WOMEN IN HIGH-TECH
We kickstart 2023 with a new installment of our Women in High Tech series. In this one I talk to Dana Bublitz, Senior Information Architect at Microsoft.
Microsoft Docs has been a valued customer of the Semantic Web Company for many years now and has used the power of knowledge management in PoolParty to efficiently govern and scale up an enterprise AI strategy. This way they can generate innovation, transparency, and revenue within and beyond their ecosystem.
Dana shares fascinating details about her impressive transition from academia to working for one of the world’s biggest multinational companies. The importance of digital literacy, how the early 2000s shaped her understanding of women interacting with technology and code, and how she is successfully leading her team with empathy and a sense of humor.
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There are a lot of ways to work, succeed, and shine in tech. People can work in everything from marketing and communications to architecture, writing, and a variety of other fields related to technology. I really encourage people, especially women, to find places that fit their interests, because there are a lot of niches within technology – and your input matters!
Senior Information Architect at Microsoft
Dana Bublitz is fascinated by how people conceptualize and talk about the world around them. Her professional work has encompassed information architecture, taxonomy development, content and UX strategy, and front-end development. She has worked within higher education, tech, and small businesses to help organizations connect and communicate with their audiences through digital channels.
Hi Dana, It's so good to talk to you again. You seem to exude such optimism; what inspires you?
That’s a good question (laughs). I would say the sum of human knowledge and people’s ability to access it through education. I see such opportunities within technology to make knowledge more accessible to anyone. It also provides learning opportunities for people across the world. Learning more about the world and each other is what really motivates me.
What comes to mind when you hear the word technology ?
Hmmm…I think technology is such a broad term and it can really mean a lot of things. New digital interfaces, services, and innovations help us make connections. For example, the ability to create specific content that is relevant to different people across the globe who might have similar interests, projects, needs, etc. Technology is the piece that connects all these things together.
Do you think that the global pandemic has changed the importance and role of technology ?
Absolutely, especially the way we communicate with each other has drastically changed.
I think there were a lot of beginnings of a more connected workplace and interface through screens and digital applications, but I think the pandemic has really pushed that through. This is now a thing that everybody uses. You can have a family gathering using Zoom or host a business meeting with Teams. We have gained a much broader understanding of how technology can assist us in our daily lives as a result of the pandemic. Which I think is an interesting development (laughs).
What trends and tendencies in tech have you noticed lately ?
There is definitely a greater willingness, if not expectation, that we will be able to access the information we require for our personal or professional lives through some sort of digital interface. Whether that’s some docs in the cloud, an application like Zoom or Teams, or any sort of messaging channel.
In my professional life, I work with completely remote teams, so we are physically spread all over the place, but we have to meet in the same space to be able to use a digital environment the same way we would use a physical one. Even in my personal life, I am on the board of a non-profit daycare where my daughter goes to school, and we have looked at and started to work with new CRM tools. Even though we could physically get together, that’s still rare, so everybody needs the ability to access these virtual events on their own. So there is a lot evolving in this digital space.
Dana, what is the best part of being a woman in the tech - industry ?
I think that one thing that I really like about being a woman in the high-tech industry is that we get to have a goal. I believe that women especially are finding ways to interact with technology and that means that a woman’s perspective can now shape technology. While this goes for a lot of industries, technology in particular has been dominated by a male perspective and understanding of how the world works.
So, even if we get into things like social media or networking, we’ve discovered that having a diverse set of perspectives is essential. Whether it’s new perspectives from women or people of color, this shift in perspective really adds more to the products that we are creating.
By adding additional perspectives, we are creating products that work for everyone, not just a single segment. That’s a wonderful space where women really seem to be thriving. It’s promoting a new point of view and I enjoy being part of this journey.
What did you want to be when growing up ?
