Ep 51: Kirsten Edmondson Wolfe: Tech Is The World Change Catalyst

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Diva Tech Talk interviewed Microsoft (www.microsoft.com)’s Senior Director, Industry Product Marketing, Cloud & Enterprise, Kirsten Edmondson Wolfe. Passionate about politics, Kirsten graduated from the University of California, Davis in International Relations and Asian History, and then moved to D.C to work for an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) “whose job it was to help build democratic institutions in newly non-communist, countries.Kirsten’s watershed moment was in 1997. She was “standing at the rooftop bar of the Hotel Aryaduta in Jakarta, Indonesia while the Suharto government fell.” She “watched students use technologies to film what was going on in the streets. These students brought down a totalitarian government, using cell phones.” She said to herself: “Wow, I need to get into technology because if I’m going to truly change the world, it’s going to be through tech, not through politics.”

Kirsten resigned her job; went back to Thunderbird International Business School, obtaining an MBA in business marketing; got a job, at the height of the “dot.com implosion” at a large Massachusetts-based consulting company, SETA; and subsequently joined Computer Associates, now CA Technologies (www.ca.com). Kirsten’s initial role at CA was technology consulting focused on “how do we have the U.S. government invest in technology in developing countries so that we can bridge the gap.” She recruited “a fantastic team” who took what CA was already selling to the U.S. government and “made it more impactful to their mission.” In one year, Kirsten is proud that CA “went from not being in the Top 20 vendors in security for the U.S. government to #3, behind Symantec and IBM.”

As a leader, Kirsten said “I learn every day.” At CA, “the first thing I learned was that ‘all boats rise together’. It is about collaboration. I succeed as a leader when my team succeeds.” In 2009, she moved to Deltek (www.deltek.com). What attracted her was the newly-minted CEO “recruiting folks from other software companies to make Deltek more of a ‘player’ in ERP.” But, Kirsten learned what she called “a really good life lesson: don’t jump too quick.” She said: “I realized, about a year in, that I needed to find a company that I could be happy at.” So, Kirsten moved to Microsoft (www.microsoft.com/dynamics) and concentrated on business applications. Her Microsoft team works with engineering to “infuse industry requirements into the Microsoft platform. I can fundamentally change where we go, as a company. It’s opened a whole new set of opportunities. This is the one company that if we can stitch all of our stuff together, we can do fantastic things in society.”

Kirsten’s advice to leaders:

  • “Surround yourself with great people.”
  • “Listen. Learn from other people. Acknowledge that you don’t know everything.”
  • “Admit when you are wrong, and that you screwed up.”

In her philanthropic life, Kirsten works on children’s issues through Donors Choose (https://www.donorschoose.org/). “It is an online network of educators,” she explained. Through it, “I help fund some innovative education programs in less successful school districts. My son and I just picked one, yesterday.”

Speaking of her family, Kirsten acknowledged the difficulty of achieving life balance. “There’s a lot of non-traditional communication,” and use of innovative technology to make it all work. She also commented, “at the end of the day, you have to be willing to shut off the laptop, and go for a bike ride!” She is “learning to walk away. I think gender roles, over the last 20 years, is allowing us to put the laptop down, and do things with your family.” Kirsten strong parting words of inspiration are: “Keep the faith, keep driving. There has never been a better time to be a woman in tech. We can actually, fundamentally change all of it.”

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55 episodes available. A new episode about every 13 days averaging 27 mins duration .