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HER take on women in technology

A conversation with Sarah Mascher Wallace

Sarah Mascher Wallace, a diversity, equity and inclusion program analyst at CBRE, founded the Women in Tech group at the University of Iowa.

Sarah Mascher Wallace considers herself an accidental IT professional. She was studying math when she accepted a student job at the University of Iowa’s ITS Help Desk, which led to a full-time job in the IT department. But her interest in tech has always been running in the background.

“When I was growing up, I’d figure out how to use our home computer and then teach my mom,” she said.

Some parts of her career have been strikingly similar to those moments growing up. As an app developer (and later a business intelligence analyst) at the U of I, one of her tasks was to take work that was being done on paper and transform it into a digital process. But for that to be successful, she had to patiently teach people how to use the apps she developed.

She also had to understand people’s workflow to determine what type of digital process would work best. To do that, she’d work closely with the department or person who needed her help. That’s one reason she calls technology the easiest part of tech. “In order to develop products for people, you have to understand them,” she said.

Professionals who are considering switching careers to something more tech-focused might be surprised to learn how valuable interpersonal skills are, according to Wallace. After all, technology isn’t created in a vacuum—it’s developed to solve problems or make things easier. Wallace stressed the importance of getting feedback from a variety of people, particularly people who are different from you. “There might be a whole population of people who interact with a program differently or have accessibility issues. If you don’t get external feedback, you might not realize it until it goes out,” Wallace said.

That’s one reason Wallace said diversity in tech is extremely important. In 2015, she and her sister co-founded the Women in Tech group at the U of I. One of the group’s primary goals was to help women connect with peers and potential mentors. “It can be tough if there’s no one higher up in the company who looks like you,” she said. She recently accepted a job as a diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) program analyst at CBRE, a commercial real estate company headquartered in Texas. Today, she gets to use her tech and data analysis skills to help ensure the company is meeting diversity goals – a serendipitous combination of her interests.

For those who want to get into a tech position, Wallace said a creative mindset is even more important than having one specific skill. “It’s about understanding that just because something works one way now doesn’t mean you can’t make it better.” Wallace compared it to toying around with a recipe. The recipe works now, and you might get it wrong a few times if you tinker with it, but eventually you could find a handy shortcut.

If you’re interested in trying your hand at something techy, Wallace recommends checking out local organizations like NewBoCo, which offers coding classes for kids and adults. Connecting with others is also helpful. “If there isn’t a women in tech group – create one,” she said. She also suggested doing a fun project like building your own computer or taking an old one apart and putting it back together – anything to get your creative problem-solving skills going. “If you’re the type of person who notices problems and thinks of ways things could be done better, maybe you should go into tech,” she said.

Quotes about women in tech

1. “Though we do need more women to graduate with technical degrees, I always like to remind women that you don’t need to have science or technology degrees to build a career in tech.” – Susan Wojcicki

2. “Right now is a great time to be a woman in tech, but there’s not enough women in tech.” – Marissa Mayer

3. “I’ve never thought of myself as a female engineer, or founder, or a women in tech. I just think of myself as someone who’s passionate.” – Leah Busque

Book suggestions

1. Nevertheless, She Persisted: True Stories of Women Leaders in Tech by Pratima Rao Gluckman

2. Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky

3. The Adventures of Women in Tech: How We Got Here and Why We Stay by Alana Karen