Alex: Coming to you from SolarWinds headquarters in Austin, Texas. I’m Alex Navarro with SolarWinds TechPod. This is Dropped Packets. My guest today is Phoummala Schmitt. You may know her as a cloud or Microsoft advocate, an engineer and messaging and collaboration specialist, but she’s also a mother and a goddess–if you follow her on Twitter. She dropped by the studio to discuss origin stories, her IT journey, and what changes she hopes to see in the industry.
Alex: One of your most admirable qualities, in my humble opinion, is the spotlight that you shine on women in this industry. And so, as we look forward into the new year, what are you hoping to see for women in IT or by women in IT?
Phoummala: Wow. More acceptance and just the overall, you know, we’re, we’re part of the team. We’re at the table, let us speak, you know, stop the mansplaining. But it’s, I only hope for a kinder, more respectful industry. One of the things that I’m passionate about, it’s not just for women and diversity, but diversity from all aspects. So, even for people that have disabilities that you don’t see. I mean, there’s, there’s a lot of people with Asperger’s and ADHD. I mean, there’s, there’s all sorts of things, and I think if we’re just kinder, you know, and respectful to each other, I think a lot of our, our issues with the industry we have can be eliminated. I mean, think about when we tell our kids and they go to, you know, school, we tell them, be nice. You don’t have to be best friends with everybody, but you if respect them, you know, that’s, that’s just, you know, awesome. There’s no reason that you have to be a bully. We, you know, there’s so much bullying that goes on in the tech industry, not only to women, but to other men. I mean, I’ve had men tell me that they, you know, they are fearful sometimes. I think we just, you know…
Alex: Well, because everyone knows everything about all things.
Phoummala: Yeah, egos. Egos are so big. Let’s throw that all away. And you know, go back to how we were when we were little. Our parents told us, you know, just be nice, be respectful, do unto others as you know, you, you would want to be done to you. And it’s, it’s just respect. If we respect everybody, we don’t have to like them. We, you don’t have to be best friends, but if we respect them, then, I mean, we’ve won the battle, don’t you think?
Alex: Oh, yeah. And then, what if they’re on your team and you’re team lead and you gave them a chance to speak and they had the best idea out of the whole team?
Phoummala: A lot of times it’s the, it’s that quiet person, the one that’s listening has the most awesome ideas because they’re just absorbing that data. You know, everyone’s talking and they’re just thinking about, you know, things. And I know when I was a team lead, I had one engineer who I just, I loved him to death because he was just so quiet. But when he spoke, it was phenomenal. Like, his ideas, I’m like, oh my gosh, you know, why didn’t you speak up sooner? He’s like, oh, I was thinking. I was processing it, you know? So, it’s, it’s that acceptance of everyone, but at the same time, it’s, it’s for our kids…because the industry, I’m going to say it…It’s crap. We treat each other horrible. We’re mean. We’re bullies. We’re so disrespectful to each other. And, I know we’re trying to change it, but we need to change it for our kids–and not just for the girls, but for the boys. Is this how we want our children to go to work, when they’re older? I mean, I’ve got kids and I certainly don’t want my 12-year-old getting into an industry that doesn’t respect and treat women right. Boys too. I mean, I don’t want, you know, my, my boys going into an industry–and actually my son is studying computer networking technology and you know, I don’t want him to enter an industry that, may be biased against him. He’s got Asperger’s. I have this fear as a parent, like, how is he going to, you know, interact with his coworkers? Because some people just don’t quite understand.
Phoummala: It’s a very black-and- white world for Asperger’s. And, it’s so…like, I just have this fear like, wow, how will he have a job and maintain it and people understand him?
Alex: So, maybe challenge ourselves to be brave and not fear the unknown, no matter what the unknown may be.
Phoummala: If we don’t change, our kids are the ones that are hurting because we’re, we’re leaving this, you know, this industry, it’s a mess. If we can slowly change it and make it better, our kids are going to come into this industry, you know, somewhat fixed. It’s kind of like, lead by example.
Alex: Be the positive change that you want to see.
Phoummala: Yes. Every little bit helps. If you have a coworker that is underrepresented, you know, and maybe they don’t always speak up at meetings, give them an opportunity, you know, boost them up, like, hey, what do you think? You know, so and so, hey Bob, you know, I noticed you’re not speaking, you know, what are your ideas for this project? It probably just might make that person’s day, by giving them an opportunity, a platform to speak. And if you do notice that the women on your team are not given the ability to speak, help them. I’ve had several coworkers, would help me and go, oh Phoummala, you know, I, it looks like you have an idea, what’s your thoughts on this? Or, if I had a particular issue, they would help boost that and go, OK, “Oh yes, I’ve seen that issue too.” Or you know, “I’ve been thinking the same thing,” because sometimes as women our, I don’t want to say complaints, but if we bring up issues, they’re almost dismissed right away, you know, and it almost, I know for me, from experience I’ve had to, if a man were to help boost that issue, it almost seemed like it got more presence. So, you know, if we can help each other out that way, I think we would all be, you know, in the better.
Alex: Being more supportive of everyone.
Phoummala: Everyone, not just women, transgender, but it’s beyond that. It’s all people, you know, disabilities, because there’s a lot of people with disabilities that you can’t see.
Phoummala: I mean, some people have sensory issues, you know, where certain noises and sounds.
Alex: Trigger them.
Phoummala: Oh yeah. You know, this whole open working space thing. Some people just don’t thrive well in that because of the sensory overload. So we’ve got to be respectful of others.
Alex: One of the ways Phoummala keeps a pulse on the current climate of our IT community is through social media. She’s especially active on Twitter, commenting on topics ranging from Microsoft Azure to girls embracing tech, to fashion and sweat pants.
Alex: Your Twitter handle is @ExchangeGoddess.
Alex: And I love good origin story, so tell me a little bit about where that name came from.
Phoummala: So, I was actually just starting my virtualization career, more like, I was kind of thrown into it, but it was during a NetApp upgrade. We were doing a storage upgrade and it was on the, the filer that had our Exchange databases, and our consultant that was working with us, it was supposed to be just a few hours upgrade, but it ended up being like, I think like over 13 hours, just really long. And, every few hours I’d walk in and I’d be like, are you done yet? Are you done yet? And then, when they were finally done, the consultant came to my desk and it was like late at night, and he’s like, Exchange goddess, can you check your Exchange databases? I turned around and I was like, well, it’s about time somebody got my name right around here. So, that’s how it came about, and it just kind of stuck then. I’m like, oh, that’s great name.
Alex: Thanks for visiting. I’m Alex Navarro and we’ll catch you on the next episode of SolarWinds TechPod, Dropped Packets.