Michelle Ragusa-McBain, JS Group, VP of Global Channel and Digital Strategy
How did you start your career in technology?
I was born to a family of immigrants, laborers, tradesmen, hairdressers and small business owners. I was the first in my family to go to College. My mother was a single mom who always encouraged me to follow my passion and believe I can do anything I set my mind to.
I recall feeling out of place at College. Although I received a Presidential Scholarship, the highest the school provided- I still had to work two jobs waitressing, and at the student’s activity office, to pay the remainder of the fees I owed- which did not allow me to have anytime to have an internship. All of the friends I made were from several generations of College educated lineage; They typically wanted to be lawyers or doctors or engineers like their mothers or fathers etc. Which did not allow me the same guided path, and the endless question we ask ourselves – who am I, and what do I want to be? I ended by getting a double major in Global Business and Marketing with a minor in Peace Studies.
I had always loved technology, in fact I would often go to the computer lab after school while waiting for my mom – coding, playing computer games like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and the Oregon Trail etc. a rare treat compared to the Typewriter I had at home. In 6th grade I received the “Technology Award”, yet I never imagined that would be my career.
Upon graduation, I worked on Wall Street- but longed to do something which I felt would be more contributing to society. I attended an elite Alumni event where I met a VP of Cisco who asked me many questions about what I wanted to do in my life. He finally said, could you sell me a router or switch. I smiled, and said I don’t know what that is – but if you teach me, I know I can learn.
The competition to get into the Cisco Global Academy was extremely competitive. For every one spot there was 800 people contending. I made it through 5 interviews, and on the final interview- the VP engineer looked at my resume and scoffed and said he did not cut out for this job (after all I was a waitressing, alumni with no technology experience), and I said- I think you’re wrong, let’s continue. I asked him at the end of the interview if he thought I would be a good fit, and he said I thought you were a good fit when you didn’t take no for an answer.
I became a certified Cisco Engineer, went on to a 13 year career at Cisco and 17 Years in the Tech Global Channel. I have gone on to serve as the Chair of CompTia’s Advancing Women in Technology Group, sit on the board of CRN’s women of the Channel, and become the co-founder of Tech World’s Half. I strive to insure women, diversity, and people of all diverse backgrounds know that there is a place for them in Technology.
What is your guidance for girls and women looking at technology as a career?
Believe in yourself, and own it till you hone it. You will never know everything, and that is okay. Seek mentors and champions (many- men and women, internal and external to your company and position, and different ages and stages) to continually learn and grow. A mentor is someone who can help coach and guide you on your journey, or share wisdom from their own. A champion is someone who help groom you and will go to bat to help you get that job, opportunity, raise or promotion.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about women in technology?
That they are weak. Women are not like men, they think differently, have different experiences, different strengths. That diversity of thought, empathy, relationship skills, and perspectives will allow for a stronger team and inevitably company. Women are strong, great multi taskers, fantastic at building relationships and have real and tangible benefits on the team and especially as leaders, and entrepreneurs.
If you could be mentored by any women in technology who would it be and why?
I have been extremely blessed to have many incredible mentors on my journey- my current CEO Janet Schijns, Wendy Bahr- former Channel Chief of Cisco/now Rubrix, Juli Clark- COO of Boost Engagement, Michelle Accardi- CRO of Star2Star, Heather Tenuto – CRO of Zift, Nancy Hammervik –CEO, CompTIA Tech Careers Academy, EVP Industry Relations at CompTIA, Sandy Ashworth- Global Director of Channels Unisys etc….
If I had the opportunity to meet with someone new I admire, I would love to mentor Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Girls Who Code Reshma Saujani
What questions do you have for the AWIT Town Hall in January?
Due to the Global Pandemic ¼ women are leaving careers in tech according to a recent McKinsey study, setting us back even further in our slow progress. What is the way we can slow that exodus, attract, and retain women?
What is your prediction for women in technology in 2021?
I believe it can be a challenging year, but I do believe the flag has now been rung of alarm of women leaving. If employers are wise they can make a conscious effort to allow work life integration a priority as the pandemic continues with a second wave, and a slow release of the vaccine occurs. For those who have complexities of high risk and have to continue to balance career, home, and remote learning for their children, grace and understanding is necessary. Employers need to demonstrate understanding, and support mental health due to the complex nature of these unique and challenging times (for men and women alike). Employers and Angel Investors must continue mentorship and focus on growing the bench of women for opportunities. When we do return to some “new normal” we should have wisely used this time to strengthen diverse women’s skills, invest in their training and education, and persuade them not to leave due to incentives of future jobs, opportunities and promotions- all while having a supportive employer. This investment would not only help retain these women, but help provide company’s tangible benefit. Let's emphasize this with dollars and cents. According to CompTIA CEO, Todd Thibodeaux, if properly implemented, diversity efforts could net the IT industry an extra $400 billion in revenue each year, 1% point toward diversity leads to 3% increase in revenue. With proper attention, and actionable deliverables, I think it can be a mutually beneficial year of success.
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