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Women in Tech: Leading the way with innovation

In this episode of HxGN Radio, we explore the professional journeys of Kalyn Sims, Chief Technology Officer for Hexagon’s Safety & Infrastructure division, and Melanie Eakes, Executive Vice President & Chief Technology Officer for Hexagon’s PPM division, as well as discuss the importance of diversity and sage advice they would give to women pursuing careers within the technology industry.

RPM: Hi, everyone, and thanks for tuning in to Women in Tech: Leading the Way with Innovation on HxGN Radio. I’m your host, Rebecca Paul-Martin. And today I’ll be speaking with two Hexagon leaders, Kalyn Sims, who is the Chief Technology Officer for Hexagon’s Safety and Infrastructure Division, and Melanie Eakes, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Hexagon’s PPM Division. We’ll be exploring their professional journey, what inspires them, the importance of diversity, and their leadership roles within Hexagon as well as the technology industry. Welcome, Kalyn and Melanie.

KS: Thank you.

RPM: So, let’s start at the beginning. When did you begin your career with Hexagon? Melanie, let’s start with you.

ME: Okay. You know, it’s been a long time ago, but I actually started as an intern working in development. It was an incredible opportunity at that time. And I like to encourage internships within PPM because of that.

RPM: That’s great. Kalyn?

KS: Yeah. I actually started with Hexagon almost exactly 10 years ago, when Hexagon acquired my company, so, I came in through an acquisition. And when I decided to sell my company, I worked really hard to find a good home for my employees. And to be honest, I figured I’d stay here, help with the transition, and here I am a decade later. So, I think that’s a testament to how much I really enjoy my job and the people I work with here.

RPM: That’s wonderful. On that same note, what has your journey with Hexagon been like, meaning what types of positions have you held? What divisions have you worked for? Kalyn, can you elaborate for us?

KS: Sure. My first position was really the first year after the acquisition and just making sure the transition went well. After that, I had the role of vice president of Public Safety Development, which really entailed being responsible for all the development and support of our public safety product portfolio. I think I did that role probably about three years, and that’s when I was promoted to Chief Technology Officer for Safety and Infrastructure, which is where I sit now.

RPM: That’s great. Melanie, what about you?

ME: Well, I kind of grew up in this business, right? As I mentioned, I started as an intern back in 1978, and it’s really never been a dull moment and, you know, changing now more than ever. I’ve actually worked as a developer. I’ve managed development support, quality assurance, product management, and even our cloud software as a service. And as I like to say, everyone is in sales. So, a little bit in sales as well. But, you know, it’s been a wonderful journey and I continue to enjoy all of it. It’s been amazing.

So, it’s very clear that you both are incredibly passionate about what you do, you’re passionate about Hexagon and the growth within the tech industry. And I’d love to know, what inspired you to choose this field? Kalyn, let’s start with you.

KS: Well, let’s see. I’ve been working in the technology field my entire career, which I hate to admit has spanned multiple decades. My very first job in technology was actually as an intern. Melanie talked about the importance of internships, and I absolutely agree. I did a couple summers when I was an undergraduate in computer science working on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. So, that was very interesting.

But I think what inspired me to choose the technology field goes way back, probably to my early teen years. My dad was actually the deputy director of the National Security Agency, or NSA, and I can remember him taking me on a tour of the National Cryptologic Museum. And that day that he actually took me, they had an exhibit featuring the woman codebreakers. If you don’t know who they were, it was a group of women hired by the military during World War II to break the German and Japanese codes. And they became a really important force during that that war. And then when NSA was established in the early 1950s, they actually brought that group of woman codebreakers into NSA, and they really advanced the field of cryptology using technology. So, I just kind of became enamoured with that concept of using technology. And here I am all these years later, still in technology.

RPM: That’s very cool that you got that connection and you were inspired at such a young age. Melanie, what about you? What inspired you?

ME: You know, it’s amazing. I didn’t know that about you, Kalyn, and, you know, we had a little bit of a similar background I think. I chose the field because as a 16-year-old, I was able to work for Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville for the director at that time, Dr. Lucas. I basically was a runner. I ran documents and messages between offices on the Huntsville, Alabama campus. And I was able to see incredible things like where the astronauts trained at their wind tunnel. I was able to try on the gloves and experience what it was like for the astronauts to use a screwdriver and try to unscrew something. They worked underwater as an example —and that’s how they trained. It was really an amazing time for me and at a very important time in my life, I think, as a 16-year-old. The people at NASA and Marshall Space Flight Centre at the time, they were incredible. They took the time to answer questions. And trust me, I asked a lot of those. But the people I was able to interact with, they were brilliant. And they all encouraged me so much. And they actually said, hey, you should get a math degree. You’re pretty good in this area. You should get a math and computer science degree. And with that, you can do anything you want to do.

