Thought Leadership

Driving Innovation to Smash Glass Ceilings

March 15, 2019
By Charlene Weisler

Women in Tech: Rubicon Project’s Alex Smith on Building a More Inclusive Team

As part of our “Women in Tech” series, we spoke with Alex Smith to discover her journey and how she thinks the industry can improve.  This article was originally published on MediaVillage.com on March 14, 2019.  

Being a woman in tech is both exciting and challenging. There is the fascination with creating innovations in the media field and sometimes there is the uncertainty that comes with being one of the few women in the room.

Alex Smith, Product Manager, Rubicon Project, is mastering both technological developments and amplifying the female voice in tech as she not only manages product development for her company but also assumes the position of Chairperson at Prebid.org, an open source organization for header bidding, a way for publishers to access advertising demand.  

Choosing a Unique Path.

Smith has an interesting educational background, majoring in both math and philosophy at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “People ask me why both math and philosophy and I tell them that I am a multi-disciplinary thinker. I went to college to learn cool stuff and both subjects were interesting to me.”  But upon graduating from school and focusing on a career, math took precedence. ”The philosophy factory down the street wasn’t hiring,” she deadpanned.

Smith’s first job was with Liberty Mutual in the technology development program. She tried different areas before discovering product management which combined many areas that she liked. From there she went to Rubicon Project where her blend of philosophy and math is the perfect combination to not only develop intuitive products but also bring technologists together.

There Are Miles to Go.

Being one of the few women in technology I wondered if progress has been made in integrating more women into the field. Smith hesitated when I asked that question. “Ah… It’s hard to say. I think that we are making a lot of progress in education right now in tech. I think it still hasn’t gotten to the workforce. When I was in college it was rare to see women in computer science classes. When you told people that you were going to get a job in tech they would look at you a little funny.”  

Now there are many organizations, such as Girls Who Code and Kode with Klossy, who are making great strides in welcoming girls into the STEM disciplines.

Of course, making educational advancements is an important first step. But it is also one that takes years to remedy within the workforce. “So while I haven’t seen many changes in the workforce yet,” Smith admitted, “I think we are about to see a great wave of women entering the technological workforce.”

I myself would love to see this process expedited but this takes time. Smith is optimistic however that the great female wave is coming soon and the industry is ready to hire them. “We need to start with education,” she concluded. “The most important thing industries can do is to support education from middle school, up, to encourage girls to get into these technical fields. We will reap benefits years later.”

How did she manage to overcome workplace obstacles?

“Something for me that was instrumental in tech was having a mentor who concentrated on my career growth.” Smith was lucky that her first manager  at Liberty Mutual was an advocate for women in tech and who developed into not only a mentor but a good friend. “Having her mentorship from the beginning greatly impacted my career and how I think about being a woman in tech and a person who cares about others in tech.”

For Smith, mentorship is critical to develop a strong sense of belonging and confidence to take your career to the highest level it can go.” It can be a make it or break it factor,” she stated.

Navigating in the male dominated space is “intimidating,” she noted. “It can be hard to break in if you are different.” For Smith, not being a developer and not writing code presented a unique challenge with her participation in Prebid.org.

“While I may not have an opinion about how to code, I do have an opinion about how we can grow this organization, get more scale and involve more publishers. I can bring value to this organization.” In fact, the organization has been very welcoming and she feels confident with her ability to add value to its mission.

How can we move forward as an industry?

Within the workforce, men can help women progress by “not just giving them a seat at the table but inviting them to dance.” She suggests that men can make women feel more comfortable and part of the team by encouraging them to participate. “It is easy to feel like an outsider,” she said, adding, women, “need to have courage and just go for it even if you are a little afraid.” And, she reiterated, “Mentorship is critical.”

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