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Profile: Dawn Glamm, senior vice president of engineering and operations, NS1

Women in Tech: “Don’t hesitate to show what you know”

Sarah Schlothauer

Four years ago, 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 Dawn Glamm, senior vice president of engineering and operations, at NS1.

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?

Four years ago, 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 Dawn Glamm, senior vice president of engineering and operations, at NS1.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Dawn Glamm, senior vice president of engineering and operations, NS1

Dawn Glamm is an established engineering executive with proven experience driving strategic business performance for engineering organizations within emerging growth companies and Fortune 500 enterprises, including Forcepoint, Intel, and McAfee, where she played a leading role in the largest release in the history of the McAfee Firewall Enterprise. She currently serves as the senior vice president of engineering at NS1. Over her career, Glamm has continually improved end-to-end business performance, including providing the leadership, strategies, and accountability necessary to reach key organizational goals and objectives. Glamm earned a BS degree in multidisciplinary studies and computer science from the University of Minnesota.

When did you become interested in technology? What first got you interested in tech?

I was naturally drawn to STEM in high school. It helped that I had a great female physics teacher who was very supportive and encouraged my interest.

My father and several of my older brothers worked for tech companies, so tech was always on my mind. I went to college knowing I wanted to do something in STEM, but what solidified my interest in tech was an exploratory program I did through 3M, where my father worked. As part of that program, I saw the Mall of America being built, which led me to consider architectural and civil engineering for a time.

Let’s talk about your background. How did you end up in your career path? What obstacles did you have to overcome?

One of my brothers said that his company, Digi International, needed interns. I was taking engineering core classes in college and unsure about what to specialize in, so I did the internship. It introduced me to testing and automation, which led me down the path I’m on today.

A significant obstacle for me was self-imposed: a lack of confidence in advancing into high-level corporate roles. Growing up, my family valued hard work, but I was the first person in my immediate family to pursue a technical degree; no one else had climbed the corporate ladder. For example, when I worked at Secure Computing, I hadn’t considered applying for an open director role until a current leader explicitly told me I would be a great fit.

I’ve experienced some conflicts within the traditional corporate culture. Loud, aggressive men dominate many executive teams. There wasn’t much room for different personalities, and it felt like you had to act like them if you wanted to be heard. Sometimes, I’ve questioned if I wish to become the kind of person who would thrive in a space like that.

Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?

My family has been incredibly supportive. My husband and I have been married for almost 25 years, and he also has a tech career, so he understands a lot of what I experience. He’s navigated his career to have more time at home and in the evenings to supervise our family, letting me focus on my career at pivotal moments. Our daughters are a great source of strength for both of us, and I’m proud to say that they’re both considering careers in tech.

I’ve had a few amazing bosses, but one particular role model was a female vice president at McAfee. She helped me learn how to build up my personality, image, and influence in the company without needing to adopt a dominant or aggressive nature. Thanks to her mentorship, I recognized my value, celebrated my accomplishments, and stood up for myself while remaining true to who I am.

Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

I once worked with a systems architect who was extremely generous in describing their contributions to our company — with the implication that my contributions were lesser by comparison. I wouldn’t say that the architect was actively trying to hinder my career, but this person’s focus on their vision for the company meant I didn’t have the space to discuss my vision.

There’s much subliminal discouragement of girls pursuing the same things as boys growing up.

A day in Dawn’s life

I work as Senior Vice President of Engineering & Operations at NS1. My day involves a lot of communicating, coordinating, strategic planning, and tactically executing plans. As an organization, we’re focused on transforming our engineering teams to be as efficient as possible. That requires understanding the company, culture, and technology at micro and macro levels.

My strategy is to prioritize the right things to change — you can’t change everything at once. We need to be flexible enough to adapt to a constantly evolving industry and to fail fast and quickly identify areas for new growth and success.

What are you most proud of in your career?

For several years I led a network security firewall engineering team in Minneapolis that faced periods of corporate downsizing. Yet we became a powerful execution engine with very little attrition because we could demonstrate our value and deliver great software. Many teams wanted to collaborate with us!

The key to our success was building a culture of collaboration rather than competition. When we met internally or with other teams, we didn’t go in aiming to prove we were the most intelligent people in the room. Instead, we said, “I have value, you have value, and let’s focus on combining our total value to deliver something for the company.” We focused on identifying common goals, clearly communicating tasks and ownership, and ensuring everyone felt valued.

These strategies might sound obvious, but it’s surprising how often people will insist on being dominant in collaboration and push everyone else into a subordinate role.

Why aren’t there more women in tech? What’s your take on that?

In an ideal world, girls wouldn’t be discouraged by the fact that most students pursuing tech careers are male. If you’re smart and want to be in tech, be in tech. Of course, it’s not that simple for a couple of reasons.

There’s much subliminal discouragement of girls pursuing the same things as boys growing up. Something as simple as the boys’ sports teams getting access to the field during primetime while girls’ teams are relegated to off-hours can make a difference.

Another thing is that many girls naturally grow up looking to their mothers for inspiration — and at least in terms of families I know, most mothers have pursued traditionally feminine careers like teaching and nursing.

Finally, there’s often an assumption that tech is best-suited for louder, more aggressive personalities. As a field, tech needs to do a better job of accepting and uplifting diverse personalities. That might start, for example, with soliciting feedback from people who aren’t inclined to speak up in tense group settings.

Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?

It can be challenging for women in tech to recognize their voices matter, and use them. A non-manager in my company recently spoke to me on International Women’s Day and said she was honored to speak to a female executive. I was a bit taken aback because I didn’t see myself as someone who would be inspirational. It got me thinking about how I could do more to be a positive influence for other people, beyond just pushing for more diverse hiring within my own company.

Of course, not every situation is created equal. If a woman is watching a heated argument between two men, it can be uncomfortable to step in. So the challenge is for women to learn how, if, and when to use their voices in different situations and what that looks like.

With greater diversity of voices included in the creation process, the things we create are more likely to resonate with audiences.

Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM? What would be the (social, economic, and cultural) impact?

If more women worked in STEM, I think it would ultimately benefit the things we create. We’re all building technology to be used in a diverse world. With greater diversity of voices included in the creation process, the things we create are more likely to resonate with audiences. This seems like common sense to me, but I know many people don’t see it that way.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?

On a company-by-company basis, I think we already see results in teams having greater representation. But on a national level, there’s still a way to go until representation extends to positions of authority.

A litmus test I use to measure progress asks: When would we be willing to have a female U.S. president? Is the nation ready to be represented by a woman? If not, there will also be much resistance against women serving as CEOs, CTOs, and other high-ranking positions. In my opinion, we’re still about a generation away from having a female president, but hopefully, this isn’t the case.

What advice (and tips) would you give women who want a tech career?

First, I strongly recommend finding a mentor who can help you navigate the industry. To advance in your career, you have to market yourself well, and a good mentor can help you fine-tune your approach.

Second, don’t be afraid to be an expert at what you do, and don’t hesitate to show what you know. People may assume a new female employee’s skills are weak and that she is just a “diversity hire.” Prove them wrong!

Third, make sure to hone soft skills, as they’re essential for elevating your value as an employee and helping you reach executive positions. In my experience, although my ability to write software was a foundational skill, the ability to communicate and collaborate with others has been a crucial part of my success and promotion into leadership positions.

More Women in Tech:

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Author
Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer

All Posts by Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer is the editor for JAXenter.com. She received her Bachelor's degree from Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey. She currently lives in Frankfurt, Germany with her husband and cat where she enjoys reading, writing, and medieval reenactment. She is also the editor for Conditio Humana, an online magazine about ethics, AI, and technology.

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