“Our goal is to spark interest among current and aspiring female leaders to pursue careers in IT”

Everyone needs inspiring leaders to emulate. Over the past year, much has been highlighted in the news about the disproportionate male to female ratio in information technology – from engineers to the C-Suite. Here in Canada, there is a growing representation of women IT leaders paving the way for future generations.

As part of an article series interviewing a variety of Western Canada’s women in IT, I recently spoke with three of British Columbia’s IT leaders to understand their journey into the field and advice for those thinking about pursuing careers in the IT profession. Meet Jo-Ann Smith, Senior Manager, Enterprise Information Protection Global Team at Best Buy Canada, along with Suzie Smibert, Chief Information Security Officer at Finning International, and April Sather, Assistant Vice President, Information Technology at First West Credit Union. For this article series, it is beneficial to set the foundation of what sparked each into the career of information technology. I was delighted that each was open to sharing their insight in IT World Canada in order to reach a broader audience as the ability to have one-to-one mentorship today is not often feasible.

Why a career in the IT industry?

Jo-Ann Smith, Senior Manager, Enterprise Information Protection Global Team at Best Buy Canada
Jo-Ann Smith, Senior Manager, Enterprise Information Protection Global Team at Best Buy Canada

As humans, we grow by being challenged and we desire opportunities for lifelong learning to keep our minds sharp. It has been said that familiarity can lead to boredom – particularly in one’s career choice. This is not the case in the world of IT where the pace of change far exceeds most other industries. When each was asked about their industry career choice they shared a similar mindset. Sather, Smibert and Smith all agree that continual innovation is one of the primary reasons for their career choice.

Brian: What attracted you to the IT field?

Jo-Ann: “IT is an industry that is fast-paced and constantly evolving, so for me the question becomes not what attracted me to the field 20+ years ago, but it’s about what keeps me interested and engaged in my specific area of expertise. Today, the IT technology lifecycle moves quickly and with the speed of change in technology, threats are ever changing. I’m doing something new every day in an effort to stay ahead of the curve. It’s this fluid state of the industry that keeps me on my toes and compels me to find new ways to tackle each challenge.”

Journey to leadership

Suzie Smibert, Chief Information Security Officer at Finning International
Suzie Smibert, Chief Information Security Officer at Finning International

When Stephen Covey wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he no doubt had an individual like Smibert in mind – from the ideas being Proactive and Begin with the End in Mind to Synergize and Sharpen the Saw.

Brian: What was your journey to becoming the leaders you are today?

Suzie: “Hard work, grit and a passion for problem solving at the root. Like most, I started at the help desk and worked my way through networking and ultimately specialized in information risk management.

There was never a project or task that was beneath me or too hard. When bosses were asking for volunteer on thankless or problematic initiatives, where the majority avoided eye contact and made themselves smaller, I always rose my hand and took on the challenge. I became the leader that I am through that work ethic and through mentorship/sponsorship. I was privileged to have individuals that believed in me and saw potential I didn’t know I had. They pushed me out of my comfort zone and always challenged me to go for what I wanted. It never mattered to them that I met 60% of the job description, they’d tell me to go for it and make it work – I did.”

The importance of IT governance

April Sather, Assistant Vice President, Information Technology at First West Credit Union
April Sather, Assistant Vice President, Information Technology at First West Credit Union

Organizations are dealing with an ever-increasing onslaught of new regulations, business model complexity, and cybersecurity threats. Balancing two business-critical imperatives — the need for innovation and the need for security and compliance — has created massive pressure on IT environments. Sather has a solid understanding of this paradigm coming from the financial services industry.

Brian: Why is Governance important today? How is it connected to IT Security?

April: “IT security is a critical enabling piece of the overall technology ecosystem, but at the same time forms what I consider to be the most precious currency, that of consumer trust. I believe that without the right enabling processes, practices and leadership, even the most solid IT security strategy will struggle to be successful, let alone be sustainable. A combination of solid security strategy and capable technology governance allows organizations to stay relevant in a rapidly evolving threat landscape while responding to business and consumer expectations. From the Internet of Things to enabling an increasingly mobile workforce, having these two organizational competencies working synchronously is key.”


Advice for those aspiring to follow in your footsteps

Hearing advice from successful leaders allows us to pause for personal reflection. I’ll end this first article by leaving you with their sage advice that may spark your fire to take control of your future.

Brian: What advice do you have for those aspiring to follow in your footsteps?

Suzie: “Go for it, don’t be afraid. Find a mentor and work hard. Read and keep learning as our field constantly changes. Additionally, know your business. You cannot lead in isolation, you need to understand what drives your organization’s results and how you can set goals and objectives that aligns and supports its overall success. Most importantly, build relationships in and out of your company, find ways to connect and learn from everyone.”

April: “Seek breadth, focus on creating value, and say yes. For me, breadth included seeking out exposure to different industries, and taking advantage of opportunities to work and/or study abroad. It also included taking on roles in areas outside my comfort zone.”

Jo-Ann: “I always recommend that everyone figure out what they love to do. I believe this applies to everything, not just the IT world. However, within the IT world, the job market has so many unique opportunities and areas of specialization. Find one that interests and inspires you. You will begin to love the job and ultimately you will be successful. Do not be limited by a low bar that is often set by others.”

We are at one of the most exciting moments in history when it comes to innovation in IT driving innovation in business. In future articles, we’ll delve deeper into their domain expertise along with the thought leadership and innovation they are driving for their respective organizations.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada