Your first act is school, your second act is work, but have you thought about what you’re going to do in your third act? Join host Liz Tinkham, a former Accenture Senior Managing Director, as she talks to guests who are happily “pretired” – enjoying their time, treasure, and talent to pursue their purpose and passion in the third act of their life.
Inspire others to get more and to do more later in life.
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Judy Spitz: The Outsider
Today’s episode of The Third Act podcast features Judy Spitz, the Outsider. During her tenure as the CIO at Verizon, Judy realized that the problem of lack of women in technology was not fixing itself, so she took it on herself.
Judy founded a program called Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship, which is a unique collaboration among corporations, Cornell Tech, and The City University of New York City. The program works with women students to prepare and enable them to pursue tech careers in New York City. Its success is greatly acknowledged, most recently through a grant from Melinda Gates’ Pivotal Ventures. Judy has taken the program national and is now the executive director of Break Through Tech.
As Judy says, “them is us,” putting the onus on the executives and leaders of today to solve the world’s problems themselves, not waiting for others to initiate change. Learn how Judy uses this mentality to guide her work in the latest podcast of The Third Act.
(01:51) Act 1: Speech and hearing foundations
(03:15) The power of a genuine comment revealed a mathematician at heart
(05:29) Working at the PC department before it was mainstream
(07:19) Act 2: Advanced applied research in telecommunications for Verizon
(08:27) Pivoting comes from knowing your strengths; Judy’s were storytelling and getting things done
(11:40) The workhorse at home and on the job
(12:45) The need to overcome the Cinderella Syndrome
(15:43) The “aha” moment as CIO of Verizon
(17:59) Them is us: evaluating ourselves as leaders
(18:34) Today’s basic literacy is understanding software
(23:26) Act 3: The Idea
(25:30) Pivotal Ventures supports the pivot to WITNY
(28:42) Conquering the fear of an idea failing
(32:32) Leveling the playing field with the win-ternship by exposing the unexposed
(37:07) Serendipity alone does not solve the problem, but it helps capitalize on opportunities
(39:02) The vantage point of an academic and experienced corporate executive
Contact Judy by email at [email protected], or on Twitter account @drjspitz. You can also connect with her on LinkedIn. Learn more about Breakthrough Tech on their website: breakthroughtech.org.
Liz Tinkham (00:18):
Hi, this is Liz Tinkham, and welcome to Third Act, a podcast about people embracing the third act of their lives with a new sense of purpose and direction. The third act begins when your script ends but your show’s just not finished.
Liz Tinkham (00:33):
Today I’m talking with Judy Spitz, the outsider. Judy started her career as an academic, but quickly leveraged her speech technology knowledge as the academic outsider at Verizon, where she rose to become the CIO. While there, Judy realized that the problem of lack of women in technology was not getting better, so she decided to solve the problem herself. She founded a program called Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship, which is a unique collaboration among corporations, Cornell Tech, and The City University of New York City. That program works with women students to prepare and enable them to pursue tech careers in New York City. With a grant from Melinda Gates’ pivotal ventures, the program is now national and is now Break Through Tech. Judy is once again the outsider, but this time the corporate outsider—as she is now the executive director of that program.
Liz Tinkham (01:26):
Judy, thanks so much for coming to Third Act.
Judy Spitz (01:28):
It’s a pleasure to be here. I always look forward to the opportunity to both reflect back on my career and also talk to other terrific women like yourself.
Liz Tinkham (01:39):
Well I think we met somewhere along the way at Accenture. You were at Verizon and we were at a women’s leadership forum as a speaker or guest, but we have a common friend in Lynn McMahon, so I appreciate her reconnecting the two of us.
Liz Tinkham (01:51):
So I wanted to get started with what I said in the introduction, which is really around the speech and hearing, and getting into teaching. Take us back to speech and hearing. How did you get into that, to start, and a little bit of background on your college career just post that?
