Diversity, equality, and inclusion is more than just a goal for the technology world — it’s a necessity. That’s why Mission Critical hosts the annual Women in Technology contest. As the demands for data generation, consumption, sharing, storage, processing, and more continue to grow and cybercriminals become increasingly more threatening, it’s clear that the industry needs more people to collaborative on innovative solutions to consumer needs, sustainable connectivity, and cyber safe infrastructure.
Women from all over the world in a wide range of technology sectors, including data centers, health care, and food processing, were nominated for their admirable contributions to the industry and the people who rely on it.
As Rebecca Ellis, president of Questions & Solutions Engineering Inc. and one of this year’s winners, so matter-of-factly put it, “If technology is to benefit all people, then all people need to be represented in the development and application of that technology.”
And, with that, Mission Critical is excited to introduce you to the 2022 Top 25 Women in Technology.
Title: Senior Vice President of Delivery
Company: Compass Datacenters
Education: Bachelor of Science in physics from the U.S. Naval Academy, master’s degree in human resources management from Troy State University
Organizational Affiliations: Chief
Achievements/Awards: Infrastructure Masons IM100 Award (2021)
What made you realize you wanted to pursue a career in technology?
When I was a child, I would always be asking why, challenging the way things were done and proposing new ways of doing things. There was always an internal tug-of-war between those instincts and the desire to be a “good kid” who would follow rules and get the approval of parents and teachers. But those questioning, problem-solving instincts are huge assets in the technology industry. I get to ask those questions every day and then work with incredible people to come up with new ways of solving things. This career has allowed me to fully embrace those qualities I’ve always had, and it is very satisfying.
What inspires you to do what you do?
As a young person, I always wanted to do work that felt deeply meaningful. And that has been a guiding principle for each stage of my career. One thing that I should mention for young women who are taking the first steps in their career is that I took a very winding path to get to the technology industry. I was in the military and had amazing experiences during that part of my career. And, I also did very fulfilling work in the construction industry. But both of those industries are fundamentally about risk mitigation, for reasons that are completely understandable. Mitigating risk is literally a life and death responsibility when you’re operating missile systems or when you are building huge, complex structures. But the technology industry is different, and questioning the “way we’ve always done it” is one of the most important aspects of my job. I love it. And it makes me excited to come to work every day.
What role does sustainability play in your life?
Sustainability is a huge focus of the work I do for Compass, but it’s also a really important value that my family takes to heart at home. At work, one of the most important aspects of my job is to collaborate with brilliant colleagues, like Nancy Novak, to rethink every aspect of how data centers are designed, built, and operated — all with the goal of making them better for the planet. At home, my family is equally focused on sustainability to ensure the choices we make are having a positive impact, too. We think carefully as a family about the food we eat, where it comes from, how we consume energy, the cars we drive, the products we buy, the causes we support and so much more. Our choices, even very small choices, add up and make a difference, and I’m very proud of my kids that they have made this such an important principle for how they live their life every day.
What is the most fascinating thing you have learned while working in this industry?
Data centers are endlessly fascinating, not only because of how they are built and how they work, but also because of the indispensable role they play in every aspect of our lives. I am humbled by how important these facilities are and how much responsibility comes with the work our industry does. Technology that uses data centers as its digital infrastructure has a bigger and bigger impact on our world each day, both good and not so good. Our industry is changing the world, and I want to do everything I can to maximize the positive impact on the world that our kids are inheriting.
What’s something unique about you personally?
My career began in the Navy, and I had the extraordinary experience of working for Gen. Colin Powell when I was very young. He was a humble leader who brought thoughtfulness, empathy, and wisdom to the decisions he made and the way he interacted with everyone he worked with and met. He had a profound impact on me as a person and on my vision of what leadership looks like. I am very lucky to have had that experience with a person who had such integrity and such a clear vision of the impact he wanted to have on the world.
What’s something unique about you professionally?
One of the most interesting things about the data center industry is how many people come from other industries before landing in the mission critical industry. So often, I’ve noticed that those backgrounds are from very niche areas of expertise, which give them incredibly valuable skill sets in the data center world. My background is very different, making me much more of a generalist than so many other senior people I know in the data center world. That has allowed me to add value in a very different way: by drawing on the breadth of educational and work experiences I’ve had, ranging from my time in the military to my degree in physics to my construction management career and so forth. There are very important roles for generalists to play, even in the technology industry, where our perspective and knowledge can be a powerful complement to colleagues with far deeper experience in narrower fields.
What’s your most admirable quality?
Humility. I love to learn new things and love to be around amazing people who can teach me about things they have expertise in. The best leaders I have ever been around have a boundless curiosity, a humility about how much there is to learn, and a desire to be lifelong learners who are open to the people and world around them.
Why is diversity, equality, and inclusion important to you?
It’s incredibly important to me and my family because the world needs to be a place that has more opportunity, justice, prosperity and peace for everyone. It’s also incredibly important in the work world because the only way we can achieve ambitious things as organizations is to have the talents of a wide range of people. I saw that firsthand in the military, and diversity was equally impactful for the projects I managed in construction. The technology industry has a long way to go fostering more diversity and inclusivity, so I’m proud to work at a company that puts such a big focus on that and has such a long track record of putting those principles into action.
What aspect of the industry do you think has the most potential for growth, and, on the other hand, which aspect do you think needs the most improvement?
There is so much more to be done in terms of sustainability of digital infrastructure, and I want us to move much, much faster as an industry. The plain truth is that we could be moving much faster if we were collectively bolder. There are a number of companies making great strides, including the one I work for, but I want us as an industry to accelerate those efforts and make them as comprehensive as possible. As an example, I believe the data center industry has a plausible path toward being a net contributor to the electricity grid rather than a major global consumer of power. Those are the kinds of collective goals I think we should have, and I would like to see industrywide collaboration making that a reality.