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Women in Tech: Vonda Page

“‘They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself,’” said Radical Change founder and CEO Vonda Page, quoting one of her favorite artists, Andy Warhol, during her recent keynote presentation at the Infotec 2021 virtual conference.

“What types of changes happen over time with no effort?” she asked rhetorically, setting herself up to answer with an insight that was amplified by its understatement: “I can’t really think of any.”

Page describes herself as a “STEMinist”—an advocate for increased diversity, equity and inclusion in the traditionally male-dominated disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math. She encourages companies to reimagine innovation as more than the domain of new products and processes, but as a sustained, ambitious, collective effort of imagination inextricably linked to the advancement of society.

“(Innovation is) about looking for that unheard of or outlandish idea that, when adopted, could spur meaningful and radical change,” she said. 

Page is no stranger to change. In an interview with SPN last week, she said she’s always been an early adopter of new technology.

As a tenth grader, the future entrepreneur landed a position at a small insurance office. A few days into her first-ever job, the company bought a fax machine (it was 1984). However, Page’s boss did not want to read the enormous operation manual that came with it. So, he asked her to figure it out—and then to teach him. 

She would go on to become the de facto troubleshooter for the rest of the office whenever her employer would purchase new hardware or software. In college and grad school, she worked in restaurants and hotels and began wondering how new technologies, structures and systems impacted people.

“(For instance,) how does the new ordering system impact the dishwasher? Oh, nobody even thought it could impact the dishwasher, because you think it just affects the waitress who’s taking the order or the chef who’s fixing it,” she said. 

 This interest in the intersection between people and tech laid the foundation for a robust career that has led her to roles in various companies, ranging from web developer to organizational change manager. She describes the latter as someone who positions teams and companies for success so that change “doesn’t suck.”

Her most recent role at payment-processing giant Paypal allowed her to develop a connection with Omaha that continues into the current phase of her journey as entrepreneur. 

“What I’ve always liked is the integration of technology into business,” she said. “You really can’t separate the two.”

In 2020, as the pandemic ramped up and widespread protests over violence against Black people dominated headlines, Page launched Radical Change, a startup focused on learning, coaching and advisory services.

“Technology can be intimidating, especially for young girls and women—even nowadays—because it’s still such a male-dominated profession, (especially) the highly technical jobs like engineering, where we haven’t increased the number of women in those roles in the last 20 years we’ve been keeping statistics on it,” she said.

In fact, the Society of Women Engineers has found that only 30% of women who earn an engineering degree are still working in the profession 20 years later. While multiple reasons could account for that—such as motherhood, a change in interests or opportunities, retirement and so on—at least 30% of women who did leave the profession cited organizational climate as the reason.

Page offered a possible explanation for the gender disparity in highly technical roles: “It’s a communication thing, and it’s a style.”

She noted that a lot of men working in technology tend to enjoy focusing really hard on one specific technical skill. This leads them not to have as many interactions with different people, whereas she believes women enjoy working more with others.

“A lot of women nowadays are in roles such as product manager, program manager and other roles where you’re not just focused on the technology, but you have to have a complete and total view, and having that total view is more impactful when you’re…trying to do a big effort or a large body of work.”

Granted, she said, women do have to deal with things that men don’t, such as being judged on appearance, tone of voice and other superficialities. But, she added, sometimes this can actually be an advantage. 

“You really have to bring your voice to the table because you don’t have as many opportunities to talk,” she said. “You have to listen, understand, and add value relatively quickly.”

That said, Page singled out the AIM Institute and Prairie STEM for “looking at the bigger picture” and working to strengthen and diversify the IT workforce, something she’s long been interested in as a mentor to young women and people of color in technology.

“Throughout my career, being a Black woman, I’m always the only one, and so I always have gravitated towards mentoring young people (and helping them to understand that) even though there’s not a lot of people that look like you, you still belong here,” she said. “Everybody belongs in tech.”

To view Page’s Infotec 2021 keynote address, please visit the AIM Institute YouTube channel.

Latest cohort of Advanced Tech Leaders Academy graduates with career-changing leadership skills

Last Friday, AIM held a virtual graduation ceremony in celebration of the latest cohort to complete Advanced Tech Leaders Academy, AIM’s intensive leadership development program for tech professionals. 

Thirty-four participants from 14 companies completed this an annual management course for tech professionals, the goal of which is to enhance leadership skills essential for current and upcoming managers in the tech industry. 

