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Human experience + digital outcomes
“Being an anthropologist in the
workplace means being an outsider
—and that’s a good thing. It’s a
helpful role when you’re trying
to question assumptions.”
I’ve always been interested in trying to unpack the “why” behind things. Social and cultural anthropology are about understanding assumptions that form how we look at the world. It’s a critical lens.
After teaching a few courses at the University of Toronto, I started looking for opportunities outside of academia. I saw a listserv posting for a job at Idea Couture (IC). The job was resident anthropologist. I had no idea what that was.
I’ve been at IC for eight years. There’s a greater awareness today of cultural anthropology in business than when I started. I used to have to tell people, “I don’t do bones, I don’t do stones, I do people.”
Being an anthropologist in the workplace means being an outsider—and that’s a good thing. It’s a helpful role when you’re trying to question assumptions. I ask questions in meetings that, say, an innovation strategist might not. I can help uncover ambiguities that need to be understood better.
In our work with clients, we always start with the human experience. Whether we’re creating an online support program for people with lupus, or a dashboard for a bank, the digital piece comes later. Before we articulate the digital experience, we take time to first understand what it means to live with lupus, or to work at a bank. That understanding makes the outcomes we deliver much more relevant.
We have a wacky range of people here at IC. I have one colleague who makes furniture and another who makes bow ties. The company has always been supportive of the broader contexts of our lives. My daughter was about two years old when I started at IC; she’s now 10, and my little guy is six. They’ve both grown up here in the office—spent a lot of time hanging out with mama at work!
Builder of teams
“Strong mentors are one of the
keys to success in building
a strong company.”
Scale interests me. I like to get stuff done and build things, and I’m excited about scaling up a team as we expand here in Boulder. I’m interested in exploring ideas like how we preserve our culture in a big company when people don’t necessarily know each other.
I started my career as a web developer in the late 1990s and then began focusing on venture-backed product startups. In 2010, I launched my own consulting company, Quick Left. In 2016, we were acquired by Cognizant.
We’re now part of Cognizant Accelerator, and the idea of working on new enterprise projects is exciting. The Launch Pad Challenge is an in-house incubator we’re building. Twice a year we choose around 10 products and work with them for six months to test their market viability.
As head of the mentor network, my role directly impacts how we grow the Launch Pad Challenge teams within the Accelerator, as well as how we help contribute to the teams’ success. Strong mentors are one of the keys to success in building a strong company. We provide the projects with a lot of guidance.
Do I miss engineering? I do sometimes. I liked the challenges I’ve had to undertake in running a company, everything from setting up health benefits to difficult HR decisions. But you can’t always figure out people the way you can figure out code.
One area in which I’ve grown is public speaking. Bless their heart, a local group invited me to be among their speakers when I was just starting out. They gave me five minutes to speak. Being an engineer, I used note cards to make sure I spoke precisely for five minutes. I was very awkward. But I kept going at the public speaking.
Since then, I’ve become much more relaxed at it, and I feel good about that. I recently shared my story and experience at TriZetto, and it reminds me that in a large company like Cognizant, WE is an extremely important organization to have. Our members and chapters are doing great work.
Solving client problems, simply and elegantly
“My focus is understanding
why people need data and insights,
and how digitization will help them.”
Enjoying what I do and working with smart people has helped shape my career.
The important thing to me has always been believing in what I do and having an opportunity to constantly learn. At Cognizant, I’ve been fortunate to take new and different roles every two to three years and along the way, to acquire new responsibilities and capabilities. I had the opportunity to conceive, shape and manage the Chief Data and Analytics advisory council, one of the company’s most successful and long running councils.
I get excited by solving problems and bored if I’m not in front of customers, understanding their business challenges and creating solutions. Helping customers make sense of digital’s complex transformation absolutely inspires me to keep up with things.
I’ve been with Cognizant for 16 years. I began my career working with banks, retail chains and medical devices as a business analyst. I became a program manager for client companies like Levi Strauss and eBay.
