DC’s Top 50 Women In Tech Page 1

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Hillary HartleyDeputy Executive Director18F, General Services Administration

“You can’t succeed if you don’t try.”

As one of 18F’s co-founders, Hillary Hartley has led the 170-strong team’s design and communication efforts. And as the group’s deputy executive director, Hartley said she’s essentially a chief marketing officer, “helping make sure that our message, our brand, and our culture stay aligned and focused on the things that have made us successful.”

Recently, she’s been working with 18F to pilot an educational line of business “where we take the things we’re producing that make us a high-functioning team, document them in playbooks and guides, and make them public for others to use.”

It’s that sharing that’s at the heart of everything Hartley and 18F do — like Cloud.gov and the draft U.S. Web Design Standards.

“There are several principles that drive us, but our commitment to openness and transparency is perhaps most important for this kind of work. The fact that everything we produce for our team can be open sourced and made available to anyone who wants to use it is a huge efficiency boost to the rest of government,” she said.

What advice do you have for young women pursuing a STEM career?

Work hard, play hard. That’s the best advice I ever got from my dad. It’s all about work-life balance. Of course it’s important to work hard, and to want to excel. But it’s also important to set an example, and to let people know what your boundaries are. The more of us that do that, the better industry culture will be toward women, young or old, moms or not.

Megan Smith, our federal CTO, cites research that shows that when there is a list of 10 requirements for a job application, men will apply if they meet three or four of them. But women will only apply if they meet seven. This kind of unconscious bias permeates all of our hiring processes, whether we know it or not. The only way it will shift is if we keep telling women to not underestimate themselves, and go for opportunities that sound exciting to them. You can’t succeed if you don’t try.

Who or what inspired you to get into your field?

I’ve been building websites and online services for governments since I was 21. At the time, I did not know it would turn into a career, but even at that age it was satisfying to be working on projects that mattered — that could make a real difference in someone’s life. As for my switch into working for the government instead of with it, that was certainly inspired by [former U.S. CTO] Todd Park, [former White House Director of Digital Strategy] Macon Phillips and the first class of Presidential Innovation Fellows. A colleague of mine was selected for that inaugural class, and it was exciting to see the federal government expanding on what the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau started. Bringing technology talent back into government, deciding to build things in-house, and building with users is going to be transformational for our democracy.

Teresa CarlsonVice President of Global Public SectorAmazon Web Services

“The most important thing is to not be afraid to jump in and explore something new.”

Teresa Carlson is the vice president for Amazon Web Services’ worldwide public sector business, whose clients include include state, local and central governments; educational institutions and ed-tech companies; and nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations.

Since launching AWS’ public sector business in 2010, AWS has grown to more than 2,000 government, 4,500 education and 17,500 nonprofit customers. They have concentrated recently on advancing agency missions on a large scale, mainly through open data and AWS Public Data Sets programs. The programs related to this include the 3000 Rice Genome, Landstat, NEXRAD, and TCGA Cancer Genome.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?

When I joined AWS more than five years ago, the Worldwide Public Sector was a lot like a startup — we had few resources and faced a big, but exciting, challenge in driving cloud adoption across the public sector space.  Amazon’s Leadership Principles became a guiding force for me and my team — we hired and developed the best, thought big, had a bias for action, and above all used our customer obsession to drive our business. I used to joke that everyone at AWS had to have three jobs — me included!

We’ve come a long way in a few short years, and have been so impressed with what our customers have been able to achieve for their missions through cloud. Our customers’ success, in part, is due to their shift in mindset — many had been looking for a way to be more agile in their development. Cloud technology has provided them just that. It’s a way to test ideas quickly, at a low cost, so that failure actually became an option and really drove disruptive innovation.

What advice do you have for young women pursuing a STEM or business career?

There are so many exciting STEM careers out there for women of all ages — the most important thing is to not be afraid to jump in, and explore something new — like trying a basic coding class today.

Through our WS Educate program, which offers AWS credits for cloud services to students and educators, we work with schools all around the world, and I have seen firsthand how much fun young people have learning about technology. It’s really never too early for girls to get involved in programs and projects that develop in-demand skills like coding. I have seen elementary-age children playing coding games in the classroom and quickly becoming better than their teachers, and then go home and teach their parents.

At AWS we truly believe that #SmartIsBeautiful. We actually started this campaign with a group of my female colleagues at a FedScoop event, and it has continued to grow each year. We are passionate about encouraging female leaders in technology today to motivate and inspire the next generation of female leaders in STEM fields. Our beliefs are simple, yet bold:

We invite everyone — male or female — to join the movement and talk about what you’re doing to inspire the next generation of females in STEM by using #SmartIsBeautiful.

Who or what inspired you to get into your field?

While at my first tech company, I had the opportunity to work closely with the CEO, Don Burns, who was a wonderful mentor to me early in my career. He gave me the confidence to do things I never thought I could do. Having someone to look up to and coach me was critical at that time in my career, because I was transitioning from a health care field to technology. I had no prior tech experience, but Don believed in me. He gave me the encouragement and confidence I needed to drive our growth in key markets, and I did.

