Inspirational Woman: Carmen Lincolne | CEO, Ivy Tech

Carmen LincolneI am Carmen, the CEO of Ivy Tech, an international boutique tech sourcing company, bringing the best engineering talents in Eastern Europe to startups and scaleups worldwide.

Our Ukrainian software development team is deeply embedded into our clients’ team and roadmap which creates a long term relationship with phenomenal results.

My professional background is in operations management, startups, project management, customer relations and sales. I am a bit of an all arounder with a strong focus on people and value of relationships.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I grew up in Germany where the norm is that what you study after school, is the industry you stay in until retirement. This never sat right with me and I had a hard time picturing my professional future. After school I went straight into work as an event manager with some part time study on the side. I wanted to get my hands dirty, meet interesting people and gain real life experience. Event management wasn’t my thing though and when I was in my early twenties I moved to Australia where it is very common to jump careers. I got the chance to work in a family business running boutique co-working spaces in Sydney and learnt how to run a small business. This experience gave me an appetite for business in general, managing teams and building strong relationships. When I met my now husband in 2014 these growing skills were bolstered with a desire to use business for good as he was (and is) a successful serial entrepreneur and business owner with a mission to have a positive impact in this world. I learnt a lot from him and being in his presence made me dream bigger than I ever had before.

After a short while at a Startup accelerator running programs for founders, I eventually joined my husband’s fintech startup Paydock in 2018 to support him operationally, raise capital and build a client base – I became his most trusted partner in the business. We really went through thick and thin together. My career at this point had taken a shape I never had expected.

Being a natural visionary and an entrepreneur, my husband had another business venture based in Ukraine which was very humble but had an enormous potential. After visiting the team, learning more about the business itself and studying the market I realised just how much more this business could be and that is when the concept of Ivy Tech was born. During my regular visits to Ukraine, I still often smile how the heg I found myself here.

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

My personal biggest challenge was finding out what I actually wanted to do and what I was good at. It took me a good while to figure out my strengths and passion which definitely took a toll on my self confidence. My husband’s support and inspirational leadership has been instrumental in this process and made all the difference. He saw something in me I didn’t see in myself, and he didn’t hold back in encouraging and pushing me. All I had to do was do it.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest achievement has been accepting the position as CEO of Ivy Tech and with it embracing a lot of unknows, carrying new responsibility and managing more people that I ever had before. From a relatively small team of just under 10 people, and not very profitable when I took the role of CEO to a team of more than 40 professionals based in Ukraine, Ivy Tech today is a profitable business with a robust client base and strong reputation. We have just moved into one of Ukraine’s most prestigious offices and are really going from strength to strength.

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

Not giving up. I don’t think I am a particularly smart business woman, not even the world’s biggest dreamer but I am very resilient, I have enormous capacity and I geniunely enjoy investing in people. There were moments when I worked in my husband’s startup and Ivy Tech, when I wanted to quit because it all seemed too hard, but the love for my team and customers and the vision of what a successful business can do for good in this world, kept me going. Also having shareholders whom I was accountable to, really helped me to keep pushing.

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

Tech has many facets and it also depends which country the individual is in. For example, I always try to encourage my team in Ukraine to continue learning and growing personally and professionally – this could be anything from improving their English language skills (we offer English classes in our office) to working on their soft skills. To someone from the West I would say learning to ask really good questions and to becoming a good listener is very valuable as these skills will open doors for everyone. Furthermore I would say visiting lots of tech events will help to stay on top of trends and connect with important business leaders. And lastely I would say be intentional about surrounding yourself with people that think outside of the box, people that challenge your views and who will encourage you.

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

The biggest barrier I have seen (but not experienced myself) is women raising capital for tech startups. I have heard many stories of women not being taken seriously by investors, being belittled or investment meetings being cut short, which is very frustrating and disappointing. There are many fantastic female tech professionals out there – something that we at Ivy Tech are very determined to embrace. 90% of the workforce at Ivy Tech is made up of women and I am extremely proud of it. It’s not that I was intentionally looking for only female employees but they were the best for the positions I needed to fill. If I take ivy tech as a whole which includes all our engineers that work on client projects the number drops to 35% female workforce. I’d like to see more female software developers.

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

Put females in decision making positions. Empower them to hire and fire, to plan and execute. Companies should intentionally mentor and coach younger female professionals into these leadership positions. And companies shouldn’t be afraid of women taking time out for family and maternity leave or being afraid of hiring mums. Having become a mother myself in late 2020 I took some maternity leave and can speak from a personal experience that it is absolutely possible for a company to give female leaders or managers a break for family and find alternative solutions to keep the business running. In Ivy Tech’s case it was a great exercise to see how the business would function without me and with an interim CEO. It really put our strcutures and processes to the test. Since I’ve become a mother I have found myself actually being a lot more effective, efficient and empathetic in my work. I know this is true for many other mums I speak to who have returned work.

There are 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?

Women in tech needs to be a natural thing and not something special. And I do think we are on the right path. We see more and more female leaders and founders in tech, female software developers, female managers. I know that in Ukraine it is very normal to have 30%+ of female workers in the IT businesses (and there is a lot of them in Ukraine). What I would caution against however is hiring females just as a box ticking exercise. I would still always hire the best person, no matter the gender.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I personally don’t follow particular female focused mediums but I love the podcast “how I built this” where founders (all genders) of well known companies are being interviewed. Their storeis are so inspiring and encouraging as they’ve all gone through their own valleys. I have started working with a coach to get clarity around some personal and professional topics and also find out what my perfect balance between work and family life is – that has been invaluable!