Now I have two roles. For two verticals—banking & financial services and healthcare—I run our analytics and AI profit and loss (P&L). I also head our business analytics and insights (BAI) unit across North America, which helps organizations build a foundation for digital value.
What surprises me most about my work? That not every need has to be solved through complex technology solutions. Sometimes the simplest way to solve a problem is also the most elegant. It’s important for us to understand both stated and unstated needs before we jump into solution mode.
Turning new ideas into impactful products
“I’m drawn to the problem-solving
aspect of product marketing.
I love the thought and
rigor involved in taking
a product to market.”
When I graduated from Georgetown University, an advisor told me, “Go west. There’s this technology thing going on.” So I started a tech company, and I’ve worked in technology ever since. In particular, I’m drawn to the problem-solving aspect of product marketing. I love the thought and rigor involved in taking a product to market.
At Cognizant Accelerator, I help create new business models for the company as part of our corporate innovation efforts. That includes incubating new practices and internal startups, everything from product-market fit to positioning and messaging. We collaborate closely with our business units to identify good ideas and ensure they have the executive support and resources they need to grow.
New ideas are the heart of my work. I got an MBA from Harvard, then returned to the Silicon Valley startup scene, just as the market crashed. After Cisco acquired the startup I was working for, I led product marketing at various emerging technologies within Cisco, including its video content and IoT business units.
My focus at Cognizant draws from that experience: We're exploring ideas for new business models made possible by digital technologies such as blockchain, AI and IoT. My managers emphasize impact over activity and give me the autonomy I want to do the work and to make the changes needed to forward our agenda. I’ve also been able to take advantage of training, such as an executive speaker class, which has helped me develop some of the soft skills that are so necessary to be effective in a large company.
When I’m not working, my husband and our two young boys like to jam on instruments: I’m figuring out how to fiddle. I’m also learning ballet, which feels like a more painful form of yoga. I regularly hike the trails of an urban forest reserve behind my house. It’s one of the largest in the country—and yet another reason that advisor was right about going west.
Irene recently took on the new role of Vice President of Corporate Marketing.
Mastering the art of the possible
“I make sure I take time to advocate
for others. It’s amazing what we can do
when someone tells us we can get there.”
The best part of my job is sitting with clients and my team, listening and talking and working through problems. Creating solutions with clients is always exciting to me. A lot of our sessions are about brainstorming ideas and diversification of opinion. How can we push our thinking to get clients where they want to be?
I wear two hats at Cognizant. On the technology side, I focus on communications and media, working with clients across their enterprises and on digital transformation. I also work on digital infrastructure like software-defined networks and virtualization. How do you take a network environment and add software capabilities to create cool experiences for customers and the enterprise? And what does it mean for those affected in terms of reskilling?
A client once told me that she liked that I was straight with her even in uncomfortable situations. She said she could trust me to solve problems in a fair way. I always make a point of passing that along to my team. Always be straight with clients, even when the information can be uncomfortable. Nothing ever goes perfectly. It’s how you deal with it that makes a difference.
When I began my career at Cognizant, my boss made sure I got a lot of engagement and exposure and the ability to jump into things and make decisions. Now I work for Chell Smith, and she’s a good, strong advocate.
Likewise, I make sure I take time to advocate for others. It’s amazing what we can do when someone tells us we can get there. Everyone has a different path. There isn’t just one way.
Outside of work I’m a family person. I have the neighborhood house that all the kids feel comfortable coming over to. My family and I are always out walking or biking through the neighborhood.
It was standing-room-only at our Women Empowered Client Dinner in Boston held in May 2018. Local professionals interacted with the Cognizant team, led by Meera Ramachandran, SVP and Managing Partner in Cognizant’s Insurance Practice. The event featured consultant and author Kate Sweetman, a former Harvard Business Review editor, who discussed how leaders can see and seize opportunities and make a difference to help their organizations thrive in the midst of disruption.
Our San Francisco team hosted a Women Empowered Afternoon Forum in June 2018 where local business leaders were encouraged to meet and network. The keynote was given by Sheila Lirio Marcelo, founder, chairwoman and CEO of Care.com, who spoke on finding your passion. We also heard from Susan Mernit, who told her story of founding Hack the Hood, and panelists from Twitter and BlueOwl on supporting women in their careers.