Judy Spitz (02:05):
Sure. I would describe myself in those early college years as not a risk-taker, which I think is important for a lot of women to either come to terms with or think about themselves in terms of that. When I thought about what I might do as a career, I applied to the School of Education at Boston University to become a teacher because that’s what my mother did. That seemed like a safe path forward. What I found is that as I started to take classes, I was drifting more and more into taking classes that had some kind of a scientific nature to them, explained how things worked. As it turned out, serendipitously, and I’ll come back to that theme, in that same school were courses in speech pathology and audiology, which involved scientific courses in anatomy and physiology, and I just kept choosing the things that moved me more in the direction of things that had a science feel to it and things that had an approach to trying to understand how things work, how systems work.
Judy Spitz (03:15):
Back in high school, I had a teacher who made some kind of an offhand remark in a math class thinking that I had great potential in the area of mathematics, and I did nothing with that consciously. That input, to me at that young age, I know stuck with me because inexplicably, I took a calculus course in college, and it did, somehow or another, create a vision of myself that I hadn’t had before of, “Hey, maybe I can be good at math and science.” We’ll come back to that, but I started to take these classes. I majored in speech and hearing. It was all about how the systems of human speech understanding work, and started to use this term “systems thinking”-
Liz Tinkham (04:03):
Mm-hmm (affirmative), probably before it was popular, right?
Judy Spitz (04:05):
It was. It was popular back then. I’ll tell you that when I listen to today’s jargon, I think it’s synonymous with “computational thinking,” which we talk about the way we need to educate some of our young people to move them towards computer science, but I did major in that. I proceeded to get my bachelor’s, master’s, and then PhD in it, and ended up working on soft money, NSF grant money, at the university, pursuing my interest in research around speech and hearing.
Judy Spitz (04:40):
It was at that point that I made another move that, again, I think was motivated in part by my not being a risk-taker. I assure you, working on soft money from NSF grants is not the most stable form of income, but I just happened to make friends with the person who ran the computer center where I got my graduate degree, and he offered me a job in the computer center. Again, appealed to that systems thinking part of me and was a regular steady job. While I was waiting for a faculty position to open up, I took that job and I would say that that was my first step towards what ended up being a career in tech.
Liz Tinkham (05:29):
Yeah, I think you said to me he said to you, “Come down and run the PC department,” which is just so funny at this point. What was that like in the PC department for a woman speech and audio doctorate at that time?
Judy Spitz (05:46):
Well as you can imagine, I was a fish out of water with one exception in that I consider myself to be a passionate learner. For me, it was, “Hey, I don’t know anything about PCs,” although quite frankly, way back then, which I will admit was many, many years ago, PCs were new. Nobody knew a lot about personal computers; we were all used to working on mainframes. He said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll teach you. I can see that you have good relationship and leadership skills,” and so on.
Judy Spitz (06:23):
So I said, “Fine,” and I rolled my sleeves up and I learned about it. I worked at that job for about a year, and I will tell you that I both discovered something about myself then that has carried forward, and that is one of the things that I’m most passionate about is continuous learning. For me, once I learned what I needed to do to do that job, there wasn’t any more excitement about it. We weren’t accomplishing big things. I found that I just wasn’t motivated. When I was doing research as part of my PhD and after that, you’re continually learning. You are, in fact, by definition, setting up research projects in order to break new ground and learn something nobody’s known before. So this was too much of a straightforward operational job.
Judy Spitz (07:19):
While I was doing that job, it just so happened that somebody I went to my PhD program with had heard that the “phone company”-
Liz Tinkham (07:33):
Judy Spitz (07:34):
9X back in those days.
Liz Tinkham (07:35):
Judy Spitz (07:35):
Liz Tinkham (07:36):
Judy Spitz (07:37):
Was starting an applied research lab. They were hiring a bunch of academics in order to do advanced applied research that would be helpful to the telecommunications industry, and there was going to be a speech technology group, and that I should go and apply for that job. Again, a bit of a fish out of water; I didn’t know anything about corporate America. I didn’t know anything about that kind of applied research, but there was this connection, obviously, to my background in terms of human spoken language systems, and they said that they were looking for academics. So I went for that interview. I landed that job. I thought it would be the two-to-three-year plan before I went back to academia, and 30 years later, I retired from Verizon.
