Empowered by Support: Communities, Connections & Careers – Part 1

Whether you are a student or an experienced engineering leader, a robust network, an opportunity for peer learning, the prospects of mentorship, and a crowd-sourced catalogue of career opportunities are vital for your personal and professional progression. In this episode, we invited senior women technologists who have devoted decades of their lives, either full-time or as passionate volunteers, to creating and nurturing empowering communities for technical women.

Celebrating Technology Leaders Episode 12

Our panel, with host Bushra Anjum (ACM-W Standing Committees Chair and ACM Ubiquity Senior Editor), discussed various support and learning communities for women in tech. You can join these communities based on your individual goals and career stage. Our panellists also hoped to inspire you to create spaces where you can empower others and nurture a sense of belonging. This article highlights key discussions in three parts; you can watch the full video here.

We start with getting to know our panelists. Please tell us how your background, personal journey, interests, and career aspirations led you to where you are.

Nidhi: Bushra referred to our background as “Decades of experience”. So, I’m definitely one of those. I have a few decades of experience in Chief Technology and Product Officer roles. Like many of you on the panel, I’ve been the only woman engineer, the woman manager, and the only woman at the exec table. I got to a point where I felt that I needed to do something. After a ton of introspection, I realized that the pursuit of more is just relentless. I could have continued in a larger organisation, with a more significant role and more pay, but I felt like I’d arrived. I needed to do something to change the equation: Women hold less than nine percent of engineering exec roles, and it is my mission to change that, and that’s why I founded SheTO.org. Today we are the largest private network of women and non-binary engineering leaders. Our goal is to help new leaders grow and thrive in their careers. They, in turn, will inspire the next generation of women to enter and stay in the industry and aspire to these higher roles.

Kathleen: I’m currently the VP of engineering at OwnTrail, a community and platform that helps folks achieve their next milestones in life. How I got here today? I have a background in computer science. As a student, before college, I was equally interested in languages, math, and science; I didn’t really lean one way or the other. So, when I entered college, I considered linguistics and math. As a young student, I decided to major in French, travel, and be an exchange student – do a summer semester abroad after graduation. I wasn’t excited about the types of jobs I was getting: I was doing tech support and translation, but I wanted to have a broader pool of jobs to choose from. I wanted to be able to move anywhere I wanted to. So, I went back to college and got a degree in computer science, which is how I ended up in the field and worked through many companies over the decades.

Farah: What Kathleen said resonated. I was interested in reading and languages, but also science and math. The one thing that tipped it for me was that I was an avid gamer growing up. So I was comfortable with being behind the computer. At some point in early high school, I felt it would be fun to sit behind the computer all day. That didn’t pan out exactly as planned, but that was the idea. My interest in languages and reading was deeply influenced by my parents. My dad would always have a lot of books around the house. He was an engineer by profession. So, I was introduced to a vast range of topics at a very young age, which helped me consider my creative side within my technology roles. My background is in computer science. I had made that decision by the time I was in college; some of it was because I loved STEM subjects, but also because of a process of elimination. For example, I didn’t want to be a doctor. After I graduated, I started as an engineer at Microsoft and went on to management roles at Microsoft, eBay and Electronic Arts. I also had a chance to do a startup.

Rose: My background is in mathematics and computer science. I went the route of software engineering and had an opportunity to do a lot of consulting. I had an opportunity to work in the Telco space and the geospatial industry when mapping technologies were just getting started. I spent about 15 years there and then moved into finding a community that would help me grow in my field. So, I found Anita Borg Systers community and came on board as a full-time, helping many women in tech across the globe but also myself. It’s very rewarding to see other women succeed – those you’ve mentored – and try to move the needle as much as possible. With Anita Borg, I also started with open-source technologies. Then I went on to CMD-IT (Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in Information Technology). I got to work with minorities and people with disabilities, which also hit home with me. I must tell you that life opportunities steered me to where I am today.

How have communities (or lack thereof) played a part in your career progression as a student or an early-career professional?

Rose: I graduated from a historically black college and university, and so I saw so many of me in other majors. But it was very different when I came into the corporate world. It was mostly all men. I got to work on many government projects,  so it was a lot of military and intelligence. So, while trying to find something – and I don’t remember how – I found Systers. They were very instrumental when I was trying to get promotions and with how to deal with very uncomfortable situations. So, just having Systers’ email list was very important to me. It helped me navigate through some very tricky times and gain the confidence that I belonged in this field. It’s just been an amazing opportunity for me to join that community.

Farah: For me, it was more that there was always a lack of communities. I desperately wanted to be a part of one with more people like me. When I immigrated here to the US, I didn’t know a lot of women from Pakistan or South Asian women in general. So, part of my founding Pakistani women in Computing was that there just aren’t a lot of communities for support like Rose has talked about: A group of people with a shared history, some shared context where you don’t have to explain yourself every time from scratch. You can jump right into what is troubling you or share an issue without that fear of judgment, and there’s that safety in that. So, the idea of a community has been in my mind for a long time. I wish  I’d had a better network early on. Then, I could have started some of these things earlier. A third area which did help was the employee resource groups at Microsoft. They had a wide range of these communities: if you’re interested in investing or want to know about real estate etc. A bunch of us were really into puzzle hunts in person. I realized, retrospectively, that even joining some of those and meeting like-minded people and doing interesting activities outside of work helped a lot in building confidence and networking. It allowed building more organic relationships; maybe later on, you could go to those people for work-related things. So, don’t underestimate the value of some of these communities, which may not be tech communities or directly work-related but help keep your network more open and diverse. 

