Pay It Forward: Technology Evangelist Susan Ibach

Susan Ibach wants to spread the word that IT is a great career for men and women. As a technology evangelist with Microsoft Canada, her role is to help people understand the value of technology and how they can start using it.

Ibach also takes the opportunity to inspire girls to consider IT careers, and to help women to stay in them.

“I was really fortunate,” says Ibach. “I had parents and teachers who encouraged me to pursue technology.  It never crossed my mind that, as a female, I couldn’t be an engineer. But I realized that the percentage of women in IT hasn’t changed since I was in university 25 years ago. The numbers have to change.”

Canada’s minister of innovation, science, and economic development, Navdeep Bains, agrees. “As the father of two girls, I have to say that no country can afford to leave half of its brainpower on the sidelines,” he said at a recent conference. “And yet today, less than one in three computer and engineering graduates is a woman. That’s simply not good enough.”

Ibach works on two fronts to help move the yardsticks forward.

Teaching the teachers

Ibach is passionate about teaching coding, also called computer programming, to kids, a skill that she believes prepares them for the creative careers of the future.

“You don’t have to be a math geek to go into coding,” says IBach. “My job is to take the fear out of it. I love it when they get it and they run with it.” Ibach described one instance when she arrived to teach coding to a grade four class. A student, who she’d already been warned about, said that he would leave if he had to listen to a guest speaker. But half way through the class, he started coding and said he was too busy coding to leave. “It was a complete one-eighty,” says Ibach. “It was wonderful.”

Although Ibach has spent a lot of time teaching coding to kids, especially girls, her focus now is on teaching others how to teach coding. “I’m not scalable,” she says. “If I can get more people to teach coding, then hundreds of kids can learn to code.”

Ibach was recently recognized for her teaching efforts with a 2016 Women in Communications and Technology Leadership Excellence Technology Innovator Award.

Promoting work-life balance

The world of IT lends itself well to flexible work arrangements, says Ibach. “I want to show how an IT career can be good for work-life balance.”  The issue is not unique to women, but she says it’s something that many women are seeking. It can also be a good retention tool for companies.

When Ibach had two young children at home, she approached her managers about working part-time and remotely. The initial answer was no. She took a step back, observed the “natural rhythms of the business” and made a proposal. “It’s all about creative negotiation. I started by proposing a pilot, one that continued until my kids got older,” she says.

Her experience provided a great example for a friend working in Silicon Valley, who said she didn’t realize that flexible arrangements were possible in the IT industry until she heard Ibach talking about it. As a result, her friend was also successful in negotiating a part-time role. That’s the message that Ibach wants to share. “Just ask,” she says, “Don’t assume you can’t do it because no one else in your company is.”

This is one in a series of stories inspired by the Pay It Forward theme of the 2016 Women in the Channel Luncheon.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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