Getting to Know the "Ladies In Tech at Turner" (LITT): An Interview with Erica Reed
This post originally appeared on the Turner blog.
Welcome to another installment of LiTTeral, a monthly interview series with the members of "Ladies in Tech at Turner" (aka LiTT), where they share their personal journeys as women technologists and the important moments along the way.
This month’s feature interviewee is Erica Reed, a rare Atlanta native who went from writing programs in BASIC back in the 80’s to her new position as Director of Technical Product Management for NBA Digital. Her story is an inspirational one, and as you’ll see, it’s lucky for us she chose technology over hairstyling.
Fellow LiTT member Alana Gordy conducts this edition's Q&A.
Alana: Tell me about yourself a little bit, where are you from?
Erica: I am one of the rare Atlanta natives. I grew up in Decatur, Georgia on the East side, and now live in the West side, Douglasville, but yeah, I am from Georgia.
A: How did you end up getting into technology? Tell me your story.
E: In sixth grade, I was in a Magnet program before Magnet programs were a thing. We chose different science topics to study but we had a computer program in class and I wrote a program in BASIC. This was back in the 80’s. And I just kept going. I didn't see technology as a career because that wasn’t something taught in a formal curriculum. But I always stayed close to it. I always found digital ways to do something. I can remember the old dot matrix printers and everyone used to print the big banners.
A: Yeah, the ones that you had to separate the paper off the sides?
E: Yeah. I used to do fun little presentations with those printed banners. I made people birthday banners and all kind of stuff. That's how I stayed close to computers.
A: Did someone inspire you to go towards technology? Or was it just fun for you?
E: My mom was a teacher and went on to become a principal. I wanted to teach because that's what she did. But what got me was all the other kids in my magnet classes were super smart-- they knew stuff, too. And they were curious about the same things. That’s what kept me going. My classmates inspired me.
"I am one of the rare Atlanta natives. I grew up in Decatur..."
A: Did you go to college planning to major in technology?
E: Yes. This is a funny story. I had to choose between being a hairstylist or pursuing technology-- because I loved doing hair, too. But I went for a Bachelor of Computer Science at Georgia Tech. I showed up and again, classmate inspiration. These people had been working with computers beyond what I had ever imagined.
A: Was your class mostly men?
E: It was and I will be very frank-- I'm a woman and a minority. I would literally walk in and they would look at me like I was in the wrong place. They didn’t scare me off, though. The thing I learned is that if people see intelligence, everything else goes out the window.
"I would literally walk in and they would look at me like I was in the wrong place. They didn't scare me off, though"
A: Did you stay in that program the whole time?
E: Yeah. You could count the number of women who stayed in the Computer Science program. I'll give a scenario. For one project, we had to write a chess game. I stayed up two nights in a row to finish. I said, "I gotta get this done." I showed up in class with no sleep, after three days to turn in my program.
The teacher asked, "How many people completed their work and actually got your program to work?" I raised my hand. I was the only one! That's when I realized, I'm gonna make it.
A: When you graduated, did you go to grad school or straight to work somewhere?
E: I went to work. My first job out of college was at IBM. I was there through 2006. I came here right after. I thought, “Wow! Look at the brands at Turner. And it sounds like we won’t be tied to proprietary software like at IBM.” But also, the culture, the vibe here was so cool. I saw people really enjoying their work day.
I was on the Sports Illustrated team. It was world-changing. I went from coding, proprietary IBM, software for internal applications, to, “you are gonna build something for the Sports Illustrated website.” That's when I realized that Turner would be a great place for me. Other places, it's so buttoned up that you don't get a say so. Here, you just go do it. I've always loved our start-up mentality.
A: You also later made a choice later between staying technical or going the management route.
E: And I chose the management route. I wanted to stay “technology involved.” I didn’t wanna be like, “okay I'm in business things all day, no technology.” So, that brings me to today and my new position?
A: Wow! What is it?
E: Director of Technical Product Management for NBA Digital. My new boss, Jason Taylor (VP for NBA Digital), wanted to build a team that fits across both product and operations, web/mobile platforms vendor teams. We're involved in everything.
"I'm not the perfect manager. I've made mistakes. But when you empower somebody to stretch, to use their skills in different ways, it's amazing what can happen."
A: What kind of operations do you mean?
E: My team works within our brand and with other Turner teams to understand technology challenges and brainstorm fixes and solutions for the NBA website, apps, and connected device platforms. A big part of my new role is to educate people on "how things work" and "what is possible" using technology. That's something I enjoy, teaching, mentoring, coaching. I've been in this job for three weeks.
A: So, where do you see yourself in 10 years?
E: You know, that's what I'm trying to figure out.
A: You just started a brand-new job and I'm asking about your ten-year plan!
E: I'll tell you what fascinates me: just twenty years ago, when you started a business, you had to have a specialist with knowledge and hire lots staff. Now, you make an app and you can become a millionaire.
E: Yes, that world fascinates me.
A: Do you have any side projects? Are you still coding?
E: I do side projects. I'll build websites for friends and family, their companies, that kind of thing. I don't know if you go to producthunt.com? Every day they feature about 10 to 20 products or sites or cool tools that people have created. I tell my husband, one day, I want to make something like that. I could have my career, too, but I want to build something with huge impact. I have no clue what that would be but people do it every day.
A: I'm sure it will come naturally because you're a creative thinker. You said yourself, you like to be creative.
E: I spend five minutes every morning on two or three sites that I always go to. Producthunt is one of them. Hackernews is one of them. And then, I have a couple of feeds that I always tune into. I find amazing stuff. Like-- someone created a site to fill in your tax forms for you. Wow!
A: I know.
E: And they're making money.
A: Have you done any hackathons?
E: I have not. But there's another program that a developer on my previous team did that I want to do. The R.I.S.E. program, from the NextGen business resource group (BRG).
A: What is it?
E: It stands for Recognize Invest Strengthen Empower. A group of a dozen or so people are nominated and become a team who gets assigned a business challenge. They form ideas to solve the challenge and actually pitch it. It’s a great way for employees to learn about other parts of the company and stretch themselves in new ways.
A: Very cool.
E: I love this kind of thing. I firmly believe, whatever your job is, you have to find ways to grow, for your mind, you know, to stretch yourself. I read a book called Leading Snowflakes. It's all about leadership and how to be effective as a manager leading techies. I'm not a perfect manager. I've made mistakes. But when you empower somebody to stretch, to use their skills in different ways, it's amazing what can happen. I’m so grateful that's how I was treated when I was a contributor on a team and that’s my stance now. Pay it forward. You have to pay it forward.