Behind The Click: Oracle’s Other Oracle Jennifer Sherman On How To Bring More Women Into the Tech Field

January 11, 2013  |  


Happy New Year and welcome to the first Behind The Click of 2013! I’m happy to bring you a profile on someone who I’ve just discovered…

Though CEO Larry Ellison usually gets most of the media props as Oracle’s head honcho, Jennifer Sherman should definitely be on your tech radar as well.  She is proving that, yes, Virginia, there are women of color at such giants as Oracle and doing great things in the process.  Sherman is senior director of applications strategy at the company. We’ll get into more about what all that entails in just a bit.  But her international background is just as, if not more, compelling.

Current Occupation: Senior Director, Applications Strategy, Oracle Corporation

Favorite website: I’m remodeling my bathroom right now so Pinterest is my new best friend.

Favorite read: Fiction – Song of Solomon; Nonfiction – The Soul of a New Machine

Recent read: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

2013′s ultimate goal: I want to make this year as fabulous as possible. That probably means ordering champagne on Tuesdays, smiling at strangers, accepting compliments wholeheartedly, and telling people how much I value them.

Quote Governing Your Mission or a Quote that Inspires You:

We can choose to be audacious enough to take responsibility for the entire human family.  We can choose to make our love for the world what our lives are really about. Each of us has the opportunity, the privilege, to make a difference in creating a world that works for all of us.  It will require courage, audacity and heart.  It is much more radical than a revolution – it is the beginning of a transformation in the quality of life on our planet.  What we create together is a relationship in which our work can show up as making a difference in people’s lives. I welcome the unprecedented opportunity for us to work globally on that which concerns us all as human beings.

If not you, who?
If not now, when?
If not here, where?

-Werner Erhard

Madame Noire:  I love how you have lived in many different places.  Your background growing up seems fascinating.  How did you end up being raised in India, West Africa, and the Middle East?

Jennifer Sherman: My parents were in the foreign service. They were diplomats.  We moved every three to five years. I grew up in Cameroon, India, The Ivory Coast, Washington DC, Jerusalem, and Egypt.  (I am African American as were both of my parents.)
MN:  Probably not easy to sum up, but what was it like growing up in those parts of the world?
JS: I got to see the world in a way that even world travelers don’t experience. We weren’t rich, and I have seen more than anyone should have to see of riots, poverty and malnutrition, war and racism. But how many kids get to grow up like that? I tell people that if they have any inclination they should take the Foreign Service Exam and get out there, particularly if they have children. You literally can give your children the world!
The other thing that the foreign service gave me was comfort in being the foreigner. Being a black woman in tech means that most of the time, I am the only one of my kind in the room, the building, the block etc. I’ve seen that make people uncomfortable, but I’ve never known anything else.  In Africa, we were the Americans. In India, we were the Africans. There were no other black families in our sealed air raid shelter in Jerusalem during the Gulf War. Other-ness has never been an issue for me and I can be completely at home in foreign situations.  Once you’ve eaten bush rat off a frisbee because the village you were visiting had no plates, there isn’t much the corporate world can throw at you that you will consider strange.
 MN:  Beautiful way to equate “foreigness” to tech. Speaking of which, what led to your interest in technology??
JS: I had always enjoyed my math and science classes in school but I had no exposure to the types of careers that could be built on those disciplines.  We didn’t know any engineers. The grown ups in my world were in government, international development, journalism and similar fields.
For me the sciences were an interesting academic discussion topic but not something you could build a career on. It was by sheer coincidence that I ended up at a school with a strong engineering program (Stanford) and that in my first week on campus, a professor spoke to the incoming freshman about the opportunities in engineering and the need for more women and minorities in the field. I was sold!
I remember going home that Christmas and telling my parents that I was going to be an engineer. My mother cried and my father had to leave the room to cool down before he could come back and calmly tell me that I was going to ruin my life. For them, engineering was a dead-end trade. Like me, they couldn’t fathom a career in it. They begged me to at least learn another language or two so that I could have a fall-back plan.  This was a different era, of course. We hadn’t yet seen any dotcom millionaires and yahoo was still so their concerns were real. I was deviating from a well-tread path to stability.  
LdC: It is always amazing how social norms can change perspective so very much.  So then from that, how did you obtain your current position at Oracle?
JS: I’ve been at Oracle since I completed my Master’s degree.  I studied Industrial Engineering and thought that I would go into manufacturing or logistics but by the time I graduated, I saw a lot of that discipline being replaced with software, which was a much more fun problem to work on. Oracle was developing software to drive the supply chains of the future and that was a problem that I wanted to be engaged in solving.

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