Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech: “Learn every part of the business you can”, With Andrea Siudara, CIO of Altair
Learn every part of the business you can — In technology, you have the opportunity to see every part of something (the application, the process, etc.) that works. This isn’t an opportunity I’ve ever missed out on. It’s so important to learn how each part of the business operates with one another. I’ve done it all from working inside of a manufacturing plant to see how we achieve the productivity of our products, to learning about our networks to be knowledgeable on viruses, and how we protect our company from security breaches. I’ve found value in learning the heart and soul of operations throughout my various roles. For example, when I worked within another role in the automotive industry, I was able to work with our IT department to learn how the vehicles worked to ensure customer connectivity, including the diagnostics to understanding the process and helping to develop these applications. It’s really about taking all of the knowledge you learn and applying it to different aspects of the business. You really just learn each new set of problems in front of you and evolve your approach to solve it.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea Siudara, CIO of Altair.
Andrea recently joined Altair’s executive leadership team after spending four successful years with Ford Motor Company in various IT leadership roles. As CIO at Altair, Andrea leads the company’s global IT team, including IT infrastructure and services, security, enterprise business systems, and IT business strategy. Her experience spans more than 20 years of building diverse, high-functioning teams at global organizations. In addition to Ford, Andrea has held senior roles at Delphi /Aptiv, Dell, and General Motors. As a frequent speaker and devoted mentor for young professional women, Andrea participated in the Young IT Leaders panel for the Midwest Technology Leaders Conference in 2016.
In less than three months since joining Altair, Andrea has already made a significant impact in expanding the company’s global footprint while also helping to drive digital transformation through new product offerings and initiatives.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My path is a bit non-traditional compared to other executives or women leaders within my field, which is also what makes me so passionate about exposing youth, especially young females, to tech and STEM careers. I simply didn’t have access to this field (or have any idea that this was even an option available to me) when I was growing up. Back then, science and technology were just video games for me. I never really had much experience with them until I was in a business role at a very large auto company. With global visibility 24/7, we needed to provide updates for a number of large program launches in which we worked closely with the company’s IT department. I remember getting very excited about what this technology was doing for our business. After that, I moved to a custom IT development firm and never looked back. Since then I’ve been a contributor or leader across nearly all functions and technology that a company will leverage to drive their business (from data analytics to manufacturing plant floor controls) and spanning startups to large corporations leading teams in the 10’s to thousands across multiple countries and continents.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I’ve only recently joined Altair but one of the most interesting stories from my career that comes to mind is also one of my funniest. Very early into my career, I was invited to present at a senior-level meeting. This was meant to be an opportunity for my professional development and exposure to the company. I can successfully say I did make my mark, even if it was coffee-stained.
The long short of it: This meeting was very early and I thought it would be a good idea to show up with a black coffee while I got myself ready to present. I ended up accidentally tipping it over on our newly carpeted office. So I did make an impression that day, even though it wasn’t exactly the one I was hoping for.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of my funniest mistakes has honestly been my coffee-carpet-catastrophe. As I mentioned, that was not how I wanted to make my first impression among a group of senior managers, but that was also one of the first professional lessons I learned for myself.
I didn’t let this moment set the stage for the meeting or define me. I made it through that meeting and then focused on letting my work do the talking, which I now encourage among all of my team members, managers, and mentees alike.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I only recently joined Altair, but still, something that stands out to me is the number of supportive managers and mentors we have walking through our hallways each day. Altair prides itself on having employees feel represented at all levels, whether you’re a manager, executive, or intern, we want to create a space where you feel comfortable and supported to make your contribution.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m always mentoring other professionals, especially young women, whether it’s informal or formal. Right now, I’m mentoring about six different people who I’ve met throughout my career. I’m always willing to give advice or connect with them when they need it.
At Altair specifically, I’m very excited to say we’re spearheading the development of a Women’s Networking and Mentorship program for the company. Our mission is to better connect with one another and become a global network of team members focused on having a strong presence within our industry. We want to encourage all of the women at Altair to get involved in more tech industry groups and conferences geared toward women, as a way to properly represent how many incredible women we have within our company and to ensure our pipeline stays strong.
