This is the next blog in the continuing series of interviews with top-echelon and renowned professionals. In this blog, I interview Elisabeth Vanderveldt & Genevieve L'Esperance: who share their vision for collaboration, driving passion in IT for all ages, enabling young women into IT.
Elisabeth Vanderveldt is co-founder of multi-award winning Conamex International, a Microsoft Gold Certified Excellence and SBSC partner in Montreal, Canada. Her firm specializes in collaboration, mobility, data management, asset management (SAM), infrastructure and security technologies.
Elisabeth, a 24 year veteran of the IT industry, is a Microsoft SBSC PAL 2007-2009, an MVP 2007-2009 and is founder of WIL&T (Women in Leadership and Technology) as well as founder of Community and Corporate Citizenship on the international board of the IAMCP. Elisabeth is an MCTS for WSS, MOSS, Groove and SAM. Elisabeth has always been passionate about helping women and girls discover their untapped potential. She is a presenter and guest speaker at many events including Tech Ed's WIT luncheon, SMB Nation and Microsoft's WPC. She hopes to continue to act as a role model and mentor. In doing so, she has earned the respect of her male counterparts worldwide especially in the MVP community, many of whom joke about not getting in her way, especially with her martial arts skills. Elisabeth has served in the community on school boards, sport coaching and running fundraising events.
Elisabeth brings her creative thinking and knowledge of the IT sector and its most engaging personalities and experts to a new portal, GenINC.TV currently in pre-production. She will also act as technical advisor.
Genevieve L'Esperance (ACTRA and UDA apprentice) is a 16 year old, born in Montreal, Quebec. Not your typical girl, Gen is an articulate, sensible, accomplished teen with an energizing personality who has explored many different areas, from being a martial arts champion at the age of 5, to competitive running, basketball, guitar, piano and drums to writing, acting and community service. Gen graduated with honours from high school even after suffering a debilitating virus in February this year. Her passion for Gen INC. stemmed from a discussion about technology among her peers which showed her that girls are just not aware of the power and breadth of technology and the impact it can make on exciting career choices - as well as helping girls (and boys) in underprivileged communities to change their lives and that of future generations. This led to her certification at age 15 as a Microsoft Certified Professional and a MCTS (Certified Technical Specialist) at 16. Gen will host her own series and web portal to bring the discussion to the larger community and garner support for awareness and changes both locally and internationally. Empowering her peers to think about and make informed choices will dominate her early series episodes.
To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link
Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
Elizabeth and Gen tell us a little about themselves and their prior and current roles and share lessons from these roles.
:00:48: Elizabeth: "....What I'm trying to do (because everybody's time is so limited), is to pick the one thing that really drives me to get up in the morning besides my business, and that seems to be everything around youth, young girls and technology. In doing so I see my role having changed from somebody who has been a learner to somebody who is trying to be a mentor...."
:03:39: Genevieve: "...With high school completed, I recommend that you give it your all and that working within your community is a very important and satisfying part of that experience. Starting college, I can also say that time and dedication is truly required for all matters - but never to forget the time you should spend with your friends because they put a smile on your face when midterms don't...."
What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome in the past and what mistakes did you make? What would you do differently today?
:04:37: Elizabeth: "....I think it's really important that women be valued for what they bring to a job, a team or project and not to expect or accept gender as a detrimental factor....Another big challenge has been time management...."
:08:32: Genevieve: "....I'm lucky that my parents put me in a position early in life to compete in martial arts, which meant taking part in competitions, passing belt exams and especially being part of a team. We all played several other sports, took part in theatre, modeling and acting and learned about handling ourselves, handling rejection and to work well with others and it happened before we understood what stress was because they made it fun. It helped us deal with whatever issues we did face...."
Can you comment on unconscious bias based on your perspectives? Do you think it has changed over the years?
:10:00: Elizabeth: "....We've seen, probably within the past five years, amazing advances in the ways that not just the industry but government as well have realized the value that has come from having women in the sector and the value that they bring to the industry...."
:12:51: Genevieve: "....I believe that even though the male opinion of women in technology might have changed, (from the men who are already in that career), I don't believe the fear that girls have about technology has changed....The problem is that young girls still do not see themselves in technology as a career even though they are surrounded by it all the time...."
Gen, do you come into situations where young people make assumptions because you are a young woman rather than a young man?
"....Guys are not biased against it.....They love seeing a girl's perspective on technology. They don't even care that you are a girl; they just want to hear what you have to say because they just like talking about technology with people. It's that simple...."
What triggered your interest in computing?
:18:00: Elizabeth: "....We co-founded Conamex International when the technology industry in the non-mainframe world was starting to take off. It was a huge challenge to try to break into this market but it was probably the best time to get into it because it was at its birth....It's been a very weird ride, but the more I was challenged, it kept driving me more and more to get into technology....I think the most exciting part of the ride is yet to come...."
:32:27: Genevieve: "....My interest is almost inevitable considering almost my entire family is in love with it...."
Can you talk about your experiences with Cybercap and working with youth that are "lost" or on the "career decision fence"?