The event was led by Todd Campbell, application development senior manager at TD Ameritrade and chair of the AIM Leadership Academy steering committee. In addition to his dayjob, Campbell teaches leadership development in both the Emerging and Advanced Tech Leaders Academies. (A skilled Jazz guitarist and songwriter, Campbell kicked off the ceremony by playing a snippet of one of his originals at the request of some attendees.)

Each attendee was given a moment to share what they had gained from the program. Testimonials were overwhelmingly positive. 

“I learned about myself and others, my own personal brand, how to improve in my current role and how to prepare for the next one,” said Mary Arko, Information Services Manager for Mutual of Omaha. “This has been an experience I will never forget.”

Change management, reality-based training, big idea thinking, servant leadership and identification of one’s personal strengths were consistently mentioned as some of graduates’ favorite aspects of Advanced Tech Leaders.

“Over the past few months, I’ve grown as a leader and have pushed myself to go outside my comfort zone, even though it can be really hard at times, especially with me being shy,” said Bryce Costanzo, software engineer at T.D. Ameritrade. 

Costanzo’s colleague, Tracy McElwee, scrum master for T.D. Ameritrade, agreed, citing initial discomfort with a virtual learning format as a factor that ended up helping her succeed in the course. “Over the last six months, I’ve grown so much. And while we all work in IT departments, we all brought something different, and that was the beauty of it.”

The course’s focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in the tech workplace was especially appreciated.

“I just want to thank not only the AIM team, but the entire cohort, because I really felt seen and heard, not only in my capstone group, but overall—and for me, that’s a rare professional experience,” said Vonda Page, organizational change manager for PayPal. “Because of that, I feel like I’m more connected to the Silicon Prairie tech community.”

To learn more about AIM’s Tech Leadership programs, visit our website or contact Monika Philp

Congratulations to all the graduates!

Stephanie Andresen, Blue Cross Blue Shield Nebraska

Mary Arko, Mutual of Omaha

Todd Briston, Team Software

Lynsey Byers, PayPal

Juan Chavez, Apple Inc.

Bernie Conway, Farm Credit Services of America

Bryan Costanzo, TD Ameritrade

Clinton Davis, BlueCross BlueShield of Nebraska

Charles Draper, Kiewit  

Ken Duncan, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Nebraska

Chad Dzingle, CSG 

Vladimir Georgiev, Mutual of Omaha  

Inna Goldman, Omaha Public Power District

Chris Greer, Mutual of Omaha 

Jorge Grimalado, Siena Francis House

Chequetta Jackson, Omaha Public Power District

Amanda Lane, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska

Tracy Masker, Gavilon, LLC

Tracy McElwee, TD Ameritrade

Sarah Muth, CSG 

Vonda Page, PayPal

Seth Phillips, Team Software

Sindura Polavarapu, TD Ameritrade

John Ramsey, Mutual of Omaha  

Samuel Requenez, Farm Credit Services of America

Jeris Rue, CSG 

Ashley Schantell, Farm Credit Services of America

James Schneider, Mutual of Omaha

Brett Schultz, Kiewit Corporation

Naveen Rangasamy Velusamy, CSG

Alesha Walker, Omaha Public Power District

Maryanne Weinstine, Kiewit

Scott Westbrook, Tenaska

Nathan Wood, FNTS

Infotec 2020: a virtual conference bringing tech professionals together safely in the middle of a pandemic

Who says a virtual conference can’t be a good substitute for the real thing? 

Who says a virtual conference isn’t the real thing in the first place?

Last week’s Infotec 2020 conference, hosted by the AIM Institute, proved the virtual conference is here to stay. The event offered a chance for the Silicon Prairie tech talent community to come together, network and learn new technologies and influential ideas they can bring back to their workplaces. 

Introduced by AIM’s Maria Brady, Paul Jarrett of Bulu Group kicked off things with a morning keynote about the necessity of failure on the way to success.

After that, participants attended a variety of breakout sessions ranging from a primer on machine learning to a panel of women IT leaders discussing how to make the tech sector a more equitable place for women and non-men.

The Women in Tech panel discussion was one of the most well-attended sessions, receiving stellar praise from attendees. (Watch the full discussion embedded below.)

Moderated by Brady, Women in Tech panelists were Vonda Page, organizational change leader for PayPal; Michelle Wingard, co-founder & CEO of Dynamo; Addison Parker, project engineer for Union Pacific; and Jessica Barry, IT manager for Conagra Brands.

“(The Women in Tech panel) was amazing,” said Lucy Podany, a student at Metropolitan Community College.

