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Profile: Lori MacVittie, Principal Technical Evangelist, F5 Networks

Whatever kind of woman you are, what you wear or what personality you have, is irrelevant. There’s a role for you.

Dominik Mohilo
women in tech

Two 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 Lori MacVittie, Principal Technical Evangelist for F5 Networks.

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?

Two 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 Lori MacVittie, Principal Technical Evangelist for F5 Networks.

Lori MacVittie, Principal Technical Evangelist, F5 Networks

women in tech

Lori MacVittie is the principal technical evangelist for cloud computing, cloud and application security, and application delivery and is responsible for education and evangelism across F5’s entire product suite. MacVittie has extensive development and technical architecture experience in both high-tech and enterprise organizations. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing Magazine, where she authored articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University. She also serves on the Board of Regents for the DevOps Institute and CloudNOW, and has been named one of the top influential women in DevOps.

What got you interested in technology?

My mother was actually a programmer in the 70s, so I wasn’t the first female in my family to pursue a career in STEM. She often brought work home with her and I found it fascinating. Once we got a computer I was hooked, and this is where my love for technology started. As quite an introverted person, given the choice, I would often rather talk to a computer than people because it listened to me.

I went on to achieve a Bachelors and Masters degree in Computer Science. Following my studies, I worked as a developer and architect, and after a few years moved over to the publishing industry. It was different, but still related to my passion for technology, as it was my job to make complex technologies more accessible, by reporting on them in a way that almost anyone could understand. In 2006 I joined F5, and this was where my two different career paths came together.

As a young mother, scheduling classes and day care was a significant challenge. I had to learn to plan two and three years out to meet degree objectives while juggling class schedules with day care. I often had to take my young son to class with me, which he enjoyed and luckily most professors had no objections.

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

Without support and encouragement from my friends, I would not have embarked on such an effort in the first place. After the birth of my first son, I had abandoned thoughts of college and a career until friends convinced me to take them up again. My family was supportive and offered whatever help they could, though finances were always a significant struggle and source of stress.

My role model is my mother, who navigated a successful technical career while raising a family at the same time. She taught me the value of timeliness and scheduling and attention to detail that certainly helped during my undergraduate studies.

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

I have been lucky in the Midwest as I have not come across many roadblocks in my career based on my gender. The area is full of insurance companies in which the majority of programmers in the area have often been female. It just seemed to be part of our culture to have women in these kinds of positions.  

Throughout my career, I have experienced male colleagues who wouldn’t take direction from a woman, and also men at conferences who are completely taken aback when they realise I know what I am talking about. My question is, what made you assume I didn’t? It’s frustrating but something I try to move past quickly – you can’t let people like that bring you down!

A day in Lori’s life

In my current role at F5, I’m responsible for education and evangelism of application services across the businesses product suite. In other words, I distill technical concepts into something that most people can understand. This includes authoring technical articles about a variety of topics including architectures and application security to cloud computing and DevOps. I also attend a lot of industry events and community-based meetups to join panel discussions.

What are you most proud of in your career?

That I’ve been able to help others understand and apply technology to solve problems. Whether it’s internally across the organization or externally in the market at large, or even at home teaching family and friends, the ability to help others understand and apply technology to make their lives and businesses better is the most satisfying aspect of my career.

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

It’s an interesting problem; one that I’ve had a very different perspective on given my upbringing and while raising a family of my own. Technology has always been a part of my life, since I was a young child. I have two sisters, one of whom dabbles in technology but focuses on math. Another sister took a completely different path while my brother took to technology. I have three adult children who were raised with two parents in technology. Our two daughters never showed an interest, despite being exposed to and encouraged to explore technology most of their lives.

Why a woman chooses or doesn’t choose to enter technology seems to be a personal decision based on the impact she wants to have on the world. Some of it is certainly tied to technology’s image of isolation and culture and fear of a male-dominated field – after all, how much of an impact can you make if you’re constantly fighting to prove yourself instead of moving the needle forward? But some of it is just that it’s not an interesting field for them. I think my youngest daughter would say that she loves animals and wants to work with and help them, and there aren’t many of those in technology.