Kathleen: I would say that in University, there weren’t communities, or they weren’t very visible because I didn’t really find anything then. This was in the early to middle 1990s, when only a few women were in the computer science department. You knew the other women on at least a nodding basis because you kept seeing the same faces in classes. After college, when I moved to the Seattle area in my early career, the company I first worked at had one other woman developer. She was more towards the end of her career. So, we hung out a bit, but I did meet many women in other non-technical roles in the tech world – HR and design. Through them, I did get involved in some communities.  At that time, in the mid-90s, Digital Eve was a big one in the Seattle area, and they put on a lot of networking events. So, I met a lot of people through that. In the last few years,  I’ve started seeing employee resource groups coming out of the DEI initiatives at companies I’ve been to. So, the previous consulting company I worked at – Affirma in Bellevue, Washington –  had a women’s group and would put on internal webinars towards the DEI space. So, that was a new experience. Then, of course, I’m a part of the OwnTrail Community, which I’ll talk about later.

Nidhi: Like Farah and Kathleen, I didn’t belong to many communities. It started when I was doing my undergrad at an engineering school in India. We were four women in a class of 70. We didn’t even have a girls’ bathroom in my college. We used to go to the men’s bathroom, and the same journey continued when I came to the US as an immigrant for my master’s. Over time I realized that I struggled and hurt with my go-at-alone approach because you can lean on others. That was the genesis of the idea behind SheTO. So, when I was at Hired, I got invited to this intimate dinner of CTOs. I expected to walk into a room full of men because that’s who I always work with. But, to my utter shock, I walked into a room full of 15 other women who were highly accomplished. They were all VPEs, SVPs and CTOs. So, I thought, even when I, who have been in this industry for this long, don’t know of 15 other women,  how can the next generation of women be inspired? So, that’s when I came across one study by Gartner which said that less than nine percent of engineering exec rules are held by women. So, that was the moment when I had an if-not-me-then-who moment. I quit my job to pursue something more meaningful, and I made it my mission to make a dent in this gender gap as much as I possibly could. We were previously called Diversity, and now we’ve rebranded to SheTO. So, that’s how SheTO came about.

Continue to Part 2 to read more about our panelists own initiatives and communities for women.

Empowered by Support: Communities, Connections & Careers – Part 3

Part 1 – Introductions and impact of communities in career

Part 2 – Initiatives and communities for women

We continue with Kathleen’s journey in a startup. Kathleen, please tell us more about OwnTrail, which you were a member of before you joined the team. Now, you’re the VP. So, how did that journey play out?

Kathleen:  I didn’t find a space in social media that felt very comfortable, primarily because of the inauthenticity of how people presented themselves or how you felt you had to present yourself. So I had been following OwnTrail because I knew one of the co-founders, Rebekah Bastian, who has been a speaker in this series. Also, the previous VP of engineering was my former business partner. So, I knew the company and followed what they were doing. I joined the community early on, and the community there is very authentic. The way people share their experiences is genuine. Own Trail – the trail part- is a visual representation of your journey through life. It encompasses your work and personal life; you can share as much as you want, and the trail has milestones. One of the features we built after I joined the company is called Help beacons. You can add this beacon on a milestone on your Trail where you’re looking for support, and the community can come and help you. Sometimes this is a career pivot: people may be looking to get into a data science field who previously have been traditional software engineers.  Sometimes it’s: “I’m setting up a home recording studio, and I need help doing this”. The array of things that people ask for help is quite broad. The community we’ve built so far has just been so great. It doesn’t have the negativity that I felt around other social media sites where they did not bring any joy to my life. So, I have since left them. I’m sure many of us can relate that many social media sites do not spark joy. 

Are there any requirements for joining the OwnTrail community?

Kathleen:  No, not at all. We did start out as a woman-focused site. So, you will find that many of our members are women, but we are open to all genders and all stages of careers and students. Most of our members are mid-career adults looking to make a career pivot or work on their next milestone, but we’re open to anyone. It is free to create an account. The trail Creator is in our free tier, as also the Help beacons and conversations. We have a paid membership option for making more direct connections and private messaging. But anyone can join. 

OwnTrail is a woman-led startup, and we all know a woman-led startup is a challenging adventure to embark on. So how has the journey been so far?

Kathleen: Recently, there was a report that less than two percent of all VC funds in 2022 went to women-led startups, which was down from 2021. Our co-founders, Rebekah (Bastian) and Kt (McBratney) started OwnTrail in February 2020. We immediately went into the pandemic, which made it an interesting time to try to get funding for a startup. Still, we have raised $1.5 million. Rebecca started another Community called Authentech, which she found as she was trying to raise funds from VCs that OwnTrail didn’t fit into – like Fintech or Healthcare. So, she created this community called Authentech which is more value-driven human-centred technology. OwnTrail is currently in the Tech Stars Anywhere Accelerator, which goes through April. That’s exciting, and we got some more funding through that. We’re currently a team of eight employees and hope to grow the engineering team and the rest of the team. So, we’re doing good and excited to grow more.

Nidhi, what are some of your plans to move SheTO forward and make it more financially self-sufficient?

