Looking in the Right Places: Getting Real About Finding Women Tech Talent

Marian Cook

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Milena Berry is the CEO and co-founder of PowertoFly, a service that connects tech-experienced women preferring to work from home with companies needing vetted technical talent. Prior to founding PowertoFly, Milena served for seven years as CTO of the social activism site Avaaz.org.



Marian Cook: What caused you to take the leap and found PowertoFly.com?

Milena Berry: I wanted to get beyond my fear. I knew what a startup was like. My husband and I both worked in startups. I understood the demands and how taxing life can be. But I had an entrepreneurial background, starting at 12 years old in Bulgaria when the wall fell. I saw an opportunity in people lining up for days for gasoline. I would buy newspapers and sell them to the people in line for twice what I paid for them. My previous job at Avaaz was also a startup. I was the CTO there for seven years, and I was ready for a challenge.

MC: How did you recognize your current opportunity?

MB: Many people were talking about the female tech talent supply and education programs to keep the pipeline filled with qualified candidates, but there was hardly any action around the actual job placement. This is where a lot of the gritty work was needed, so we put something in that space.

In many instances, the customary dry resume and cover letter didn't give enough view of a person's story to make a remote working relationship seem workable. On the other side, talented women were frustrated because they had more of a story to tell than just a resume.

PowertoFly is that richer environment, where talented women can tell a broader story, and showcase the human inside the potential employee.

I am proud of where we are. In PowertoFly's first six months, we processed more than $1 million in paychecks for women around the world. I am a believer in social causes activism, but I have no illusions that the most direct way to help society is by enabling middle class women to earn an income.

MC: Who have been your role models?

MB: The first was my mother, who gutted her retirement savings to send me to America to study and have a better life than in Eastern Europe. The second was Red Burns, recently deceased founder of NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program where I took my Masters. Her program was a crossroads for the giants in emerging technologies.

MC: What advice would you give to those aspiring to positions of leadership, tech, or otherwise?

MB: Don't set your arena too small. Progress and innovation is not just about factoring things into ever smaller units. It is also about combining things together. Don't assume you cannot have a life with your family and a career; don't automatically discard an effort to improve the planet because you have too much to do in your little corner. You can bridge the apparently unbridgeable. And don't be tempted to wait until you're fully prepared. Act now and force yourself to figure it out.

Marian is currently an Artificial Intelligence Strategist for Ageos. Immediately prior, she was the Chief Strategy Officer for Innovation and Technology for the State of Illinois, having moved from the private sector to public service in 2015. She started as a systems engineer with IBM, re-engineering processes, implementing systems, and creating business and technology strategies. Moving to international consulting firms, she worked globally, developing business growth and turnaround strategies.

Originally published on ComputerWorld.

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