When I was growing up—probably all the way through college—I thought I was going to be a history professor for sure. I was going into academia and kept it very traditional, but once I got through my first master’s, I realized that this is not what I wanted to do. But there were still elements of academia that I could take into my current job. It was a weird transition, but I think it worked (laughs).
How did you manage the transition from academia to high-tech ?
To be honest, it wasn’t such a difficult transition. Once you understand how things are very much the same and connected, but society is positioning them differently, it becomes kind of clear. This is the same type of work; I just have to approach it differently.
What advice would you give to women considering a career in tech ?
I think the big piece of advice I give to everyone, but I think it especially applies to women, is that a career in tech can be so much more than just development or engineering. I think a lot of people picture a career in tech as only being for people who know how to code, but the truth is that it is so much more.
There are a lot of ways to work, succeed, and shine in tech. People can work in everything from marketing and communications to architecture, writing, and a variety of other fields related to technology. It’s not just the coding and engineering, and I really encourage people, especially women, to find places that fit their interests, because there are a lot of niches within technology.
How do you balance your life as a working mom and professional team leader for a big multinational company ?
I juggle things in a lot of different ways. (laughs). First of all, I am very lucky that I have a partner with whom I have an even split, so when business priorities take priority, I know that he is available to watch our daughter, and vice versa. We are very lucky.
An interesting perspective that I have been developing since becoming a parent is the way that technology is influencing younger generations. As a relatively new parent, this is a very actual topic for me. What am I building, and how is this going to affect my daughter? How is my daughter going to interact with this in 5 to 10 years? It brings a lot of strategy questions to mind when I am working with the product.
Are you referring to digital literacy ?
Exactly! Coming from a librarian background, digital literacy is such a big thing that I think about all the time. How do we teach our kids to understand the digital information they are presented with, how to find reliable sources, how to read things on the internet in such a wide space, and how to make decisions about what they are reading? It’s a really complicated topic and it can be overwhelming, especially for new parents.
As a person who predominantly works in front of a computer, what are your thoughts on exposing kids from a young age to screens ?
That’s a very good and important question. I think every family has to make their own decisions. I think there is a lot of power in exposing kids to technology from an early age; this is how a touch screen works; this is how a phone works; this is generally how things work in this space, but I’m also a big believer in balancing the digital world with the real world.
Giving your children a framework, for example, “Now that we’re going to the garden or taking a walk in the woods. It is important to me to talk with my daughter about what we physically see around us and then start to pair that with the digital world that surrounds our lives as well. I’ve been trying to figure out how to get away from screens while also using technology to find more resources and information. I believe that’s a powerful thing for kids to experience.
Is there a childhood memory you would like to share with me ?
Oh, sure (smiles). My parents both worked in technology; my dad was a developer. So I was exposed to technology from a very early age. In middle school, I learned a little bit of coding for myself, which was such a big and creative space for me as a young person. I never thought that this would lead to a career, but thinking back, it’s very clear that this is where my interest in and fascination with technology began. I started in a space of exploration and was allowed to experiment with technology.
Another memory that always makes me smile dates back to the early 2000s. It was a good time because there were a lot of teenage girls and young women on the internet, sharing resources and learning how to code a website in HTML. I remember chatting with a 17-year-old girl in England while I was in my bedroom on the other side of the globe, learning how to work with code too. It was an interesting space that I wish someone would write a book about (laughs). There was a whole community of girls there, teaching each other how to code and work in the digital space.
What is the best leaderships advice you have received ?
Assume good faith. Especially in a niche, especially information architecture, it is easy to assume that everybody knows what you are talking about and that they understand the terms in the same way that you do, but this is not always the case. So if someone comes back with a question, assume that they are asking in good faith. This goes a long way not only in avoiding arguments and possible miscommunication but also in building long-lasting relationships.
People are a lot more likely to come back and have a productive conversation with you if you don’t automatically react offensively if they ask you a question.
Thank you for your insightful answers, Dana !
Don’t leave just yet! Check out my latest interview with Gloria Fernandez from Squirro