Liz Tinkham (08:27):
When did you figure out, “Maybe this is going to be a good career for me and I’m not necessarily going to go back to teaching?”
Judy Spitz (08:33):
Yeah, I think I figured that out, as you said, within the first couple of years. I think it’s because I realized very, very early on that there were two things that I did consider my core strengths that had worked for me in my academic career, but were really, really highly valued, much to my surprise, in a corporate environment. One was my ability to basically stand up in front of a group of people and tell a compelling story. An adjunct faculty member teaching college courses during my PhD. Obviously that’s something you have to do-
Liz Tinkham (09:14):
Judy Spitz (09:25):
When you’re giving papers at scientific conferences and so on. So it was a skill that I had and developed, and it was remarkable to me, especially in a tech organization, how valuable that skill was among techies-
Liz Tinkham (09:33):
Probably not a lot of them had it, right? You probably-
Judy Spitz (09:36):
Liz Tinkham (09:36):
Stood out. Right.
Judy Spitz (09:38):
Exactly. So that was one, and I liked leveraging that. Made me effective. The second was I knew how to organize projects and people in order to get things done. I think I learned that to some extent getting my PhD dissertation done, and again, amongst a bunch of techies, being able to structure things and organize projects in a methodical way, all of those things turned out to be real assets.
Liz Tinkham (10:14):
So how was the environment at what then became Verizon? Because, was it Bell Atlantic bought 9X and then they changed their name, if I remember correctly? How was it for women during those years? That would’ve been late ’80s, ’90s, the naughts.
Judy Spitz (10:29):
Yep. So, what I would say is that it was incredibly supportive. I have to say that because, let’s face it: I have twins.
Liz Tinkham (10:39):
Wow. Twins. God bless you.
Judy Spitz (10:42):
I had them about two-and-a-half years, three years into my career. Twins, at least in those days, were automatically considered a high-risk pregnancy, which means I had to start working from home six months into my pregnancy. Now work-from-home, of course, literally in today’s world, has, again, taken on new meaning, but it was pretty unusual then. We did not have internet access at home, and the company was incredibly supportive. I worked from home. I had my work phone forwarded to my home. Remember, we didn’t have cell phones. I had a computer that I was able to use. My boss at the time was so supportive that when it came to his having staff meetings, his staff meetings, of which I was only one member, he brought the whole staff to my house.
Judy Spitz (11:40):
So I couldn’t have asked for more. However, I will also say I worked my butt off. I use the term “workhorse,” which I think a lot of women tend to step into, right? We’re used to it. I worked incredibly hard. I got my work done and more. I put my kids to bed and went back to work, all that same stuff, and I also had enough humility, which is a very undervalued quality in leaders, to surround myself with people who could do what I couldn’t do, who knew what I didn’t know, and so on. It’s one of the reasons why I say a little bit tongue-in-cheek that I think imposter syndrome isn’t all bad. What I mean by that is being comfortable with the idea that you don’t know everything is an asset because it allows you to be comfortable to bring in people who are smarter and better than you, and create a great team.
Judy Spitz (12:45):
I think 9X/Bell Atlantic/Verizon could not have been more supportive. The one caveat I’ll say, again, for people who might be listening, is in my era, I would say I was guilty as charged in what I now know has a name, which is called the Cinderella syndrome, which I learned means a tendency for women to think that if they just keep their head down and work hard, they’ll get recognized. That is certainly the philosophy that I had, meaning I didn’t spend a lot of time advocating for myself, pushing for that next job, and so on, and I absolutely moved ahead. I have no regrets. I reached a C-level job. What more could I ask for? But, it didn’t happen overnight; it took a long time, and I sometimes like to advocate to women that they be a little bit less passive about pushing the advancement of their own careers than I think we were in my day.
Liz Tinkham (13:44):
Right. I would agree. I was the same way, but similar: I got promoted on schedule or ahead of schedule and I just kept my head down.
