Angela CeresnieAngela is a seasoned leader with over a decade of experience in financial services. She spent 8 years running various credit risk analytics teams at American Express and Citibank.

During her career, she made billions of dollars worth of data-driven credit decisions. Her entrepreneurial spirit led her to co-found Orchard Platform, a leading technology provider to institutional investors, money managers, and loan originators. An excellent mentor and manager, she led the team in a thriving and fast-growing company with a very steady hand through market ups and downs. Today, Angela is the CEO at Climb Credit, where she leads the company’s efforts to help expand student access to quality education. Her key strengths and passions include operational execution, talent management, and driving results. Angela’s unique combination of critical thinking, determination, and management prowess make her an unparalleled force in business and will enable her success in any endeavor.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m the current CEO of Climb Credit, an education finance company based in NYC, that evaluates the return on investment of education programs and helps consumers find, evaluate, and finance these programs to increase their earning potential. I joined Climb as the Chief Operating Officer in 2016 and quickly helped shape the operations, culture, and future of Climb, earning the role of CEO in 2018.

Prior to Climb, I co-founded and was COO/CFO of Orchard Platform—a provider of software and data products offered to institutional investors to purchase loans from marketplace lenders [acquired by Kabbage]. Before my time at Orchard, I spent 9 years running credit risk analytics teams at American Express and Citibank where I made billions of dollars’ worth of data-driven credit decisions.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Like many people, I had a plan for where to start and a general idea of where I wanted to go, but not a step by step plan. Ultimately, I found new opportunities along the way and positioned myself to be able to take them.

We have an analogy at Climb that the modern career climb is more like a rock wall than a ladder—sometimes you have to move laterally, or down in order to move up. I’ve found that to be true, and that was certainly the case with my lateral move from COO/CFO at Orchard to COO at Climb. That change ultimately moved me into the position of CEO at Climb, but it hasn’t always been upward moves that got me here.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

When I was starting my first company in 2013, I had my second daughter, and at the time there were no role models of company founders who were also moms—let alone NEW moms. I remember hiding my pregnancy when we were fundraising, and having to advocate that I should have as much equity as my male co-founders even though I may take some time off to be with my newborn. I find this story interesting now because I see the strides we’ve made as a start-up community to encourage founders who don’t “look” like the stereotypical founder.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

To me, the most interesting thing has been seeing how the workforce has evolved over the past 15 years I’ve been in it, particularly for women. When I started working, there were a number of things that were considered status quo that aren’t today — including what women should have to tolerate and how working mothers are treated. As always, there’s still more to do, but we’ve been evolving as a culture on both of these at a breakneck speed, and I’ve really enjoyed being a witness to progress!

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Learning to accept and receive feedback that you can take to become better with. My first boss at American Express was incredibly thoughtful in the feedback she gave me and everyone who worked for her. She was tough at times, but honest, and you knew you were getting the real deal. I’m forever grateful because I was able to learn early on in my career what my inherent strengths were and where I needed to develop.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Don’t be afraid of not knowing everything. Since technology changes so regularly, asking questions and keeping up with new technology is going to be part of your life every day in this career path. The more comfortable you can be with not knowing answers—but knowing how to seek them—the more successful you’ll be able to be in a technology career.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

In a lot of ways women are still compartmentalized away from non-female entrepreneurs. Events that promote and showcase women in tech and female entrepreneurs are great, but I think it’s important for women to get represented without it being “because you’re a woman.” Sectioning off women, even if it is to elevate them, is still treating them differently from men. However, I do like the idea of safe spaces for women to discuss the unique challenges we face and how we’ve handled them.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

(Tech) companies have to be committed to creating environments in which clear and equal opportunity is available to everyone. When they operate with that mindset, women and other marginalized individuals can thrive and benefit from it. For society in general, people should be much more open-minded about opposition — and when we think that we’ve achieved equality, we need to keep checking ourselves. Yes, we are making advancements in gender equality in the workplace, but there’s much more to be done.

There are currently only 17 percent of women working in tech. If you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Companies being proactive in ensuring that opportunities are equally available to all employees. With that being said, I also think that individuals should be advocating for themselves more; while it’s important to have the skills, you also have to be confident in yourself to do them. I’ve learned to develop that muscle of not needing external validation — something women often feel that they need, especially in a male-dominated workplace/industry.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I always recommend finding mentors, and there are so many ways to do that remotely. You can look for connections through your own network, or you can join one of the many social groups that are available. One community—Tech Ladies—has a very active Facebook group, and can be a great resource for women who have questions about pursuing growth in their careers in tech. Groups like this can also offer transparency into salaries for roles and help combat wage gaps in the field.