I’d also be remiss not to mention two great leaders that I have the privilege to work with, and learn from, on a daily basis, Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos, and AWS SVP Andy Jassy. Both have challenged me in so many ways, and are fearless when it comes to trying something new and disrupting the status quo. This has allowed me to think big and dive deep in our public sector business, and driven my team to take on many game-changing initiatives. We will continue to push the envelope, and I’m excited to see where this takes our business and our customers in the future.

Kay KapoorPresidentAT&T Global Business – Public Sector Solutions

“Patience, perseverance and a vision of what could and should be is what kept me on track.”

Kay Kapoor leads AT&T’s Global Public Sector Solutions segment, an organization of 4,500 people working to bring technology products and services to the federal government and intergovernmental agencies. While AT&T is known for its networking services, it also works on mobility, cloud, Internet of Things, cybersecurity and unified communications projects.

Kapoor is also leading the push to help encourage AT&T’s public sector customers to embrace software-based networking, a key initiative within AT&T that would allow users to purchase bandwidth on demand and pay for only what they use. It would also allow them to quickly deploy updates that would allow the network to be more secure.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?

I started my career at a time when it was very challenging to be a woman who wanted an upwardly mobile career in this industry. Getting recognized for success on a specific work task or project was a three-step process: First, I had to prove my success wasn’t based on luck. Then, I had to prove that I achieved it on my own, without help from someone else. Three times seemed to be the charm, as they say. Patience, perseverance and a vision of what could and should be is what kept me on track.

I hope it is a little bit easier for women today, but I believe there is much more work remaining to achieve gender equality in the workplace.

What advice do you have for young women pursuing a STEM or business career?

We live in amazing times: from mobile devices, to wearable computers, virtual reality, robots and the Internet of Things. I think a career in STEM is the way for women just starting out. There are so many rewarding opportunities in the STEM fields. No matter what field women choose to pursue, I strongly urge them to also seek the help of mentors who can help guide their careers.

Who or what inspired you to get into your field?

I arrived in the U.S. as an 18-year-old university student from my native India. I was not a math or science enthusiast originally, but I saw opportunity in computing and believed in its promise for the future. And I had strong encouragement from those I trusted. So, I doubled down on learning technology.

By pursuing and achieving my degree in information systems, I built the foundation for a successful career, specifically in engineering but also as an organizational leader. Along the way, I was the beneficiary of several mentors and sponsors. I am very grateful for their help as I would not have been able to achieve my career goals without their generous support of ideas, advice and inspiration.

Arati PrabhakarDirectorDefense Advanced Research Projects Agency


The DARPA director first joined the agency in 1986 as a program manager, and later ran the National Institute of Science and Technology for President Bill Clinton. After a stint in Silicon Valley as a venture capitalist, Arati Prabhakar returned to the Pentagon in 2012 to head the agency responsible for “breakthrough technologies” that power the U.S. military. Among the innovations DARPA is involved in: President Barack Obama’s BRAIN Initiative, which aims to cure and prevent brain disorders; an arsenal of wireless quadruped robots; and setting the world record for the fastest circuit.

Maj. Gen. Sarah E. ZabelVice Director Defense Information Systems Agency

“What attracted me, and I still enjoy, is the opportunity for great creativity.”

Maj. Gen. Sarah E. Zabel has helped DISA put a strong focus on re-imagining our service portfolio to meet the changing needs of warfighters while taking advantage of new developments from industry.

Overseeing a budget of $11 billion, Zabel has rolled out mobility solutions, both classified and unclassified, serving over 135,000 people in the past year. Additionally, the agency has developed cybersecurity tools that use big data and specialized sensors to protect Department of Defense networks and systems.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?

The biggest challenge I’ve faced is to constantly move into new positions in new organizations where I have no experience base, learn the new job and produce good results. I have had 21 distinct jobs in 18 assignments over 29 years, and so the learning curve has always been high. I dealt with this challenge by acknowledging to myself and others that I am in perpetual learning mode, and working through the uncertainty and early mistakes to understand the new job and environment. This has also given me a big advantage in that I now approach my work with a variety of experience and a wealth of exposure to all parts of the Air Force.

What advice do you have for young women pursuing a STEM career?

I would tell them to believe in themselves, embrace challenges and never take themselves too seriously. I think we still tend to regard STEM as primarily a man’s field, and the first hurdle for a woman is to believe in herself, that she can be successful in one of those fields.

Who or what inspired you to get into your field?

I chose this field in college, and graduated with a computer science major. What attracted me, and what I still enjoy, is the opportunity for great creativity. I have enjoyed writing software, developing systems and bringing solutions together, among many other tasks. To me, the foundation of IT is to turn thoughts and intentions into working programs and systems, creating action and effect that sprang from my imagination. The Air Force gave me opportunities to do all these things, and the overall effect in the end is to support our nation; it is very rewarding.

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