Nidhi: If you think being a woman founder makes it hard to raise funds, try raising funds for a non-profit. That’s a thousand times harder.  One of my goals this year is to make SheTO a self-sustaining organization and begin by establishing partnerships with corporations. Salesforce is actually one of our early partners. So I’m super excited about that. This economy obviously is not the best for these conversations. Still, I never thought I would be a founder, but here I am. I didn’t think I could raise money, but here I am. So, this year’s goal is to raise funds to sustain and invest more in the growth of SheTO. Our approach this year is to monetize some of our programs, e.g. accelerators and workshops,  without taking away the significant value we provide for our community members. 

These are challenging economic times. We hear about layoffs, and maybe tech is no longer the blue-eyed child of the job industry. People are nervous. Rose, what is your advice in this situation?

Rose: Many tech companies are going through a reduction in their workforce and trying to reduce operating costs. Still, this is also an opportunity. Such situations allow me to be more creative and see where to make more impact. So, I consider it as an opportunity rather than something really scary.  With COVID, we have seen that areas such as healthcare and education need the help of technical professionals. There are many problems and issues in smaller communities. In hospitals, nurses and doctors are trying to be ahead of the game this time around because it’s not as if the next pandemic will not happen. It’s just a matter of when. We saw an entire education system go virtual, from grade school K-12 to colleges and universities, which they were not technically prepared for. So there’s so much need for experienced professionals to help solve problems. The US federal government and even state and municipality governments need to digitize. I have been part of this kind of collaboration with civic tech organizations here in DC. Still, all across the country, tech skills are needed. 

We need to understand many different industries go through these [changes] every so often. Everybody’s revamping, and they’re thinking about what’s the next innovation. As a co-founder, it helps me focus on how to make an impact in this world and leave it a better place. 

When I retire, I expect things to be very digital so that I can access everything from my watch, phone and wherever. So, we’re not there yet, so this is an opportunity. I always tell people that when you see a lot of downsizing, there’s also an opportunity to start your own thing. Now is the time if you have an invention or something you’re working on. There’s a lot of money right now, particularly from the federal government and the investors looking for the next big thing. So, we can put our heads together and develop some amazing solutions right in our backyard.

My final and favorite question. What career advice would you give to your younger self today?

Rose: I would let myself know that just lead with life. You’re going to have opportunities. You want to plan, but sometimes the plan doesn’t always go in your favor. You get discombobulated sometimes. But, my life events have led me to incredible opportunities. I’ve had such a fantastic time in tech, and it pushes and energizes me even further. So, lead with life. 

Farah: It’s been such a fun career. There’s so much that you can do in Tech. I would tell my younger self we can do much more together than alone, so don’t be afraid to seek help. Let people know you’re struggling, need support, or want to understand something new – find communities. It doesn’t always have to be in the workplace;  it can be things you enjoy, leading to other opportunities. The more people you know, the more you will feel at ease. Everybody’s similar, and everybody struggles at times. So, that perspective really helps. 

It’s a difficult time for many people, and I want to offer the same encouragement and support.  It feels like doom and gloom, and everything’s falling apart, but just take perspective.  It’s a global macroeconomic trend, affecting not only tech but many other areas. Natural disasters are happening in countries. Other countries have all kinds of political upheaval. People from tech are probably in the best position. They have excellent employability skills. They should be snatched up really quickly. Compared to some of these other things [happening in the world], that perspective really helps. 

Nidhi:  So, plus one to what Farah said, I’ll keep it short. Two things. One – find your tribe and use it. Often we get motivated to find a tribe but never use it. So, in a community, you will get back as much as you give. Two- just be kind to yourself. We’re too hard on ourselves. We want to be perfect, the ideal workers. But it’s not our fault because we got laid off. This, too, shall pass, and you will thrive coming out of this recession.

Kathleen:  I am in an interesting position now, watching my daughter, who is almost 20, and in electrical and computer engineering. So, she’s following a similar path, and I watch how she’s doing things. When I think about how I do things and what she does that I didn’t do in university, I see she has found her tribe. She is not just joining communities but getting into leadership positions in those communities, which would be advice I would give myself.  Especially in my early career, I just fell into leadership roles or leading projects. I would encourage myself to seek it out more actively as a student and in my early career. So, it’s really a great experience watching her. She’s doing a great job.

Thank you so much, Kathleen, Nidhi, Farah and Rose, for spending time with us. 

Empowered by Support: Communities, Connections & Careers – Part 2

Part 1 – Introductions and impact of communities in career

Continuing our discussion, could you talk more about your own initiatives? What are also some other initiatives that are available for free for anyone? Are there any other communities you can recommend to our audience members?

Nidhi: For SheTO,  there’s no membership; it’s free. The way we think about SheTO is two concentric circles. If you identify as a woman or non-binary person in engineering, IT, project management and program management, you are more than welcome to join. You can just go to SheTO.org/joinus. If you’re an individual contributor, you will get invited to our open events, which we typically do once a month or our mentorship program. If you are on the management track, an engineering manager and above, you also get to participate in the slack community and all of our programming such as workshops and accelerator programs. Almost everything is free. I intentionally Incorporated us as a 501c3, and my goal is to help as many women as possible. Some of the accelerator programs and workshops are paid. So, you can tap into your Learning and Development budget. You can take advantage of the plethora of programs that we offer.

In addition to SheTO, many great communities exist, such as Girl Geek and Women in Product. Girl Geek does these dinners and conferences. There are also Lesbians Who Tech that focus a lot on conferences. There are a ton of them out there. So, find your tribe and go hang with them.

