meetings, client check-ins, and working on some operational improvements within our department. I manage a few clients at Shockoe, so every day is always different and a new challenge – which is just the way I like it! I also recently converted my guest bedroom into my office / pottery studio, so to take mental breaks sometimes I just start making stuff!
- What drew you to the tech space?
Jessie Atkinson: Luck and fate. I was approached over the phone about 10 years ago from what I thought was someone trying to sell me something. After the individual on the other end politely convinced me she wasn’t selling me anything more than an opportunity to join a wonderful industry and organization, I took the plunge and haven’t looked back. I should mention though that I’m no tech wiz. I love learning about all the amazing tools out there and look forward to strengthening my skills.
Misty Smith: I’m from a family that would compete to see who could add the numbers on a license plate fastest to pass the time on long road trips, so mental math and thinking have been ingrained in my way of life from an early age. As a high school junior, I took a programming class. It felt like the logical structure and patterns resonated with the ways that my brain worked. I knew this was going to be a path that excited me and kept me thinking and solving problems for a lifetime. In college I chose a business-based computer degree to open the door to more opportunities. So I made a deliberate, life-long adventure of working in the tech space.
Rebecca Thompson: At the time I was a Project Manager in advertising, and I wanted something where I could grow my skill set, specifically using Agile and other methodologies. Technology seemed like a great fit for me, because at the core of what I love is making things that people need, or laugh at, or help make their day a little easier. And I want to surround myself with people who are amazing at what they do, and help them achieve their vision. I like making the hard stuff achievable– and letting my team members shine.
Paulina Hidalgo: This question is funny to me because I am probably the least techy person in our organization… The tech world is an ever evolving universe that allows us to provide the team with the ideal environment to play! What the tech world offers aligns directly with our values and that is what I keeps me the most connected to it.
- Why do you think it’s important to have different backgrounds and experiences in a company like Shockoe?
Jessie Atkinson: Diversity is critical to any successful unit whether it’s an organization, sports team, or group of friends. It’s nice to have things in common, but I always find I’m more challenged, dedicated, and engaged when I’m surrounded by people who present another view point. Having such a diverse group here at Shockoe allows us to really understand our clients points of view regardless of their industry, location, and culture. We never run into groupthink issues.
Misty Smith: The world at large is excitingly diverse. We at Shockoe can have the biggest impact by drawing on a broad range of inputs and ideas. This approach creates healthy tension and deep discussions, which ultimately leads to the best outcomes. It also allows our team members to tie their individual area(s) of expertise into larger solutions where the whole is greater than the sum of their parts.
Rebecca Thompson: Every voice and experience of our team is directly shown in the products we make. And the only way we can overcome our own internal bias is to have more diverse audiences contribute, whether it’s through testing, research, or as part of the product team. As opposed to advertising, where the creative team wants to introduce the concepts to the least amount of opinions possible and research is a dirty word, it’s really refreshing to work in technology where research and testing is paramount. Differing voices and opinions are not only welcome, but sought out. Having grown up in Richmond and witnessing the events of the last few years, it reinforces the fact that the work is never done to ensure systemic equity, and it’s important to me that we always push ourselves to do better.
Paulina Hidalgo: Every individual, every background, every culture offer a unique perspective and point of view. When those come together and get combined in our team, we are more innovative, creative, and efficient at serving our clients and making an impact in our diverse world!
- How has the pandemic reshaped your work at Shockoe or where you see the industry heading?
Jessie Atkinson: I started my career here at Shockoe during the Pandemic. We’re already seeing this across the industry, but organizations are recognizing the value added by allowing flexibility for their team. The pandemic has given individuals an opportunity to reflect on what’s really important to them and they’re looking for the organization in which they’re employed to offer a workplace, schedule, and benefits that reflect and enhance that.
Misty Smith: The vast majority of our workforce is “working from wherever,” which was not the norm prior to the pandemic. It gives everything a more autonomous, accountability-driven feeling. Plus our pets are loving it! I personally miss actually “seeing” people IRL, as you get so much from body language and the ability to pick up on nuances — to know it’s time to shift the discussion to what may be going unspoken. I think the industry will continue to enhance the ways we can fill that in-person contact gap so we can continue to have the flexibility to work in the environment(s) where we are most productive.
