What my time at Girls In Tech Catalyst Conference taught me

I’m still sifting through my notes, tweets and voice recordings about my time at Girls in Tech… but for now, it’s worth summarising my key takeaways from my 3 days at Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference and what I learned.

The women I met over the 4 days in Phoenix, were truly inspiring. Not only did I have the opportunity to spend more time with Adriana, founder of Girls in Tech, and some of her amazing organisation such as Shaima Ghafoor – Tumbler Sales at Yahoo, and Louise who heads up GIT Partnerships, I came to see similar drivers in these women, in myself.

We put on events such as Catalyst, to help other women succeed. To help other women (of whatever age) to be inspired, see success, learn from others and ultimately to drive change.

Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference

Image credit: Girls in Tech

Over 3 days of conference, 37 speakers and a few glasses of pinot noir, I was privileged and humbled to have heard from such talented and accomplished women and now call many of them friends. Among my highlights were hearing about operational excellence with Jennifer Tejada, former CEO of Keynote, who rightly points out that having “ops chops” is the bridge between the strategy and actually delivering excellence. Monique Morrow, CTO of New Frontiers Engineering at Cisco, was an inspiration. She tells us that collaboration is the currency of the 21st century because you have to think about working in teams and working together in interdisciplinary and inter-generational teams. Morrow talks of millennials and the notion of ageism in today’s landscape – and that millennials can and should lead.

Jennifer Tejada - Girls In Tech Catalyst Conference

The key themes for the Conference were incredibly weaved throughout all the speakers presentations, with a few of the presenters even having the same slides!

Find your sweet spot

Amongst the presentations, finding your sweet spot and understanding your core driver and purpose was paramount. Bev Crair, VP/GM Storage Group, Intel, talked about finding your work ‘sweet spot’ and how to find that “juicy part” of the sweet spot that really motivates and inspires us. Crair believes it comes down to our skills, interest and passion.

Bev’s formula is simple… Grab a piece of paper and play along at home!

1. List your accomplishments
2. What did you do?
3. How did you do it?
4. What were the end results?
5. Write out a story of a time that you felt fantastic – it might be coaching an employee or simply talking to your customers.

Group together the things that work, and outline the set of skills you were using.

“When you’re in your sweet spot, when the company values what you do – work doesn’t feel like work, it feels like joy,” says Crair.


Work/Life Balance 

A common theme of discussion was around work/life balance, or the notion of ‘having it all’. The most common answer? Everyone’s ‘all’ looks completely different! And you might not be able to have it all at the same time, but only you know what is right for you, and how to structure your life to ensure your own balance.

Amy Jo Martin, Founder/CEO of Digital Royalty, touched on many themes, but talked about the notion of work, family and self. Amy Jo reminded us to put ‘self’ first and not let people rent space in your head for free – it’s valuable real estate! She reminded us that a digital detox and evaluating our relationship with tech can go a long way to helping our “self”. Her rules for digital detox?
1. Unfollow and remove ‘noise’
2. Create triggers to make you think about whether you need to use an app or not (eg. move social media to last screen so you have to scroll through!)
3. Create digital ‘dead zones’ – such as no phones in the bedroom or at the dinner table
4. Notifications – turn them off!


Don’t be afraid to take risks 

Yvonne Wassenaar, CIO of New Relic, focussed her talk around taking risks and being bold. Yvonne shared her experiences of discovering she was ‘fear driven’ and implored the audience to stop hedging! When we’re hedging, we’re not backing ourselves. Yvonne shared that the unconscious fear driven behaviour was limiting her career goals. She tells us that we can confront our fears rationally, and when you imagine a world without fear, you do things incredibly differently. There is power in a positive mindset.

Fran Maier, co founder of match.com and founder of TRUSTe urges us to “think bigger!” She tells us that often she sees female entrepreneurs with their business plan, trying to raise $1M capital for a $20M valuation, and then men come in with a $100M valuation trying to raise $10M, for no better of a business. Maier reminds us that women settle for too little, too often – don’t settle for less than you deserve!  Maier pleads us not to “think small” and to invest in ourselves and take risks.


Know your strengths

Laura Williams, eDiplomacy Officer at U.S. Department of State, told us to put our energy into focusing on what we are good at & lead with our strengths. If we’re not sure what our strengths are, get over to gallup.com and take the test! She tells us the Gallup results will help you remember the things that you’re really good at and what you’re motivated by. A number of our speakers talked about the importance of understanding our strengths and being able to capitalise on them, and embrace our own unique aspects to ultimately have a job or a business that we are best suited to.

Laura talks of the interview that got her the State Dept job, and her (now) boss told her that she wasn’t a traditional candidate for the job, and her response was “you got it buddy, i am not a traditional candidate for this job, and that’s exactly why you need me!” Laura shared her insights and experience in the hope that she can inspire the younger generation to be empowered and believe in their worth.

Laura Williams - Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference



No one really knows what they’re doing

Sarah Bird, CEO of Moz, also blew me away. Here’s a woman who has had incredible success in her career, and her talk around “5 things I wish I knew” hit home with where I’m at personally in my journey. I felt like I was holding my breath the whole way through her talk! Resonating strongly were her key messages of “get out of your own way” and surround yourself with people who see your potential better than you do, and have your interests at heart and tell you the things that you don’t necessarily know about yourself – both good and bad! Ultimately, she shares, no one really knows what they’re doing, and you’re no less capable than anyone else.


You’re more qualified than you think!

Tejal Shah is a go-getter. She’s founder and CEO of KidAdmit and incredibly tenacious. Leading on from what Sarah Bird talked about, listening to Tejal’s story was a timely reminder that we are “much more capable than you think you are.” She tells us “you can be the CEO, you can be that person”. Through all of Tejal’s experiences, you can see the determination, the entrepreneurial mindset and willingness to do whatever it takes. She relied on her cold calling skills and the network that she had built around her, to help get KidAdmit off the ground.


One final piece of advice from Tejal… Keep an idea book! Write all your ideas down and then go socialise them – “trust me, no one is going to steal your idea, it’s very hard work! It’s all down to execution!” Tejal encourages us to get direct feedback to see if there’s interest in your idea and some of those first conversations could be your potential customers.


A big thankyou to Adriana and the Girls in Tech crew for putting on such a fabulous event. We’re looking forward to the San Fran one next year already! We can’t wait to put on our own “Level Up” conference in March 2017, so stay tuned for details soon!

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