October 26, 2015
Last summer Datto officially had a kick-off meeting for our Datto Women in Technology group.
Our mission statement sums up our purpose very well:
We are a group of professional women in the technology industry dedicated to networking, learning from one another, and promoting the IT field to the next generation of women in IT.
I was in search for something to unite the technical and non-technical women in our company and also find a way to use my love of working with students. When I came across Sit With Me, it just felt right. It took my first meeting with the Red Chair to solidify my commitment.
We have a saying at Datto, “It is better to ask forgiveness than to beg for permission.” I took it to heart and decided to buy the chair with my own money and brought it into work. I placed it outside my cubicle along with some information explaining the program. People who stopped by my desk started to ask me about the chair and I would go into my speech, eventually making a succinct pitch.
It didn’t take long for the people to know all about it. I approached our CFO, Michelle McComb, and told her of my plans to travel with the chair and start conversations about women in technology. She supported the plan and when she learned I had bought the chair myself, reimbursed me from the company.
Datto was now on board.
Datto’s Red Chair Journal
I wanted the Datto chair to have a special story. I chose to visit local schools, hackathons and events, eventually culminating with presenting the chair to RIT.
Presenting the chair to the Women in Computing department at the Rochester Institute of Technology was a symbol of our support for their programs. We have a special connection with RIT. Our CEO, Austin McChord, went to school there, and I wanted to see that their Women in Computing department knew how committed we were to their success.
One of our first stops was at Newtown High School where many of Datto’s original employees went, including Austin. They had been part of the after-school science club and they would still visit when their schedules let them. I wanted to help spur some excitement.
I decided to bring the Red Chair and found a room full of 20 students, three of whom were women. I talked to all 20 students, asking questions like why they joined the club, what they’ve learned and where they would like to see the club go. They had wonderful responses about how they love science, they enjoy learning about different topics than they study in school and want to build something.
Another trip I took with the chair was for a special luncheon for the Datto Women in Technology group. We arranged for women from our headquarters to tour our manufacturing center. We had 25 technical and non-technical women together for some time to talk and to introduce the Chair to non-technical women who may not be aware of the story. We encouraged people to take a picture after I went through the story, which turned out to be a great ice breaker.
This year, Datto was the primary sponsor at BrickHack, an annual hackathon at RIT. I packed my materials and headed up to Rochester. I played the Red Chair slideshow featuring my favorite picture of Shaquille O'Neal sitting in the chair. It always caught people off guard and brought a smile to their face because he makes the chair look like it belongs to in a kindergarten classroom.
I had a whiteboard with the following line on it, “I am inspired by...” and left it open ended for the students to fill in. It didn’t take long to get people interested in talking about the chair.
Once the Women in Computing group showed up at our tables I showed them what I brought. They were so excited, they had seen the chair before, so I couldn’t wait, I had to tell them that this was traveling around and once it had visited everywhere important for our company, it would come home to them. They gave a loud round of cheers and took some pictures.
After the hackathon, the chair was back by my cube and people were telling me they had missed it while it was away. I took it as a good sign. I always wanted this project to have a start and an end to it for our office. I believe it is good to keep them wanting more over getting used to having it around and being bored after time.
We decided to have an after-hours cocktail party. I put together a slideshow of employees with the chair. The chair is a silent piece but is used to start conversations, so when I thought about how I would talk about our first anniversary I remembered how I began our kick-off meeting.
I used Paper Awareness. This is where someone writes one word on a piece of paper and it takes flipping through many pages to get the ideas, the sentences across to those looking on. I held the papers in front of my face and turned them down one by one. They read:
“This. Is. What.A. Steaminist. Looks. Like.”
I never spoke a word, but the rest of the people in the room read each sheet aloud. Sometimes lengthy speeches aren’t needed to drive a message home. The party was a success, and our first year was going great.
We had a few more stops in the tour that are important to Datto, our Boston and Rochester offices before we presented it to its new home. We were coming up on our first anniversary for Datto Women in Technology, so the Red Chair was going to be the star of the show.
One of the next stops was to our Boston office. I drove from Norwalk to Boston with another engineer, Magg Joseph, and we brought along more celebration for our anniversary and the chair. Once there we were set for another happy hour party for this office. I showed the Paper Awareness video and talked about our wanting to go out into our communities to work with teaching girls to code with our software developers. A few people already had ideas of groups we could contact. We had some fun pictures including an “artsy” street picture and another in an elevator, by itself with the door closing.
After returning from Boston it was coming upon the date to visit RIT. They were having a dinner to kick-off their Women in Computing hackathon planning. I volunteered Datto as the sponsor for the event and this included dinner as well from one of the students favorite restaurants. I drove up to Rochester the day of the event and went to our office for more stories and pictures. We had two of our software developers who were joining us for the evening. We had a four-person panel to represent Datto in front of a large classroom of over 60 students. We used this as an opportunity to teach students about the Red Chair as well as Datto.
At first, all three women were a little hesitant to speak, but eventually they loosened up and gave nice presentations about their careers and their love for Datto. They also gave great testimony for how comfortable, as women, they were to work for Datto.
I gave a challenge to the students. The Chair was theirs, but I wanted them to feel as connected to Datto as we feel toward RIT. I asked for them to create a tradition with the Chair and Datto, something we could share together annually. I will be visiting later in the school year to see what they come up with for our new tradition.
This now ended my journey with the Chair for Datto Women in Technology, but it also is the beginning of RIT’s journey with the Chair and the new tradition between RIT and Datto.