TD Ameritrade’s Tracy McElwee agreed. 

“All of the panelists were rock stars,” McElwee said. “I’ve attended a few virtual conferences over the last few months and the energy and content of this breakout session was by far the best!”

Dr. Pamela Boyers, associate vice chancellor for clinical simulation at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s iEXCEL program, gave the afternoon keynote about UNMC’s new Davis Global Center. The Davis Global Center employs high-tech simulation and visualization technology to help train healthcare professionals in real-world scenarios before they ever see a patient, ensuring well-trained staff and improved medical outcomes. 

More breakout sessions followed, including Werner Enterprises Associate Director of ITS Stacey Richter’s presentation about leading high-performing teams, and a session on the business value of diversity and inclusion presented by Shelton Banks, CEO of Chicago-based tech workforce development program re:work training.

Overall, Infotec 2020 featured informative, cutting-edge sessions around several key topic areas of today’s tech field: AI & Machine Learning, Cloud Technology, Data & Cybersecurity, Recruitment & Retention, and Leadership.

Many of the event’s 546 attendees enjoyed the diverse array of offerings, such as OPPD’s Alesha Walker.

“I jumped in and out of a few sessions, but all were very fascinating, from learning to fail successfully to being an empowered woman in the tech industry,” Walker said.

Missed the conference? Don’t worry. The full Infotec 2020 playlist is available on AIM’s YouTube channel. Don’t forget to like, subscribe, and share with your friends who are either working in the tech industry or considering technology as a future career choice.

AIM Institute pivots programs during pandemic to meet need for tech workers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Contact: Brian Ayers
bayers@nulllukaspartners.com
402-895-2552 ext. 308

OMAHA, Neb. (July 21, 2020) – AIM Institute, an innovative nonprofit that grows, connects and inspires Omaha’s tech community, has adapted its programming to keep career pursuits in technology on course while the pandemic accelerates an already rapidly changing employment landscape. As companies move toward automation and digital technology to cut costs and increase efficiency, communities face a drastic shortage of tech workers. Recently, community leaders involved with the Nebraska Tech Collaborative identified the need to add 10,000 tech workers in Nebraska by 2025.   

Tony Veland, Director of Community Engagement for AIM, said organizational investment in worker training programs and individuals investing in themselves is more critical now than ever. Careers in technology provide opportunities for workers to acquire skills to transition from shrinking industries into higher-paying growth careers. AIM, which had previously provided its nonprofit programming and services for youth and professional development in person, responded to the pandemic by quickly pivoting to deliver courses and training for youth, career-changers and established tech professionals in a virtual setting. 

“We needed to respond quickly because the pandemic has brought such attention to the importance of technology. We needed to still be able to deliver this important curriculum,” Veland said. “We went virtual with all of our offerings. We actually increased our curriculum and the ability to access it, which fills a need for those who lost jobs due to the pandemic and those who could benefit from developing valuable new skills.”   

In February 2020, the unemployment rate in Omaha was 2.9%, which skyrocketed to 10.2% by the end of April before closing out May at 6.5%. Uncertainty is the norm for most industries right now, Veland said, but the need to address the skills gap among American workers still makes careers in technology a reliable source of employment. 

“Tech is a great place to be because of the opportunities,” Veland said. “The tech sector is where you will find what are called ‘H3 jobs’ —high-wage, high-demand, high-skill jobs. Getting into these types of positions can change the trajectory of an individual’s life.”

Whether individuals are seeking exposure to technology through youth development programs, entry into a tech career or are established tech professionals in need of career development and leadership opportunities, AIM’s virtual programming provides the pathways:

Tech Navigator Service – A free service for students and adults to learn more about the opportunities in tech available in our community. The Tech Navigator Service assigns participants a Tech Career Coach to provide mentoring and support to create a custom career or education plan, as well as introductory tech education, workshops and resumé writing assistance. 

AIM Code School – Initiated in response to growing business needs for skilled developers, AIM Code School provides accelerated programs that train people with no prior coding experience to become junior-level developers in as little as 14 weeks. It also provides upskilling opportunities for current tech professionals with specialized courses in Java, .NET and more. Newsweek recently named AIM Code School one of the top online code schools of 2020. A variety of course offerings are currently available.

Heartland Developers Conference – Scheduled for September 24, the region’s longest-running software design and development event is available in a virtual format. National, regional and local leaders will share the latest knowledge, new techniques and provide workshops for entry-level and experienced tech professionals. 

