Extraordinary Women in Tech Inspire & Be Inspired track representatives Adrienne McDowell and Ulyana Zilbermints talk about how to successfully change careers and compare notes on the much-needed shift they see toward people-centered innovation.
Nareeman Jamal: You began your career journey as a registered nurse, and now you’re an IT Executive in healthcare. Can you tell us about how you got into tech?
Adrienne McDowell: After graduating with a BSN degree and advancing through the ranks in Nursing and Healthcare administration, I made an unplanned but exciting leap into the Tech side of healthcare, which began as a subject matter expert for a large EHR implementation in what I thought was a very temporary capacity. But I found myself in the center of tech and not wanting to go back.
This transition was totally unexpected yet pivotal for my professional growth in terms of diversifying my skills and knowledge. I felt as if I had entered a tremendous world I knew nothing about–it was almost a leap of faith into the tech industry. This forced me to navigate into a new industry that was not familiar and begin a steep learning curve.
NJ: They say once you enter tech, you never leave! Ulyana, you also have somewhat of a non-traditional path to working in tech, and today you’re Avenue Code’s Chief Revenue Officer. Tell us about your career journey.
Ulyana Zilbermints: I was a journalist who had studied history, but when I came to San Francisco in 2003, I became fascinated with technology. I decided to become a recruiter so that I could learn everything about tech without being a developer or an engineer. I also love people, so for me it was the best way to learn technology. Once a recruiter, I quickly became a Sales Manager and then grew into my current role today as CRO.
NJ: What is your advice for women seeking to transition to a career in technology or any other field?
UZ: For women especially, it’s critical to find your voice and your passion. Start by digging deeper and see what excites you. For me, it’s people. You also need to be ok with starting something new and making mistakes. I found that people are very willing to help you if you just ask and show that you’re eager to learn. Above all, follow your passion.
AM: I encourage people to look at their career path as a lattice instead of a linear progression. Next, you need to find your unicorn–what is it that makes you unique? What are you drawn to? What are you naturally good at? Begin a self-awareness journey to figure out what is truly meaningful to you. Once you’ve identified this, you’ll have more opportunities because your awareness of what you’re interested in will show you where your career can go.
I also encourage people to test the waters and explore. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you won’t know until you try. Related to this, you need to strike up connections with people of all different walks of life and industries. Explore, network, and learn.
Lastly, after you do those things, be aware that you’re setting the example for others. There’s not any one right path to transition into tech or into a different field, but if people see your story, they can be encouraged to pursue their goals.
NJ: This is definitely a focus for our upcoming Extraordinary Women in Tech conference – networking with and being inspired by the stories of other women in technology. Adrienne, in your current role, you’re leading enterprise transformation at one of the nation’s largest health systems–what are the biggest innovation opportunities you see right now?
AM: We’re in an era where tech is everywhere you look. Healthcare is traditionally a little behind the eight ball, but at this moment, all tech companies big and small are working to innovate healthcare as we know it to be more consumer-focused. People are expecting the digital era in how they do business with healthcare. In particular, innovation is being incubated in medicine, telehealth, smart technologies, smartphone sensors, mobile apps, cloud storage, and robotics.
Outside of technology itself, though, our innovation focus should be centered on people. People are at the forefront of our strategic conversations. We need to be really thoughtful when we consider how we’re taking care of people and creating a culture where they can innovate. Innovation isn’t just tech advancement, it’s about putting people front and center – in a safe place for exploration.
NJ: This is definitely applicable across industries. Ulyana, you’re constantly speaking with executives in IT and business around the world, most recently for our Leaders inStudio videocast that’s taken you to Brazil, the Middle East, Europe, Canada, and beyond. What are the common topics and concerns you hear from leaders across the map?
UZ: We live in such a unique time where the world is more interconnected than ever. We used to have to travel to meet people, but now that we’ve all lived through a pandemic and shared the same experience, the world has become very flat. I’m a person of opportunity, so this excites me.
The biggest thing I’ve discovered is that leadership is universal. Every leader is unique, but one quality we share is that taking care of people is everyone’s number one concern. We’re all looking to create a people-first culture, which means being empathetic and inspiring, and also creating a culture of innovation.