Judy Spitz (13:51):
Liz Tinkham (13:51):
So I kept working, which you and I discussed that we were both very “heads down” in the ’90s, in the naughts. I was also doing communications work, and we weren’t realizing that STEM degrees for women were declining, and then our heads kind of picked up. Sometimes I feel a little bit badly about that because I feel like, “Why wasn’t I paying more attention?” Because we got to the C-suite and we realized there’s not much of a slate, there’s not much of a pipeline. Any thoughts on that?
Judy Spitz (14:28):
Well, your experience mirrors mine perfectly. In fact, what I have found now that I have made that shift is that people see what I’m doing now and assume that throughout my career, I was the one that was in the women’s movement. I was the one leading that was leading the charge-
Liz Tinkham (14:45):
Judy Spitz (14:45):
And so on. Sadly, it wasn’t true, and again, I didn’t realize it until much later in my career, but looking back on it, it was too hard to try to balance raising my kids, having a full-time job, figuring out that balance. Trying to get ahead. I just didn’t pick my head up. I was totally focused on the job itself, and let’s face it: I was being treated very well.
Liz Tinkham (15:15):
I was too.
Judy Spitz (15:16):
If I had felt like somehow or another I wasn’t being treated fairly or, worse yet, was being harassed or was being passed over, I might have had my arm twisted, if you will, to notice, but I wasn’t. I was being treated well, I was advancing, and I just kept working hard. Yes, I agree with you: I feel a little bit like I was asleep at the wheel.
Liz Tinkham (15:40):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s exactly what I would say.
Liz Tinkham (15:43):
What year were you promoted to CIO?
Judy Spitz (15:45):
I was promoted to CIO around 2005.
Liz Tinkham (15:50):
Okay, so mid-naughts. Now you’re in charge of promoting women, you’ve got the entire IT group at Verizon, which is huge, and you start looking at slates for succession planning and advancement, and you have a bit of a “aha” moment.
Judy Spitz (14:09):
Yeah. So as you said, you get to that level and you are both responsible for the slates of women coming up behind you. You’re also responsible for talent development in the organization at large. Two things happened near each other: one is there was a group of upper middle management women who worked for me who wanted to start to get together and just talk about the issue of women’s leadership in the organization, and so I met with them on several occasions. The other thing that happened in parallel was my meeting with HR talent development support folks and asking them to show me the statistics, not the people who were close to my level but further down in the organization that were coming up. How many of those women were there and where were they?
Judy Spitz (16:58):
In both of those cases, I was both appalled by the numbers. It was amazing to me that below my radar screen, lower down in the organization, the reason I didn’t know them wasn’t because they were too far from me organizationally; it was because there weren’t very many of them. That was one, and the second was this sense of talking to these women about, “Why isn’t it getting better?”, and, “Who’s doing what?”, and, “Why aren’t people doing more?”, and so on. I just had this kind of, no other way to say it, “aha” moment where in my brain, I had first the thought, “Why isn’t anybody doing anything more significant?” Immediately following that was, “Why aren’t I doing anything? I mean, who am I looking around at?” I’m a Chief Information Officer at a Fortune 10 company. Who else am I looking at to be “the leaders” here?
Judy Spitz (17:59):
One of the things you learn as you move higher up in leadership is “them” is “us.” You can’t look up too much higher and say, “Why aren’t the ‘senior leaders’ doing anything?”, because you are them. It really got me thinking that, “For heaven’s sakes, I have 30 years of management experience. Learning how to do big, important things at scale.”
Judy Spitz (18:34):
I had this idea, again, because of all the research that I was doing, that I couldn’t believe that at that point in time, so this was now 2014, that understanding something about how software gets written wasn’t a basic requirement to graduate college. I mean to me, it was like basic literacy. You may never write a line of code in your life ever again, but you are surrounded by software. You are surrounded by people who are developing systems, and you should know something about how it works. So I Googled that question and up pops up the name Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, who was and is the trailblazer in the effort to get more undergraduate women to study computer science. The reason why I was focused on those undergraduate years was, again, because I found that there were lots and lots of efforts in the K through 12 space. The most popular one or well-known one, of course, is Girls Who Code. There are many others, which is fantastic. We absolutely should get as many middle schoolers and so
on, elementary schoolers interested in technology.
