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Profile: Rachel Roumeliotis, Vice President of content strategy at O’Reilly

Women in Tech: “I encourage women to know their worth”

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 Rachel Roumeliotis, Vice President of content strategy at O’Reilly.

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 Rachel Roumeliotis, Vice President of content strategy at O’Reilly.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Rachel Roumeliotis, Vice President of content strategy at O’Reilly

Rachel Roumeliotis, a vice president of content strategy at O’Reilly Media, leads an editorial team that covers a wide variety of programming topics, ranging from data and AI, to open source in the enterprise, to emerging programming languages. She is a programming chair of OSCON. Previously, she was chair of O’Reilly’s Fluent Conference, Security Conference, as well as O’Reilly’s Software Architecture Conference, which she co-created with Neal Ford. Rachel has been working in technical publishing for 14+ years, acquiring content in many areas, including software development, UX, computer security, and AI.

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

I’ve been interested in technology since my parents got me an Atari 2600 and I started watching Sci-Fi cartoons and movies in the early eighties. Thinking about it now, I’ve always been attracted to how stories are intertwined with technology. Technology can enable and emphasise wants and needs and really amplify humanity’s story.

How did you end up in your career path? What obstacles did you have to overcome?

Besides technology, I’ve always loved books — not only stories, but the artifact of the book. Like many kids, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. But one fateful day after bouncing around from job to job, I came across an opening for an acquisitions editor and I knew that was the job for me. An acquisitions editor in the tech space builds out a portfolio of books and other content for a specific technical audience. It seemed like the perfect fit for my interests and skills.

I knew this was the career for me, but human resources let me know that this particular role was not an entry level position and I needed to start at the beginning. In fact, the first job I had in the publishing industry lasted a mere three weeks thanks to a company reorganisation shortly after I was hired. But as luck would have it, about two months later I was rehired in a better position. It was a really tough blow at the time, but my experience at this publishing company affirmed that this was the right path for me. And when another, more senior position appeared a few months later I applied again and the rest is history.

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

I’m fortunate to have a very supportive family and group of friends, but very early in my career, I worked for an editor that was fun, encouraging, and willing to help. He always made time to talk with me about technology, publishing, and business. His positive attitude and independent way of looking at the industry was invaluable. I don’t think about him very often now, but when I do, it reminds me that success is built on hard work, creativity, and making time to mentor other people. It’s not easy with never-ending deadlines and distractions, but taking the time to mentor others not only helps that person, but gives you another colleague to collaborate with and learn from as she or he moves along in their career.

Imposter syndrome isn’t just something women face, but it’s often amplified through how we allow others to influence how we view ourselves.

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

There was one time where it was clear that moving up the ranks at a company was not in the cards. It was a disappointment, but ultimately, my way forward wasn’t with this company or group of people. As a result, I decided to move onward and upward at another organisation. It was difficult, but ultimately a good move which accelerated my learning and advancement. I initially took a step back because my next job was at a company that I thought was the best one in the industry. I think it’s important to remember that the best path forward isn’t always an incline.

A day in Rachel’s life

I am currently vice president of content strategy at O’Reilly. A typical workday includes me evaluating whether to move forward with a proposal for a book on a specific programming language like Python, to developing a schedule for future-looking events focused on what’s next in business and technology. Some of those topics include intelligent automation, contingent workforces, and hyper connectivity.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I’m most proud of chairing OSCON, O’Reilly’s live open source conference. I worked hard to evolve the conference, honour its history, and diversify not only its content but the speakers that made up the schedule.

We made a concerted effort to improve the diversity of our lineup of experts at our conferences, and within two years 30% of our keynote speakers were women. Within five years 100% of speakers at O’Reilly’s virtual open source event were women.

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

I read that with the advertisement of video games primarily to young boys in the early eighties, girls found their way to other hobbies. This resulted in the number of women in engineering and computer science plateauing, which was less prevalent in careers like medicine and law. Diversity in the technology industry is slowly growing, but there is a long road ahead and we need to keep that growth rate up.

Promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace is a priority at O’Reilly. Nearly 50% of our senior team is made up of women; far above the North America average of 29% (catalyst.org). We still have work to do, but through initiatives like our Diversity & Inclusion Scholarship we’re working hard to make a career in technology more equitable for people of all races, ethnicities, genders, ages, abilities, religions, sexual orientations, and professional roles.

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

Imposter syndrome isn’t just something women face, but it’s often amplified through how we allow others to influence how we view ourselves. Unfortunately, you are going to run across some individuals that aren’t your biggest fans for a variety of reasons. Sometimes this has nothing to do with you and everything to do with said individual’s own imposter syndrome. Remember that you need to have confidence in yourself, the work that you do, and the ideas that you contribute. Imposter syndrome, while not the only reason you may be struggling to break a glass ceiling, doesn’t help. Don’t let another person’s lack of confidence or refusal to accept an evolving culture stop you from doing your best work and fully realizing what you want to accomplish.

The gender pay gap doesn’t help either, which is still a big issue in technology, as surfaced in our latest data and AI survey. Women are making 84% of what their male counterparts earn. This is something that cannot continue. I encourage women to know their worth, research what expected pay is for a position in your geographic region, and your skillset, and negotiate your salary so that it’s aligned with your experience.

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

Point blank, a more diverse team has the ability to make better decisions. Different perspectives and experiences are invaluable, and we’re seeing this reflected in technology itself. An often cited example of this is Amazon’s faulty hiring algorithm, which discriminated against women candidates as a result of most of their current team being male.

In another instance, starting a project with a team that is reflective of who your customers are will give you greater insight into that audience. Differing points of view may lead to quicker innovation by combining a variety of processes from different experiences. Even broader, more women working in STEM and getting equal pay would lead to greater retention, and ultimately a healthier economy.

Diversifying our talent network this year has been a topline business priority and we’ve made great strides.

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

Unfortunately, it’s still going to be quite some time until we see discussion turn to widespread action. Diversity initiatives are working, and we’ve seen this firsthand at O’Reilly. Diversifying our talent network this year has been a topline business priority and we’ve made great strides.

Early on in 2021, we established a corporate goal to increase the number of O’Reilly experts we sign to new projects who identify as members of an underrepresented community from 30% to 40% — a full 10 percentage points higher. We’re targeting 40% of our new hires this year to come from underrepresented communities, which includes women. We’ve created and filled the position of O’Reilly diversity lead, who directs efforts to improve the diversity of our talent ecosystem. As a result, we’re not only hitting, but surpassing those goals.

O’Reilly is ahead of the curve, but on a larger scale, at the very least, we need to keep diversity as a focal point of the conversation in business and technology. Progress doesn’t just happen overnight, and diversity initiatives must be implemented, challenged, and continue to improve to see a real difference.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career? What should they know about this industry?

This may sound sappy but believe in yourself. When you do this, you’ll have an easier time finding the right company that values you. And when you’re valued, there are no boundaries around what you want to do and what you can achieve in your career.

More Women in Tech:

For even more Women in Tech, click here

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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