D.C.'s Top 50 Women In Tech List 2016

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Janice-Haith Gwynne-Kostin Phaedra-Chrousos Beth-Cobert Kelly-Morrison
WOMEN ON THIS PAGE

Janice HaithDeputy Director (Navy), Office of the Chief Information OfficerDepartment of the Navy

"Get out of the box and think ... Sit at the table and speak."

As deputy director (Navy) of the Department of the Navy's CIO office, Janice Haith is the senior-most civilian career executive responsible for the Navy's $6 billion annual IT spending. Her counterpart is responsible for the Marine Corps. "Military personnel tend to rotate every two or three years ... We provide continuity," she said of the career civilians, noting she herself has been there "a little over five years." Governance is her focus, and she has led efforts that cut the service's so-called gray IT spending — money spent by individual commanders on IT not coordinated with the CIO's office — by 80 percent. Also a key responsibility: ensuring proper oversight of the IT investments that are coordinated with the CIOs office. "We help plan to make sure they are aligned with service priorities and enterprise goals," she told FedScoop.

What's the biggest challenge you've faced in your career?

The biggest challenge is always changing the mindset. Making the shift [in the military] from the traditional way, the go-it-alone, build-it-yourself approach, to where you are relying more on industry partners to provide products and services. You have to have the time and patience to get people to understand the cost-benefit analysis. We call that "demonstrating it by proving it."

What advice do you have for young women pursuing a STEM or business career?

My advice is, don't be worried about traditional roles: Get out of the box and think ... Sit at the table and speak. Don't be afraid to shine. There are women everywhere.

Who or what inspired you to get into your field?

My inspiration is the men and women I work alongside of in our service, defending the U.S. every day.


Gwynne KostinDirector of Digital, Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, General Services Administration

“We do things, we learn things, we share things and we empower other agencies."

Gwynne Kostin is guru of all things digital at GSA, and she's current on a yearlong fellowship with the Partnership for Public Service to help with the upcoming presidential transition.

There's plenty of buzzwords and technology jargon that can befuddle exactly what Kostin does at GSA, but she can describe her work in simple terms: “We do things, we learn things, we share things and we empower other agencies,” she told FedScoop. Some of her team's bigger projects of late are the U.S. Digital Registry, the Digital Analytics Program and mobile device testing for other agencies, all of which they share with the rest of government.

What's the biggest challenge you've faced in your career?

One of the most important and challenging things I’ve learned is that people are extraordinarily generous if you ask them for help.

What advice do you have for young women pursuing a STEM or business career?

You really want to make sure you’re using people’s time when you have them. The higher you go, the busier people are. Don’t ask them questions that you can find out yourself.

Who or what inspired you to get into your field?

My Dad. He always really supported me a lot in terms of telling me I could do whatever I wanted and be whoever I wanted to be.


Phaedra ChrousosAssociate Administrator, Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies/18F General Services Administration

“Forget about the fact that you’re a woman, and just be incredible at your job, and good things will follow."

Like many of the digital pioneers reinventing the way the federal government engages with its citizens, Phaedra Chrousos first found success as an entrepreneur in the private sector. Inspired by the president's call for tech talent to join government, Chrousos decided she could make in impact.

As the leader of OCSIT/18F at GSA, which also houses the Presidential Innovation Fellows, her vision is to build shared services and technological products that help the government operate like an efficient machine. Those teams are "all different muscles working toward the same end to improve the public’s experience with the American government,” she told FedScoop. Most recently, her teams have been focused on bigger and more powerful platforms than ever before — like Cloud.gov, and a new identity and authorization management technology.

What's the biggest challenge you've faced in your career?

I think the leadership challenge is probably the biggest challenge I’ve had. You grow in your career, and first you just need to do the work well yourself. Then you need to manage a team of people to do the work well. And later, you need to inspire a much larger team to get the work done, and I think making that leap is challenging for anybody. And I found it an incredible learning curve, but I leaned a lot on mentors for help getting through it

What advice do you have for young women pursuing a STEM or business career?

Forget about the fact that you’re a woman, and just be incredible at your job, and good things will follow. It might be more difficult, but the only way to combat that difficulty is to just be excellent

Who or what inspired you to get into your field?

I think I speak for many when I say we’ve been inspired by the president and his approach toward open government, science, technology and digital services. Having him in this role and having him attract the people he attracted to government has created a safe and inspirational place for people from the private sector to come in. When I look back on what inspired me to enter public service, he played a major role in that.


