This “Women in Tech Week” feature is dedicated to Lori (Schiller) Jones, Director of Application Development @ Marco Technologies.
‘I have to know what you do for a living.’ My daughter’s kindergarten teacher greeted me on the playground with curiosity. Suppressing a giggle, she related today’s ‘Carpet Time’, where her students sat pretzel-legged and shared what their parents do while they are at school learning. My precocious 5-year-old raised her hand eagerly and announced, ‘My Mommy draws boxes, and if you are quiet in the blue chair while she makes them, the ladies will take you for a donut!’
I smiled and translated. ‘Drawing boxes, sure, that’s UX design, front-end development of input forms for my database consulting business. It could also be designing report grids for deliverables as well.’
‘OK, but blue chair? Donut?’ she prompted. I continued, ‘Working from home while my three kids are in school or napping, sometimes it gets a little creative around here. I have an arrangement with one client, who agreed that I can bring my daughter with me when necessary. The last Thursday of the month I run their commissions database maintenance and yes, she sits with her books in a blue chair next to me.’
Then I finally connected the rest of the dots. ‘It’s the regional office for a walk-in hair salon business, and the stylists are often there for training opportunities. On a recent practicum day there was quite the excitement at her cuteness, and she was whisked away while I crunched numbers. She came back with an updo and a jelly-filled!’
We laughed some more. ‘What a wonderful client you have!’ the teacher exclaimed. I nodded, ‘Yes, I sure do.’ As I popped my daughter into the car to pick up groceries, memories came back to my first encounter with Kitty.
She peered at me over her chic glasses, eyes assessing but not unkind. I curbed my inner turmoil, chinned up, and met her gaze. I mustered resolve and detailed my experience, which included a commitment to data quality and integrity, user-friendly interfaces, attention to detail and accurate reporting.
Kitty wasn’t aware that there had been just enough gas in the tank of our old minivan to attend this initial meeting. The suit I wore was my best one of one, and in 45 minutes I needed to pick up my kids from school and grandma’s house.
‘You’re an entrepreneur?’ it was half statement, half inquiry. ‘Yes’, I replied, and the resulting pause was prolonged. ‘I can support that.’ she said and stood up. Was the interview over?
And so began an engagement which continued throughout the next five years, and I would come to admire and respect my client. She was a force; she strode purposefully, spoke her mind, and never held back. Kitty courageously invested in technology, and together we designed a metrics program that brought success and growth to their business.
My dream of owning my own database design business was realized from hard work, determination, and the support of leaders like Kitty, progressive before her time, open to flexible hours, a hybrid model and work-family balance. She arranged with her IT provider to grant me remote access so that I could ensure Y2K didn’t disrupt business activities. I’ll never forget connecting to their server just after the ball dropped and breathing a sigh of relief when all my code moved seamlessly into the next century.
Since that time, I have done my part to ‘support that’ every chance I get. I remained self-employed for over 25 years, expanding my network to create a referral system which promoted other female technology experts. I returned to my alma-mater, UW-Whitewater, and shared with students how they could make their aspirations a reality. Now as the Director of Application Development for Marco Technologies, I use my sphere of influence to mentor other women. I am active in our Early Careers internship program at Marco and participate in Marco’s women leaders’ group. As co-Chair of the Women in Technology (WIT) – Wisconsin OnCampus program, we provide support and encouragement for female students seeking technology-related professions. Opportunities are everywhere.
If you are poised at the starting line of your technology career – find a mentor. Seek a champion and a cheerleader and a constructive critic, someone who will provide honest feedback and a strong shoulder. If you’re further along, more established in your career, then you surely have lessons learned. Be the person you needed at that young age, share your stories, your pitfalls, and your triumphs, so that another ambitious female can grow in the field of technology.
Kitty took a chance on me – a young female technology business owner with a family. She likely doesn’t remember that first exchange, but it forever changed the trajectory of my career, self-confidence, and future.
Lori (Schiller) Jones – https://www.linkedin.com/in/lori-jones-0a28b013/