Sep 28, 2022 · 10 min read

Women in Tech Share Tips on How They Started Their Career

Meet six trailblazing CZI women working in the technology field and learn how their careers started and how they are going now.

Collage of old and more recent photos of six different women smiling.
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Technology is core to CZI’s mission. Our technology teams harness the power of engineering to accelerate progress in science and education.

Women in Tech (WIT), one of our employee-led resource groups, brings women from across CZI’s tech teams into community together. The group’s collective goal is to support the advancement of women and non-binary people in tech — a critical effort given that these groups remain underrepresented within the technology industry.

We invited WIT members to reflect on their journeys in tech — sharing how they started their careers and are building tech now for a better future.

Get to know six trailblazing CZI women in tech below.

Jen Erickson – Technical Program Manager, Security

How It Started

I’m part of the third generation of technology workers in my family. My grandmother was a punch card operator in the ‘70s and would bring home old punch cards for me to draw on. My grandfather and my dad also worked in tech, and I vividly remember going as a kid to a product launch for Data General, one of the first minicomputer firms.

When I went to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I dropped out after a semester to rethink my education. I started attending community college and landed an internship at Adobe via a family friend. I would commute to class each morning, work at Adobe, and then return to school for night courses, three to four days a week.

My internship became a job, and I transferred to a degree program at the University of San Francisco. I continued to work during the day and pursue my degree at night, using a generous tuition reimbursement program. I’ve been in tech ever since.

Side-by-side photos of Jen Erickson wearing a red shirt and looking at the camera, and in the next photo Jen Erickson is standing in front of her home, smiling.
(Photos courtesy of Jen Erickson)

How It’s Going

It’s still hard to take in all my career accomplishments. I’ve worked on many different things and had varied successes and failures. I was part of the team that created Adobe Acrobat and PDF files. I’ve traveled all over the U.S. and the world for work. I’ve worked for companies that have failed and those that have succeeded. Now, at CZI, I work with engineering and product teams to manage security risk and lead security initiatives to create and evangelize a culture of security.

Above all else, I am most humbled by how my daughters see me in my career and their pride in me, especially in my role at CZI.

Allison Doami – Senior Software Engineer, Data Infrastructure

How It Started

Growing up, I was surrounded by two brilliant electrical engineers: my parents. They always encouraged me to be curious and ask questions, create solutions, and be a good teammate in every activity I participated in. I knew I wanted to follow in my parents’ footsteps because, through engineering, I could help build a better world.

As a kid, I was fortunate to have participated in many engineering experiences. I competed in Lego Robotics in elementary school and was part of the first iteration of a Girls in STEM class in middle school. As a high school first-year, I was a member of a senior-filled engineering innovation competition team that built a model of the James Webb Space Telescope’s shade mechanism.

After high school, I attended UCLA for electrical engineering and had the amazing opportunities to intern at Qualcomm, Microsoft, and Tesla doing an array of different things. I also started an organization called Women Advancing Tech through Teamwork, aka WATT, which is a branch of IEEE Women in Engineering, to foster a supportive environment for women and minorities in the electrical engineering field. I’ll continue to be grateful for all of these experiences that have shaped me into the engineer I am today!

Side-by-side group photos including Allison Doami smiling.
(Photos courtesy of Allison Doami)

How It’s Going

During my senior year of college, I was pretty confused about what I wanted to do after I graduated. I had a few internships under my belt — all doing pretty different things — and, ultimately, I had mostly just figured out what I didn’t want to do.

After interviewing at CZI, I realized I’d found my dream job. I knew I’d be able to grow tremendously with the extremely supportive environment CZI cultivated. Accepting my offer as the first data infrastructure engineer on the central technology team was pretty daunting at the time, but I’m proud of all I’ve been able to accomplish alongside my awesome teammates. Our goal as a team is to build tools that accelerate data scientists’ work across CZI, which allows me to work on many different projects and with a diverse group of people!

Ana-Maria Istrate – Senior Research Scientist, Machine Learning

How It Started

For me, it started with math!

Ever since elementary school, math was something I’ve always been very good at. I liked it because it’s logical and the only subject I didn’t have to study for at home because I picked it up very easily in class. Of course, that’s also because I had an amazing math teacher.

As I grew up, I started developing a similar interest in science. Chemistry, in particular, gave me a logical framework to understand the world around me through molecule interactions. I participated in a number of science competitions, including national and international Science Olympiads. Because of these experiences, I’ve never thought of myself as pursuing anything other than a career in STEM.

In college, I gravitated back to my first interest (math) and also started to become interested in programming. I was intrigued by and wanted to understand the idea of randomness. Coding was fun and felt empowering. I ended up graduating from Stanford with a bachelor’s in applied math and a master’s in computer science. For my master’s, I specialized in artificial intelligence, which was, for me, a natural continuation of my applied math degree and is what I work on now!

