"Not enough BCom students are thinking about HR, and not enough HR students are thinking about tech" see more
Source: Peter B. Gustavson School of Business Blog
Author: Stacey McLachlan (Originally published in the spring 2018 edition of Business Class magazine)
How Christina Gerow earned her place in an HR empire
It’s hard to believe that just seven years ago, it didn’t even occur to Christina Gerow (previously Seargeant), BCom ’11, that HR was a career option. “HR wasn’t even on my radar,” says Gerow, who today is a senior HR business partner at Workday, a software company specializing in cloud-based management for finances and employees.
But springboarding from her BCom degree into the tech world offered endless potential and possibility—and she found herself, after graduating in 2011, on a career path she had never imagined. “Not enough BCom students are thinking about HR, and not enough HR students are thinking about tech, even though it’s Victoria’s largest industry,” says Gerow.
Because start-ups so often need to fill so many entry-level positions—junior product managers, HR and executive assistants alike—with young, hungry workers, Gerow believes that BCom students and tech are a perfect match. “Business students just have that hustle, and I think it can be a strong pairing.” Not to mention the attractive advancement factor: “The career mobility in this sector is practically infinite.”
Having tried her hand at a tech customer service position with AbeBooks after graduating, Gerow jumped at the chance to explore the industry in a deeper way when an executive assistant role at a young tech company in town, MediaCore, opened up. “I thought, ‘How great, I get to be a generalist,’” says Gerow. “I came out of the BCom with an entrepreneurship specialization, which means I’m not deeply specialized but feel like I’m open to taking on anything.”
At MediaCore, Gerow was a Jane-of-all-trades. From her perspective assisting in the CEO’s office, she was able to see from the senior level what a start-up looked like, and offer support. “The entrepreneurship program at Gustavson gave me great insight not just into how to be an entrepreneur, but how to support one,” she says. “It was so valuable to have in my toolkit.”
Though there were only eight staff at MediaCore when Gerow first joined the team, she quickly identified the people side of the business as a passion, and CEO Stuart Bowness encouraged her to develop that skill set. “The more I learned about that side of the house, the more I started to feel like a professional,” says Gerow. She pursued her professional HR designation while building MediaCore’s HR protocols from scratch.
It certainly wasn’t easy. “I would say that there was a lot of trial by fire,” laughs Gerow. “At MediaCore I was learning HR from the ground up, running faster than my feet could carry me, and making mistakes along the way—but that environment was a wonderful opportunity to fail fast and iterate as I went.” Working for Amazon previously and knowing what they had for their HR setup gave her a head start, but she also reached out to community mentors, and followed an HR checklist. From Gerow’s perspective, putting an HR mindset in place early on in the development of a business “is never a bad idea. When you start off even trying to put things in place, it’s an opportunity to show your team that employees are put first, and there’s someone thinking about their advancement, which is reassuring, no matter the size of the company or the resources.”
Over the course of her seven-year career, Gerow has become a leader in her field, winning the 2016 CHRP Rising Star award, taking on a role as leader of the Victoria chapter of Ladies Learning Code and volunteering on the board of VIATEC. But the accomplishment she’s most proud of is a grassroots project: PeopleOps, her start-up HR networking group.
“After joining MediaCore, I found myself wildly unprepared to be building an HR program from scratch, and I thought ‘but there’s got to be other start-ups going through the same things.’” So she went out and found them: she sent out an email to HR professionals, administrators and office managers, inviting them to meet up. This gesture of community spawned a monthly meetup for shop talk and professional development, along with a Slack channel where Victoria’s HR people share intel and questions daily.
In the summer of 2016, MediaCore had grown to 30 employees and raised another round of funding, and Workday came knocking at their door. “The work I did at MediaCore helped us mature the company from a people practice standpoint, which I think did lend well towards our acquisition,” Gerow says. “The biggest thing I am proud of, however, is the culture we collectively built at MediaCore, and how that stood out to the Workday team.” From the dust of the acquisition, Gerow emerged as the HR partner of Workday Canada, with 200 people to consider.
