5 Women Detail Their Paths to Professional Happiness in Chicago Tech

by Alton Zenon III
September 18, 2019

Seemingly small actions — being mentored, picking up a new hobby, assuming a new responsibility — can have huge ripple effects on professionals in the technology space. 

With the variety of roles within the industry, sometimes simple habits can lead to career-defining moments that set someone on a path to professional success and happiness. We love to tell these stories, and we’ve collected five of them from women working in Chicago tech here.

 

 

West Monroe Partners team in group photo
west monroe partners

Data Engineering Technology Manager Carol Hadler taught herself to code long before her professional career began. Her hobby of managing HTML eventually turned into a love for managing datasets, and after taking on a role doing just that for clients at the consultancy West Monroe Partners, she hasn’t looked back. 

 

Why did you decide to pursue a career in tech?

Growing up, I was always interested in the latest technologies and taught myself HTML to build intricate websites. In college, I switched to the operations management and information systems program because it was a blend of my interests in technology, business processes and management. I gravitated toward data and analytics once I started managing a grades database as a teaching assistant, where I learned SQL and produced reports. This experience gave me a good foundation to join the data and analytics group at West Monroe Partners, where I’ve been for the last five years.

I was always interested in the latest technologies and taught myself HTML to build intricate websites.”

 

What do you love most about your tech career, and what aspects of your job really make you light up?

I get excited by solving problems utilizing data. I manage data projects for the firm’s healthcare and insurance clients, where I take what was once a mess of unrelated data, simplify it and present the analysis to key stakeholders. It’s rewarding to see how my clients leverage these insights to inform key business decisions, which will create a lasting impact for their organizations.

 

Team members at Stata Decision Technology smiling and cheering
Strata Decision Technology

Maddy Koch went from working with turns of phrase to tech, and found the perfect career for her. She is currently a quality assurance lead at Strata Decision Technology, a cloud-based efficiency platform for healthcare companies, but she didn’t always know what she wanted her career path to look like. It took a few role changes and a risk for her to find lane. 

 

Why did you decide to pursue a career in tech?

I graduated with a liberal arts degree in English and when I entered the workforce, I did not have a clear path. I began my career as a receptionist in the financial services industry and worked my way through various roles. Eventually, I became the subject matter expert for a new online application that we were building to replace an old paper check adjustment process. I wore many hats in those days including trainer, member services coordinator, tech writer and tester. I enjoyed all of my relationships with co-workers, customers, vendors, and the like — but I especially enjoyed working with developers.

After our company was acquired, I was asked if I was interested in doing system quality testing. I felt uncertain that I was qualified, but a colleague assured me that I had already been doing that work. I took the leap and officially started on my career path as a quality assurance tester. Since that time, I have grown my understanding of and ability to influence the software we build today — both as a subject matter expert and a people manager. 

I enjoyed all of my relationships with co-workers, customers, vendors, and the like, but I especially enjoyed working with developers.”

 

What do you love most about your tech career, and what aspects of your job really make you light up?

I love working with others to solve problems. It’s a joy to be surrounded by so many bright, playful and hard-working people — it raises my game and inspires me every day. I am always learning and never bored. Most recently, I have become interested in using metrics to tell a story and drive decisions. I have found that clear communication is key to getting anything done with high quality. So, despite landing in a technology career, it turns out that English degree came in handy after all.

 

Venmo team working at whiteboard
venmo

You can use Venmo to pay for pretty much anything, and within the tech world, Technical Program Manager Portia Woodhouse has done pretty much everything — so the two are well suited for one another. Portia said she loves sharing her experiences working in tech with others that might be interested in the field.

 

Why did you decide to pursue a career in tech?

I’ve been in tech for 10 years. I chose this path because I’m a problem solver at heart and the tech space has always intrigued me. My roles and responsibilities have ranged from leading IT security projects and enterprise Agile transformations, to building and delivering new products and features at companies that are well regarded in their industry. 

Utilizing my career wins to pay it forward is what makes my job purposeful.”

 

What do you love most about your tech career, and what aspects of your job really make you light up?

Each day I get to work with talented people on products that are changing how we live. We problem solve and build new products together that millions of people use. Additionally, I’m passionate about exposing others to careers in tech. When I talk about what I do, who I work for, and see people light up with interest and excitement to learn more, that’s what excites me. Utilizing my career wins to pay it forward is what makes my job purposeful. It keeps me on my toes and challenges me to step outside of my comfort zone because when I do, I grow and achieve more, and in turn can leverage those wins to inspire others.

 

Women at Mastery Logistics Systems standing for a photo
Mastery Logistics Systems

Mastery Logistics Systems’ Director of Engineering Rebecca Miller-Webster loves using her programming powers for good. She said she takes joy in building benevolent things — a mindset perfect for a position at a company that aims to reduce waste in the freight industry. This mentality also translates to her roles as a manager, where she works to help her team members blossom into their best professional selves. 

 

Tell us a bit about your career journey. Why did you decide to pursue a career in tech?

I took Computer Science 101 my freshman year of college because I liked Napster, AngelFire and other long-forgotten places on the web. While learning to program in C wasn’t really about the internet, I really enjoyed it and my professor, a woman, took me under her wing. Later, I wanted to understand how programming translated into the websites and programs I loved, so I took a year off and tried to get an internship. I ended up getting a full-time, remote job working for a consulting company and I absolutely loved it. And almost 15 years later, here I am.

For me, programming has always been a tool to create things and do good in the world.”

 

What do you love most about your tech career, and what aspects of your job really make you light up?

Early in my career, I adored making something and seeing it go out into the world and help people. For me, programming has always been a tool to create things and do good in the world. Today I spend a lot more time managing. I love watching my direct reports grow. I also love getting to think about both the big picture — asking questions like “What is this product and how does it serve users?” — and the day-to-day.

 

Supernova Companies team members in group photo
Supernova Companies

What do you do when your work at one company starts to bore you? Simple: build another company from the ground up. At least that’s what Chief Compliance Officer Julie Schmidt did with the securities-based lending solutions provider Supernova Companies. She took the skills she developed from an extensive career in finance and flipped them to give a new company, and her career, an evolution. 

 

Why did you decide to pursue a career in tech?

I have been in financial services my entire career, with the bulk of that time at one of the large wirehouses. Five years ago, someone approached me about an idea for a new company. We talked a bit and the possibilities really whet my appetite — I could use my compliance and financial services experience to help build a brand new company. The exciting twist was this was not going to be solely a financial company; it was part of the ever-growing fintech industry. I loved my prior job and the people I worked with, but it had become stale. This opportunity gave me the chance to build on my experience and take it in a new direction.

I could use my compliance and financial services experience to help build a brand new company.”

 

What do you love most about your tech career, and what aspects of your job really make you light up?

I love being the chief compliance officer of a fintech company. I have learned so much over the last five years. The best part of my job is the people that I work with. They are dedicated, hard-working and still find time to have fun. For someone in compliance, it’s not uncommon to be the person everyone tries to avoid and at Supernova, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Being a part of a company that you helped build from the ground up has helped form a strong culture of compliance. We all want to do the right thing for the right reasons in the right way — and for me, that is the best.

 

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