Cognizant’s United Kingdom & Ireland region hosted Olympic Gold medalist Kate Richardson-Walsh as the featured speaker at the February 2018 Women Empowered Executive Client Dinner in London. Kate inspired us all through her stories of leadership, teamwork and what it took to win gold in field hockey in the 2016 Olympics.
Our Toronto team hosted a Women Empowered Executive Client Dinner in Toronto in November 2018. Leading female professionals and clients from the Toronto area connected with the Cognizant team, led by our CFO Karen McLoughlin. Dr. Wendy Cukier, Professor of Information Technology Management & Founder of the Diversity Institute at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University, presented findings on how innovation drives inclusion.
Women Empowered recently hosted an Executive Client Dinner in Los Angeles. The evening began with a cocktail reception, then our host, Chell Smith, SVP Consulting, welcomed the group. Author Kate Sweetman shared strategies for reinvention that are relevant during times of disruption. Chell’s blog post on Digitally Cognizant highlights key takeaways from Kate's presentation. From Left: Carol Pasmore (Cognizant), Kate Sweetman (speaker), Chell Smith (Cognizant), Jennifer Green Godette (Cognizant), Michael Chavez (Duke Corporate Education), Christine Robers (Duke Corporate Education).
The WE Book Club recently read Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women by W. Brad Johnson, Ph.D., and David Smith, Ph.D. Strong mentoring relationships have the capacity to transform individuals and entire organizations. But evidence consistently shows that women face more barriers in securing mentorships than men and reap a narrower range of benefits. Male colleagues were encouraged to join women as we discussed this straightforward, no-nonsense manual that explains how men can mentor women deliberately and effectively.
The Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency has recognized Cognizant as an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality for 2018. The government citation is designed to promote companies that have actively committed to achieving gender equality in Australian workplaces. Criteria for selection include setting targets for improving gender equality and other outcomes, such as leadership support, learning and development, gender remuneration gaps and flexible work arrangements to support family responsibilities.
WE Dallas recently welcomed Chell Smith, SVP Consulting, to Dallas’s new Regional Delivery Center for a luncheon. Shameka Young, Dallas WE Advisor and VP Communications & Media Consulting, interviewed Chell about the consulting practice, leadership and her career progression. Chell shared great stories and insights on managing your career and the different environments she experienced starting out as a women in the technology industry years ago versus today.
Cognizant is continuing its sponsorship of MAKERS, an organization dedicated to telling the stories of today's trailblazing women to inspire the changeMAKERS of tomorrow. At the 2019 MAKERS conference, Cognizant pledged to employ at least 100,000 women around the world by 2020.
Cognizant attendees at the MAKERS conference included Donna Tuths, member of the MAKERS board of directors and SVP and Global Lead, Cognizant Interactive, and MAKERS’ awardees Meera Krishnamurthy, SVP, Insurance; Paul Roehrig, VP, Cognizant Digital Business; Vibha Rustagi, CEO, itaas, a Cognizant Company; and Chell Smith, SVP, Cognizant Consulting.READ MORE
At Cognizant, we believe that our differences should be celebrated and that an inclusive culture inspires creativity and innovation. Embrace attracts, supports, respects and retains talented lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and transgender professionals. Embrace is committed to creating an environment where all people can develop and grow to their full potential.
Driven by Cognizant’s strong support of and commitment to veterans, the Cognizant Veterans Network (CVN) supports, develops and promotes the unmatched skills and experiences that veterans bring to Cognizant. The CVN members are ambassadors to Cognizant’s recruiting process, assisting in attracting and retaining key talent, and creating a community of peers who understand the transition to the private sector and support veterans joining Cognizant.
This group is dedicated to the interests of Cognizant employees who identify as Black, African, African-American, Latino or Hispanic. The group fosters the success of its members through programming and initiatives that promote career development, mentoring, recruitment and retention, and community building.