So, you know, that’s exactly what I did. I never turned back from that. I worked for them for three years in the summers and again, I stayed in touch with them. It’s amazing what mentors can do for you. So, I would encourage anyone if you have someone like that in your life, stay close to them, listen to what they have to say, soak up every bit of it that you can.

RPM: That’s great. It’s so interesting that you both have very similar backgrounds and what helped drive your interest into the technology industry. And Melanie, on that note about mentorship, what advice would you give to young women of today who are starting their career in technology?

ME: Yeah, I think I would give the same advice that those engineers gave me so many years ago. The engineering and technology field is still very wide open for women in particular. Only 20 percent of women are majoring in computer science and related fields, compared to 80 percent for men. And management positions held by women are even less. The opportunities are absolutely there. And the tech industry, as I mentioned, it’s never boring, it’s constantly changing. And it can be a really exciting career where you can actually impact the world in which we live. And I think that’s a lot of what came from the work from NASA and a lot of things in this world are different because of that. And I just think it’s just, it’s wide open for women.

RPM: That’s great. Kalyn?

KS: Yeah, I would absolutely agree with Melanie. I mean, the possibilities are endless. And you always hear the saying, do what you love, love what you do. So, if you don’t love it, find a way to apply your same technology skills towards a different goal, because the nice thing about technology, as Melanie was just saying, is it can be applied to almost anything. So, find your thing.

Another thing I would say as advice would be, don’t always feel like you need to sound like the smartest one at the table. I think sometimes as technologists, we may feel like we’ve got to really, you know, sound like the expert. But to me, it’s about being smart enough about technology to be able to translate it into a language that even I’d say an adolescent can understand, not make the assumption that everybody comprehends tech speak at the same level. And so, it’s all about communication. And I think you know that and do what you love, as I said, and have fun, you know, that’s what it’s about.

RPM: Absolutely. And, you know, talking about inspiration and being so connected to what we do in the amount of time that we spend at work doing various activities and participating in different initiatives, you got to love what you do. You’ve just got to. And so finding something that you’re passionate about is just so important.

So, now let’s discuss the recent announcement of Hexagon’s new sustainability targets to further environmental, social, and governance goals, which includes gender diversity. How do you see this announcement impacting Hexagon and women in leadership roles? Kalyn?

KS: Well, first, it does make me feel proud to be a member of a forward-thinking company that really understands the importance of looking after the environment and bettering society, including gender diversity. By having women in leadership roles, Hexagon is leading by example. They’re showing they’re serious.

I think another example of that is Hexagon’s new—R-evolution initiative, because that’s another way Hexagon is leading by example. They’re taking action towards something that’s very important. And so, I think having set these goals is important. I think lots of organisations do that now. But actually taking the action towards them is one of the reasons I’m proud to be here at Hexagon.

RPM: Absolutely. Melanie?

ME: Yeah, I 100 percent agree with what you said, Kalyn, and, you know, I think that one of the most important things is any time you bring visibility to a topic, you end up improving it. If you’re looking at measurements and you’re trying to see where you are, it shows the intent to try to do better. Transparency is going to open the door to have those discussions. I think women will be more heavily recruited for open positions just because, as I mentioned, there are so few in leadership positions to today. I think we can do better there. However, with women accounting for only that 20 percent of those graduating in the technology field, it limits how fast we will be able to improve. It’s a really big problem and I think that it starts with females at a very young age and continuing through college to help them see that technology is an interesting, exciting field. And they are more than capable of making big impacts on the world by staying in those fields of study.

RPM: Absolutely. That’s great. Now, from your perspective, what impact does diversity have on the value of an organisation, especially when women occupy leadership positions? Melanie?

ME: Yeah, I think I would say it’s really about getting different viewpoints and the team that you’re working with, if they’re able to bring all of those different views together into something cohesive, then you’re going to be able to create something incredible. I’ve always said that, you know, you never want to hire somebody exactly like you. You want to get people with different opinions, different views, so that when all of that comes together, again, you’re always going to have a much better outcome if you do that.

RPM: That’s great. Kalyn?

KS: Yeah, I’d echo that what Melanie was saying. It’s important to build a diverse team and you know, how is diversity important in an organisation? I think we could probably do a whole podcast on that subject alone. But one of the greatest values that diversity is that I believe it increases creativity, decision making, problem solving, because it enables us, as Melanie said, to bring together a talent pool from different backgrounds, different cultures, different experiences.

Another benefit of diversity, which I think sometimes gets understated, is that hopefully it results in a workforce that’s not fearful of discrimination because a workforce that’s comfortable in their environment is naturally going to be more productive. So, that’s just another benefit of diversity.

ME: Well stated.

KS: Yeah. A leadership team that demonstrates diversity sends several important messages. First, I believe it fosters an environment whereby everybody feels they have an opportunity regardless of their gender, race, culture. I mean, everybody has an opportunity to advance. That creates a culture of equity. So, I think for all these reasons, I think it’s obvious how important diversity is.