Judy Spitz (19:52):
But, all the data showed that that alone was not enough. We had been at that effort for probably 10 years then, and if you then popped up to look at the undergraduate ranks, the numbers weren’t changing. Think about it: 58% of the undergraduate community are women. 58%. That is an opportunity space of these women who are clearly capable, they’re at college, they’re getting their bachelor’s degrees, and only 1% of them are studying computer science. I believe firmly that we all go to college to figure out what it is we’re interested in. Those of us who thought we knew what it was, like myself, end up 50% changing their mind anyway. The idea that if you didn’t already know that you were interested in computer science or you hadn’t already learned how to code, that somehow or another it was too late, I think is baloney.
Judy Spitz (20:54):
That’s how I got focused on that space. I saw Maria Klawe’s name. I sent her an email saying, “Have you written any papers, or do you have anything that I can read? I’d love to know more about what you’re doing?”, and she responded, I’m really not kidding, a half an hour later saying, “I’d love to jump on a call with you.”
Liz Tinkham (21:10):
Gosh, she’s great. I’ve met her several times before. Yeah, great advocate.
Judy Spitz (21:14):
Exactly. So we talked on the phone. A few months later, I was on a plane on my way to California to visit her. I socialized the idea with her, and really, the program that I ended up developing is largely standing on her shoulders, if you will, in terms of replicating what she’s done but also modifying it for the fact that I’m working with a very different population of young women than the ones who go to-
Liz Tinkham (21:38):
Yeah, than go to Harvey Mudd.
Judy Spitz (21:41):
Yeah. Complete happenstance.
Judy Spitz (21:44):
Bill Gates had donated money at Cornell University in Ithaca, and they were having a ribbon cutting of the brand new computer science department, which became known as the Gates Building. The head of the Verizon Foundation was supposed to go to that ribbon cutting, and she couldn’t go. She knew that I always had a toe or a foot in academia, and so she said, “Hey, Judy. Would you like to go to this event?”, and I was like, “Sure. What the heck?” I went up to Ithaca and attended that event. It was another colleague of mine there, and he and I were chatting. I told him my idea because at that point, I was telling anybody who would listen. He said, “That’s a great idea. You know, Dan Huttenlocher, who is the new dean of Cornell Tech,” which is in New York, “is here, and he is very interested in diversity in tech. He might be interested in this idea. Let me introduce you.”
Judy Spitz (22:45):
Cornell Tech is a graduate campus situated on Roosevelt Island. It is an applied sciences university campus as a branch of Cornell University, and it was part of the Bloomberg Administration. During Bloomberg’s mayoral years, he did a large number of things in order to promote and enable New York to be what it is now, which is competitive with Silicon Valley as the tech mecca in the country.
Liz Tinkham (23:19):
And so here you’re meeting Dan?
Judy Spitz (23:23):
I’m meeting Dan Huttenlocher-
Liz Tinkham (23:24):
Judy Spitz (23:26):
Yep, and I’m telling him I have this idea to create a center or a program focused on getting more women in computer science specifically in New York, this ecosystem model. He’s like, “Well that’s interesting. Here’s my card. Call me when we get back to New York.” I did. I then went and knocked on the CEO of Verizon’s door, Lowell McAdam, who I am forever grateful to, and I said, “Hey, Lowell. I have this idea of what I’d like to do when I leave Verizon. I’d like to partner with Cornell Tech.” I happen to know Lowell is very committed to Cornell University and Cornell Tech. He’s on the board of trustees and was on the board of overseers at Cornell Tech. Said, “I have this idea. I talked to Dan, and he’s kind of interested. Would you support this and be our first corporate sponsor?” Told him my whole proposal, and as he likes to tell the story, which is just, I think, a wonderful story to tell, as they say, he said, “You know, Judy, you had me at ‘hello.'”
