Cindi HowsonCindi Howson has 20+ years’ experience bridging business needs with tech.

She was previously Gartner VP in data and analytics, lead author of the Analytics and BI Magic Quadrant, data and analytics maturity model, and conducted research into data/AI for good, NLP/BI Search, and augmented analytics. Cindi has her own analytics industry podcast, making a point to interview women leaders and wrote many of the books outlining modern analytics. She is also a popular keynote speaker and founder of BI Scorecard, a resource for in-depth product reviews based on hands-on testing.

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

I started my career when personal computers were new, so initially, most of my skills were self-taught. This period of self-learning earned me a role at Dow Chemical as a business systems specialist. Climbing up the ranks, I became a Business Intelligence (BI) Subject Matter Expert, providing consultancy to 15 businesses on data warehouse implementation strategies, best practices and effective uses of BI and analytics.

From here, a key milestone in my career was founding BI Scorecard, where I developed an evaluation framework to help clients compare BI and analytics tools side-by-side, based on exclusive hands-on testing. After founding the business, I went on to write for InformationWeek, publish 5 books, and deliver global keynotes.

In 2015, I undertook my role as VP Analyst at Gartner, where I became the lead author for the Analytics and BI Magic Quadrant, Critical Capabilities, Data for Good, and IT Score Maturity Assessments. Introducing new concepts, such as Women in Data Sessions at global submits, I worked across a range of industries, from manufacturing to healthcare to the public sector.

Fast forward to the present day, and I joined ThoughtSpot in 2019 as our Chief Data Strategy Officer. What drew me to ThoughtSpot was that it pioneered and patented search as a way for non analysts to access data, an innovation I was writing about seven years before the company was founded. However, what clinched my decision to join a vendor is its culture of selfless excellence; ThoughtSpot created the role for me to work on the things that I care about the most: helping customers unlock the power of data. But another passion I have in the industry is around improving diversity — and that’s not simply the position of women in tech, it’s also the position of minority groups and how we can use data for good and minimise AI bias. This is a critical initiative that cuts across any single provider.

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

My position requires me to provide counsel to large and often powerful organisations. To deliver this successfully, it’s important to nurture those interpersonal skills with my clients and to understand their personal and professional goals. I often have to help my clients address the brutal truth about organisational dynamics, or to shine a light on the harsh realities of where their portfolio stands today.

However, the positive result of all this is that my customers trust me. This degree of trust matters greatly to me, and I consider conversations with my clients sacred; I’m pushing them to think bigger and be bold – they push me, too. In today’s world, the best CIOs, CxOs and data analytics leaders are doing what has never been done before — we are at the leading edge of change, and sometimes, that requires confronting legacy and outdated processes and perspectives.

 What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

For me, my biggest career achievements have been around finding fulfilment, having an impact, and disrupting key markets to make the world a better place. At ThoughtSpot, it’s all about empowering businesses to leverage data that in turn improves the society we operate in. Of course, data can make the world a better place, but it also has the power to perpetuate bias at scale. Think about job applicants, for example. Many job seekers aren’t getting a fair deal because of data gaps and skewed AI systems. Playing my part to disrupt this market for the better, and encouraging best practices while breaking the bias, will be my biggest and most fulfilling career achievement to date.

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

For those aiming to take it up a notch and excel in their technology career, my advice would be to be conscious of burn out. In the past, I’ve been told that in order to succeed, I would miss my son’s football games, or celebrating birthdays and anniversaries. I have resisted that notion and made hard choices at each stage of my career in wanting both a tight knit family and meaningful work. While it’s true that with success comes sacrifice, it’s crucial that you reflect on your individual priorities and to know your limits before you hit them.  It’s key not to tip the scales between work and life unfavourably, sacrificing what is truly meaningful to you or that you become less impactful at work.

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

As women, we have to be our own best advocate. Across the board, we don’t always promote ourselves as efficiently as our male counterparts, and our accomplishments don’t always speak for themselves. Women looking to progress up the tech ladder must feel empowered to be bold. To find your voice, imagine how you would describe a friend or fellow colleague’s accomplishment. Do you describe your wins in the same manner? Take time to reflect and reframe your discourse, powering your accomplishments with data to back up your conversations with proof-points to mark your performance and achievements. Sometimes it is our own harsh internal monologues that hold us most back. This is one reason I keep a “nice notes” folder and post it on my bulletin board.

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

To support the progress of women in tech, businesses and organisations must continue to cater to the market, making roles more attractive to top tier candidates. This requires a bottom up approach, focusing on primary and secondary school students, who may have previously assumed tech roles are simply not for them. There are still too many misconceptions about female talent in tech, and we have to break the bias in order to enact real change.

Technology, for example, originally was marketed as ‘toys for boys’ and some of those decades old perceptions have been hard to shake. Today tech and data impacts everything we do and companies must shake off this archaic image to truly support the progress of women within this high paying, high growth sector.

There are currently only 21 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?

If I could wave a magic wand to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry, I’d absolutely remove unconscious bias – but it’s hard to remove something many don’t recognize or even want to admit exists. Female engineers, data scientists or system architects are tired of being the only woman in the room, or at the table. People often say we don’t have a pipeline problem, we have a leaky pipeline. Women will join the industry, yet eventually leave as they’re left feeling lonely, isolated, or unheard simply because we may think or work differently than our male counterparts.  We may further miss out if we are not part of critical conversations at the sports bar or on the golf course.

Very few intent to sideline women or overlook them for an ideal assignment. Much can be attributed to weaker networks and unconscious bias at play.