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Profile: Olivia Duane Adams, founding partner of Alteryx

How to win the diversity battle: “Well behaved women rarely make history”

Gabriela Motroc
diversity
© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Last year, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Olivia Duane Adams, Chief Customer Officer and a founding partner of Alteryx.

A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Last year, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Olivia Duane Adams, Chief Customer Officer and a founding partner of Alteryx.

Olivia Duane Adams, founding partner of Alteryx

Olivia Duane Adams is the Chief Customer Officer and a founding partner of Alteryx. Libby is responsible for overseeing and maximizing the complete Alteryx customer experience, from engagement to on-boarding, communications, performance, and retention. She has interacted with nearly every Alteryx customer, giving her a holistic perspective of the overall experience from implementation to adoption success.

Prior to co-founding Alteryx, Libby was a leading sales representative for the media, advertising, communications, and automotive industries at Strategic Mapping, a provider of spatial analytics and desktop-based geographic business intelligence solutions. Libby also served as an account manager at Donnelley Marketing Information Services, where she was responsible for sales growth and vertical-specific product development in the advertising, media, and communications industries.

Prior to Donnelley, Libby was a client service associate within the IMS division of VNU, which was the second-largest information resources holding company in the U.S. media and publishing industries. At VNU, she was responsible for supporting the company’s user base with the key media information resources needed for the effective planning of marketing and media strategies.

Libby earned a bachelor’s degree from Castleton State College in Vermont and is an active member of the college’s alumni association.

What got you interested in technology?

As I think back, I recognized early on that the cornerstones of innovation—automation and accessibility—were and are powered by technology. When I was getting into my first job, the world was moving software to the desktop, and eventually, the laptop level became mainstream, creating the perfect time to deliver information insights via software. I have always been enamored by technology that makes our life, including work life, easier and more efficient.

My college degree was in business administration with a focus in marketing. Dean (co-founder and CEO of Alteryx) and I met back in 1990 when we both joined the same company. Dean was leading the western region at the time and I was at headquarters on the East Coast. In supporting his sales people in California, I moved to take a sales role on his team in 1993 and then, in 1996, the company we were working for was sold to our biggest competitor. It was in that transition that we started what is today Alteryx, in January 1997.

When I worked for a company, my source of frustration was the slow pace of the business and/or the employer, unable to move fast enough to meet market demand. The obstacle was remaining patient, as they always seemed to be developing technology just in time. What makes us different at Alteryx is thinking about technology ahead of demand. We always think about what our users will want and will need to stay ahead and continue to lead self-service analytics.

Having the will to succeed and to contribute, and the ability to make a difference has been a motivator.

A strong support system

I absolutely had support from my family and friends during my career. I grew up in a family where my dad was self-employed with five children; now, two of my brothers are sole proprietors of their own businesses. My role models are my parents.

Being self-employed with five children, they never had a chance to give up or to stop. And, while my mother didn’t work outside the home, she was always moving things forward as my father did. In 1974, when the financial crisis hit, my father was employed as a golf course architect and building was considered a luxury, not a necessity.

Although business slowed, he kept the business moving forward—I learned early on that you need to keep moving. Having the will to succeed and to contribute, and the ability to make a difference has been a motivator.

A day in Olivia’s life

There really is no typical day, but as chief customer officer (CCO) here at Alteryx, my job is to identify where there are issues or room for improvement in both our technology and our service, to ensure we deliver a superior customer experience. We, as the collective company, have never taken for granted that we get to do what we do, and we are where we are, because of our customers.

For instance: We want to hear from our customers on what is working for them as our users, as well as what they want us to improve or include in our platform. We heard them most recently with the addition of ‘caching’ within our core product. They asked, we evaluated it and delivered it to applause when we previewed it at our customer conference in early June. That applause from users made us so happy.

Coming from Inspire, our annual user conference, this is an easy one. There are two things I am most proud of: First, is being able to take on the role as CCO at a company that is so focused on customers and knows that without them, we don’t have a job. This rolls into the second, which is the focus we have on the customer as an entire organization. ‘What is the impact on the customer if we do, or do not, make this change?’ To hear so many people across the organization ask this type of question tells me we are doing the right thing.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

I think it has more to do with women in business than women in tech. I think that there is a variation in how we define ‘women in technology.’ Thinking about our audience at Inspire, we had so many folks using our product on a day-to-day basis in roles that are often not considered to be technical roles.

For example, the female winner of our “Grand Prix” at Inspire—a simulated race determined by efficiency in solving analytic challenges—works in finance. There are plenty of similar examples and a lot more women using technology in their roles, that are not classified as ‘women in tech’ because they don’t work in a hardware, software or cloud. At our conference, we saw a 54 percent increase in women attendees this year, a clear indicator of the growth of women in analytics. Analytics is driven by technology.

I don’t think it will be long at all to see results from the current diversity debate. As I discussed earlier, we need to expand the definition of women in technology because we are missing a big part of the audience that spend their days doing their jobs with technology. These women are giving feedback and in turn, are helping the technology providers develop their respective tools and products.

When women read a job or project description, they create a checklist in their head. If they identify 10 check boxes for the role or project, and feel they only have three, they won’t apply.

Diversity is gaining, but women in business and women in leadership roles are a key factor in accelerating momentum. We are already seeing results from this debate and using Alteryx as an example technology company, we have two women in the C-Suite as CCO and chief strategy officer (CSO), and two of our seven board of directors are women. We focus on talent, skill and ability, ensuring we bring the right talent into these roles. We value diversity because women bring a different perspective to solving problems and delivering on the vision of the company.

Women in STEM

For one, I think code would not be so rigid; it would be way more fun and flexible. I also think about how our world could be different if we focused on leveraging capabilities, having just returned from Uganda and looking at the women in that country.

There is just as much skill, will and talent, if women are given the opportunity to build a career path. If women are willing and able to stop settling for ‘no’ and ‘you can’t do that,’ they have every ability to make a difference and lead change.

Obstacles

Women, in general, are very literal. When they read a job or project description, they create a checklist in their head. If they identify 10 check boxes for the role or project, and feel they only have three, they won’t apply. This could be in or outside of their company. Women need to get better about looking at their own potential, evaluating if this something they want to take on and then, tackling the challenge. Women need to get over the fear of failure, trying to do things perfectly or doing everything on their plate at 100 percent.

Especially in technology, it is a game of trial and error. Don’t be afraid to fail or make mistakes. Identify what you learned, don’t make the mistake again and be ready to move on.

Tips & tricks

My advice is to be creative in the way you think about solving problems. Don’t get stuck thinking you can only play by the rules that are set—you can create and develop new rules. In the tech industry, there is an enormous opportunity to think about who the new user will be. Put yourself in the shoes of that user or your customer and deliver a fantastic project. If you can do that, your customers will be committed to giving you feedback and developing that product. Whether the customers are internal or external, don’t ever lose sight of what they need.

I can’t speak for other industries, but in technology, the possibilities of what you can do as a startup are endless. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Stay curious because with curiosity, you will grow and never stop learning. Well behaved women rarely make history.

 

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Author
Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc is editor of JAXenter.com and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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