Farah: With Pakistani Women in Computing, we run talks throughout the year – tech talks, talks on building your brand, building your self-confidence. We do virtual job fairs every year. So, many companies in North America and Pakistan list their openings with us. You can sign up for one-on-one workshops with other engineers who can help you with coding interviews. We have a workshop on resumes and Linkedin. So, we provide support with a hands-on practical approach. You don’t have to be from Pakistan; you don’t have to be a woman. Anybody can participate for free. All these past events and videos are on YouTube. 

In addition, I can share Above Board for senior women, which is an exclusive platform and community providing access to senior leadership opportunities.

If your goal is to support – you want to give back, you want to be the person to benefit these communities, there are many ways to do that.  You can donate to scholarships such as Black Girls Code, Girls Who Code, and Anita Borg. In Pakistan,  you can volunteer with Code Girls Karachi. I’m also working with the national curriculum Council in Pakistan to build the curriculum for K-12 for computer science, which will scale to every public school in Pakistan. So every one of us here can also give back in those ways. There are some fantastic organizations where your dollar goes a long way, and you can help locally or globally.

Kathleen: I mentioned OwnTrail, where I currently work and am also a member. That is open to anyone – you can freely create a trail, ask for help, and participate in conversations. We have a TED Talk-like series called Trail Talks which you can attend or view the recorded ones on our site. Another community that I participate in now is elpha.com, geared towards career development and job-seeking women. It’s more than just a job site, though. There is a lot of discussion on the site, and many “office hours” type of community events where they bring in people to do Q&As from the community. Finally, an organization I just recently learned about is OSTEM, which stands for “out in STEM”. It is towards students and early career professionals in the LBGTQ+ Community who are in STEM fields or working towards STEM degrees. They have a lot of student chapters throughout the country but also professional ones and offer some career development-type of programs.

Could you talk about the power of communities, not only for professional support but also for personal support?

Rose:  In 2018, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I wanted to be private about it. I also knew that there was a lot of work that I still needed to do while at Anita Borg and Black Women in Computing. So, I met with my inner circle; four of us are on the Founding Committee of Black Women in Computing. I told them I had been diagnosed with breast cancer on a Zoom call. And we all cried. They asked to get back to me in a week and devised a plan to let the Systers and all the other affinity communities know. They reminded me that gratitude is essential for people who want to help but don’t know how to. So, they reached out to everyone, including all affinity communities worldwide. They got a mailbox for me. I love handwritten letters, and I also love spy novels. So, I had a lot to read during that time, and once I was up to it, I wrote back to everyone who sent me a handwritten letter. It was so comforting to know that you have support like that. Even when I wasn’t going to be able to make it to that Grace Hopper, they made these little note cards. So, I received 1500 plus little note cards that I read daily, whether I was going to treatment or getting ready before another surgery. It was the hardest time. But just to have that kind of support… We talk a lot about tech and how we can support careers, but we also have to support each other as a woman. We go through a lot. We are most likely the ones who care for everybody in the family, but we still have to get up and work. We have no days off. We constantly try to set an example as we represent the only one (of our kind) at work. So, I’m so happy about having that community. 

I have a lot to thank my community for because it’s tough to deal with everything you have to. When COVID hit,  I lost many people in my community, especially my family. After 17, I just stopped counting. So now is the time you should reach out – some of the communities I mentioned earlier – Anita Borg has Systers, Black Women in Computing, CMD-IT

I’m also a Filipina. I was born in the Philippines.  I’m part of Filipina Women in Computing. So, we have these layers of intersectionality. My older sister is blind. I have two nephews who have Muscular Dystrophy and are both wheelchair users. One is autistic. I bring a lot of this to my work and my personal perspective on technology and innovation and have a sustaining impact. 

If you’re at the executive level, there are also Black Women on Boards – a massive initiative to ensure we have voices at the exec table. So there are a lot of initiatives around women, but also, we’re trying to help black women.  We are pleased to share information because we’ve experienced (the lack of) it, and there is no reason why the next generation should ever feel alone. 

We have discussed the role of the community in professional support and personal growth. But I would like your input on the community support to establish yourself as an immigrant. What are some of the unique needs and challenges there?

Farah: If you’re moving countries, if you’re moving context, there’s a lot of learning that has to happen, but there’s also a lot of unlearning. In a stable context, you can fully immerse yourself in your new career and focus on that. You don’t have the luxury of doing that when you’re moving again. Support groups at that time would have been super helpful for me. For example, knowing somebody who could cook food from back home or with who I could share a story about my childhood or talk about sports. Cricket is a sport that many of us in southeast Asia understand, a sport which resonates with us. We play different sports and listen to different music.  We have, as Rose mentioned, intersectionality.  So, that sense of belonging is not there; it’s a very lonely place, and you are also trying to figure out the work situation. At work, in a water cooler conversation, everybody is talking about the football game from last night, and you’re trying your best to fit in, but you can’t. So, it’s very apparent to you that you don’t fit in. Even though you may be killing it at work, not having that support can undermine your self-confidence. That feeling permeates into work. Having some support groups that help you feel more comfortable in your skin would have been very helpful. They can help you figure out that you don’t have to assimilate but can integrate, and you know the difference.  As Rose said, because we went through it, we don’t want anybody else to go through it. We want people to learn from our experience and see how we can pay it forward.

