My children's book, She's a Technology Sales Executive and She's My Mom from the STEM Mom Series is based on a real-life professional woman. She is such an inspiring woman and has been so supportive of me through this process.Today, I want everyone to meet live and in the flesh (or at least in writing and on your computer) the super awesome Ashley Quinto Powell of Bendyworks.
JJ: I kind of sprung the fact that I was writing a children's book about you. What was your initial reaction?
AP: Ha! There simply isn't any precedent to such amazing news. It was a surprise, for sure! I'm certain I cried. For a while. Happy tears, of course.
JJ: Aw, that's adorable. You were shy about sharing the fact that this book was being created. How very un-Ashley of you. What was that about?
AP: Yes. Again, there really isn't any precedent for this kind of recognition. Its kind of awkward to start a conversation with, "so you know how I'm amazing, right? Well, I'm going to be the subject of a children's book!" I am usually pretty comfortable tooting my own horn, but this is over the top! I eventually settled on, "hey, you wanna hear something completely BONKERS???"
JJ: I KNOW, the whole thing feels bonkers, I agree and I wrote it! I had very many phases of "what I wanted to be when I grow up" when I was growing up. I recently shared with you that when I was very young, I wanted to be a cashier (FINALLY, I would be able to touch the cash register) or a hairdresser (I could french braid like the best of them). I eventually grew into wanting to be a Broadway Star because the world NEEDED to see me sing, act, and dance! I eventually did end up working as an improv comedian where I did sing, act, and dance so I guess I'm winning! What did you want to be when you grew up and where do you think that came from?
AP: I spent some time wanting to be a Broadway star, too! But I really wanted to be independent and be able to rely on myself for money. That was something my own career-driven mother instilled in me- to never have to rely on a man. So I wanted to be a very powerful business person. I wanted to be on planes, brokering deals, sitting at huge desks, saying things like, "Bring me a diet coke and the financials, Johnny! Let's see if we can get down to brass tacks and save this company!"
My dad and his company were very involved in Take Your Daughter To Work Day when that was new and revolutionary in the 1990s. I got to trade (mock) pizza futures on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade and listen to Linda Raschke, a trailblazing female trader, talk about what an advantage it is to be a woman in a male-dominated field. It was incredible! And very, very formative.
JJ: Wow, that's really cool. I had worked remotely for so many years that I have never been able to take my daughters to Take Your Daughter to Work Day. I need to start one! How did you get into technology sales and what makes you good at it?
AP: I started in commission-based sales when I was in high school, working for a leasing company. I worked my way up to property manager, developing the sales training and internship programs while I was in college. I left that job to open an online jewelry business with my Mom- and it needed a website! I taught myself to code with tools like caffeine, desperation, and the internet. In the end, I created a pretty sophisticated e-commerce backend using some open source software and voila! I was in tech. My business was eaten by the recession, but I had earned my stripes in tech. I got a job selling IT Consulting services for a large consulting firm, and it seemed like a great combination of tech and sales. That was about a decade ago, and I am very grateful for the journey that led me to this awesome career.
JJ: What's your philosophy about talking to your own kids about their careers?
AP: My kids are pretty young, so half the time they want to be professional ninjas. I try to expose my kids to as many different types of people doing as many different things as I possibly can. In the end, they're surrounded by all these amazing, dynamic people- like you! I have lots of faith in their role models.
JJ: You are one of the co-directors of the Madison Women in Tech. What is that organization about and where do you see it going?
AP: The Madison Women in Tech is a great group of about 1100 women. We focus on social, networking, professional development, and skill development events at 5 or 6 events a month. I think the secret is that we know you have to meet women where they are. We host events at different times of day, different days of the week, different locations and different topics. Our expectation is that women will come to an event that suits their schedule, interest level, and location. And while we try to provide childcare wherever we can, we'd rather have a kiddo come to a women in tech meeting than keep her mom at home. We just want to create an incredibly low barrier of entry so women can find community here. I hope we can help other communities build robust communities like ours, and I'm excited to expand our membership base.
JJ: I've loved every Madison WiT event that I've attended. I always meet someone I've never met before at your events (which doesn't sometimes happen at other events I go to in our community so that's cool). And it's been fun that we've been able to collaborate on Wine with Games events with Madison Women in Tech and the organization I'm affiliated with, the Wisconsin Games Alliance to open up our video game community to more female talent. What makes you so passionate about STEM?
AP: Isn't it amazing that you can be paid well doing something you love? The best thing about working in STEM is that you get to work with smart people. There are so many opportunities in this industry to make a local (or even global) impact while earning a good wage and supporting your family. I think that's downright beautiful, honestly.
JJ: I couldn't have said it better. Ashley, you are such an impressive force of nature and I'm so happy you are along for this ride with me!