45. Dr. Joanne Peca (she/her) – Assistant Teaching Professor & Program Coordinator, B.S. in Cybersecurity Analytics and Operations: Penn State College of Information Science & Technology

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“If you want something, go for it. Apply for the job. Ask for the raise/promotion/job title/job description you want; actually, don’t just ask, but make a case for it.”

Tell us a little bit about what a typical day looks like for you.

After a decade as the Chief Information Officer for Penn State Altoona, I’ve recently transitioned to the academic side of the university.  In addition to my role as a member of the faculty, I’m also the program coordinator for our undergraduate Cybersecurity Analytics and Operations program … I’m about a month into both roles, so I’m still trying to establish to what a “typical day” looks like!  

Generally though, I teach three courses each semester – this semester, I’m teaching a first-year course, a 400-level (junior/senior) course, and a graduate course, so I’m getting an opportunity to see an overview of our student population.  And, as part of Penn State’s mission of “teaching, research, and service”, I also work with campus and community partners to offer programs (such as Girls in STEM and Girls Who Code) which focus on providing girls an opportunity to learn more about STEAM topics.  I’m looking forward to getting back to my research, which focuses on the intersection of technology and organizational leadership.

How do you stay passionate in your career?

For me, the key to staying passionate about my work has been a matter of taking a proactive role evolving my position and responsibilities as the needs of my campus/team/community changes … While in my CIO role, I reviewed my job description every year and revised it to reflect the work that I was doing, the work that needed to be done, and the work that I wanted to do. For example, as I built my IT leadership team at Penn State Altoona, I knew they had the day-to-day operations and projects running smoothly. I was then able to shift some of my time and focus to community outreach and engagement, which are my passion projects.

Did you have a traditional path into tech (i.e.: CS/IT degree transitioned into tech job)?

I would say my path is pretty traditional … by the time I was halfway through my freshman year of college, I knew that I was going to work in IT (the original plan was to have a computer science minor, but technology quickly became my main academic focus), particularly technology management and leadership. 

Over the years, I’ve collected a number of relevant technical degrees and certifications (MS in information systems, CISSP, Certified Ethical Hacker, ITIL Expert), but I’ve also balanced that with management- and leadership-focused degrees and certs (an MBA, a doctorate in organizational leadership, LSSGB).  I’ve found that balance of skills has helped me along the way.

As for my career path:  I made a conscious decision early on to never make a lateral move in my career.  I always aimed for the next level in the org chart, and as a result, I was a CIO by my early 30s.  A decade later, I’m excited to move to a faculty role and enjoy the new challenges that come with it. 

It’s common knowledge that women and femmes often face obstacles in the tech industry based on their gender. Have you ever had to deal with this type of experience and if so how did you handle it?

Absolutely. I’ve been in meetings where I (the only woman in the room, and often one of the younger people in the room) have been asked questions such as, “Do you know how to read a schematic?” (that’s a real example) when nobody else is questioned about their abilities to do fairly basic things required by the meeting topic. My tactic for dealing with it has typically been mixing the truth with a bit of humor (especially in a group setting). But I’ve also had moments when I’ve decided to talk to the person privately and ask them why they would question me and not others, and try to explain to them how unnecessary that is. While these things don’t happen to me every day, it’s frustrating when it does. For me, addressing it (either in the moment or in a side conversation after) helps me deal with the frustration and move on.

What’s your favorite thing about being a part of the #womenintech community?

Sometimes, it’s just great to have another person who knows what it’s like to be a woman in tech who you can talk to and do a sanity check … “Is it just me? … Have you experienced this, too?”  

If applicable, how have you given back to the WIT community?

I’m a club coordinator and facilitator for Girls Who Code, which is part of the outreach and engagement efforts in my faculty role; I work with the Blair County Library System to offer GWC clubs to our local community.

What is a piece of advice you would give to others wanting to or currently pursuing a career in tech?

If you want something, go for it. Apply for the job. Ask for the raise/promotion/job title/job description you want; actually, don’t just ask, but make a case for it. Build a network and don’t be afraid to leverage it; in return, answer that call/e-mail from someone who you can help out.

Tell us about a time you felt extremely accomplished in the past year. 

2019 has been a good year so far! Earlier this year, I officially founded my own consulting and coaching firm – High Point Drive LLC. Shortly after that, I was named the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s 2019 Non-Profit CIO of the Year. Over the summer, I transitioned from my higher ed administration role to a faculty position (a long-term goal of mine). It was recently announced that I’m one of three finalists in the Public Sector & Academia category for the Executive Women’s Forum on Information Security, Risk Management, and Privacy 2019 Women of Influence Award; I’ll be attending their conference in October. And I’ll be completing my studies at the Yale School of Management and their Global Leader Executive Program in December.

Favorite quote if you have one?

“Please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

– Conan O’Brien



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