Infotec Conference – The Infotec Conference is the Silicon Prairie’s premier annual gathering for business tech professionals. This year’s virtual event is on November 13, and is designed to draw ideas, insights and inspiration from attendees. Paul Jarrett, co-founder and CEO of Bulu, will be a featured keynote speaker.    

Advanced Tech Leaders Academy – The annual tech management course for tech professionals consists of one full-day of learning each month (October 2020 – May 2021) with a focus on common on-the-job issues faced by tech managers. It provides leadership and management training that addresses the challenges of global competition and a changing workforce. Participation is limited and an application is required for entry into the program.

Emerging Tech Leaders Academy – This academy helps emerging tech leaders discern their career path and provides participants with a better understanding on the issues, challenges and skills needed in IT leadership roles. The six-week program curriculum includes presentations from experienced IT leaders in the community, peer discussions and key areas of leadership development. The program is limited to 30 participants whose registration must be approved by their employers to attend.

Custom Corporate Training – AIM also provides customized corporate training services to area businesses to upskill the tech talent of existing employees. For more information about the program, email Tony Veland.

Veland said the pandemic presents a natural time for individuals to pause and evaluate their career options and opportunities for development.  

“It’s never a bad decision to invest in yourself,” Veland said. “If you look at the climate of employment, the opportunity is in tech and it continues to grow. AIM’s programs and relationships create access, remove barriers and develop potential.” 

For more information about these programs or to register, please visit aiminstitute.org/training.  

ABOUT AIM INSTITUTE

AIM Institute is an innovative nonprofit that grows, connects and inspires the tech talent community through career development and educational programs. Through these efforts, we improve thousands of lives across the Silicon Prairie. More information about AIM is available at aiminstitute.org.

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AIM Upward Bound Summer Academy goes virtual with new online learning portal

The AIM Institute’s Upward Bound Summer Academy is in full-swing online, serving 53 students during an uncertain summer that has upended the traditional model of after school programming and sent providers across the country scrambling to move their curriculum online. 

Upward Bound is a federally funded program that provides outreach, student services and tech education to youth from disadvantaged backgrounds to help them succeed in their precollege performance. AIM administers Upward Bound programs in five Omaha-area high schools. 

Running from June 22 to July 24, Summer Academy continues the intensive education and enrichment that students receive throughout the school year. It is traditionally held at the AIM Exchange Building in downtown Omaha and typically includes multiple field trips and campus visits. Due to COVID-19, students have had to miss the in-person aspect of Summer Academy. 

The shift to virtual learning has had some unexpected benefits, however, Upward Bound Project Director Tanya Jacha said. 

For instance, AIM is not limited to hiring teachers and having guest speakers from within the Omaha area. A wider applicant pool has helped diversify Summer Academy faculty, allowing the organization to add more teachers of color and LGBTQ+ teachers.

“We are just rocking diversity right now,” Jacha said. “It’s awesome, and the kids are noticing and talking about it. They really love that.”

Another benefit of going virtual has been the increased flexibility for students. Since they can access curriculum at their convenience, participants are better able to seek summer employment. 

In the past, students couldn’t work a day job during Summer Academy because they had to be on-location for classes and field trips. Students would have to forego employment or schedule their shifts at night after a long day of learning. That is no longer an issue.

“Being able to work has been a really big deal for our students,” Jacha said.  

All Hands on Deck for Virtual Learning
This spring, when it became clear that holding classes in-person would be unsafe due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, AIM staff immediately got to work designing and building an online portal to facilitate virtual learning.

Drawing on the team’s areas of expertise, AIM faculty and staff created a comprehensive virtual STEAM curriculum that includes classes on web development, current trends in technology, the history of scientific discoveries made by women, a survey of the world’s most difficult math problems, and even a creative nonfiction writing workshop, among other offerings.

Summer Academy instructor Jon Larsen encourages student participation with creative conversation starters.

Students have enjoyed the breadth of Summer Academy curriculum, Jacha said. The Intro to IT class, for instance, grounds students in the history, theory and function of computers and computer networks. During a live discussion on Zoom, students expressed surprise at various tidbits from the history of computing, like the fact that there used to be no Wi-Fi on planes. 

Jacha said students also enjoyed a presentation from iEXCEL, the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s simulation and visualization lab. The iEXCEL representative gave his presentation using a massive helix touchscreen, flying students through virtual bloodstreams and 360-degree views of different organs.

“Students were ooh-ing and ah-ing over that,” she said.

Learn more about AIM’s college access programs here.