With PWIC, it was the idea that we have all these women coming from these different contexts. Some are born here, and some aren’t. But, in every conversation I’ve had with different people, e.g. a chapter in Pakistan, Europe, and North America, there are underlying threads,  issues, and very similar circumstances. So, if we started talking, we would all find those threads, and there’s something very comforting about having that. 

At work, you’re always the one flying the flag of being the perfect (single) example of your kind. It’s a lot to shoulder. It’s a million tiny paper cuts every day that exhaust you, and you don’t even realize it. Being able to integrate well and having support when you’re going through a family or health crisis or any other personal crisis is vital for your mental health. What I love about our current work environment is the open conversation and recognition of the importance of mental health. Understanding what communities are available for mental health and not just for work is very important.  

Especially for young people who have gone through COVID, it is a very different context – having to start work life remotely. What helped me a lot as an immigrant, who was integrating, was going into the office and finding people of all experience levels willing to share, help, and support. I learned by example. I learned more because I got to interact with people in person. But, unfortunately, I see a whole generation of kids who are not getting that [due to COVID]. 

Continue to Part 3 to read more about women in startups and how to navigate the current tech climate.

Empowered by Support: Communities, Connections and Careers for Women in Tech

When? February 15, 2023, 12:00 PM in Pacific Time (US and Canada)

Register here

Whether you are a student or an experienced engineering leader, a robust network, an opportunity for peer learning, the prospects of mentorship, and a crowd-sourced catalog of career opportunities, are vital for your personal and professional progression.
In this episode of “ACM-W Celebrating Technology Leaders,” we invite senior women technologists who have devoted decades of their lives, either as full-time careers or as passionate volunteers, to creating and nurturing empowering communities for technical women.
Join our panel with host Bushra Anjum, as we:
1. Introduce you to the various support and learning communities for women in tech that you can join based on your individual goals and career stage.
2. Inspire you to create such spaces yourself, where you can empower others and nurture a sense of belonging


Nidhi Gupta | CEO & Co-Founder, SheTO

Rose Robinson | Executive Tech Consultant

Kathleen Fisher | VP of Engineering, OwnTrail

Farah Ali | VP Technology Growth Strategy, Electronic Arts

with host Bushra Anjum | Director Data Science & Analytics, Doximity

Register here

Resilience and Overcoming Adversity: The CTO Journey

When? October 26, 2022, 12:00 PM in Pacific Time (US and Canada)

Watch On Demand

The office of CTO oversees everything from technology vision and strategy, to architecture, innovation, development, and infrastructure. In this episode of “ACM-W Celebrating Technology Leaders,” we invite C-suite technology leaders, women with diverse experiences, to share their stories of grit and resilience. What were some of the unique challenges they faced as a woman in an IT leadership role? Did they architect their careers or were they vigilant to take advantage of opportunities? How do they deal with difficult situations, people and emotions on an ongoing basis? Join our panel, with host Bushra Anjum, as we find our nuggets of wisdom and inspiration from these stories.


Rebecca Parsons | CTO Thoughtworks

Janice Zdankus | VP, CTO Technology, Strategy and Innovation, HPE

Rama Akkiraju | VP Enterprise AI & Automation, NVIDIA

(Saima Mushtaq, CTO Wyngs logistics, was unable to join the event due to a family emergency)

with host Bushra Anjum

Watch On Demand

ACM-W Webinar Demystifies Blockchain Technology: What’s the big deal?

Blockchain technology is a mysterious topic for many. Is it a network? A database? A cryptography algorithm? Is it the same as cryptocurrency? In episode 10 of “ACM-W Celebrating Technology Leaders,” we aimed to demystify blockchain technology with the help of leading women technologists in the field. 

The panellists for this session were: 

♦ Lisa Calkins, CEO @ HalfBlast Studios

♦ Tatiana Zander, Director of Disruptive Technologies @ Ericsson

♦ Zeenat Anjum, Founder & CEO @ Digiwrite

Our panel, with host Bushra Anjum (ACM-W Standing Committees Chair and ACM Ubiquity Senior Editor), talked about the core concepts to give the audience an intuitive understanding of blockchain. The panellists also explored what problems are good candidates to be solved with this emerging technology and the current industry careers and opportunities available. 

Below, we highlight some key discussions; you can watch the full video here.

What was your first brush with blockchain technology, and how has your journey been?

Lisa: My company had an innovative team that would keep track of new technologies. So they introduced me to blockchain technology – it must be already eight years ago at least – so it was definitely somewhat at the beginning of blockchain technology. We had a couple of sales leads that came through that talked about wanting to do some blockchain work. I thought I understood the complexity, but little did I know how challenging and complicated it probably was. So, when we started my next company, I said we have to understand and jump into blockchain technology. I can’t talk to clients about blockchain without knowing it, so we took a full-blown architecture course on blockchain technology and then built some prototype projects. Then, over the 3-4 years, we worked with many startups and some financial institutions. A lot of our technology work is in the mobile space. 

Blockchain technology is so misunderstood. It’s so intriguing and exciting. But, as you said, there is hype and reality. But there aren’t always many of those types of things going on, and this one is pretty disruptive, and it is quite different, so that’s a space I always like to live in. 