Beth CobertActing DirectorOffice of Personnel Management

"If you are just starting out in your career, you should assume that you are just as capable as the next person."

Beth Cobert was thrust into the spotlight at OPM during the middle of the fallout surrounding the two major breaches announced in June 2015 that compromised the personal information of more than 22 million federal employees and security clearance applicants. Facing one of the greatest challenges in government, Cobert made cybersecurity the No. 1 focus at OPM and reorganized the Office of the CIO to strengthen IT security and improve the oversight of information technology investments across OPM.

What's the biggest challenge you've faced in your career?

Responding to the cybersecurity incidents at OPM has been the biggest management challenge in my career. We needed to simultaneously assess and enhance the security of the systems and proactively communicate with people whose information had been taken. We also needed to rebuild confidence at OPM with our partners and to sustain the rest of the work that OPM was doing at the time. Coordination was essential to get everyone at OPM and all of our federal partners heading in the same direction. 

I met that challenge by relentlessly focusing on execution. I laid out our plan and had two daily check-ins with senior leaders to assess our progress and adapt our plans. I, along with my team, encouraged OPM employees to freely come to us with their concerns and challenges, so that we could work together to fix the problems. Additionally, I sought input from across organizational boundaries so we could bring in the best expertise available to support our efforts. And finally, I learned about the need to communicate clearly, communicate fully and communicate often. I needed to set a tone where everyone “got” the issues and felt like they were a part of the solution. In situations like the cyber incidents, there is no such thing as over communicating — either internally or externally.

What advice do you have for young women pursuing a STEM or business career?

If you are just starting out in your career, you should assume that you are just as capable as the next person. As someone who loves numbers, in my previous jobs I was always in a room full of guys who loved numbers too, and I had to believe that I was just as capable as them. 

Also, many women think that for them to advance to the next level, they have to be 100 percent confident that they can master the next skill before leaping forward. But it’s important to keep in mind that people will advance you and support you because they think you will be successful, not just because you have already shown them that you can do everything that they will give you the opportunity to do.

Who or what inspired you to get into your field?

My father was the general manager of a mid-sized textile company in New Jersey, and I worked there every summer growing up. And by watching him engage daily with all of his employees, answering their questions, and treating everyone the same — it was incredible to watch. He always remained calm under pressure, and I’ve tried to model myself after that, both in the private sector and here in the federal government


Kelly MorrisonPerformance Analyst, Office of the Federal Chief Information Officer Office of Management and Budget

“People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

Within the office of U.S. CIO Tony Scott at the Office of Management and Budget, Kelly Morrison is a performance analyst and is leading reform of the IT Capital Planning and Investment Control, or CPIC, process. The first stage of that overhaul will culminate with the release later this year of the new draft of circular A-11, the memo that governs the federal budgeting process. She also coordinates the office's work on the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, or FITARA. Since coming to the OMB from the Department of Interior in September last year, she also has worked on oversight of the president's roughly $90 billion IT budget. Her responsibilities include PortfolioStat, TechStat and CyberStat — monitoring spending performance and helping ensure that that it is aligned with administration priorities.

What advice do you have for young women pursuing a STEM or business career?

Get involved in the conversation and build relationships! Being so focused on my technical competence and proving my value to myself and others, I spent a lot of time head-down at my desk. I didn’t take advantage, early enough in my career, of the multiple ways to get involved in the conversations outside of the office and build relationships, which is a really powerful way to make a difference and impact. 

If someone sees your potential, trust and seize the opportunity, don’t question yourself and allow the opportunity to pass. 

Your experiences throughout each step of your life are preparing you for the positions you’ll find yourself in down the road.  Embrace your experiences and inherent talents to find your unique style.  Doing “you” is easier than trying someone else’s style and will ultimately enable the greatest successes.  

Who or what inspired you to get into your field?

My first federal government boss, who continues to be a mentor, offered me the opportunities to manage the office budget and the IT capital planning and investment control manager roles due to staffing changes. I’ll always be grateful as this was an opportunity to develop my self-perceived weaknesses: budgeting and technology. I jumped in and learned a lot, and followed my curiosity.

In my desk officer role, I love partnering with agencies to overcome obstacles to good government, and enabling agency missions through IT and more effectively managing IT.


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