:39:18: Genevieve: "....Cybercap was built around the knowledge that there is a group of adolescents or young adults who don't attend (or dropped out of) college and don't believe that they have any choices left to them. In the founder's mind he decided to build a company centered around this group and to give them an opportunity to jump right into technology, find a passion for any part of it and to continue on that path until they found themselves in a career that pleases them....There are so many young adults who have lost their way and Cybercap does not close their door to any of them...."
Can you talk about the interviews for GenINC.TV?
Elizabeth: "....We have initially done a set of about six interviews that we tried to make completely different...."
What more can you share about IT as a career path?
:45:32: Genevieve: "....I believe that young girls may see themselves in that path if they have a spokesperson or some other young girl they see as successful and even more importantly, excited about working with technology as a career...."
:48:48: Elizabeth: "....This whole social aspect is not only fascinating for what good it's teaching the girls, it's the thinking behind it, it's the molding of the mind that is already happening. As Gen quite rightly pointed out, at sixteen we're almost hopefully already at the tail end of where girls are thinking about geeks as a dirty word and girls that are nine right now, with the right encouragement and with the continued growth in that industry and the focus on it the right way and with the right role models, they won't think twice about getting into technology as a career because they are actually helping to shape and mold what's coming next...."
Do you have any comments on the impact that IT has on just about any career?
Elizabeth: "....I think what is interesting are the different character types [in the media]. On both shows (NCIS, Criminal Minds) it is not the guy who is behind the technology, it's always the girl and a young woman at that; I think it's fantastic because it is starting to change the perceptions..."
Please share your views on IT for the underprivileged.
:56:22: Genevieve: "....Communication is so vital in this day and age that we almost find it hard to imagine how others survive without it. It's especially difficult to picture by my generation since it has been our norm for as long as we can remember....It should be a thought in our minds that there are many out there who don't have the same access as others and that some don't have it at all and it is very important that we change that and that we use technology to change that...."
:58:34: Elizabeth: "....When Genevieve heard about the project in Bangladesh, she wanted to be part of it....In that culture women would never be encouraged to get into technology careers and would never dream of being entrepreneurial in that aspect. Unless somebody gets out there they will never see technology centers being built that would allow them to not only learn about technology but to completely change their lives and that of their children...."
Can your share your experiences and lessons from mentoring women professionals and young women?
Elizabeth: "....We've been in discussions and in social networking groups and having developed this Women in Leadership and Technology program through the MCT we keep trying to drive these mentoring opportunities....Mentoring is a tricky thing because you are trying to balance out your job and your family and other responsibilities but I think it is critical that everybody take a little piece of themselves and to give it back to the community....I think as far as the mentoring goes there's still a lot to be done about building a really good framework for it...."
When is GenINC.TV going to be launched?
Elizabeth: "...Right now we are looking to get the official launch about mid-November and at that point there should be some initial interviews with Cybercap and some of the people with Infusion....."
Underlying all is this whole aspect of education - K-12, post secondary, etc. Can you share your views on education?
Elizabeth: "....I still think we are not necessarily framing the training kids should be getting if they are going to keep up with their peers on a worldwide basis....We have to start looking at what kids really like to do, what inspires them - and start restructuring our education system around that because those are also, in some cases, really lucrative careers. Look at the gaming industry...."
What is GenINC.TV? What are its goals?
Elizabeth: "....In a nutshell, Gen INC. is Generation Incorporated - it just so happens that Genevieve's name is the first three letters. What we want to do in the long run is to create a portal - initially it is an open space, a social space for girls to become aware of, learn and to find out how to get into this industry....In the long run what do we want to do, we want to change the statistics in the industry...."
Elizabeth describes their top innovative achievements in terms of the problems they were trying to solve, their solutions, and the impact it has today and into the future.
We already talked a little about connecting women and youth in technology and why it is a passion for you. Do you have anything more to add?
Elizabeth: "....I would encourage women to take part in different communities. There are a lot of women organizations around information technology. There's CATAWIT, WITL, Geek Girls Dinners....I would like a greater focus on people who think they have the time and energy to band together and start looking at how we can put a better social aspect on the IT world. How can we start taking the riches that we have helped develop over the last 20 years and start putting it back where it belongs - in the youth sector and in underprivileged communities. That applies to both women and men but I think women need to step forward and be heard...."
What do you see as the top challenges facing us today and how do you propose they be solved?
:01:22:52: Elizabeth: "....I think we are not at all engaging the generation that could be the one that makes the biggest social changes and gets us out of some of the crises we've been in....If we engage them and we give them the right support, the right tools, the right mentoring, they have the opportunity to correct a lot of the mistakes that we've made over the last couple of decades...."
:01:23:50: Genevieve: "....We need to make girls realize that there is a comfortable aspect to technology and that's what we need to show them...."
Elizabeth, are there any questions which I have not asked that you would have asked and what would be your response?
"....'How do we see men in this industry helping to reverse the tide (this mind-changing of the next generation)?'...."