Tatiana: At work, I was part of an employee-driven innovation community. So all of a sudden, a bunch of these different activities, proof of concepts, started popping up that people would do on the side of their work. One of these projects, for example, was roaming agreements. This was basically using smart contracts to get rid of the clearinghouse concept you have in roaming today, which is very telco specific. Later I learned this became an IEEE recommendation; we were on to something! More recently, I rediscovered blockchain in my current role, because of my mandate to look into different technologies that could change the business for us – one of those was blockchain. It was at first going back to the drawing board, learning what it is about and what it does, and then understanding that Ericsson now had a full organization dedicated to blockchain. This journey led me to realize that everything I learned before was not something so applicable to an enterprise setting, as blockchain aspects differ a lot for enterprises compared to public blockchains. So now, I’m driving various activities where we explore enterprise blockchain applications for us further and bring things to life.

Zeenat: While doing my bachelor’s degree, I started being curious about different technologies – that was the time when blockchain and Web 3.0 were emerging. Being an engineer and exploring more about blockchain, I began to write about it. The more I researched it, the more I got curious. I started with cryptocurrencies. Then, I studied for my Master’s in HR and marketing. Most of my marketing projects are in the blockchain domain.  Web 3.0 was something I researched particularly. I have worked both on the engineering and non-tech sides.  I fell in love with blockchain technology when I dug deeper into the implementation of blockchain applications that can benefit people. Blockchain technology is something that holds great potential, and people should be getting ready for this emerging technology.

Bushra: How would you explain blockchain intuitively?

Lisa: It is the technology supporting cryptocurrencies, bitcoin and all the rest. A technology that solves “money” innovatively can be used to solve other issues. Blockchain is fundamentally a back-end architecture and a way to organize data. The transactions on this data get grouped in blocks, and these blocks are connected to form a strong chain using this innovative model, e.g. you can’t take the blocks out of order. If you were just using it in one company, and it was just the architecture behind your one software package, it wouldn’t have nearly the same value as it does in the scenario where today, we all are sharing information. The amount of sharing we’re doing is endless, and we don’t have great sharing models.

For example, let’s look at a concert and the tickets and the ticket process – it’s a crazy nested set of relationships starting with the artist who wants to sell the ticket for a particular concert. Then somebody else resells them, and somebody else wants to buy them. Here’s the thing: I want to ensure that when I buy a ticket, the person I am buying the ticket from gives a valid ticket so I can go to the concert. I also got to make sure I give them money and that they get my money. Then if I can’t go to the concert, I want to resell the ticket again, or maybe this is how I’m going to make a living:  reselling tickets. All of that is really risky in the current models. So, blockchain technology could take that to a whole new level by making sure that when I’m the last one to buy the ticket, and I go to the door, that ticket will be valid. The chain has been validated from the original person who sold that ticket to me. In sum, we want all of us to have a valid way to transact with each other, which is the real value of blockchain. 

Bushra: From a hypothetical example to a real example. Could you walk us through a blockchain use case or project you have worked on in your company?

Lisa: One of our clients described this scenario, and you will see all these different pieces that go into it. In our housing market here in the United States, the way that it’s always worked is that there is usually an owner of a house. But houses have become so ridiculously expensive that no one can afford a house anymore. The client came to us and said what they want to do is like the old model that’s been around, and many people have heard – vacation places called timeshares. This scheme was very popular in the 80s. In a timeshare, I owned a week at a mountain resort or on a beach, and somebody else owned the next week, and somebody else owned the next week and so on. It doesn’t exactly work when you want to live in a house. The idea was to take that timeshare model, except instead of having multiple people living in the house, it would be multiple people who could own a percentage of the house. Here, you’re talking about money; you’re talking about assets, and you’re talking about multiple people; some of the people might even be companies. Maybe I want to sell my shares, and somebody else wants to buy them, and then as you see, a whole chain of buying and selling different pieces.

Blockchain is a fantastic solution for that kind of model. Now, was it only blockchain? No. You still have to create an application layer; you still have to create user interfaces so that people interact with your application. In fact, ours was a mobile app. There are also reporting structures and admin tools, and so on. So, blockchain is only part of the solution at the backend.

Zeenat: I recently got a chance to work with an RPG (Role Playing Game) -metaverse startup. I have investigated its marketing, what could relate to a crypto enthusiast, and how the game can resonate with the market. I have also worked with a DeFi platform and on other blockchain applications. From community partnerships to understanding the protocol, I believe that the possibilities are endless, especially in the marketing and outreach of these projects. The market is still evolving, and that’s the beauty of these individual cases.

Tatiana: Let me share first the epiphany I had regarding when blockchain makes sense and is helpful to drive a use case and actually optimizes a process. The number one reason to use blockchain is when there is a trust issue between companies, entities or any involved party. Everything else is just a question of, does it make sense to automate and can be solved with regular automation.

At Ericsson, we work in telecommunications. For example, you know, base stations, radios and cell towers. To help you visualize – it’s funny that in California, we even dress them up a little, making them look like palm trees. In other places of the world, we make them look like other types of trees. 

So when something like 5G comes out, we need to go and deploy new radios and base stations on this existing tower. Sometimes we even find coverage gaps that we need to address, so we need to pull up entirely new towers. That is a massive and expensive process. Our heroes are tower climbers, the engineers who do the installation and maintenance.