It’s certainly different from those scrappy early learning-HR-on-the-fly days. “Now that I’m in an environment that has a lot of that groundwork already polished and in place, it allows me to take my business partnership to a whole other level,” says Gerow. But while the responsibilities have grown—with Gerow ensuring all her employees have the tools and resources they need for career success, developing and implementing HR initiatives for recruitment, onboarding, training, development, performance management and policy development—there’s plenty that has stayed the same . . . and she wouldn’t have it any other way. “What keeps me engaged about HR is that I get different challenges all the time,” she explains. “Ultimately the things that cross my desk are different every single day.”
Christina shares her tips for creating an HR program from scratch.Put people in the forefront of your business priorities.
“Too often, HR programs and initiatives are shelved and considered too late,” says Gerow. “Even if you don’t have a fully polished HR department or policy manual, there are things you can do to demonstrate that you care and value your employees.”Create a solid employer brand.
When it comes to recruitment, always question what would make a candidate leave their current job, doing the same work, to come work for your organization, suggests Seargeant. “Think about your value proposition as an employer and how you can build a solid employer brand in your community.”Ask for help.
Don’t be shy about reaching out to other companies—be they fellow start-ups or more established tech companies—to collect intel and advice about their HR practices. “Someone who knows the space and can guide you to understand priorities,” Gerow notes.
The board will continue to work on the goal of growing the sector into a $10 billion entity by 2030 see more
Source: Times Colonist
Author: Andrew Duffy
Rayani to lead region’s tech council board
The Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council will have a new face at the head of its board table as Rasool Rayani steps in as chairman for the year.
Rayani replaces Colin How, who will act as past chairman for 2017-18. Also elected to the board’s executive are Bobbi Leach as vice-chair, Robert Bowness as chair of the finance committee, Mark Longo as chair of the foundation committee and Brianna Wettlaufer as chair of the governance committee.
VIATEC chief executive Dan Gunn said the board will continue to work on the goal of growing the sector into a $10 billion entity by 2030, based on combined annual revenues of all the region’s companies. That would more than double existing combined revenue.
The tech sector in Victoria has grown to include 880 businesses and employs more than 15,000 directly. It also counts another 3,000 consultants and 5,000 others who work in tech jobs within larger firms and government. VIATEC's membership has doubled to 560 members over the past two years.
“We are blown away by the level of interest and calibre of the candidates for this year’s board election,” said Gunn. “While I did not envy them in the tough choices they had to make, the members did a great job electing a board that closely reflects the broader membership and the VIATEC team is looking forward to working with them.”
Also on the board are Jim Balcom, Robert Cooper, Scott Dewis, Justin Love, Owen Matthews, Masoud Nassaji, Christina Seargeant and Nicole Smith.
This week’s highlight is on Christina Seargeant. see more
Haro Ventures Mini Series: An Interview with Christina Seargeant
For the month of December, Haro Ventures is launching a mini series highlighting and celebrating awesome female leaders / movers and shakers in our tech community. We will be publishing one interview weekly to share insights into the roles, goals, and vision of these individuals in order to help us all grow a better understanding of who's shaping our community.
Between working as HR business partner with Workday and volunteering with Ladies Learning Code, VIATEC, and networking community PeopleOps, Christina is a quintessential (and busy!) member of our tech community. We were thrilled to sit down with Christina to learn about what she does with Workday, her childhood role models, what keeps her inspired, what mistake she’s most learned from, and her vision of diversity in our community.
- What is your role at Workday and how did you come into that position? / Your involvement with Ladies Learning Code?
I’m an HR business partner at Workday, supporting everyone from the frontline employees to the VPs of Workday Canada. We have an offices and teams that comprise 150 employees all over Canada in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. I’m meant to be the first point of contact for all things HR related and position myself as a champion for Canadian benefits and the different programs we offer in Canada.
I came into the role because Workday offered me the position during its acquisition of MediaCore in August 2015. I was the director of people operations at MediaCore, which meant I oversaw anything to do with people and general business operations including facilities, legal and some finance.
I got involved with Ladies Learning Code (LLC) just before the chapter launched in Victoria. I met Erin Athene at Discover Tectoria where she told me about the organization being based in Toronto with chapters popping up all across the country. I was instantly intrigued and wanted to help out. She needed to raise $1000 to get things started and kick off the first workshop. MediaCore wasn’t in a financial position to offer the funds but we wanted to help in other ways. When Erin started a Tilt campaign to rally the funds through the community, within just a few hours Dan Gunn of VIATeC said he would match any fundraised money up to $5000 dollars. I instantly called Erin and suggested we needed to change our goal from $1000 to $10,000 knowing how these funds would help us do great things for our chapter. In the end, we raised $11,000 and became the poster child chapter for LLC when it comes to harnessing community support. The companies we spoke with along the way were so interested in supporting us and loved what we were doing.
