Ohana Conversations: Gail Farnsley

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We’re continuing Ohana Conversations by featuring Gail Farnsley, who was mentioned in Rosanne Burge’s Ohana Conversations post. Gail’s technology experience extends way beyond her programming skills. She has done quite a bit to give back to the Indianapolis technology community while juggling prominent positions at large companies.

How did you first become interested in technology?

In high school, I liked math more than other subjects. I worked with the head of our math department who taught a programming class for students. We literally wrote the code out by hand and marked it with a #2 pencil on scantrons. He suggested that I should go to college for it, but no one in my family had ever gone to college. He pushed me into going to college to pursue Computer Science. I only had one cousin who was going to college! I went to Bowling Green, got my Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, and now I’m a Programmer.

How did your career begin?

When I graduated from college in 1982, only 45% women were in the field [of Computer Science], and that number has gone down ever since. I never felt like I stood out as a woman in the industry. There were guys in [my workplace] but not significantly more. There were enough women in the field when I started where I didn’t feel isolated, but young women Programmers may feel different today.

I started off as a Programmer at Public Service Indiana in Plainfield where I worked as a Programmer and Programmer Analyst. I was always on the application side, and I wrote code. Eventually, I moved up to be a System Analyst, Project Manager, and eventually to global CIO.

Why do you think Indianapolis became such a hub for technology and continues to be so?

There are a lot of reasons. We had this niche where there were a few peak companies that got started early on. There were some people who got started and then it built on itself. There are also schools with large talent pools who got into the technology scene early, like Purdue and Indiana University. Indianapolis was put on the technology map because of companies like ExactTarget.

What makes Indianapolis different from other tech hubs is that it’s smaller. When you get involved [in the Indiana technology industry], especially in organizations like TechPoint, you get to see the new, innovative technology startups… The reality is that you forget that most of the people in the industry work for Roche, Cummins, and other large technology companies in Indianapolis. The city is a mash up of enterprise level technology companies with executives who have seen potential for technology and startups to grow.

What are some struggles and advantages for women in technology?

Right now, you can’t help but look around and see groups that support women in the technology industry. There’s Women in Tech, Girls Who Code, Diversity in Tech, etc. You name it, there’s a group. Coding in general became a big thing. As a woman in technology I think there’s a lot of opportunity.

However, there’s still some “programmer culture” that’s prominent.

“People look at you and assume you don’t know technology when you’re a woman. No, I can write code.”

Part of that is still a challenge, but you have to be strong and confident in your own skin.

The struggle is that it’s still a field that’s heavily male dominated and often not open to diversity of thought and style. There’s been a lot of backlash on unconscious bias, but it’s real. You can be the only girl in the room, and it’s hard. It wears you down. I think the struggle is finding the right organization that’s trying to build a good culture. I’ve been [in Indianapolis] my whole career and think it’s a great place to be.

Who is someone you look up to and why?

Originally, I didn’t have an obvious answer and had to think why nobody jumped to mind. I don’t have an answer. It’s not that I don’t look up to people, but I do have this amazing network. I think of them as my personal board of directors. All of the women in my group are local. If anything, who I look up to would be one of them. I can’t just choose one person, but this is my group of people.

Laura Larimer, IT Officer for Indianapolis Public Schools – does amazing things on a shoestring budget

Rhonda WinterSenior Vice President of Service Delivery at Bluelock

Lou Russell Martin – graduated college the same year at me and started off in coding but ended up starting her own company. She’s the Director of Learning at Russell Martin & Associates a Moser Company.

Barbara Kew former Vice President/CTO at Anthem for a while, now serves as a Board Member for: Trek10 Inc. and Lumavate and is the Board President of LPGA Amateur Golf Association – Central Indiana.

Jane Neiderberger Principal of Niederberger Ventures LLC, Board Member of The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Wellfount Corporation, Connor Prairie, and Indiana University Research and Technology Corporation

Do you have any advice for women in technology?

I didn’t do it early in my career, and part of me didn’t feel like I needed to because I didn’t feel so alone, but I think finding support networks and mentors is huge. It’s important to have people you can talk to who to support you. I think having people that can look at the world from your perspective is helpful and having mentors is helpful, both male and female. If it’s a field you want to pursue, look for those networks.

Stay tuned as we have had the opportunity to interview a few of Gail’s “posse” members! And while you’re here – check out Ohanaan internal communications tool designed to inspire employee engagement!