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Generational Success in the IT Industry: Billie Upshaw's Story

By, Nora Broyles

It’s no secret what a large impact technology has on our lives. For some, it’s the all-too-familiar, paralyzing fear of a program malfunctioning, a computer crashing, or the Wi-Fi not being able to connect. But for some of us, technology has an even a bigger impact on our lives – namely, it’s our profession. While opportunities in these technical positions continue to grow, the industry is also one that can be very difficult to break into, especially for women, and particularly, those of color.

In Technology Services (TS), our department is made up of employees with a variety of stories and backgrounds, and today, we’re sharing Billie’s story. “Growing up, I was always the why child. I always wanted to figure out how things worked,” says Billie Upshaw, a Senior ERP Systems Analyst in TS. “I would tear apart radios and make my parents mad because I was so curious and always wanted to find shortcuts to figuring things out.” The pace of technology today is unprecedented, continually changing, evolving and expanding, which brings a host of new challenges to those who work in the field of IT. However, it’s the ability to challenge yourself, think critically, and problem solve in the industry that drew Billie towards it. 

Throughout her professional career, Billie continuously pushed herself to learn more and became a subject matter expert in her roles. Within her role at a local oil and gas company, she implemented process improvements for the organization’s financial management software, helped train a small (but mighty) business analyst team in her division, and learned critical programming and data analysis tools. This role eventually led her to a position in the IT field, where she has continued to develop her skills and seek out additional IT-focused opportunities, including work as a Systems Analyst, Business Analyst, Technical Writer, Trainer, and more. 

Her mother, sisters, and daughter’s career paths have also landed them in technical/support roles. From positions in Tier III Support and Data Coordination, to Quality Assurance (QA) Analysis and Business Systems Specialization, process-oriented and IT-focused thinking is something that spans across multiple generations in Billie’s family. Being a woman of color, her success (and her family’s) in IT and more specifically, technical support, is a success that also challenges industry norms. “Not only are women rare in tech, but minorities are rare also. It’s the challenge of not wanting to be put in a corner and seeing how much I can push myself,” she explains. “There’s a lot of fulfillment being in the tech industry and not letting someone tell you that you have to be in a certain role because of stereotypes.”      

While we work hard every day in TS to prioritize our customers and ensure that we are providing them with progressive, user-friendly solutions, Tech Services’ top priority is its employees. Within our department, attracting, developing and retaining innovative, passionate people happens by deliberately creating a culture of planning, while fostering a work-hard-play-hard mentality. And though the city’s Technology Services department beats out the industry average for female representation in IT at 40%, there’s still a lot of progress to be made. According to the National Center for Women in Technology, as of 2015, the national percentage of computing occupations held by women (including roles such as programmers, developers, and systems analysts) was only 25%. Of this 25%, only 5% of those women were Asian American, only 3% were African American, and only 1% were Hispanic or Latin American. Additionally, these patterns of underrepresentation are frequently due to a variety of cultural factors and implicit biases. As the number of women in the technology field remains low nationwide, it’s important that we acknowledge the numbers, share stories like Billie’s, and continue to focus on empowering one another to break down professional barriers and pursue new opportunities in IT.

Technology Services’ Deputy CIO, Chris Binnicker expresses, “As a woman in technology, I am passionate about making sure that we cultivate an environment that is inclusive of everyone and that we afford opportunities to all, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or cultural background.”

“[Tech] is often seen to be a ‘man’s industry’ and women are conditioned to think that we won’t be successful,” Billie says, in reflecting on why she thinks more women don’t enter into the field. “I want to encourage young girls to push the limits and know how important an IT role can be. When you go home knowing that you’ve helped even just one user, it’s such a great feeling of accomplishment. It gives you a purpose.”