Interviews, North America

Tracey Welson-Rossman – Chief Marketing Officer at Chariot Solutions and Founder of TechGirlz

My professional journey has not been a straight line. And if you had told me at the outset that I was going to spend the largest part of my career in tech, I would have said you were crazy!

Tracey Welson-Rossman is a Founding Member and Chief Marketing Officer at Chariot Solutions, a leading Philadelphia area enterprise application and mobile development consulting firm, and the Founder of TechGirlz, a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring teenage girls to consider careers in technology.

As CMO of Chariot Solutions, Tracey understands what makes the IT community tick and what resonates with them. She’s responsible for branding, marketing, and managing the sales team and is someone who takes market trends and turns them into business opportunities.

In a nutshell, tell us a bit about your job, and what role technology plays in it?

I technically hold three jobs, and technology plays a critical role in all of them.  As CMO at software development consulting firm Chariot Solutions, I manage all of our marketing, branding, sales and strategy efforts. Chariot is a software development consulting firm. In order to explain to our clients and prospects why specific technologies will be important to their software development environments and how our team can help their companies I need to understand all of the various technologies our consultants use.  That insight into how these technologies fit within the larger software development ecosystem is also important to build partnerships, identify where our team should be speaking, and target new industries that are just embracing these technologies. Lastly, live events and conferences are always one of our most successful marketing and branding efforts and I need to be well versed in the technologies we’re presenting. Even though I am not doing the actual coding, I still help manage the curation of the topics and speakers for these events.

As a marketer, I must also use different technologies to execute my work activities. It’s interesting to see how these have changed significantly since I started in this field.  Having a website and using email blasts to communicate your message, was all that was needed. Now, I need to understand a multitude of social media tools, images, video, podcasting, content management systems to manage my website, are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s also an important distinction that I am not just a consumer of these tools, I become a creator by using these tools.  I do admit that I am not adept at all of these technology tools. It is almost impossible. But, I need to be able to collaborate with the people I hire who specialize so I can better explain what I want to achieve. At the end of the day, the tech is fun, but the goal is to communicate our message, no matter the means. 

My second job is as the founder of TechGirlz, a non-profit which encourages middle school girls to embrace the power of tech for their future careers through the use of interactive workshops.  After 10 years and over 20,000 girls taught, I have learned much more about the role technology plays in society today – both in its application and as an empowering tool for women. I am also constantly learning about technologies as part of my responsibility to help guide the TechGirlz team in the creation of over 60 workshops. Of course, our team must also use technology to scale and grow our program and use our dollars efficiently, a role similar to my job as a marketer at Chariot. 

My third role as co-founder of Women in Technology Summit (WITS), a series of conferences for women in the field, also requires a similar understanding of technology to guide agendas and grow an organization. Interestingly, while TechGirlz allows me to see technology through the eyes of girls, WITS helps me engage with peers about emerging tech that is important to us all. 

Where did your professional journey start and how did you get to where you are now?

My professional journey has not been a straight line. And if you had told me at the outset that I was going to spend the largest part of my career in tech, I would have said you were crazy!

My first real job was in retail. This was before online shopping, when brick and mortar stores were basically the only way to buy clothes.  Technology was used sparingly, more for inventory tracking. In fact, I was the first person in our buying office to use spreadsheets to better track and predict which stores would sell a product or brand.

After several years, I left retail and began selling advertising. As an introvert, this job pushed me out of my comfort zone.  I also saw how a small business was run, as I was working for a franchisee of a direct mailing company. I applied some of what I had learned in the retail world, understanding how customers bought products, how to access marketing dollars from vendors to help pay for my customer’s ads, and how to sell through relationships.

But after a few years, I needed a new challenge. I took a risk and purchased an existing business, KangaKab, a child transportation business. This was well before Uber and Lyft.  This period in my life was transformative. I was in charge, with no safety net. I learned how to be a business person. I managed a team, learned about financials, legal issues, insurance, healthcare and benefits, vehicle maintenance, dealing with the public and growing a business.  It is the toughest job I ever had, and although it was not successful, I do not regret it. More than any other position, it prepared me for my roles today.