The pandemic taught us a lot about how to be agile and adapt quickly, which for a lot of us means bringing ideas to the team, talking to every person, and becoming vulnerable. Before, leadership was more about leading by example, and now it’s also about leading with empathy. Our work is about tech and innovation, but as Adrienne said, it’s about people first.
The other very exciting change I see is that new geographies are emerging as tech hubs. Now that companies everywhere are embracing a remote work culture and opening remote-only roles, people can work from islands in Portugal, travel to Europe, and have a culture of balance since there’s no separation between work and home. Because of this change, we’re seeing continents like Africa becoming tech hubs, which is very exciting.
NJ: As we think about the world being more connected than ever in its exchange of ideas, we have an even greater anticipation of our upcoming Extraordinary Women in Tech conference that brings together female leaders from everywhere. Adrienne, can you give us a sneak peek of your talk and tell us which aspect of the EWiT Conference excites you the most?
AM: Talent is not a game, it’s the game. We need to double down on what that means. So I will be talking about how to take the talent transformation journey to another level by transforming and optimizing the operating model, building programs to attract the right talent at the right time and place, focusing on diversity, being digitally astute, and being mission focused. That’s what allows organizations to succeed.
Another component of this is making sure that we’re not just looking at tech teams but also increasing the digital mindset and aptitude of all business stakeholders. I’ll look at optimizing for scale through transformation change levers, thinking about organizational health, capacity management, sourcing strategies, location footprints, and centralization of services, all with people truly at the core of what we do and why we do it.
It’s so easy in today’s fast-paced environment for people to get lost behind the Zoom box and lose sight of the fact that we have passions, hearts, and families. There are things behind the blue screen that organizations need to put at the forefront of finding and nurturing talent.
NJ: Very exciting! Ulyana, EWiT is actually your brainchild. What inspired you to start this community?
UZ: It’s so near and dear to my heart because when I was starting in the IT industry fifteen years ago, about 99% of the IT leaders and executives I met were male, and it was so hard to find female leaders in tech as role models. Especially when you’re starting your career, you want to find a female leader to be inspired by, and I want to give other women this network, because without that it’s really hard to succeed.
Everyone’s talking about D&I, and it’s great that this is a growing concern, but we’re still far away from a balanced world. EWiT gives people a springboard to make a leap of faith to transition their career into tech, and it gives women already in tech a way to find their voices and become leaders. I want this to be an inspirational network where we feel free to share our experiences balancing our lives as employees, mothers, and women with passions and interests, and also figure out how to lead our teams with that same empathy.
NJ: Tell us about a woman who inspires you!
AM: I was surrounded by strong women growing up, but none of them worked in a professional capacity. I come from a family of entrepreneurs that was primarily male-dominated; they encouraged me to have a seat at the table, but I wondered why none of the other women in my family pursued this. I set out from a very early age to be a co-contributor and a co-leader. I started as a nurse because I wanted to help people, then moved to administration. So for me, it was not having women at the table that inspired me.
The second part of my motivation is to promote women to continue to seek whatever dreams they have. Women are generally seen as nurturers, but honestly, in my career I’ve seen that a lot of working women don’t necessarily want to see other women succeed, and I really want to be the female leader who inspires other women.
NJ: For me, my mom was an inspiration as the only woman in my family who worked. Even though her family discouraged her, she worked because she was a single mom and eventually became the head of a department at a hospital. She always reminded me, “Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do; if you don’t think you can do it, that’s fine, but never back down because someone else thinks you can’t do it.”
UZ: My inspiration was my mother as well. She is strong and powerful, and she has so much energy. I definitely took on her unstoppable force, and that's what made me who I am.
NJ: Thank you for sharing your inspiring thoughts and stories, Adrienne and Ulyana. I look forward to seeing you both at Avenue Code’s Extraordinary Women in Tech conference in October!
About Extraordinary Women in Tech
The Extraordinary Women in Tech Global Conference 2022 is a networking platform for female leaders and rising tech stars that cultivates an open exchange of innovative thinking, ground-breaking technologies, and mentoring toward personal and professional goals.
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Nareeman is an Account Manager at Avenue Code. She's passionate about working with executives and advancing women in business. She’s inspired by traveling, meeting new people, and getting exposed to new cultures. Other than traveling, she enjoys reading, crossfit, and spending time with family.