Can Women Add a Unique Dimension to a Technology-centric Future World?
Oct 07, 2016
I’ve reflected numerous times that one of the greatest perks of being a cloud communications analyst is the ability to meet so many amazing people. Regardless of their company or role, most people in this industry are smart, committed and fun to be around. Their enthusiasm for cloud, UCaaS and anything else new in IT and telecom is inspiring and contagious.
Personalities differ, but women inevitably add a unique quality to technology discussions. Whether you call it female sensitivity, the human factor, or something else, women often apply a more practical, yet also more holistic approach to technology design and application. Industry pundits often wonder how women will impact the future of technology and thus the future of increasingly technology-dependent mankind.
In this article, I’d like to introduce three exceptionally talented women who play critical roles in the cloud communications industry.
Michelle Accardi, Chief Operating Officer at Star2Star, is a world-renowned technical thought leader on next-generation marketing and communications strategies and author of Agile Marketing. In 2009 she was named to the Gulf Coast Business Review’s 40 under 40, and in 2008 she was recognized by South Florida Business Journal as Woman Who Means Business for South Florida. Michelle holds an MBA from American Intercontinental University and a bachelor's degree from University of South Florida.
Kira Makagon, EVP of Innovation at RingCentral, is a successful serial entrepreneur and technology industry leader. A graduate of UC Berkeley in computer science and Haas School of Business, she enjoys working with entrepreneurs and serves as an advisor to early-stage companies, including Illuminate Ventures, Yozio, Qubell, News360, 1 World Online and Airframe, where she is also a member of the Board of Directors. Kira’s recent awards include 2015 YWCA Silicon Valley Tribute to Women Award and2015 Golden Bridge Business and Innovation Awards.
Jan Sarro, EVP Marketing and Business Development at Fusion, has held senior executive marketing and sales management positions at Argo Communications, FTC Communications, TRT Communications, Viatel and WorldCom. She and her team are proud sponsors of Women in the Channel and are very active in promoting industry programs that encourage (and mentor) young women in technology.
Michelle, Kira and Jan talk about the roots of their passion for technology and share their perspectives on the future of IT.
What led you to IT and, more specifically, cloud communications and what inspires you to keep going?
Michelle: I’ve always believed that the only way you can grow and excel is to tackle every challenge that you can face, which is why I’ve always sought out challenges. IT has always provided me those challenges. It’s truly exciting to be on the cutting edge, where what you’re doing is new and revolutionary. Cloud communications in particular is an emerging market where everything you do gives you the chance to be the first to do it and to improve upon other early innovators.
Kira: I was initially drawn to technology from my interest in mathematics--which led me to computer science and eventually applied engineering. I wanted to pursue something practical as opposed to theoretical. Within the cloud, I am fascinated by cloud communications because it’s challenging, and ultimately innovative and disruptive.
Jan: Checking my memory banks, I recall that serendipitously, my first day in technology was on Columbus Day, one year shy of a full forty years ago! I was pursuing a Master’s in International Relations at the time; of course I was fully convinced that I was destined to contribute meaningfully to world peace! To finance that ambition, I accepted a Customer Service position at Manhattan Cable Television (later Time Warner Cable) in its infancy. My first few days were spent in training with the Operations and Engineering teams learning about the technology, how it worked, why it worked and how to fix things when they inevitably broke. It was all new, not only to History and Political Science major me, but to all of us, as it heralded the birth of a new industry and a new way to communicate. Needless to say I was hooked. That part-time job became a full time passion! I was privileged to be in attendance at the birth of Cable, and just a few years later, I had the great good fortune to take the lessons learned during that exciting time and apply them to yet another leap forward in technology. It was the eve of Divestiture, and I was excited about the possibilities to change the communications landscape that the new digital technologies made possible.
These were heady times, especially for women in technology, as companies were rushing headlong into the new landscape. They needed people with fresh ideas who had a comfort level with emerging technologies in an industry that was defining itself. In short, the “Old Boy” network hadn’t formed yet, and the field was open for women who were eager to grow with the new technology. I took on a role as Director of Customer Service, and over time moved into Marketing at a start-up telecommunications company.
Fast-forward many acquisitions and growth opportunities later to the end of the Nineties, and with them the tug and pull of IT and Engineering for control over the Broadband environment. Once again, I had the chance to embrace change, this time even more dramatic than earlier days. The Internet ushered in a period of rapid-fire change that has culminated in all the benefits of the cloud. Today, our industry, which delivers the full effects of the cloud in truly revolutionizing the way people communicate and work, provides us with the opportunity to assume meaningful roles as agents of change. It’s what keeps me going, even more excited than ever to be part of an industry that is bridging divides between people and points of view, making it easier to spread the information and ideas that will drive the never-ending process of growth through change.
If you were to make one wish about what technology in 2026 can do for people and society, what would that be?
Michelle: Communications should be the catalyst that removes obstacles and improves productivity, not an obstacle in and of itself. My wish is for those companies who haven’t yet realized all of the benefits that cloud-based unified communications can provide to stop holding on to their reservations and make the leap. There’s no reason for any business to get left behind when companies like ours make it so cost-effective. Once everyone is communicating smarter, everyone will get more done.
Kira: The direction that technology is moving in is very exciting. There are the things that I look forward to seeing advances in.
For example, voice interface technology has advanced to a very elegant stage--the fact that I can ask Siri for the weather forecast from my couch is amazing. Although today’s society often relies on text messages and emails, there is ultimately no replacement for verbalization, which yields less friction.
I also see a lot of advances in the technology behind small medical devices that can be implanted in humans that allow for less invasive surgery and monitoring. Common health conditions are more efficiently treated and are enabling people to live happier, healthier lives.
The data aspect of medicine is also improving--several tools are available at the consumer level. Between DNA sequencing and apps that allow us to refill prescriptions with just a tap, data will continue to play a big role in improving the healthcare industry.
Jan: I started this discussion by revealing my young and breathtakingly naïve ambition to contribute in some way to world peace. Before we all laugh out loud at the audacity of a once-upon-a-time young woman, it was, in fact, the first thing that came to mind. Communication is the effective dissemination of information and the sharing of ideas. It is the exchange of differing points of view. At its best, it is a means of arriving at a common purpose; it clarifies, rather than distorts or obscures; it educates and inspires critical thinking and the questioning of power. In short, it is the wellspring from which true human progress flows. Technology has made communication possible at the speed of thought. It has erased borders and barriers. Every day, it seems, there is a new way for us to reach out to each other. We can write tomes or leave it best said in 140 characters. Technology has all but eliminated the distances between us. If technology is to be celebrated as the form of our future, my fervent wish would be that somehow we learn to maser its content in the service of the human family. We’ve done a great job of advancing how we communicate. I look forward to a future that has learned to use technology’s considerable gifts to help advance the message itself.
We continue our conversation with Michelle, Kira and Jan in another article. Stay tuned.
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