Technology was not Marina Brown’s first choice of profession. Originally from Bulgaria, Brown is the daughter of medical professionals who urged her to become a doctor. She wasn’t interested in medicine, however. And as high school slid toward college, she began noticing how new technology was coming out all the time—and that programmers had fairly lucrative jobs.
She is now the manager of product development and data science at Werner Enterprises, a global transportation and logistics company headquartered in Omaha. She’s also an authority on cutting edge technology. At this year’s Infotec conference, for instance, she gave a presentation on the business applications of machine learning.
None of that would have happened without a kind of rebellion against her parents’ desire for her to study medicine. Once she realized she wanted to work in tech, she pursued her B.S. in Computer Information Management from College of Saint Mary in Omaha. She found herself adept at coding.
“I’ve always loved mathematics and have studied mathematics pretty hard for most of my life, so programming just made sense,” Brown said. “It was all about solving problems, and I love to solve problems.”
Shortly after college, she attended the prestigious University of Southern California to study for a Master’s degree Artificial Intelligence. She was a little bit ahead of her time, however.
“I wanted to build machines that could act, feel, and interact like humans. Back then, though, people were mostly focused on optimization and figuring out how to get a person from Point A to Point B in the fastest way. That wasn’t what I’d been thinking about when I thought about artificial intelligence.”
So she dropped out of that program and pursued a profession in product management. She worked at First National Bank as a product manager for several years before switching to ACI Company, an electronic banking and financial transactions company, where she guided and led development teams. Along the way, she received her Master’s degree in Economics from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
Now she is responsible for the life-cycle of products at Werner Enterprises. She leads a team of software developers, and while she no longer codes like she did in college, the position suits her well.
“I have a social personality, so I don’t want to be looking at code day-in and day-out, because it’s not as exciting for me,” Brown said. “But going around and trying to figure out what technology applications users want to use, and how they want to use them, and providing that knowledge back to the development team, really seemed to resonate with me.”
Her expertise in coding, however, has helped her succeed as a product manager. Brown said people entering the product management field tend to have one of two backgrounds. Either they come from the technology world and need to learn business-speak, or they come from the business world and need to learn about technology. She said people transitioning from technology to business generally have a much easier time adjusting to the demands of product management.
How does she feel about working in a traditionally male-dominated field?
“I love it, honestly,” she said. “A lot of women think of technology professions and they think of coding. And that might not be what they really want to pursue out of life. But there are so many opportunities in the technology space above and beyond just being a programmer, that when I think of women, I always try to explain: you can do so many different things.”
Not only do women have the ability to succeed in tech, they have a kind of ethical imperative to enter tech environments, Brown contends.
“You can help, in a variety of ways, our society, by just partaking in the step of technology development without having to drown in code,” she said. “We need women in technology because they tend to address more female-oriented problems that our male colleagues just don’t think about.”
For instance, without women’s voices in the room, a male-dominated team of developers working on early cancer-detection technology might be less likely to consider breast cancer a priority, she said. “That has real-life implications to fifty percent of society.”
The broad societal value of women in technology is one of many reasons Brown uses to encourage young women to pursue tech careers. She also emphasizes the diversity of jobs available in technology, as well as the high pay, which helps women sustain themselves.
“There is just so much innovation going on, and we need more and more women to be part of this innovation,” Brown said. “If they don’t partake, our society will be worse off for that.”