Judy Spitz (24:41):
So with Lowell writing a check, he also made a few phone calls, I approached the chancellor of CUNY to say, “I want to create this partnership between CUNY and Cornell Tech with the goal of significantly increasing the number of women in your computer science departments.” He was all in. I approached a few more corporate sponsors, and I will say I approach Lynn McMahon, who you mentioned at the start of this, my dear friend and colleague from Accenture saying, “Hey, can you promote the idea within Accenture of Accenture becoming one of the funding partners?” In fact, they did. Verizon and Accenture are the founding sponsors-
Liz Tinkham (25:29):
Judy Spitz (25:30):
Of the initiative, which was called WITNY for Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York. It was called that from the time that it launched, which officially was 2016, right up until a few months ago in February of this year when we got a very large grant from Pivotal Ventures.
Liz Tinkham (25:52):
Oh, Melinda Gates.
Judy Spitz (25:53):
Melinda Gates’ private investment and incubation arm, separate from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, focused very much on advancing women in tech. She saw what we were doing, saw the approach, which was to work within an ecosystem on both the supply side, meaning the academic partnership, and the demand side, meaning work with industry, throughout the city ecosystem to help them understand that they need to open up new doors of entry and recruit in different ways if they have a hope of bringing in a more diverse talent pipeline.
Liz Tinkham (26:36):
So the entry class was how many women? The first year you did it.
Judy Spitz (26:43):
Well first of all, understand that we run about a dozen different programs and students can participate in any or all of them.
Liz Tinkham (26:50):
Judy Spitz (26:51):
We have programs for incoming freshmen all the way through their college years, so nobody is necessarily in a class of our programs, but say that the very, very first year, we probably had about 50 to 100 women in various of our programs. Again, going back to my “trying to leverage what you’re good at when you get to that third act,” we were always and remain all about scale. There are 135,000 women at CUNY, something like that. If we run programs that reach 20 or 30 students in a class at a time, or 50 to 100 students a year, we’re going to be flying below the radar. We’re just not making any difference. We have to run programs that every single year get hundreds, if not thousands, of women through these programs, or we’re just not going to move the needle.
Judy Spitz (27:58):
So again, that was what I brought to the table, was the “I’m not afraid of scale.” We can pilot a program the first year, our summer guild program, the very first summer we ran it, had 42 students. Now the program gets 400 students every summer through it.
Liz Tinkham (28:15):
Judy Spitz (28:17):
When we first said that we had to scale to that, I can assure you, most people from nonprofits and-
Liz Tinkham (28:23):
Judy Spitz (28:25):
You know, because their eyes sort of pop out of their heads, like, “No, no.” I was like, “Yes, yes. That’s the way we’re going to do it, or we’re not going to make a difference.” I think that was part of what I brought to the table.
Liz Tinkham (28:42):
Did you ever think it wouldn’t work? Did you have any fears about it?
Judy Spitz (28:45):
Yeah, absolutely. I had no idea if it was going to work, but number one, as I said, I was not reinventing the wheel. I was standing on the shoulders of giants. I was doing programs that had worked elsewhere, but what I was doing was focusing on the fact that the students who go to CUNY have different needs to go to CMU or Harvey Mudd.
Judy Spitz (29:15):
Here’s a good example: we ran a summer internship program where we were just trying to facilitate, sort of concierge service, these young women from CUNY getting summer internships by finding companies that said they were willing to recruit from CUNY, even though they normally don’t, and so on. We did that program for two summers, and less than 5% of the CUNY women that we were forwarding their resumes on were actually landing summer jobs, so I would consider that to be a pretty miserable failure. But we stopped and scratched our heads and we said, “What’s going on here?” We said to the companies, “You said you want to hire these students. We’re bringing their resumes to you, and you’re either not even interviewing them or you’re not offering them jobs. What’s going on?” They said, “Look, Judy. These kids have nothing on their resumes.”
Liz Tinkham (30:13):
Of course they don’t. Of course they don’t.
Judy Spitz (30:15):
Of course they don’t. Exactly. They’re working two and three part-time jobs to support their families.
