Deanna Ballew

Deanna joined Widen in 2004 with a focus on research & development activities and has served as the company’s Chief Innovation Officer (CINO) since 2020.

Her leadership has transformed Widen into product-led software development that is dedicated to solving market problems through a user-centered approach. Deanna has built collaborative teams of software engineers, designers, researchers, data specialists, and product managers in support of innovation necessary to capture market opportunities. In her role as CINO, she continues to guide core strategy while assembling an emerging strategy to shape future growth.

Deanna holds Computer Science and English Writing degrees from Loras College and an MBA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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

I’m the Chief Innovation Officer at Widen and I lead our research and development team of product managers, researchers, designers, data, and software engineers. I’ve been at Widen for 16 years and have created and shaped our software product development throughout. As I look back, I have had at least five different roles and all of them required creating something from nothing. This started as front end developer, to building new teams, leading transition to cloud infrastructure projects, to formalising product and user-experience (UX) competencies at Widen. Today, I’m focused on solving problems that people are ready for us to solve. And looking for the problems that are the best opportunities for Widen as a software company.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I am always on the lookout for the next opportunity: what will challenge me and allow me to learn something new. My first exposure to a career in technology was in college, when I was seeking something more than my liberal arts major. I took an entry level mechanical engineer class and was exposed to coding. I graduated with a B.S. in Computer Science and a B.A. in English and have been combing tech with the arts ever since.

My thirst for learning within a growth organisation has allowed me to keep evolving my skills and find new passions. Many of my career moves have been through inspiration from others that I’ve heard at a conference or read about. Once I’m inspired, then it is about deep dive-learning and figuring out how I can apply it and add value to my work with Widen.

I never dreamt of a career path at a software company when I was growing up on a farm in Iowa. Always moving forward has driven me throughout my career.

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

All the time! There are challenges in every career, but particularly in organisations where you have to forge your own path. Each new role that I have created has taken time to build and gain understanding across the organisation. It is exhausting to evangelise your value, but when I reflect back and see how far the organisation has come, it is what I consider success.  Building teams, building products, building businesses – that takes time and patience. I have failed many times, but I always learn from it so I can go even further than before. I always remind myself, if it was easy then anyone could do it; anything worth doing is tough.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest achievement to date was when we transitioned Widen from custom software to productise software. For 15 years, Widen created software to the requirements based on what our customers told us they wanted. In 2014, this changed when I brought in Product Management, which was quickly followed by UX Research and Designers, to understand user behaviours, and to create software that will solve our customers’ problems, not what they wanted. To deliver value to our customers, it is necessary to have designers, researchers, engineers and product managers, and at Widen we have interdependent teams that rely on each other to be successful.

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

Never stop learning or trying new things. There are so many resources to learn from, and it’s more than likely that the problems we encounter have been encountered by others before. It’s been my role to take those learnings, apply portions of it, and keep tweaking it based on what’s working, and what’s not. For example, learning the ‘Pragmatic Marketing’ framework has enabled me to adapt our internal processes through applying portions of this framework to the way we work.

It is the moments that I have felt most uncomfortable that have been the turning points in my career. Instead of turning away from them, I meet challenges head-on and work through them, to get to a better place on the other side.

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

Be curious about how things are connected with technology and how technology impacts your day-to-day life. Technology intersects with human behaviour. This means that a career in technology goes beyond coding and computing; it is about the service and humans that engage in it. To excel in technology, you have to embrace the people using it. Once you do that, you will be more innovative in your approach, more creative in the possibilities of your role, and enjoy more satisfaction in your work.

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

Yes, there are barriers for women in technology just as there exist barriers for any minority, in any given environment. As a woman working in tech, we are still frequently the only one on a team or in a room. When you are the only one, stereotypes are more likely to be applied to you, and bias appears. You have to work harder to overcome these barriers, and the best way to overcome them, is by finding allies within your organisation to move past stereotypes. These allies can be other women, or men, and can help raise awareness within the organisation on behaviours that need to change. Until women are equally represented at all levels in an organisation, gender bias will continue to be a challenge.

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

Encouragement and support from leaders can go a long way. Provide opportunities for women to grow, and then support them in their growth. In many organisations, leaders emerge from ‘who you know’. And in some cases, it can be like a “boys club” where the top leaders, who are often male, don’t easily embrace women into their circle due to stigmas in today’s society. Due to this, we have to be more intentional of nurturing female leaders within organisations and recognise our own bias that may be getting in the way. Even as a woman, we are still liable to the same gender bias as others. We can recognise this in ourselves and prevent it from influencing our decisions.

There is currently only 17 per cent 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?

We need to realise that industry is cross-disciplinary. To innovate and solve human problems, we need diversity in our teams and skills. For example, the arts and science skills intersect in tech, and we could expose that more in our education: bring together art and coding classes to build mobile apps. Connect literacy and architecture to think through the design of the code and how to structure it and make it readable for others. We don’t experience our lives in silos, so our education should not be siloed either.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I will often seek out recourses that provide inspiration and keep a pulse on the trends in today’s tech industry. Ultimately I think that connecting your inspirations with the latest trends is where innovation happens. This being said, I’d recommend the following:

Books: The Obstacle is the Way, by Ryan Holiday; Dare to be Great, by Polly Higgins; or any biographies about female leaders.


  • How I Built This – the ‘founder stories’ from women are inspiring. Especially memorable for me were those from Sara Blakely (founder of Spanx), Jeni Britton Bauer (founder of Jeni’s Ice Cream), Katrina Lake (founder of Stitch Fix)
  • Masters of Scale – a business-focused podcast hosted by Reid Hoffman, cofounder of LinkedIn. Each episode shows how companies grew from nothing, and tests Reid’s theories with legendary leaders such as the CEO of Netflix.

Documentaries: I have recently found both the Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Dolly Parton documentaries equally inspiring as women who have paved the way for my career. Both of these figures had very different approaches in breaking barriers that were holding women back.

Newsletters: The Hustle, and Patent Drop – these two newsletters provide me with ongoing snippets of upcoming technology and social changes that usually lead me down a path to wanting to know more.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here.