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Profile: Ruth Vela, Director of Technology Experience at Nextiva

Women in Tech: “Leveling the playing field helps everyone”

Jean Kiltz

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 Ruth Vela, Director of Technology Experience at Nextiva.

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 Ruth Vela, Director of Technology Experience at Nextiva.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Ruth Vela, Director of Technology Experience at Nextiva

Ruth Vela is the Director of Technology Experience at Nextiva and the country manager of Nextiva Mexico. Ruth is responsible for the Technology Experience program, which ensures a consistently positive experience and highly engaged workforce for the company’s global team of technologists. Additionally, Ruth leads end-to-end operations for Nextiva Mexico, where much of the company’s R&D is conducted.

Ruth combines her unique skills in engineering, leadership, and entrepreneurship with her passion for using technology to simplify the way we experience work. She is an advocate for expanding education and careers in STEM to women across the world.

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

A middle school class in electronics sparked my interest to learn about the magic of how technology works. That class helped me realize how removed I was from understanding the way technology influences our daily experiences.

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

Early in my career, I was a founding member of a telecommunications startup. My initial role was as a telecommunications engineer, and I grew to become heavily involved in customer success and growth, which was key to the startup’s success. There, I began to understand how much work goes into making a business successful, and that the people you hire are your most important asset.

A major obstacle that I’ve had to overcome is that I may not be what the industry expects – so I’ve created my own place. It can be challenging to find the right opportunities with companies and people who want to challenge the status quo and do things differently. To do so, you need to know what you are looking for, pivot consciously, and be ready to take risks and deliver value. At Nextiva I have been able to do just that. I’ve combined my technical ability, business acumen, and people management to be a technology leader, building programs that engage our engineers with our company values and purpose to effectively build the best products.

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

Growing up, my parents set an excellent example and instilled in me and my sister the values of hard work, discipline, consistency, and responsibility. There have been many people who have inspired me along the way, and the person I want to become is not someone I have met yet. However, I’ve been fortunate to know incredible people, and I have a support network of friends, family, and professionals.

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

If they did, I did not pay attention. There will always be a lot of noise and one should be selective about what they listen to. No one will walk your path. Follow your intuition.

Women have had to adapt to technology instead of building technology that adapts to women.

A day in Ruth’s life

At Nextiva, our team builds the next generation of business communication technology. In my role, I work with our global team to create an amazing technology experience designed to advance our technical engagement programs. I work in both English and Spanish, and I’m in constant collaboration across all departments to create innovative solutions for our highly engaged technical workforce. I also have the privilege of engaging with various non-profit and tech organizations in our communities.

What are you most proud of in your career?

Being at the forefront of the creation of our R&D office in Mexico, community development, and the continuous development of the Technology Experience with the goal to position our technical teams for success by paying attention to our employees with the same intensity we pay attention to our highest revenue customers.

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

First, there’s a misconception that a degree in engineering is extremely difficult. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible either, and it’s totally worth it.

Second, there’s a lack of positive messaging around women in technology. Typically, the jobs that we hear are the most “sexy” and “interesting” are those in business, marketing, and finance. I believe we need to spread the message about the perks of technology careers. In the technology industry (technical roles), women have the opportunity to earn a higher salary and are able to access multiple job opportunities. These roles often come with increased flexibility from working remotely and having more control over their schedule.

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

One big challenge that I see women face in business – not just in technology – has to do with the policies that support women in the workplace. For example, with childcare or pay equity, it can be challenging to negotiate a higher salary and to be bold with one’s career growth. Research shows that women are generally more conservative in these two areas; we need to create policies that make the work environment more equitable. The good thing is that technology companies are often willing to do what it takes to hire great talent, especially in technical roles, which means companies now see the importance of competitive policies. The great resignation and the recent pandemic have surfaced the necessity to bring more people into technical positions, and this means more space for women.

The pandemic accelerated the penetration and consumption of digital services. We have all seen that the most successful companies right now are in tech – they are outperforming revenue generation against any other industry.

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

Of course, it would be different. Let’s take computer engineering as an example. There is a 1:1 ratio of men to women in the U.S., but only 25% of women are working in computer engineering. This means 4 men for every woman. This creates a problem: in most cases, the perspective of a woman is not taken into consideration because there aren’t enough women in the room where decisions are being made. The consequence of this is women have had to adapt to technology instead of building technology that adapts to women.

We not only need to get more women in the workforce, we also need to get them to build the technology, we need to get them into leadership positions, and we need to get them in the room where decisions happen.

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

I do see this specific moment as one of the most critical to get more people into technology. There is so much more opportunity, competition, and urgency to fill technical roles. Companies understand that there is no time to waste and that leveling the playing field helps everyone. A diverse workforce can truly impact the development of better products.

The pandemic accelerated the penetration and consumption of digital services. We have all seen that the most successful companies right now are in tech – they are outperforming revenue generation against any other industry. Investment in tech companies is the highest it has ever been, and companies are not hesitating to use these funds to bring the much-needed tech talent into their workforce. We need to keep the momentum going. This is the best opportunity to get more women involved in technology, not only because of the economic opportunity, but because of the demand for better products that serve everybody.

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

First, I want them to know that there are tons of high-paying job opportunities. It is competitive, which means that if you join a company and it doesn’t fit your values, the probability of you finding another job in a company that is more aligned to what you are looking for is greater than if you had any other type of career.

Even if it’s difficult to get into a technical career at the beginning, it’s worthwhile. It requires commitment, persistence, and networking, but the opportunities are there and will continue to be. An investment in education and technology is one of the best you can make in yourself and your career.

More Women in Tech:

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Jean Kiltz works as an editor at S&S Media since March 2020. He studied History at Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz

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