I’ve recently returned from the Collaborate16 conference in Las Vegas. After a whirlwind five days of customer meetings, networking events, conference sessions, and normal day to day business activities…I was ready to return home to my family in North Carolina. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Collaborate experience. The opportunity to spend time in person with the customers that I serve all year long is a welcome change to life in the office. But, as a working mother of six, and wife to one…five days away from home can seem like an eternity.

This year at Collaborate16, I was able to attend the Women in Technology Luncheon on Monday afternoon. For those who weren’t able to attend the luncheon, I’d like to share what I experienced at the event, and encourage dialogue among women in the Technology Community.

The Environment

When I arrived, I was greeted by a line of fellow female technology enthusiasts hoping some of the RSVP’s would turn into no-shows. The wait list was a mile long. The event was held as a Luncheon format, with round tables of 6-8 seats each. There was an intimate feel to our surroundings. With only about 100 attendees, all seats were taken. The room felt like family. In my line of work I am rarely surrounded by a group with whom I share so many common challenges, both personal and professional. I felt excitement, energy, and hopefulness in the conversations I heard around the room that afternoon. The first half of this event was set aside for us to break bread together, and spend time in thoughtful conversation before the main speaker delivered her message.

The Speaker

The guest speaker for the Women in Technology Luncheon was Heli Helskyaho. Heli is currently the CEO of Miracle Finland Oy, a data management company based out of Helsinki, Finland. I learned that Finland is a very pro- female country. Finland was the first country in Europe to give women the right to vote (1906). In school, girls were treated the same as their male counterparts and were encouraged to do everything the boys did. In this way, Heli feels that her country supported her as a woman. She is married, and is a proud mother of two.

The Message

At the heart of Heli’s message, was the concept of choosing your own path, and not letting others define who you are. She spoke about meeting challenges head-on. Heli always particularly excelled in Mathematics, yet found Computer Science to be quite challenging. Her friends and family were surprised to see her pursue an education and career in Computer Science, rather than her strength in Mathematics. Heli attributed much of her success to surrounding herself with people who supported and believed in her. As a woman, Heli said she always felt that support from her country of Finland, the schools she attended, teachers, parents, and now her husband and children. She spoke about making time each night to help her children with their homework, cooking with her family, and participating in various dance classes. She challenged us all to find a balance between work, home, and personal success.

The Impact

Attending this event inspired me in a few different ways. I was encouraged to see so many women from all over the country, taking time away from their busy lives and jobs to attend Collaborate, and specifically this session. Professionally, I was encouraged by seeing the different types of women in attendance all playing an integral role in the many different facets of IT. As Heli affirmed, there is not just one mold for women in IT. IT departments need different types of people and different ways of thinking.

Heli’s talk was very inspiring in that she is a strong woman, and a great example of someone who has worked very hard. Her message inspired me to push through my day-to-day struggles of being a busy mother with a full time job. A few years ago, I chose to make the transition into the professional world. I instantly went from being a very active stay-at-home mom, managing my own “team of eight”, to a working professional selling Enterprise Consulting Services. The change had a huge impact on our family life, both good and bad. I struggle to do all the things I used to when I stayed home: cook, clean, garden, play tennis, attend school events, volunteer and bake. I simply don’t have the time to do all those things as well as I used to, but I still try. I have learned to accept that I cannot do everything. Much like Heli, I have felt strong support from my family through my transition into the professional world. My children and my husband have been incredibly supportive, and have become quite good at cooking and cleaning too!

I am proud that I have a job, outside of my home that challenges me on a daily basis; a job where I know that I get better every day. As a mother of five daughters and a son, I know I serve as a positive example for them. One of the things Heli spoke about really rang true for me. She told us to never stop accepting challenges. The challenges that Heli and I experience may differ greatly, but we are teaching our children the same thing – to never give up, and to be proud of the many things we do. We are teaching them to keep trying to improve in the areas where we don’t succeed.

The Women in Technology Luncheon at Collaborate16 taught me to be proud of the many hats that I wear, and understand that my experience in other areas of life can only enhance what I bring to the table in my work life. Balancing work and family requires selflessness, perseverance, time management skills and equanimity.

So, have I found my “balance?” I’m not quite sure how to answer that. Life is dynamic. As a working mother, finding a true balance is like the finish line that always seems to be just out of sight. One thing I can confidently say though, is that I’ve probably lost balance when I’ve stopped asking myself the question…