Liz Tinkham (30:21):
Judy Spitz (30:21):
They had no connections. They can’t afford to go to hack-a-thons on weekends. They can’t afford to take unpaid apprenticeships, and so on and so forth, and they don’t go to a prestigious university, so they’re not competitive. So we sat back and I actually worked with some Verizon friends to brainstorm, and we came up with this idea of a win-ternship. Without going into too much detail, it is a paid, three-week internship in the January intercession between first and second semester paid by the companies. The whole idea is to give freshmen and sophomore women in computer science a little resume juice.
Liz Tinkham (31:02):
Oh, that’s a great idea.
Judy Spitz (31:04):
An experience that they can talk about, and so on, and then that result of that, we did it one company and five win-terns.
Liz Tinkham (31:13):
“Win-terns.” Great word.
Judy Spitz (31:15):
All five landed summer jobs that summer, and we said, “Hey, we’re onto something here,” going back to my scale. 60 companies host 300 win-terns every January, because again, there’s no point in having a win-ternship program for having five or ten-
Liz Tinkham (31:38):
For five, right. Too much effort, not enough result.
Judy Spitz (31:40):
Right. So we follow the lesson we’ve all learned, which is deliver something, observe it, iterate, figure out what you did wrong, fix the bugs, do another release.
Liz Tinkham (31:58):
You also said that, and I’ve been thinking about it since we talked before, that the internship program in the United States is somewhat broken in that kids from great universities, they’re already great, so they got into a great university. Why do they need to get the plump internships? Why don’t we take kids who don’t have the opportunities who might be at lesser universities but achieving very well and let them take those internships? Talk about leveling the playing field. I think that’s a brilliant idea.
Judy Spitz (32:32):
Yeah. So we know that summer internships are the single biggest predictor of being able to land a job when you graduate. It’s been shown already. That’s why we are so focused on, “How do we give the students who go to CUNY, and the women in particular, more of a competitive edge?”, and that’s what the win-ternship was about, but as we saw what’s happening now with COVID and summer internships being canceled, what a lot of people are observing is what we knew, which is these summer internships are even more critical to these students who go to public universities and from disadvantaged backgrounds because it’s the only way they get their foot in the door. As you said, these companies, they are going to recruit from MIT and CIU and Georgia Tech, Columbia, and NYU. They’re recruiting from there anyway. We understand the pipeline initiative, but if they really, really want to diversify their tech ranks, then probably the most productive way to do it is to use that 10-week summer internship to bring in these students who they wouldn’t normally be exposed to, who aren’t in their standard recruiting pipeline, and give them a chance to show themselves.
Judy Spitz (33:57):
Then they’ve got a real robust pipeline of diverse, non-traditional tech talent that they’ve gotten to meet and that they know-
Liz Tinkham (34:11):
And they’ve helped to mentor.
Judy Spitz (34:13):
So my idea that I’m starting to talk about is repurposing, this is systemic change, for companies to repurpose what they think of as their summer internship program as an opportunity to bring in students who are diverse in any number of ways as compared to their standard tech organization and use it as a diversity pipeline initiative. I think there’s some real leverage and some really opportunity-
Liz Tinkham (34:47):
Oh, I think it’s a great idea, and I think about companies that I know just through my work at the University of Washington, where, by the way, most of my students get pretty lucrative internships until this summer, and maybe there’s a set-aside for X percentage of kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, and that number’s gotten bigger, but repurposing the entire internship program is, I think, a brilliant idea. I just think about all the advantages kids from my own neighborhood have, and they’re already doing great in college. They’ve already got the leg up going into the job, right, if not-
Judy Spitz (35:24):
Liz Tinkham (35:24):
Just through some of the things that they’ve done. Their parents, right? Their connections.
Liz Tinkham (35:28):
So the thing I love the most about your story, Judy, is that you saw the problem. You realized that no one was coming into rescue. There was no calvary coming from HR or senior leadership; it was you to fix it, and you went big to do it. As I think about the people listening and as they are pivoting to their third act, what advice would you give them when thinking about wanting to get started on their passion and their big idea?
