Women in tech: “Don’t forget that your career will evolve.”
Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Three 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 Kristin Simonini, VP Product at Applause.
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?
Three 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 Kristin Simonini, VP Product at Applause.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Kristin Simonini, VP Product at Applause
At Applause, Kristin leads our product organization in setting our strategic roadmap. Her organization partners with Engineering to develop features and enhancements to our industry-leading crowdsourced testing platform. Kristin is focused on creating value for our clients by building Applause solutions that address their key business challenges.
Kristin came to applause with 20 years of Product leadership experience. Prior to Applause, Kristin led the product development efforts at EdAssist, a Bright Horizons Solution at Work. There, she instituted a product management practice and led the effort to reinvigorate their industry leading tuition assistance platform. Before EdAssist, she held leadership roles at Brainshark, Deploy Solutions and Webhire.
Kristin earned a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from Northeastern University.
What first got you interested in tech?
While still in college, I held an internship with Digital City Boston, a part of America Online. I was introduced to some light coding, and using their proprietary tools I built pages to support our local site. From that point forward, I found it difficult to work in any non-technical organizations. I tried working in corporate banking post-graduation and very quickly ran back to tech.
How did you end up in your career path? What obstacles did you have to overcome?
I started working at a company called WebHire that was focused on applicant tracking software. My first position was helping train and support customers on our new SaaS-based ATS solution. I recognized that our customers struggled with figuring out how to introduce our technology into their traditionally very manual processes, so I set up a business process consulting team. It was great to be on the road meeting with customers and helping them implement our solution but it also gave me firsthand insights into where there were opportunities for us to make improvements to our solution. It was at this point I decided I wanted to get involved in product management.
The hardest reality to learn is that you don’t get to just run in and implement all your ideas (boo!). I learned about market research and competitive intelligence, how to balance the needs of a variety of stakeholders, and that awful realization that you can’t make everyone happy all the time. That was a wake-up call, but one that made me more determined than ever to figure it all out and make ours the best product possible.
I think another obstacle facing product managers is balancing the science and the art of managing products. While it is important to back decisions with as much data as possible, there are still subjective choices that need to be made. Sometimes, our analysis and feedback are in conflict, and finding a balance is one of the great challenges of the role.
The hardest reality to learn is that you don’t get to just run in and implement all your ideas.
A day in Kristin’s life
My role is VP of Product at Applause. Our focus is on helping our customers deliver the highest-quality digital experiences possible. My team builds and delivers on our product roadmap, working in close partnership with our Engineering team. We have a variety of end-users that we support with varying needs, so there are a lot of user personas and priorities that we are juggling.
On a typical day, I probably have a few one-on-ones with my team, which are sprinkled throughout the week. I think this is important and valuable time helping ensure that every member of the team has clarity on their responsibilities, can talk through any challenges or needs they might have, and can partner on how we tackle the work ahead. I’m often meeting with Engineering leadership as well to make sure we have alignment and line of sight on all our strategic initiatives. I spend a lot of time supporting our Go-To-Market (GTM) efforts by participating in analyst briefings and press interviews, or speaking at industry events. When not focusing on our planned roadmap, I’m working with our team to identify potential R&D opportunities and think beyond the known body of work ahead.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I pride myself on helping build positive cultures. We spend so much of our lives at work, and it is critically important that managers build environments that satisfy the needs of their teams. Building environments that are fun, flexible, and intellectually challenging, while also ensuring that employees have an opportunity for growth and advancement, is essential to any company’s success.
When you’re getting started in your career, you don’t know if management is going to be right for you, or if you’re going to have the right skills for it. So a great accomplishment for me was when I was leaving a company, and I was sharing that news with the folks on my team. One of my product managers kind of welled up and said, “You know, this is really unfortunate on so many levels professionally, but you’re also the most human manager I’ve ever had.” I got welled up with that too. That’s the best thing someone could have ever said to me – not “Oh, that was a great product release,” or “Customers really loved this feature.”
That’s something to hang my hat on, because it’s important for me to make sure my team knows that, yes, we work hard and we get our jobs done because we play a critical role in the organization, but at the end of the day we’re here for our family and our health and our life outside these walls. That’s what we’re living for. If the teams that I build and grow over the years feel that they have that balance and that I’m able to support them, that’s my accomplishment.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
There is a shoe for every foot, or so they say, so I would not want to generalize. But when I think of women I’ve known in the workplace, I think of dynamic and outgoing, vocal professionals. While these roles exist in tech, I think there are also a lot of heads-down individual contributor roles. Women are natural leaders, in my humble opinion, and that may be why we gravitate to some roles over others.
Yes, we work hard and we get our jobs done because we play a critical role in the organization, but at the end of the day we’re here for our family and our health and our life outside these walls.
Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?
One thing I have seen over the years is a distinction between how a woman’s response is perceived in comparison to that of a male counterpart. I have witnessed the same argument against a particular course of action be described as ‘passionate’ or ‘strong’ by a man but ‘emotional’ by a woman. You may not see a big difference in those words but I do. To me, the former is typically viewed with a more positive connotation (in the workplace, at least) with the latter being more negative. Seeing that has taught me to think in more measured, data-driven challenges and responses, which honestly has only improved the quality of work I bring to the table.
What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?
I think a lot of people come out of school and haven’t quite figured out what their path is yet. My advice is to find your passion and identify your strengths. Maybe find a more experienced mentor that can help provide guidance and support.
Also, it is incredibly important to network and build connections because that is so often how people will find you and you find them. Be sure to seek out organizations (local or beyond) that focus on your area of interest. If product management is your passion and you’re in the Boston area, for example, you might consider groups like the Boston Product Management Association or Agile New England. Go to meetings, network, and hear what is happening in the space. Not only will you make great contacts, but that continued education will help you pinpoint areas that you may be more or less interested in which will guide the choices you make for your career growth.
Also, don’t forget that your career will evolve. Where you start and where you end may not be at all the same. Be flexible and open to new opportunities that may not be exactly on the straight path you are planning.
More Women in Tech:
- Women in Tech: “Be the positive inspiration for someone else!”
- Women in Tech: “Women are turned away from STEM before they even get started.”
- Women in Tech: Martina Kraus – “Diversity isn’t just Gender – it’s culture and language too!”
- Women in Tech: Rachel Taylor – “Gender bias is creating massive challenges across social, ethnic, and economic groups.”
- Women in Tech: Katrin Rabow – “A higher proportion of women in our industry will change the way we think”