As part of this program, we’ll be developing quarterly sessions focused on tools and tricks to help advance employees’ careers, and make a more concentrated effort in ensuring our recruiting pipeline is strong. I’m also on the board of trustees at Detroit Country Day where I am extending my passion to ensure that up and coming students understand the overwhelming career opportunities for them in leveraging a STEM-based background.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I wouldn’t say that I’m dissatisfied with the status quo of women and tech, but I’m also not particularly satisfied. Honestly, from my experience, any changes really need to start at a basic level of schooling and ensuring companies have the right support in place to recruit and retain diverse talent. With respect to schooling, I have observed via my own child and from my experience that it is easy for a child to see what a teacher does or doctor does, but kids can’t visualize day-to-day, what a career in tech and STEM looks like.
Additionally, in schools where STEM is present, it’s mostly considered an extracurricular activity in the early grades. This is an issue if you aren’t sure what it is or don’t have the opportunity to be exposed to it. I know I felt the same way growing up and that’s why I’m so passionate about mentorship and building a pipeline to intentionally expose women and young developing children to this experience.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
I’m eternally grateful to my mentors for the advice they’ve always given me about working hard and focusing on building a network to connect with my peers, but I know it is not always this simple. At a basic level, there’s always a need for more representation by women. It’s hard to be one person on a team of 12, and that exists from interns to executives.
One of the biggest challenges I faced when I was starting out was leading others and feeling authentic and confident about it. I saw norms of how other leaders were operating and I didn’t agree with that. I had to build confidence over time that my leadership style was both effective and would yield very strong results — and thankfully I have had encouragement from a special mentor who made me realize that you should always lead authentically.
When I have been told or challenged that I don’t fit the ‘norm’, meaning I’m not the loudest or talkative person in the room, I didn’t think about seeming “too quiet” and letting that equate in my mind to “people might think I’m not as strong or authoritative because I’m not loud.” Instead, I focus more on creating thoughtful dialogue and speaking up, when necessary, to guide or make sure my ideas are represented and credited.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech? Can you explain what you mean?
I actually do not think we fully understand the root of why so many of our female STEM grads eventually bow out of the field. Through focus groups with various females techies, I’ve heard feedback that indicates it is more about the system and the support, or lack thereof that is driving them away, and less about their qualifications and desire of the women to excel and advance in the field.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Learn every part of the business you can — In technology, you have the opportunity to see every part of something (the application, the process, etc.) that works. This isn’t an opportunity I’ve ever missed out on. It’s so important to learn how each part of the business operates with one another. I’ve done it all from working inside of a manufacturing plant to see how we achieve the productivity of our products, to learning about our networks to be knowledgeable on viruses, and how we protect our company from security breaches. I’ve found value in learning the heart and soul of operations throughout my various roles. For example, when I worked within another role in the automotive industry, I was able to work with our IT department to learn how the vehicles worked to ensure customer connectivity, including the diagnostics to understanding the process and helping to develop these applications. It’s really about taking all of the knowledge you learn and applying it to different aspects of the business. You really just learn each new set of problems in front of you and evolve your approach to solve it.
- Be as involved as you can — I believe this connects to the first but is also another important point to make. Get involved within your business departments, but also sit in on meetings outside of your department when appropriate, work with new executives, and get involved with your company’s mission. Speak up and share your ideas with your superiors and remember to stay connected to your network because you never know when that will bring a new opportunity to the table. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve mentored several employees and have had my own executive mentors myself. By asking questions and getting involved with the company, I’ve connected with mentors who have given me advice that I continue to use and share every day.
- Make sure everyone is in the room — Great thinking happens when everyone is represented in a room. Regardless of the size, it’s important to champion diversity not only within your company but in smaller teams or special projects. In Altair, we take this seriously in making sure we have constituencies across all of our employees and interns to our executive board to ensure we’re creating an environment for new, innovative ideas.
- Take the risk in speaking up — I’ve had to remind myself that in order to create change or introduce new ideas we need to speak up and be vocal with them. It’s really through the advice of some of my greatest mentors that I’ve been able to make this one of my mantras.