What we need to do is address the perceptions and attitudes within tech to ensure that those women who want to enter STEM feel welcomed and able to thrive in a technology environment.

What obstacles do women in tech face?

There is a tendency to dismiss women in technology that aren’t in a hands-on role, but my belief is that we need to support and promote all women in the technology industry because ultimately not everyone that wants a slice of the technology world wants to sit and code all day.

Fundamentally, STEM has a brand problem and there is a stereotype of the type of women who work in STEM roles. We might think of introverts and people that wear all black and no heels, but that’s just not the case! Whatever kind of woman you are, what you wear or what personality you have, is irrelevant. There’s a role for you. And this is a message I am trying to promote amongst my peers.

I have never personally faced anyone who wanted me to stop advancing in professional life. I’ve met people who made that professional life frustrating because of their attitudes toward women, but mostly I have met those who unintentionally threw up barriers or made me consider whether I wanted to spend my career justifying my “right’ to be there. The most prevalent attitude I find in technology is an assumption that women are not technically capable. I have been patronized, condescended to, and dismissed by men who were certain of their superiority. It wears on you after a while, and at some point, I think it just exhausts us. We spend more time justifying our seat at the table than we do practicing our craft.

Family can be a significant obstacle, particularly if you place a priority on family over career. In that sense, I’ve had to make a lot of difficult choices that often lead to lost career opportunities because I have chosen to prioritize family. I’ve been blessed to spend a significant part of my career at F5 where there is a focus on healthy family-life balance. I actually tried to resign 4 months after my youngest son was born in 2008 because I couldn’t seem to balance both. F5 made significant efforts to address it so I could manage both. Sadly, that’s not always the case for women and it’s a serious inhibitor for those who feel forced into making a choice.

The most important thing for me is that data and computers don’t care about gender, so women shouldn’t let it bother them either. My advice would be, if you’re interested in a STEM career, just go for it!

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

I think one impact would be that more women would stay in STEM. Being the only one of X in any environment can take a toll on you over time that’s not healthy and often leads to abandoning your career. I’m not a socio-economic expert so I can’t imagine what the impact might be, but I don’t think it would be a negative one.

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

Most of us have likely run into one or two people who don’t take well to women in tech. It’s a sad scenario, but one that is slowly improving as more females take on STEM roles. But change isn’t going to happen overnight, and I think it’s the responsibility of businesses today to create and promote a working environment that is not only welcoming to both men and women, but also encouraging.

For example, if an employee experiences discrimination from a colleague – such as condescending management because of someone’s gender – there should be processes in place to help them deal with it, and employees should feel that they can make reports to HR where necessary.

Any advice or tips for women in tech?

Why a woman chooses or doesn’t choose to enter technology seems to be a personal decision based on the impact she wants to have on the world. Some of it is certainly tied to technology’s image of isolation and culture and fear of a male-dominated field – after all, how much of an impact can you make if you’re constantly fighting to prove yourself instead of moving the needle forward?

The most important thing for me is that data and computers don’t care about gender, so women shouldn’t let it bother them either. My advice would be, if you’re interested in a STEM career, just go for it!

Wherever you go, it’s likely that you’ll end up in a male-dominated environment and if that makes you uncomfortable then that’s OK. Make sure you find a mentor or friend who you can vent to, and a business or educational body that will provide the right support to help you be successful in your career. STEM industries have a reputation for women struggling to be successful. Don’t be put off – if we want change, we need to be the forerunners.

What ways have you seen/experienced employers embrace diversity and improve their practices?

F5 now has a great mentoring scheme in place that is open to everyone and has been a great way to support women in the workplace. Being mentored by another person who has had similar experiences can be extremely useful professionally. We’ve seen effective examples of this with females returning to the workplace after motherhood, and junior staff being mentored by senior women. The programme not only matches employees with likeminded people, but also provides a comfortable way to discuss sensitive matters in confidence.

Author
Dominik Mohilo
Dominik Mohilo studied German and sociology at the Frankfurt University, and works at S&S Media since 2015.

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