Women in Tech: a chat with Bethany Kemp, VP of Technology & Information Systems for Design Within Reach

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Editor’s note: From Ada Lovelace to the ladies of ENIAC, women have played an important part in driving technology forward. As Women’s History Month winds down, we’re highlighting a handful of women who are making strides, driving change and shaping the future of technology. Today, we hear from Bethany Kemp, VP of Technology & Information Systems for Design Within Reach, a Google Apps customer.

How and when did you first get involved in IT?
I first joined Design Within Reach in 2001, back when it was much smaller, starting in the call center. By 2002, I’d worked my way up into a shipping coordinator role. In 2004, they decided to move my part of the business from San Francisco to Kentucky – but I didn’t want to leave San Francisco. The head of IT, who I had worked closely with and who had seen how I ran operations in the shipping center, asked me to stay and join his team as Systems Coordinator. My first major task was to roll out a new ERP for the company. It was a custom system, so I had to write up all the documentation and run user training. It was a pretty big job for my first time in IT, but a great way to dive in headfirst.

Aside from a two year stint running operations, I’ve been in IT for almost ten years now. Managing operations gave me a good idea of the challenges the business faced – it was a good experience to work hand-in-hand with that team as the company grew. I liked operations, but I also realized along the way that I wanted to tackle our business needs by giving our developers opportunities to make cool stuff, so I moved back to IT. I’ve been there ever since.

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in IT?
I believe two especially significant changes have affected the the world of technology, the way businesses work and the role of IT leaders.

First is the mobile revolution. My users want to work from their phones or tablets, not their desktops. Our sales teams rely on their applications working from their mobile devices, whether they’re in the store or on location with clients. It’s a totally different way of working and a great opportunity for my team to help create a more personal customer experience – not to mention close sales faster.

The second significant change is the move to cloud computing. Before, I had to conduct a long evaluation process to understand the costs and the impact on our current environment before choosing a new IT solution. Then, we had to build the hardware environment to support those IT investments. Now, I can get an application or new system up and running in a couple months, and if we don’t like it, we can stop using it without worrying about lost money or time. The cloud has enabled great innovation. There are so many options for businesses out there, and applications can be integrated and improved so quickly. This level of choice has given more power back to us and our users, and it challenges the provider to always create the best, newest and most exciting products and experiences, because the users has the option of just turning it off and using another option.

The move to cloud computing has also changed the role and make-up of my team. Before, when someone came to me with a request for help tackling a problem, I’d either say it wasn’t possible or would take 2 years to implement. Now I can say yes, and figure out how to do it right away. And I don’t need a lot of developers; I have business analysts and administrators who know the business. That’s a great feeling for me and for my team. I feel like IT is now a business driving role, not just a support role.

What advice would you give other women interested in tech?
I learned early on not to be afraid of tackling something I’m not yet an expert in. I feel that women sometimes hesitate before volunteering to do something new that they’re not comfortable with. Technology is still predominantly male, but you shouldn’t be intimidated by being the only woman in the room. You’ll earn respect in whatever you do by being comfortable with who you are and confident in your knowledge.

The last thing I’ll say is that women need to stick with IT and look for opportunities to support other women in the industry. The more of us that stay in IT and the more we support each other, the more technology can change for the better.


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About Author

Colin Cooper is the CEO of Boost Your Business, the leader in marketing and business development for both large and small scale businesses. As one of the most innovative marketing specialists for over a decade, Colin and his team of business and online experts collate their years of know-how and experiences with the Boost Your Business: Body Armour for Business, an online magazine created to provide a holistic resource avenue for everything business, health, and wellness.