 

Ana-Maria Istrate working with a large microscope and smiling while working at a computer.
(Photos courtesy of Ana-Maria Istrate)

How It’s Going

Now, at CZI, I build machine learning models to help our science teams answer questions or come up with data-driven solutions.

I’m particularly excited about a recent project I worked on in support of CZI’s Open Science program. Software, while essential to research, is often not formally cited in scientific literature. This matters if we want to recognize impactful software and its developers. In this project, we looked at what we call “informal citations,” that is, mentions of software in the academic literature. In particular, I worked on algorithms to link these mentions to software entities, which is what we call disambiguation. This is a challenging task that has not yet been solved. We created one of the most comprehensive software datasets mentioned in the literature, and we are making it available to the community. I’m excited to have contributed to this resource, and to see what insights it will help drive!

Azure Shen – Senior Program Manager, Third Party Security

How It Started

My career journey is an example of a nontraditional path that has led to a great tech career — without coding.

I first worked as a project manager in marketing before I got my MBA with a concentration in finance. Then, I worked as a management trainee in an information technology department at a bank, where employee perks like Los Angeles Lakers box seats kept me on the job (just kidding!). In fact, I was fortunate to have had a great mentor and amazing cross-functional team who shared an abundance of knowledge with me. The technical skills they taught me, such as security analysis, in conjunction with my past experiences in communication and collaboration, helped me to advance my career in security and in technology.

Side-by-side photos of Azure Shen standing in the bleachers at a basketball stadium and in the next photo she is smiling while holding her baby.
(Photos courtesy of Azure Shen)

How It’s Going

Fast forward nine years: I’m a new mom who just returned to work. I lead the Third Party Security program and my team is excited to revamp the program with fresh perspectives to build a secure future for all. Our goal is to help people not feel intimidated by security topics and to see our team as a trusted partner.

I am proud to be a woman in technology and will tell my daughter that nothing can stop her from pursuing her passion, whether in tech or not.

Annette Torrence – Senior Technical Program Manager, Partner Support

How It Started

As a kid, I used to play games on our old Commodore Plus/4 computer that we got at a garage sale. Wanting to know how the games worked, I spent hours looking at the code written in the Commodore BASIC programming language, eventually creating simple programs using the programming manual that came with the computer as a reference.

I started to really focus on cybersecurity after being accepted into the National Science Foundation’s CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service program to obtain my master’s degree in computer science. This academic foundation enabled me to jump into security engineering, where I spent a decade writing and analyzing code. Eventually, the allure of supporting the big picture drew me into technical program management.

Side-by-side photos of Annette Torrence smiling while working with computer parts, in the next photo Annette is smiling next to a plate of food.
(Photos courtesy of Annette Torrence)

How It’s Going

I’m really excited about my role at CZI. After over 10 years of working as a security engineer, I transitioned to technical program management. I love being able to both view the big picture and to influence strategic technical decisions.

After supporting CZI security programs for nearly three years, I’ve now transitioned to leading a small team providing IT security consulting services to our grantees. Security is a very important focus for our partners because nonprofits are being targeted more and more with ransomware and other attacks.

Annie Hu – Engineering Lead, Frontend Infrastructure

How It Started

As one of few girls in my high school STEM classes, I often heard the advice to “fake it till you make it” from well-meaning mentors. So, on a whim, I applied to be a teaching assistant for an online Python course. Somehow I got the job and had to furiously cram the entire course in a week so they wouldn’t call my bluff. I wouldn’t recommend this method of learning! But it did teach me to think critically about who else might be faking it around me — and better yet, who cared?

Even after that experience, I felt a sense of inferiority throughout my first year at Stanford, while taking my first official computer science class (I started with the first intro class, while many in my dorm had already skipped ahead to the second classes). But I immediately loved it, and was lucky to have years of wonderful mentors and teaching assistant experience. In addition to a bachelor’s in applied math and master’s in computer science, I graduated with a true passion for education and confidence in my technical skills.

Side-by-side pictures of Annie Hu. In the first photo, Annie is standing underneath a sculpture and in the next photo Annie is on a Zoom call with several other people.
(Photos courtesy of Annie Hu)

How It’s Going

I explored a couple of different paths after college, including teaching, machine learning research for education, and tech curriculum writing. But, I was most excited by the diverse experiences at CZI and our relationships with the communities we serve. I now manage a team of nine engineers in charge of improving the front-end infrastructure of projects across our education work, focused on accessibility, tooling, design systems and more.

I never felt like I had to fake it at CZI — people were honest about what they didn’t know, and I felt empowered to ask questions frequently. Especially in the fast-moving world of front end, I prefer the advice, “Don’t confuse inexperience with incompetence.”

Join our mission.

Are you a woman or non-binary person in technology who wants to help us build a more inclusive, just and healthy future for everyone? Explore CZI technology career opportunities. Read our Stay Close to the Work blog series to learn more about what it’s like to work at CZI.

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