This leads to this phase of my current life.  I applied to work at an accounting software company where I did marketing and sales.  This product company, morphed into Chariot Solutions. I was part of the team which created the business plan and helped to get it up and running.  

What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?

It has been almost 20 years and the amount of change is pretty awe-inspiring. There are many technologies I could nominate, but I believe open source software has been the most important.  

Most people are not aware that open source software is not “owned” by anyone because it is created by volunteers to solve a particular issue facing developers. Often this is done by people who live all over the world but came together to work collaboratively on this challenge. The software is free to use and maintained by these volunteers. Linus is an example of open source software

Free open source software allowed companies like Amazon to get started cheaply because they did not need to pay any vendors.  All that was asked of them was to follow guidelines and if new features were developed to contribute them back.

The open source community created hackathons, crowdsourcing, and proved the idea that a group of people who did not work at the same time or even time zone could create and disrupt an industry. 

We always hear there are not enough women working in Tech. What needs to happen to change that? Using your own words, why do we need women focused groups in the tech community?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question will not fit within this column. 

The issues surrounding why we have a shortage of women in tech have been years in the making and are not easily solved. They stem from how we as a culture believe (or do not believe) that women can be smart and as good at science, tech, math and engineering as men.  It is about the ways businesses treat women in the workplace and value their contributions. It is how the media portrays a career in tech and how popular culture chooses to represent technologists. It is how our schools are set up to teach our future tech employees about tech. It is the lack of insight girls receive about how tech is part of every industry, hurting their understanding of  job prospects and earning potential.

It is the lack of insight girls receive about how tech is part of every industry, hurting their understanding of  job prospects and earning potential.

But today we have an unprecedented opportunity to reverse this, created by an urgent business need. Right now we are facing an unparalleled  shortage of IT talent in one of the tightest employment markets ever. With 77% of jobs predicted to be tech enabled or adjacent by 2023, it is very important to the health of our businesses to encourage non traditional tech workers to be part of the innovation economy.

By training women to fill these roles, we can solve our IT industry crisis while helping to reverse the decades long dynamic that has kept them from these jobs. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to economically empower women on the back of job market trends and demands. 

By training women to fill these roles, we can solve our IT industry crisis while helping to reverse the decades long dynamic that has kept them from these jobs.

And yes, I believe women need women-only places where they can find a supportive environment to learn tech, whether it is when they are girls or in the middle of their career.  We see about 50% of women leave tech mid career due to factors like a lack of career advancement opportunities or hostile workplaces. We hear from our TechGirlz that our girls-only environment gives them the confidence to try to learn tech. One day, we will not need these groups, but right now, for a multitude of reasons, it is important to have them.

What skills do you need for a career in tech (aside from the actual tech skills)?

Curiosity, the desire to keep learning, to be creative, collaborative.

What and who were the influencers of who you are today?

My favorite influencer is Julia Child. She changed careers when many people would have started winding theirs down. And she was fearless in the pursuit of what she wanted to do.

I am lucky to have a group of women who are my tribe, who inspire me and support me all the time. They are not famous or icons, but these are women who are leading in their fields and who take the time to support other women.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your 14-year-old self?

Do not be afraid. Take a risk.

You are supposed to host a dinner and need to invite three people in tech. Who would you invite and why?

That is a good twist! Questlove – he was using social media to build his brand before so many other people and was using tech to promote music very early. Katherine Johnson – technically a mathematician, but she was powering tech with that math.  Steve Jobs – not just because he was a creative genius, but for how he was able to come back from being forced out of his company and be even more impactful even after what was considered a failure. 

Tracey Welson-Rossman is a Founding Member and Chief Marketing Officer at Chariot Solutions, a leading Philadelphia area enterprise application and mobile development consulting firm, and the Founder of TechGirlz, a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring teenage girls to consider careers in technology.

As CMO of Chariot Solutions, Tracey understands what makes the IT community tick and what resonates with them. She’s responsible for branding, marketing, and managing the sales team and is someone who takes market trends and turns them into business opportunities.

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