After that I took on the role of chapter lead with Erin. She manages our sponsorship, fundraising and community partners while I lead the workshops and logistics and make sure we have a programming pipeline for the year. We work with a number of other amazing ladies that have helped us make our Victoria chapter what it is today.
- What’s the most satisfying part of your role there?
The most satisfying part of working with LLC is definitely being able to support people who are otherwise unfamiliar with technology or don’t feel confident they could do well in that field. To see their confidence increase from the moment they walk through the door in the morning to when they leave the workshops at the end of the day is really empowering. We help people realize their goals, whether they’re looking for a new role in their current workspace or re-entering the workforce.
I’m personally passionate about helping people pursue their careers in technology, which is largely why my role at Workday is so satisfying to me as well. I love helping people take on challenges when it comes to career or the workplace, and I work with a number of managers that are really supportive and want to see good things for their employees. I especially enjoy recruitment because I get to be a part of helping to build a strong team, and the team we’ve created so far is so great.
- What did you want to be when you were a kid? Who were your childhood role models?
When I was a teenager I wanted to be a photographer. I actually pursued this dream and started a freelance photography business when I was 16 and which I still own and operate to this day. The reason why I don’t do photography full time, however, is because I don’t want my passion and hobby to turn into the source of pressure it might be if I relied on it to make a living. For me, it’s important to keep photography as a hobby business that’s there for me when I feel the need for a creative outlet. Im passionate about what I do as a career as well, but in a very different way.
As an only child, I played a lot of video games as a kid and would relish in that escapism it provided. As I look back now I think a lot of those characters I played as then could be considered my role models. They commanded their presence, their powers, chased demons, and created magic. They definitely had an ensemble of traits I aspire towards.
- What or who inspires you the most?
I think what I draw most of my inspiration from is our tech community. I think we have a number of really fantastic people here who are really passionate about making our industry as vibrant as it can be and I’m personally really interested in helping this community grow and flourish as much as I can.
In 2013, I founded a networking group in Victoria called PeopleOps. It stemmed from my interest in finding other people who are in HR roles in startups to learn from and grow with. I didn’t have a full grasp on what our community really entailed back then, so the amount of interest I received was really overwhelming. Lots of people responded saying “I’m figuring this out for the first time too”. We’re now at 65 members and run a vibrant and active Slack channel where we discuss the professional and developmental events we run on a monthly basis. We see people in HR grow and push themselves professionally while helping their respective teams grow and be successful. They want to be better to help their companies. Their passion is very inspiring and it inspires me to give back.
Much in the same way, LLC is a vibrant community of women who want to grow and learn and be a part of the community as both learners and mentors.
The passion both these groups show is very inspiring and reminds me to give it back.
- With F@#% Up Nights becoming a popular community event, we’re witnessing a positive trend of being open about your failures and mistakes. What mistake have you made that you wouldn’t go back in time to change if you had the chance? What did you learn from it/them?
What comes to mind for me isn’t a mistake, but something pivotal I experienced that yielded several learning opportunities: the work surrounding MediaCore’s acquisition. While overall I consider the acquisition a success, it wasn’t easy and there were many bumps along the way.
It was the case of a startup company being purchased by a public company in San Francisco that has many accolades and strong revenue and is a solid contender in the market place. As far as acquiring companies are concerned, it probably couldn’t have got much better. The whole process of being acquired and of exiting, however, proved to be quite difficult and taught me a lot.
It taught me about communication, how people deal with change, about self-balance, about advocating for employees, advocating for the company being sold and the company doing the buying. I learned that the due diligence process is extremely important, and about many intricacies that come with selling a company.
While I wouldn’t go back in time to change anything, I’ll definitely use the knowledge I gained to benefit me and the company I’m with the next time I’m involved in a similar process.
I look forward to the day when we do it all again.
- Do you see a positive trend of expanding the diversity in tech in Victoria?
