Know how American Idol fans can vote for their favorite singers via text message? Marian Croak made that happen! Do you remember how people donated to Hurricane Katrina and Haiti Earthquake victims by simply pressing five digits, like “90999”? Marian Croak made that happen, too! Croak, currently the Senior Vice President of Architecture and Advanced Services Development at AT&T, made a lot happen.
Croak was once a soft-spoken employee who’s been working for AT&T since 1982. The 30-year-veteran proves that you don’t need to have the loudest bark, per se, to rise up to the top. A mom of three, she manages 2,000 engineers, program managers, and developers. How did she do it? Croak took time out of her busy schedule to talk with MadameNoire about how she moved to the top of the mobile giant!
MadameNoire: You’ve said that you were very soft-spoken. How do you get your voice heard at AT&T?
Marian Croak: I think I’m in the position now where I can make my voice heard just by virtue of the role I’m in. But it wasn’t always that way. About 20 years ago, when I was still fairly new to the company and AT&T was looking at what would replace its legacy wireline phone network, I thought we were about to make a mistake by not moving to Internet protocol. I realized I had to advocate – loudly! – for that technology if AT&T was going to maintain its leadership position. The key was finding a few coworkers who shared my conviction… Our voices together were ultimately able to win over others to our point of view
MN: You started working with AT&T in the 1980s. Was it difficult to prove to your superiors that “anything a man can do, you can do better?”
MC: Actually, when I started at AT&T, while there weren’t a lot of women engineers, I always felt welcomed and encouraged. My managers and coworkers helped me to do great things, and encouraged me to pursue patents on my work. Today, I’m at 156 patents and counting.
MN: Have you seen a significant change in the number of women who pursue technology as a career?
MC: Over the years, the number of women engineers and developers has risen and fallen, and I think we’re on the verge of another upswing. We’re starting to see some numbers suggesting an increasing number of women who are enrolling in computer science classes, which is great news. We need all the smart, qualified folks we can get.
MN: In your HuffPo article “Dear Women in Technology,” you talked about juggling three kids and work. Do you think it’s possible for high-ranking professional women to “have it all”?
MC: Early in my career, I had a great boss and mentor who made it clear that sometimes he wouldn’t be able to attend a meeting or a call because he needed to go to his kid’s baseball game or school activity. He always made sure that the work got done. But the point he was making is that balance is possible if you have the courage to occasionally say “no” to things, or at least find a way to delegate appropriately. Likewise, if I or a colleague needed to step out for our kids, he encouraged that. Our jobs are hard and time-consuming, no question about it. We work long hours. But it’s important to take that personal time. Use your vacation time. Spend time with your kids
MN: You pioneered the technology of texting a truncated number for viewers to vote for their favorite TV show contenders like on American Idol. How?
MC: Actually, the technology I worked on was related to that application, but went a bit further. Back in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina hit, I thought there might be a way to extend the “text your vote” technology to charitable giving. So the patent I developed enabled the “text to donate” technology that has since been widely used when disasters strike. AT&T made that patent freely available for anyone to use without licensing fees. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, for example, the American Red Cross raised more than $32 million with help from donations via text.
MN: Describe a typical day in your shoes as SVP of Domain 2.0 Architecture and Advanced Services.
MC: In a typical day I’ll be meeting with engineers, reviewing business plans, and presenting proposals to the most senior leadership at our company. I have a great job. I manage a team of more than 2,000 engineers, developers, designers and other innovation experts [that work on] various next-generation products and services. These folks work in some of our most cutting-edge facilities, such as the AT&T Foundry innovation centers, which look and function like a Silicon Valley-style startup.
MN: Are you working on any projects now for AT&T that you can clue us in on?
MC: My work on the User-Defined Network Cloud is my main focus right now. While it will take a few years before the technology is finalized and widely deployed, I think it’s going to be a huge upgrade.
MN: What advice would you give to young black women who wish to follow in your footsteps?
MC: Go for it. The world is waiting for you.