Rebecca Thompson: The pandemic definitely had an impact on my work and also the industry as a whole. For my own work, being remote has actually helped us work stronger together within our product teams. On a Google Hangout, we’re each in our individual boxes, which is the ultimate equalizer. People in Richmond in a room together aren’t separated from our co-workers in Mexico. Everyone can be seen and heard (if they turn their camera on…), which gives a sense of ownership to everyone in that worksession. I also love the emphasis on wellness and taking time away from your computer to take a walk, be active, do pottery (!), or run errands if you need to. Work-life balance turned from a buzzword to an actual reality.
In the industry, we’ve all seen every company be pushed into digital– whether they were ready for it or not. Customers went from being extremely wary of certain digital services like Instacart (“How could anyone pick my produce better than I can? I would never use that.”), to embracing it fully (“Wow it saves me so much time just to put an order in ahead of time and go pick it up when it’s ready, I can’t imagine ever going back.”). It’s definitely a reinforcement of our focus at Shockoe, which is digital products or experiences that make life easier for users.
Paulina Hidalgo: The pandemic has come with many lessons and challenges along the way. Our team as a whole learned valuable lessons in resilience and adaptability and we continue growing every day. My role shifted in a way that I had to learn how to lead and engage a remote team in ways that I never knew were possible. While the essence of my work remained the same, the methods and systems changed. Our partners also changed as we looked for the support of others who had more experience with remote work and could aid us along the way! As we come out of the other end of the pandemic, I believe flexibility in the workplace will continue being important. However, humans and teams thrive on strong connections and relationships, so we will continue providing opportunities for in person collaboration to maintain engagement and energy levels going strong.
- Who is someone that inspires you in your work?
Jessie Atkinson: Every single woman (and man) who took a stand during Covid to put their families and their own wellness first. Many individuals (women in particular) made a change in their career, employer, etc. during the pandemic because they had enough of the grueling schedules, impossible demands, and lack of empathy. People were sick of having to choose between a happy home life and a successful career. We as an industry are feeling the ripple effect of that now. Kudos to those who made the difficult but rewarding decisions.
Misty Smith: Who is someone that inspires you in your work? This one is hard. So many inspirations. I will say it’s most often a combination of the spirit of my 5th grade teacher Elaine Nino (who just passed away in November) and the work ethic of my 100 year old Grandmother, Lorace Coe. Why you may ask?
Ms. Nino always had a smile — her enthusiasm was infectious. She was inspiring, creative, energetic, and instilled a love of learning in everyone that crossed her path. She patterned how you can use positivity and deliberate support of self-management to garner hard work from yourself and those around you. She also helped us through the devastating Challenger explosion by showing how to deal with the shock and grief that she clearly felt as a fellow teacher. Happy people have other feelings too, it’s about the resiliency of your spirit.
As for Granny — she left high school to help her family (she had 10 siblings) but went back the next year to ensure she graduated. She spent multiple decades volunteering as a Gray Lady at the hospital in her desire to serve others. She push-mowed (not a self-propelled mower either) her own lawn well into her 80s and tended her vast vegetable garden daily into her 90s. Until very recently, she walked/hiked about 3 miles daily. I grew up in the house next door to her, so I saw first hand her tenacity along with the benefits reaped when hard work is sown. That and peas never taste quite as good as when you freshly shell them after picking them from the garden.
Rebecca Thompson: I’m inspired daily by the sheer brainpower of my team members. Nothing puts me more in gear than having my team also pushing themselves for perfection. People like (Strategist) Mason Brown and (iOS Lead) Justin Boswell– I sometimes shake my head and am like “man, I’m witnessing the tech leaders of the future here.” I also owe a debt of gratitude to (former Engagement Manager) Stephen Baker, who helped make sure I had the opportunities to grow, and who I still try to emulate on a near-daily basis.
I’ve also been really lucky to have strong female mentors throughout my career, who have helped me see something in myself that I wasn’t able to before. At The Martin Agency, then-Director of Digital Production Lalita Koehler took me under her wing, and helped uncover my passion and strength for leading digital teams. I was also lucky to work with such great examples of how to lead authentically as a woman, with strength, grace, and empathy — women like Kristen Cavallo, Britta Dougherty, Jodie Ballard, Karen Baber, Laurel Busony, Val Middleton, and I’m sure so many more.
Thank you to all the women in the tech industry past and present who have made the strides you have! If you missed last weeks webinar be sure to check out the recording here to learn more about some of the (many!) women leading the way in tech!