In an economy hungry for tech workers, there’s ever-growing emphasis on science and math education for girls to help fill the yawning gender gap in technology — and opportunity in male-dominated careers.
Catherine Gulsvig Wood embodies another path.
Wood is part of a software-architecture duo at consultant Accenture that recently was awarded a patent for “multi-cloud tagging capability” for the Accenture server-cloud platform.
“Our new tagging technology frees IT departments from concerns over how to manage cloud assets,” she said.
Wood, 61, a Wisconsin native who lives in St. Paul, studied piano and music theory at Lawrence University.
“I think ‘girls who code’ initiatives are great,” Wood said. “I think it also might be a bit of a deterrent. You don’t have to be a coder to be a girl in technology. That cuts off a lot of people who can contribute. And it gives the illusion that tech is all about code.”
In the late 1970s, Wood took a campus job at the Lawrence computer lab. It seemed more interesting than cafeteria work.
She could touch type, and started to learn the Fortran program.
“When I was typing Fortran programs with a key-punch machine, my fingers would recognize when something was wrong with the program,” she recalled. “I started analyzing music programs, such as the 12-tone music of Schoenberg. Very mathematical. I started to think that maybe I could program.
“The lab manager said ‘Digital Equipment Corp.’ would be interested in me.”
Wood got a job at the Boston-based company, then a technology leader, after she offered to help the company rewrite technology-user manuals that she considered illegible for nonscientists.
That led to a fulfilling, challenging career for Wood that included Cray Research and Accenture since 2014.
She works with teams between St. Paul and London, where she also performs with a music ensemble.
Wood, a mentor to many women in tech and a national speaker on the subject, also credits her male mentors, starting with that Lawrence computer lab manager who recognized her talent 40 years ago.
“When I build a project team, I make a point of involving women if they believe they are not that technical because I don’t believe there is such a thing as being technical,” Wood said. “We have a binary judgment of people.
“The biggest problem in IT is not technical it’s social. We are well advised to bring in people who understand the psychology of people. Women sometimes are in a better place to run large projects. And they tend not to be distracted by technical problems.”
This is music to the ears to Brian Weed, chief executive of Avenica, the Minneapolis-based firm that matches college graduates with careers.
“A degree is important but it doesn’t define you,” Weed said. “Most employers would say: It’s the underlying skills and competency you have.
“Catherine had core skills. Most of our placements are liberal arts students, who if they followed their traditional degree track would head toward one thing, but sometimes after we enlighten them a bit they can end up in business and [technology].”
Wood has given a speech far and wide in which she has three ideas for drawing more women into information technology. It’s on YouTube.
First, “… women interested in IT careers have to stop judging themselves as either ‘not technical’ or ‘not technical enough,’ ” Wood said.
Secondly, she advises we need to ensure women are integral to the IT industry. Diversity, including gender and ethnic, is part of the important dynamic of technology, commerce and the emerging economy, as well as the American culture.
Finally, women are critical to the future of IT, Wood said, because of the “innate qualities they bring to IT — intuition, emotional maturity, social awareness and compassion, to name a few. Technology isn’t about code, it’s about the people who design and write the code.”
“We’re building products today that will be used by everyone for all sorts of reasons, including reasons that are beyond our ability to grasp at the moment,” Wood said. “The biggest challenges we face today in IT are not technical; they’re social. And women possess the social understanding that can temper …” the dysfunction of our political-economic system.
That includes software designed mostly by men that circumvents environmental law [Volkswagen], manipulates the political system [Facebook] and diminishes personal privacy, thanks to many culprits.
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.