So what happens with the new installation? We do this for a customer – for example, in the US, it could be Verizon, ATT, or T-mobile. Many different entities are involved in the installation and maintenance process, and so on. There could be vendors from our side that we outsource. Vendors from the customer side could be involved, and the customer, of course. All these people need to check the installation: so let’s say Ericsson starts the job, the tower climbers install the radio somewhere on the top of this 30-meter big tower. A bunch of other people need to go up there and check everything works right, and it’s signed off. This is such a good case for blockchain. We built an application using Corda where you can now check remotely if the installation worked. You get a lot of information about the installation, such as status, evidence and test results. Now the customer and the other vendors involved in the process can validate and make sure things are 100% right – it does the right thing, the audit passed, and it’s verified. It’s called Ericsson Customer Acceptance. We released that at the Mobile World Congress – it’s a live offering that we have now that we use to fulfill our contracts and commitments, but also we are offering it as a service.

So coming to criticisms of blockchain. An article in Verge in 2019 said that bitcoin consumes more energy than Switzerland.  Then later, there was an article in the New York Times that said that Bitcoin is not environmentally friendly;  it has a huge carbon footprint. Would you say that blockchain technology, in general, is environmentally unfriendly or is it more the way cryptocurrencies work?

Lisa: I think all of us are concerned about any technologies or innovations we’re using and how they will impact the world. Going back to how I described the chain. One of the reasons that the chain can become secure is that you’re duplicating that chain on computers worldwide. Then those computers validate that nothing’s been broken, use power to do some processing to have the whole system work economically – because no one wants to do things for free –  and support security. These computers are running all over the world to ensure that the whole thing works, and they’re not owned by any company per se. These are public blockchains. There are many cases where it’s a private blockchain. In fact, when it’s a company to a company, those are most often not public blockchains. They are private blockchains that function very similarly but use much different processing. So with cryptocurrencies specifically, they have looked at other models that can reduce power consumption and still make people not cheat. It all comes down to money, power, transaction speed, etc. So yes, the way we currently do things is not environmentally friendly. Still, I have no doubt those issues will solve themselves. There are already proven ways, and some new technologies will take those on. So, to me, that side of the ethical concern is only one piece.

We see ethics in three pieces: the environment, data being forever (stored), and then crime. I hear about the crime one, probably more than the other two. The data is often obfuscated by a long string of codes, so tracking down who that really is would not be something most lay people would ever be able to do. It would be challenging. The crime, on the other hand, is real. We just described money exchange between untrusted parties. So I believe that there are opportunities to utilize that technology in ways that are a crime. Every new technology will have those issues, and you have to manage them. So I’m not saying they’re unimportant, and we don’t want discussions around them. We want to have these discussions, but the beauty of blockchain is actually to reduce theft and crime that is not by the typical criminal. No one looks at what happens in fraud and the business world – how much loss, cheating, and crime is happening in transactions. They only look at the ones that are drug-related or something we perceive as a crime. If we can reduce the amount of fraud that happens worldwide in transactions, it significantly changes the world’s economy in a positive way.

Tatiana: Going into the private blockchains because this is what we work with at Ericsson. We don’t really deal at all with a public blockchain. Again, the main driver is trust and to reduce how much fraud and mistakes can happen because no one is, even big corporations, protected unless we have those mechanisms in place.  The private blockchain also helps with energy consumption due to much fewer transactions or high computation consumption: You have a peer-to-peer kind of network, and validation is on a need-to-know basis. So, this is also a nice part about the ethical concerns you would normally have in the public blockchains, where you’re worried about your privacy, and everyone gets the same data. This is not actually the case in a private blockchain. For example, in this finance application, let’s say many banks are already boarded on this blockchain marketplace and platform. Only the parties that each participant defines that have any kind of stake and are involved get to see the data. It just makes life easier to use a platform with others. I think it is also a big Web 3 consideration to have standardization. Suppose everyone has a different blockchain mechanism, a different blockchain platform. In that case, it is hard to guarantee standards, address privacy and security concerns, and ensure the validity of all the algorithms. So standardization helps mitigate some of that. 

Another simple example: we don’t tie the blockchain to people or employees. Instead, transactions or proofs need to be generated for the legal entities or organizations.  Another thing is liability and responsibility. If something goes wrong, who takes care of what? We have customer contracts that deal with contractual commitments and where we clearly define liabilities. For example, we work with  Corda, well-known in the enterprise blockchain domain. They have their own legal agreements as well; it’s very important to know where exactly the responsibility lies. 

Zeenat: From the marketing perspective, one issue that we usually face is transparency.

How transparent the project is. Because there are many scams.  So, you need to research the project. You need to understand the technicalities of the project.  Obviously, money is involved when you register yourself, attach a wallet, and you are linking the digital wallet in real-time; as Lisa mentioned, there could be theft. But blockchain still holds much potential, as hacking is also possible in conventional finance. We should introduce systems so that malware can be detected early and data theft or financial loss can be prevented.

Since blockchain skills are becoming increasingly sought-after, could you recommend some beginner-friendly courses, resources, and communities to learn more?

Zeenat: If you have basic SQL knowledge and are interested in analytics, then you can explore the educational content at Dune Analytics and Flipside crypto. There are two excellent platforms. Courses are also available for Blockchain languages and understanding the development stages. The third phase would be when you have a basic understanding of blockchain. Then you want to interact with people who are crypto enthusiasts and participate in the communities. So for that, you can visit the Layer 3 Platform. There are many communities on Telegram as well. You can explore according to your interest as many projects come around there. To understand which projects are better from the crypto point of view and which project has the most financial worth in the market, you can read Yahoo Finance and CryptoCompare. I usually recommend these to students and people who want to start a career in the blockchain domain. 

