Stephanie Sheehan, VP of Engineering at Keelvar, joins the Story of Software podcast to share her insights and experience on becoming an impactful technology leader.
The Guest – Stephanie Sheehan
Stephanie has over 20 years of experience building software products across multiple industries including Telecommunications, Financial and Medical Compliance, and more. She is now the VP of Engineering at Keelvar, which provides sourcing optimization and automation software for enterprise procurement teams. Keelvar emerged from a leading AI research laboratory and is the category leader in best practice technology for advanced eSourcing, serving customers such as Siemens, BMW, Coca-Cola, and more.
Becoming a Technology Leader
Moving from a technical role to a management role requires a change in the way you think and how you approach your team. As a technology leader working with cross-functional teams, one needs to bring people together, cater to each individual’s needs, and at the same time let go of their ego to become an enabler. These are only a few of the skills discussed in this episode.
Some of the topics covered include:
- Software solutions that can enable faster procurement
- Empowering women in the tech sector
- The skills needed to be a good leader
- Advice for becoming a leader in the tech sector
- Insights on managing and growing successful teams
Transcript (abridged version):
Do you think there’s anything that can be done in terms of encouraging more women to participate in computer science? What do you think could be done in that regard to make it more encouraging, and more welcoming?
Yeah, it’s one of those things. Actually, when I was doing my course, we had about a 50% male to female ratio, and then what happened at the end of it was that the majority of the female participants in the course left coding. They left the actual technical element and went into other areas of software development, which is interesting. I think software has changed an awful lot in the last few years, and it’s much more appealing for female tendencies. As women, we like to create relationships, we like to share, we like to collaborate, we like to come together, and I think now software development is much more orientated to that kind of skill set. I think that’s something that we probably need to talk more about – how important that skill set is. In the past, the technical virtues were really pushed and women often underplay their technical skills I guess, or they don’t believe in themselves enough in that area. So they kind of rule themselves out early. But I think talking about how software is built today and how much it relies on relationship building, collaboration, ideation and brainstorming etc. would encourage more females.
Do you think women who work in the software sector have a natural fit for management and leadership roles? Because a lot of women that I know in the tech sector very quickly move into a role where they’re responsible for a team, where they really bring everyone together? Did you see that in your own career?
Yeah, I’m seeing it a lot. Actually even during the week, I was on a call with my own engineering and product management teams, and I noticed that all of the participants from the engineering side were women. It was all of the leaders in engineering so myself, our engineering manager Gwen and team lead Aliaa. Then the product management side was all male. Actually, we don’t have enough females in our engineering department, but it just so happens that a lot of leaders that are emerging are female.
So, I wonder if it is actually that natural ability to coordinate, to bring people together because, you know, engineering teams now they’re multi-disciplined, they’re cross-functional. So you have people from all different kinds of mindsets coming together; creative and logical-brained people. So it takes quite the skill set to bring all of that together to coordinate, manage the dynamics and create a safe environment for everybody to collaborate. I think women are very strong in that area. Obviously, we also have male team leads who are also excellent in that area too, but I think it is a path for women where they can do really well.
What are some of the people management challenges that you encounter in terms of growing a startup company that’s expanding?
I think anyone in tech right now knows that attracting talent is one of the most difficult things. We’re seeing a boom in the industry, and obviously a shift as well for people to move away from office spaces to remote work. Then you’ve got the big resignation going on. People are re-evaluating what’s important to them, how they want to work, and where they want to work. That definitely seems to be affecting companies’ ability to attract talent.
But other than that, the most difficult thing with people is that we’re all human beings. So we all come with our individual sets of ambitions, egos, vulnerabilities, and drivers. So one of the biggest challenges is creating a safe environment for everybody to come together, collaborate and do the work that they love so that they’re feeling fulfilled and recognized. And that’s true for Keelvar especially, we really believe in the individual and making it a safe space for the individual, taking the time to allow people to use their voice to create an environment that works for them. I think as a leader it’s a challenge for me because in order to make that happen for my team, I have to put my own biases or ego to the side and listen more, take in what people are saying, and allow the team to evolve and find their own path. That’s always kind of a tricky one.
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