- Be a supportive leader — As my top rule, this piece of advice is important and one I personally take the most seriously. I’m very aware that I’m a female executive in a male-dominated industry, but I’m always leading with authenticity. I’ve previously heard other women say, “I’ve been struggling because technology is demanding” — especially in operations, as we know from experience, this can be a 24/7 job. But my big mantra in response to this, “We are truly all in this together, and therefore, we should support everyone to help make it a little easier.” If we have our employees choose between life and work they’ll eventually choose life. We should always remember the human side of things and help our employees where we can to make sure no one feels overwhelmed.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
This is somewhat similar to my approach to leadership, but you always treat people the same regardless of the role or the team size. Strive for authenticity always. Sometimes there is a difference between the way you’ve seen things done within your company and the way that feels most authentic to you. Most importantly, stick with your own path. You are the only person that knows your trajectory, and it’s very important to align yourself with a network that supports that.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
I take a “servant leadership” approach to most of my teams. I really like to give each member an opportunity to have their own voice so it’s always important to listen. I will do a lot of listening in my meetings even if I’m the one giving the presentation. I like to open it up to give everyone a chance to speak, and this has really given way to some of our best discussions. It’s also about understanding when other people have the expertise you don’t. This is the best part of a team because by respecting that person’s talent and encouraging them to speak up, you can then let their talent shine. Also never forget to have a bit of fun along the way!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
This is a bit of a two-part answer to me. In my personal life, my mother always supported me through all of my choices. She always said, “You can do whatever you put your mind to as long as you’re putting in the work to learn it.” She was also always a big champion for me when it came to making the shift and “taking risks” to move into where I am today. I wouldn’t have had the courage to pursue something new without her as the backdrop.
In my professional life, it would be one of my mentors from Ford Motor Company. This person was the first one to introduce the authenticity concept to me and “leading by example.” Just seeing someone lead differently at that level, gave me the motivation to forge my own path.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Right now, I’m on the Board of Trustees at the Detroit Country Day School and I mentor young students at the school and serve as a mentor to numerous rockstars. I am also jumping back into a fabulous consortium in Detroit that is focused on retaining and placing our college graduates in our own backyard of great and diverse companies.
Also as mentioned earlier, I have worked on spearheading the introduction of Altair’s Women Networking Group and have been the sponsor or the founder of the women’s networks at my previous companies. Our main mission is to get more women involved in tech industry groups and conferences to properly represent how many incredible women we have within our company.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’d love to start a movement around diverse, authentic leadership. A movement based on having the most diverse thought leaders in the room where people aren’t afraid to speak up with their new ideas. This could bring untold good for the world!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“We work hard, we play hard.” This is something I learned from my mom, who never backed down from anything. You really put in what you’re going to get back, so it’s important to do it earnestly.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
I’m a huge Bill Gates fan so I’d love to share a meal with him any time. I really admire what he’s done professionally, and he continues to focus on charitable giving to improve the lives of all children, young people, women, and girls, by investing in both low and high tech to harness the full potential of those who do not have access to advantage. I read all of his LinkedIn posts and anything on his book list.
About the author:
Penny is an environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur. She’s worked as a climate scientist, an environmental planner, and a wilderness park ranger. Motivated by a passion to raise a generation of environmental leaders, in 2010 Penny founded Green Kid Crafts, a children’s media company that provides kids around the world with convenient and eco-friendly STEAM activities. Today, it’s become a leader in the subscription industry, with over 1 million packages shipped worldwide that have exposed a generation to think about and take a leadership role in sustainability. Penny, her husband Jeff, and her children Rowan and Declan live together in San Diego, California. She holds a B.A. in Environmental Management and an M.S. in Environmental Science. Penny has over 20 years of experience in entrepreneurship, management, strategy and finance. She’s a seasoned leader, an inspiring speaker, an encouraging business mentor, and a creative writer. You can learn more about Green Kid Crafts at https://www.greenkidcrafts.com/ and follow Penny’s stories and updates at https://www.instagram.com/greenkidcrafts/ and https://twitter.com/bauderpenny.