I think there’s a lot of opportunity for us to create a more diverse tech community in Victoria. Things can always be better, and we could always be trending up. It can tend to be a matter of whether or not a community has the champions that are willing to put in the effort to make that happen, and I think that we do here in Victoria. More than ever, people are willing to have the conversation about what their companies need in order to attract diverse talent and engage them in a meaningful way. Change like that isn’t derived from one meeting to decide on strategy, but has to be a continuous conversation and continuous community goal.
LLC took off with coding workshops and networking events and is now in 22 cities with more than... see more
Source: Times Colonist
Author: Sarah Petrescu
Photographer: Trevor Ball
Co-ordinating a meeting with three women in different places — a downtown Victoria office, Seattle hotel room and Fairfield living room — is easy when at least two of them are technology buffs. “Let’s meet on Zoom. It’s kind of like Google hangouts, but better,” Erin Athene said of the web-based video conferencing service.
Athene and Christina Seargeant are co-leads of the Victoria chapter of Ladies Learning Code, a national non-profit launched in 2011 by a group of women in Toronto who felt isolated trying to learn computer programming, or coding.
The organization took off with coding workshops and networking events and is now in 22 cities with more than 25,000 participants and a branch for girls.
“I found out about Ladies Learning Code and asked if I could launch it in Victoria. I definitely saw a need,” said Athene, who moved from Seattle in 2013.
She had co-founded the software company Topaz Bridge Corp. and “did everything but the technical stuff,” she said.
“I realized there was a lack of power there and how much more affective I could’ve been with more knowledge on the technical side.”
Athene said being the only woman on an executive team also led her to launch Ladies Learning Code. The chapter got its start at the 2013 VIATEC Discover Tectoria showcase, where Athene set up a booth. More than 50 women signed up.
“It definitely piqued my interest,” said Seargeant from her office in Bastion Square at Workday, a finance and human resources software company.
She said many companies want to support women in feeling comfortable to enter the technology world. “And there’s a war for talent with not a huge pool of people to hire from. So they support building this up on a grassroots level,” Seargeant said.
The two teamed up to plan the group’s first HTML/CSS coding workshop and spread the word about the need for mentorship and skills for local women in the tech world. They needed $1,000 to hold the event and turned to the crowd-sourcing tool Tilt to fundraise.
“We started sharing the link on Facebook and within an hour Dan Gunn [the head of VIATEC] offered to match up to $5,000,” Seargeant said. They raised $11,000 and sold-out the event with more than 100 people attending and 50 more on a wait-list.
The turnout was diverse and included tech newbies, those already working in the tech field wanting to expand their skills, and senior developers wanting to mentor others.
In the three years since, the Victoria chapter of Ladies Learning Code has held more than 20 workshops on everything from building a website to WordPress and gaming. It has 600 members and holds events every month or so. This summer, Girls Learning Code was launched with a camp at St. Margaret’s School, and Athene said the next project will target kids and teachers who want to learn.
“Our goal is not that everyone codes for a living. Our No. 1 priority is to be that first stepping stone. We believe in digital literacy,” said Athene, a managing partner of PurposeSocial, a web development company that commits to having a technical team made up of at least half women and minorities. “I’m a lot more comfortable now in my work, understanding the landscape and what back-end and front-end development do,” she said.
Ryan Stratton has volunteered as a mentor for Ladies Learning Code since the first Victoria event.
“There certainly is a gender gap. When you look at the traditional tech office, it’s about 80 per cent [men] — including ours,” said Stratton, founder of Craftt, a software management company for craft brewers.
“When you build products for men and women you want your team to reflect that,” he said, also noting there are more jobs than technical talent in Victoria.
“For me, [mentoring] is the satisfaction of increasing digital literacy, but also investing in future employees and the community,” Stratton said.
Janni Aragon, a University of Victoria political science professor and the interim technology and society director, said the diversity problem in the tech world is well-recognized and needs to change.
“It’s not just about gender, but racial and ethnic diversity as well,” she said. Aragon has attended most of the Ladies Learning Code events in Victoria.
“At every one, a woman mentor gets up and says, ‘I’m the only woman on my team,’ and that’s why they are there,” she said.
While many computer science programs are still dominated by men, Aragon said she’s seeing an increase in women from other faculties such as fine arts and social sciences pursue technology skills.
“They are good sectors with good pay,” she said, adding students, usually women, in technology and society course say they want to be the change. “They want to be trailblazers and get out into these fields,” she said.