RPM: On that same note, how do you see yourself influencing the overall Hexagon culture? Kalyn?

KS: Let’s see. Well, as a leader, I feel an enormous sense of responsibility to motivate and inspire and set vision almost to do what the mentors that Melanie and I talked about earlier, to do that for, you know, the people on our teams and just really making sure that every member of my team has a sense of purpose, they have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them, and to have an open door, an open mind that allows people to not be inhibited to voice their ideas, to raise concerns, to bring solutions to the table. So, I’d say, in short, it’s really my role as a leader to foster a spirit of teamwork towards Hexagon goals.

There’s actually a common phrase, you probably have heard it, that I try to go by. I sometimes have to remind myself, but it’s listen much and speak little. So, as I said, it’s not always easy to do. But I try to remind myself of this because we can all learn from others. And honestly, the leaders are all around us in the workplace. They don’t always come with the leadership title. So, in reality, we can all actually influence the culture at Hexagon.

RPM: Excellent point. Absolutely. Melanie, what are your thoughts?

ME: Yeah, I guess Kalyn and I see a lot of things in the same way. I mean, I think that my role is encouraging innovation and creativity as well as mutual respect. I think it’s important for us to ensure that our talent within the company, that is our value proposition is our people, and we want to make sure that they understand that they are the future. We chose them to work for us because they have something to offer. We need their ideas, and we want them to speak up. We want them to challenge the status quo and help drive change into the industries that we serve today and hopefully new ones that will come up in the future. But it’s important that they understand, you know, we are depending on them. We want them to thrive in this organisation.

RPM: Absolutely. Such a wonderful point.  And as we come to a close for this discussion, I wanted to bring up one final question. Who or what inspires you professionally? Melanie?

ME: Wow, that’s a tough question. I think inspiration comes in so many ways. Right? It’s really for me, inspiration is about making me or making others want to be better and to do more. And you know, that inspiration can come from, for me, like, our new recruits is an example. I get inspired and excited and energised. When new employees come on board and you see and you remember what it was like at that time, you know, their energy, their excitement. They can change the world. They have that in them. And you see it. They just don’t know how to approach it. And that really excites me. It makes me want to do more to help them achieve their goals because they are the ones that are going to change the world. Right? And so, getting them to feel and to see that they can do that, it inspires me to do more and to reach out and help more for them.

So, you know, you can get inspiration from Satya Nadella at Microsoft. He is an inspiring person. You listen to him talk and when you finish, you want to go do more. I find that when we have customers that come into the office and our teams go in and share with them what we’re doing and where we’re headed, when we finish those meetings, everybody in the room is energised because the people that were able to come in and present, they have such a passion. You talked about that earlier, Rebecca. They have such a passion for what they’re doing and they are impacting the industries that they’re serving, and so I get inspiration from that.

So, again, it’s inspiration. You can find it every day in the smallest things. And I would just encourage people to always be open to those little signs.

RPM: I could not agree with you more. That’s wonderful. Kalyn, who or what inspires you professionally?

KS: I thought about this for a while. And I think the answer to this question actually changes with time, with age. I think we can all look back and point to people throughout each phase of our lives who inspired us. Maybe when we’re younger it’s a parent or a teacher or a public figure. But where I am today and at this point in my life and in my career, I think that I’m most inspired by what I’ll say, a group of people as opposed to a single person, and that group is people who are facing adversity yet they’re really achieving incredible things. And we see this on the news all the time. We see, you know, Paralympic swimmers winning the gold medal or an ALS sufferer who becomes the most famous astrophysicist. That’s Stephen Hawking, by the way. I mean, those kind of people inspire me, but these are the stories we see in the media. And absolutely, they deserve great honour. But I think about the people who are facing adversity and hardship, who don’t maybe share in that same opportunity to achieve those high level accomplishments that we see in the media. But just the ordinary average people of the world who are sitting next to you and me at the office doing their job, they inspire me. I’ve sat next to people who are going through chemo or who have ill family members or mentally ill children or whatever it may be at home. And they come to work and they have a smile on their face and they are positive. They’re just accomplishing great things. And I’m just in awe. I’m honestly in awe of those people sitting next to me or across from me and just wondering, you know, how are they doing it? These people are just trying hard not to fall apart, and yet somehow they end up being the superstars on our team. So, I guess today where I sit, those are the people that I’m in awe of.

RPM: That’s incredible. So many, you know, inspirational nuggets of information throughout this conversation, and I think it’s been and this will be really enlightening for so many people. A big thank you to Kalyn Sims and Melanie Eakes for joining this episode of HxGN Radio. Please be sure to check out all of our latest episodes at HxGNSpotlight.com or on Apple Podcast and Spotify. Thanks for tuning in.