Judy Spitz (35:54):
Yeah. Here’s what I think: it’s true that that describes my story, but I think there’s a story beneath the story, if you will. There are three or four or things I’d say to the people who might be listening. The first is the obvious one, which is, do what you’re passionate about. Hopefully you’re passionate about… in your main career or your second act (using your terminology), but for sure in your third act, do something that you’re passionate about. Here are three other things that I think are a little less obvious. One is, do something that leverages your inherent strengths, your unique experience from your main career, the skills that you’ve learned over the years. In other words, use your long career as an asset, not as a liability. “Oh, I’m older, I’m at the end of my productive years” or whatever, and you heard me say it was that management experience that I wanted to bring to bear. My ability to tell my story and get others to jump on board.
Judy Spitz (37:07):
Make sure you think about, “What are your inherent strengths and your unique experiences that you can bring to whatever you’re passionate about?” The second, of course, is that serendipity matters. In order to let serendipity happen, you got to talk to a lot of people.
Liz Tinkham (37:24):
Judy Spitz (37:25):
Right? Because using all those contacts that you have, talking to lots and lots of people, something serendipitous will happen. Somebody will say something or listen to what you are saying and suggest something, and if you’re not out there talking to lots of people, you don’t even have the opportunity to let serendipity come to you.
Judy Spitz (37:46):
The last thing I’d say is think about your legacy. What do you want to be remembered for? When I was pursuing and towards the end of my 30-year career, there was no question in my mind at that time that my being a CIO at Verizon was going to be what I was remembered for. I mean it’s what I did for all those decades and reached that C-level executive suite and so on, but the truth of the matter is is that actually, now I think what I’ll be remembered for is having started WITNY and Break Through Tech. If you kind of ask yourself, “What do you want to be remembered for?”, that might point you in a direction in terms of what you should do next.
Liz Tinkham (38:37):
So I thought about naming this podcast I’m Not Done Yet because that’s how I feel, and I also want to be remembered for something other than my 30-year career at Accenture. So what aren’t you done with yet?
Judy Spitz (38:48):
That’s a great question. I think the one thing that I am not done with yet is being more of a national spokesperson for this.
Liz Tinkham (38:59):
Sounds like you’re well on your way, though, with the Pivotal investment.
Judy Spitz (39:02):
Yeah. I mean, I do public speaking engagements. I am not quite on national committees or government task forces and things, or speaking at things that will influence public policy and more systemic change. Again, the reason why I want to do that is twofold: one is because speaking out loud and telling the story of what I’m passionate about has been, from the beginning, something that I think I bring to the table, but the other is because I do have this unique vantage point of having spent a very long time in industry and at the C-suite level so I can speak from that experience, but I also have an academic background that dates back to my PhD and now has got the program that I’m working. So I do bring a different perspective that I think would allow me to promote systemic change in a broader way. That’s what I hope I’ll do next.
Liz Tinkham (40:13):
Well thank you so much for joining us on Third Act. When you become the Secretary of Education, we’ll have you back. How’s that? If you speak to us.
Liz Tinkham (40:20):
So Judy, before we close, where can people find you online?
Judy Spitz (40:24):
Okay, let’s see. Email: [email protected]. Twitter account: @drjspitz.And LinkedIn, I’m just under “Judith Spitz,” and the organization is breakthroughtech.org. Email address there, such that if you wanted to just email the organization and find out more about what we do, that email comes to me.
Liz Tinkham (40:54):
Great, okay. Well thanks again, and look forward to talking to again. Bye-bye.
Judy Spitz (40:59):
My pleasure. Thanks so much, Liz.
Liz Tinkham (41:02):
Thanks for joining me today to listen to the Third Act podcast. You can find show notes, guest bios, and more at thirdactpodcast.com. If you enjoyed our show today, please subscribe and write a review on your favorite podcast platform. I’m your host, Liz Tinkham. I’ll be back next week with another guest who’s found new meaning and fulfillment in the third act of their life.
Want to share the story of your own Third Act on our podcast? We welcome stories from executives who pivoted their careers to find their passion and purpose later in their lives. Tell us more about yourself to be considered as a guest.