Resources shared by the panellists:

1. To explore the analytics side of Blockchain Technology: Dune Analytics https://dune.com/, Flipside Crypto https://flipsidecrypto.xyz/

2. For learning and community, check out https://beta.layer3.xyz/  (Layer 3 Platform), https://blockchain.ieee.org/communities,  https://www.corda.net/

3. To learn about emerging projects coming into the space of Blockchain applications https://cointelegraph.com/, https://www.cryptocompare.com/, https://finance.yahoo.com/

4. Ericsson use-case discussed in the session https://www.ericsson.com/en/cases/202…

Blockchain Technology: What’s the big deal?

When? July 20th, 2022 12:00 PM in Pacific Time (US and Canada)

Watch On Demand

Blockchain technology is a mysterious topic for many. Is it a network? A database? A cryptography algorithm? Is it the same as cryptocurrency? In this episode of “ACM-W Celebrating Technology Leaders,” we aim to demystify blockchain technology with the help of leading women technologists in the field. Join our panel, with host Bushra Anjum, as we talk about the core concepts, and learn how to differentiate blockchain hype from reality. We will also explore what problems are good candidates to be solved with this emerging technology.


Lisa Calkins | CEO HalfBlast Studios

Tatiana Zander | Director Technology Innovation Ericsson

Zeenat Anjum | Founder & CEO Digiwrite

with host Bushra Anjum

Resources shared by the Panelists in the session:

1. To explore the analytics side of Blockchain Technology Dune Analytics, Flipside Crypto

2. For learning and community, check out Layer 3 Platform, blockchain.ieee.org/communities, corda.net

3. To learn about emerging projects coming into the space of Blockchain applications cointelegraph.com, cryptocompare.com, yahoofinance.com

4. Description of the Ericcson use case discussed in the session, Remote Acceptance

Watch On Demand

Mental Health, Wellbeing, and Self-Care: A Candid Discussion with Women Technologists

When? Mar 16, 2022 12:00 PM in Pacific Time (US and Canada)

Watch on Demand

Whether it is the stress and responsibilities of ordinary life, job-related pressures, or pandemic created conditions, numerous stressors challenge our mental wellbeing. In this episode of “ACM-W Celebrating Technology Leaders,”, leading women technologists open up on the issue of mental health and wellbeing. They share stories of personal struggles, growth, and resilience and provide strategies for managing such challenges. We also explore the topic of self-care, small steps you can take yourself, and when you may need professional help.

Join host Bushra Anjum and her panelists for an honest and timely discussion on recognizing the signs of mental distress in yourself and some of the best practices for supporting personal wellbeing.


Tertia Labuschagne | Digital Transformative Executive at Massmart and Independent Holistic Health Coach (INHC)

Katie Panciera, Ph.D. | Assistant Professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering

 Courtney Thurston-Del Buono | Software Engineer at Microsoft

 Virginia Grande | Ph.D. Student at Company NameUppsala University

with host Bushra Anjum

Previous episodes of “Celebrating Technology Leaders” can be viewed here.

Celebrating Technology Leaders – Machine Learning Careers: Looking Beyond the Hype

So what is the gap between the popular (mis)understanding of ML potential and what the tools can actually deliver today? In the next episode of ACM-W “Celebrating Technology Leaders”, scheduled for October 20th at 3:00 PM ET/12:00 PM PT we seek practical guidance and pointers for our future ML workforce.

Join us for a panel discussion with successful ML professionals, Dafna Shahaf (Associate Professor, Data Science, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Dhivya Chinnappa (ML Research Scientist, Thomson Reuters), Fatma Tarlaci, Ph.D. (Machine Learning Scientist, OpenTeams), and Koyuki Nakamori (Head of Machine Learning, Headspace) where we focus on:

1. How to best identify problems that are suitable candidates for an ML-based solution?
2. How do we determine the “success” of an ML-based solution?
3. What mindset shift is required as we move from course work and projects to solving real-world business problems?
4. What does it take to successfully maneuver a career in the ever-changing ever-evolving landscape of ML?

Together, we will find our nuggets of wisdom and inspiration from our panelists’ personal stories and professional opinions.

with host Bushra Anjum [Register Now]

Celebrating Technology Leaders – Tech Returnships for Women

Wednesday, August 18th at 3:00 PM ET/12:00 PM PT,  a panel discussion featuring

Kristi Lamar: Managing Director | Monitor Deloitte
Maryam Shabbir: Business Development Consultant | SybridMD
Christine Winston: Vice President | Path Forward
Jossie McManus: Software Engineer | VMware

with host Bushra Anjum [On Demand]

Celebrating Technology Leaders – Women in Cybersecurity

Wednesday, June 9th at 3:00 PM ET/12:00 PM PT,  a panel discussion featuring Sara Hall (Deputy CISO and Head of Security Operations and Engineering, MassMutual), Sepideh Ghanavati, Ph.D. (Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Maine) and Cimone Wright-Hamor (Graduate Research Assistant, Computer Engineering, Iowa State University), with host Bushra Anjum [On Demand]

Celebrating Technology Leaders – Women in Robotics

Wednesday, March 31st at 3:00 PM ET/12:00 PM PT,  a panel discussion featuring Laura Stelzner
(Principal Robotics Software Engineer, RIOS Corporation), Sarah Gibson, Ph.D. (Senior Engineering Manager Robotics, Unity Technologies), and Tessa Lau, Ph.D. (Founder & CEO, Dusty Robotics), with host Bushra Anjum [On Demand]