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Women in Tech: Kristen Hardwick & Summer Romack

August 28, 2017

This month’s Women in Tech interview features two members of the Lotame Engineering team, Summer Romack and Kristen Hardwick. Both are driving forces in the success of Lotame’s back and front end engineering, proving that technology roles are slowly , but surely, becoming more gender equal.

Haley: Where were you prior to Lotame?

KH: Most of my career has been as a government contractor, but just before joining Lotame I was Vice President of Big Data Solutions for a consulting startup called Spry just north of Baltimore. We offered Data Science and Data Engineering services across many different verticals, and my role was a mix of account manager, architect, and developer on many of the projects. Spry was acquired and absorbed into an amazing Marketing company about two years ago, which is how I discovered the thriving Advertising technology scene in Baltimore, and eventually made my way to the Lotame team.

SR: Prior to Lotame, I worked at Millennial Media (now part of AOL) as a software engineer. Prior to that I was a consultant doing mostly web-based development for clients in a range of industries.

Haley: What are some key differences that you see between men and women in the workplace, if any, on a day to day basis, and specifically on the engineering team?

KH: Right now my engineering team is actually mostly women (two on a three person team, including myself), so I was expecting to finally be able to answer a question like this with a real answer. However, it’s no different from any other male-majority team I’ve ever been on! A team of talented people that work well together is going to be great, regardless of gender or other distinguishing factors.

SR: Because I don’t generally work with many other female developers, I personally find it difficult to distinguish what differences in approach are because of gender versus just personal style differences.

Haley: Are you a manager? If so, can you explain your style of management?

KH: Yes, I was recently made a manager for my team. My favorite managers have been those that allowed me to weigh in on decisions before they were made, so I try to incorporate that into my management style. I don’t like when things are happening in ways that I can’t inspect and critique, so I’m always very open to feedback and hearing what’s working and what isn’t for each member of the team. Mostly, I try to make sure that each team member has what they need to “own” a specific section of the general goals, and then allow them the independence to work toward it – offering guidance where I can and resolving conflicts as needed.

SR: I am a manager. I would describe my style as collaborative. I believe in open and transparent communication and value teamwork. I strongly believe my job is to make my team successful and as effective as possible. In order to do that, I need to have a good understanding of each team member’s individual talents, interest, and goals. That isn’t enough, though, because they also have to be a cohesive team working together successfully and effectively. Individual rock stars are great, but a well-functioning team of smart people can do amazing things! In order to do this, there needs to be a sense of a team, a camaraderie and a common sense of trust and purpose. People need to be open, honest, and willing to ask for help and pitch in where needed. I also believe having fun and laughing is an important component to an effective team!

Haley: Do you report to a male or female? How would you describe his or her styles of management?

KH: I report to a male. I would say that his management style focuses on making sure that the people on the team have what they need to be successful and feel like they’re contributing to something worthwhile. He’s a great resource both for technical questions and for general questions about the industry – which is a big help for me since I’m still new in the Martech world.

SR: I report to a male. He is incredibly knowledgable about the platform and the business. He is calm and hands off. He tends to let our team do its thing, but will speak up when he disagrees with a direction or has some information that we need in order better inform our decisions.

Haley: Do you view the technology industry as being male dominated?

KH: Yes. I think we are all still in the process of eliminating some “traditional” behavior of aligning skill sets with gender, and until that happens we will continue to see the technology industry skew male. I do think we are making good progress in that direction, so I’m hopeful that as the younger generations choose their career paths, they have enough examples of success (with all aspects of diversity) to remove any self-imposed bias that subconsciously limits their options.

SR: My experience has been, especially recently, that there certainly tend to be significantly more men than women working in software development. I don’t know if you call that male dominated, but it is a noticeable imbalance. That wasn’t the case for me when I initially started doing web development, but over the last decade, it seems to be the case. I’m hopeful that’s starting to change and there are a lot of wonderful organizations out there trying to encourage women (and girls) to get into software development, and technology as a whole. Kristen and I recently attended a workshop put on by a group called Women in Big Data. This was just one event in a series aimed at encouraging women to learn about Big Data.

Haley: What would you say is the biggest obstacle that you have met head on in the martech industry or in your role here at Lotame?

KH: Terminology! The martech industry has its own vernacular, and when I first joined, I had a lot of trouble keeping everything straight. On top of that, there are many different complex components behind-the-scenes working together to make the Lotame platform operate as well as it does. Learning both sides at once has been a challenge, but luckily everyone else at Lotame already has these things figured out.

SR: I think the biggest obstacle is just the amount of coordination needed with so many different priorities and projects going on at once. Along the transition path from startup to a larger organization, ensuring knowledge sharing through the organization and balancing expertise with breadth of knowledge becomes specifically challenging. It also can be difficult to focus on doing a few things well instead of trying to tackle everything at once. Having the discipline and strategy as an organization to narrow focus without killing agility and innovation is key.

Haley: What piece of advice would you give to women in management roles?

KH: There’s always more to learn. Be open-minded and appreciate feedback, but don’t feel that you have to act on every suggestion that’s offered.

SR: Know what you bring to the table and be confident in it. Don’t be afraid to have a different perspective or approach. Always stay curious and continue learning. Challenge yourself but don’t try too hard to be something you’re not.

Haley: Where do you see the industry going in the next 5-10 years?

KH: I’m definitely not one for predictions, but there are always going to be new data sources that can be pulled in. One of those new data sources is definitely going to be data from smart TVs, which we’ve already started taking advantage of with the TV DMP product. In the next few years, people are going to be relying on TV audience-level targeting just as heavily as they rely on desktop and mobile audiences today.

SR: In this industry, 5-10 years is pretty long time. I think cross-device targeting and attribution will continue to expand and converge to include a larger range of devices. Overall I think the specific type of device or even ID will become less important as it becomes just one more bit of information available about a particular identity. I also see portability of data getting even more important as it is a critical business asset and the ability to move it in and out of systems provides the flexibility needed to make the most of it.