Current Occupation: Director, Technology Business Operations
Favorite Website: learnvest.com
Recent Read: Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni
2012′s ultimate goal: Finding ways to better integrate my work life and personal life
Quote that inspires you:: Just Do It – Nike, The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before. – Albert Einstein.
Ready for another installment of the largest building profile archive of African-American women in technology? I’m bringing it to you straight, with no chaser! This time, the focus is Ebony Frelix, who is a colleague of mine in the tech realm. More specifically, she is the the Director of IT Business Operations at Salesforce.com a company that provides solutions for businesses wishing to better utilize the power of cloud computing as well as CRM (customer relationship management). Ebony also gives back to the young, Black female demo in a very special way too. Read on to find out more….
LDC: Ebony, what was it like growing up in San Francisco and earning your computer degree there? In fact, what led to your initial interest in computers or is it almost obligatory living so close to Silicon Valley?
EF: I’ve always loved the rapid pace and constant speed of innovation in technology organizations. Prior to starting my career in technology, I found myself drawn to techie’s in my company – I wanted to understand what they were doing. So I worked with my manager to create a career path leading to tech. At the same time, I shifted my degree to CIS so I could have the credentials to back me up in my new endeavor.
LDC: How did you obtain the position you have now?
EF: Through my social network. I was at my previous company for 11 years and I wanted to take my career in a different direction. While still focusing on technology, I wanted to spend more time driving strategic initiatives and programs on a larger scale. When a friend forwarded the job description at salesforce.com, I knew the job was the perfect match for my skill set and career goals. Before I was called in for interviews, I used my social network to research the role, hiring manager, and company. I knew before my first interview that I wanted to work at salesforce.com.
LDC: So given that, describe exactly what you do and what a typical day is like for you?
EF: Typical day? There is no typical day. That’s what I love about my job at salesforce.com. My focus is on finding ways to increase the bandwidth and velocity of our leadership team, and creating a framework that enables the organization to evolve and mature. Every day is something new and exciting, giving me an opportunity to work with various internal and external partners for the success of the company. It’s a blast.
LDC: So you’re company focuses on cloud computing (a lot of people say they don’t understand what clouds are, but in fact, if they have ever used Gmail; they’ve accessed a cloud. It’s being able to pull massive data from an independent storage area, so to speak). Why you think cloud computing is so important and what its future impact will be on general consumers.
EF: Cloud computing is important because it’s mobile, it’s social, and because it changes with you. Cloud computing brings real-time collaboration to the enterprise using concepts we already know from services we use in our consumer lives. And as an IT executive or CIO, you don’t have to buy any hardware, software or infrastructure, so you’ll never need to budget for an upgrade or buy another server; it just makes sense.
I think we’re seeing the future of cloud computing happening now. We call this next phase the social enterprise, where companies are transforming how they engage with their customers and employees. We live in the cloud already, working there just feels natural.
LDC: So true! But talk to me a little about the philanthropic organization Year Up and why you feel that program is so important.
EF: I’ve worked with Year Up since the Bay Area site opened in 2008. To date, salesforce.com has hosted 47 interns. The program is important because it introduces youth and more diversity into our offices. There is a divide that exists in this country that prohibits talented young adults from accessing opportunities in technology – this is even more challenging for young African-American women. Year Up Bay Area is not a hand-out but a hand-up for young, talented adults to access the skills, education and networks so critical to be successful in today’s corporate environment. For many of these women, this is their path to college success and it’s possible only through the support Year Up Bay Area provides. I feel the work Year Up Bay Area is doing is crucial because it increases the opportunities available to African-American women, opening the doors to management roles, increasing annual earnings, and creating further opportunities for minorities in the future – ending cycles of poverty and dependence. The Year Up program provides the platform and opportunity for young women of all ethnicities to attain success for themselves.
LDC: Do you see Year Up also assisting with encouraging more African-American females to get involved in science & technology?
EF: Yes. Year Up clearly works hard to reach that specific demographic, enabling them to become self-sufficient. I’ve worked first-hand with quite a few talented young women from the program and am thrilled to see doors opening for them. The overall goal of Year Up is to connect skilled talent with corporations looking to hire talented workers, and that is not limited to any specific demographic. In fact, one of the Bay Area classes was the first in the program to have more female students than male!
LDC: Understanding what hurdles these girls might have to overcome, what hurdles have you had, if any, that you feel may have been a bit race/gender related and how did you move past them?
EF: Before salesforce.com, I recall a time early on in my tech career where a co-worker commented ‘Why are YOU here?’ I was a junior computer operator working the graveyard shift and had been on the job less than a month. Instead of letting him discourage me, that comment acted as a motivator. It became my goal to show him and others like him why I was qualified. Not in a sense to prove anything to them – instead, I was proving to myself that I had what it takes to go wherever I wanted to go. As a rule, I don’t let hurdles distract me; I use them as a launching point (turn a hurdle to a step) and move past it. In a few years, I went from junior computer operator to First Vice President.
LDC: Speaking of hurdles, race and all; What are your thoughts on this recent Infographic regarding diversity and Silicon Valley which is causing some controversy?
EF: I believe the gap is in education. If we want more minorities in technology, we need to focus on providing education and training programs that reach them. As a child, I was never discouraged from considering technology, management, or other high-level career tracks. So as both a woman and a minority, I don’t focus on barriers. I believe it has more to do with education and mindset than a deliberate attempt to exclude minorities from entering into technical professions.
LDC: What’s your greatest hope for your career and the tech industry for 2012?
EF: Personally, I will look for ways to continue to learn, grow, and drive change. As an industry, we must continue to look for opportunities to hire from a diverse candidate pool when applicable. It’s not about handouts, it’s about a hand up. I was certainly given opportunities in my career, and I look for ways to pay it forward.
Don’t miss the next profile. In the meantime, keep up with the intersection of tech and lifestyle via my site www.ldcoleman.com and follow me on Twitter @mediaempress.