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Wanna be CTO? Dr. Rebecca Parsons Says ‘Embrace Your Inner Geek’

Dr. Rebecca Parsons, CTO of Thoughtworks, is in elite company. Not only is she an executive member of a global consultancy firm focused on seamless digital experiences and scale-up technology, but she holds the job title that is least often held by a woman. Although increasing year over year, fewer than 5% of CTOs are female. As fellow STEMinists, we had a few questions for Dr. Parsons. Grit Daily News was a member of the media and one of more than 32,000 people who dialed in remotely for Collision From Home. The 2020 event shifted to a virtual setting given the pandemic.

Grit Daily: Do you see yourself as a role model for the next generation of women in tech? 

Rebecca Parsons: I feel honored to have the opportunity to help educate and empower women in STEM, especially those that do not have the networking resources that we do at ThoughtWorks. The annual Grace Hopper Celebration at AnitaB.org allows me to connect with other female technologists and participate in a community filled with voices like mine. Through my role at ThoughtWorks and my work with AnitaB.org, I hope to be able to inspire and usher in the next generation of women technologists. I also want the next generation of technologists – both women and men — to feel comfortable leaning into their passions fully. I’m proud to say I’ve always been a geek, and always will be a geek! It’s allowed me to discover my unique voice, pursue my passions and thrive in a career that I love. It’s okay to be obsessed with technology, in fact, there are incredible opportunities that await those that embrace their inner geek. 

GD: Given that you are part of a small group of female CTOs, what message do you want to send to our readers? 

RP: The role of the CTO is evolving into a critical business executive role, and we’ll begin to see more CTOs with a seat at the table, a seat on the Board and in an executive leadership positions. As a CTO, you should be helping position the business to take advantage of the opportunities that technology presents. The ability to communicate clearly to a broader audience is also much more critical for the CTO now, it is as much a relationship job as it is a technology job. The way we do software development is much more of a social activity, we need to continue to change the perception of what it means to be a technologist. That’s going to require technologists to operate at that business level and not just think about technology for technology’s sake.  

“I also want the next generation of technologists – both women and men — to feel comfortable leaning into their passions fully. I’m proud to say I’ve always been a geek, and always will be a geek!”

~Dr. Rebecca Parsons

GD: How are the data privacy laws in CA (CCPA) affecting system architecture design for you and your clients? Have you or are you advocating that your clients adopt GDPR and/or CCPA globally as the “standard” for ThoughtWorks? 

 RP: The systems we build of course must respect those laws, however ThoughtWorks has been advocating for and developing strong privacy protections since before GDPR and CCPA. From a system architecture perspective, we are constantly working to give consumers more control of their own data and we’re excited by the progress we’re making on that front.  

GD: Where are your clients getting “hung up” with their tech problems? 

RP: One of the things we’re running up against, and this is very relevant as we talk about the migration to the cloud as well as digital transformation more broadly, is acknowledging the existing systems that our clients have in place. The reality is, that with legacy systems, there is still code running that is 40, 50 years old and many organizations are not recognizing the amount of drag that their current systems have on their digital transformation plans. You can’t be a 21st century business with 20th century technology and data. It’s essential to address those legacy systems as part of your digital transformation strategy. At the end of the day, what you can achieve in one or two years is largely determined by how much drag your current IT assets and outdated technology are introducing into your systems.   

GD: Tell us more about your Digital Fluency model for technology. 

RP: The digital fluency model was created with organizations of all sizes in mind. It allows executives to further articulate their digital aspirations, while readapting to the ‘new normal’ that many have faced as a result of COVID-19. The model helps organizations minimize investment risks and build organizational resilience while encouraging organizations to adapt certain digital capabilities to navigate times of crisis.   

Dr. Rebecca Parsons – one of few women in technology who hold the role of CTO

GD: How did COVID impact ThoughtWorks and what do you wish you had done differently? 

RP: At ThoughtWorks we are considered pioneers in “distributed agile” and so the transition to a fully decentralized workforce was a natural one for us. We were fortunate to have had practice over the years learning how to optimize our teams globally for remote work, which included developing systems, protocols (including important security protocols), and rituals to enable our work to shift seamlessly to fully remote without skipping a beat.  

GD: Has COVID increased client business opportunities or slowed them? 

RP: How businesses have fared certainly varies sector to sector – but in the long term COVID-19 has catalyzed another wave of digital transformation. Businesses are realizing that to survive and be successful they must be digitally optimized – whether you’re transitioning from brick and mortar to e-commerce, digitizing your supply chain or enabling a more remote workforce through technology, we expect to see more modernization happening from businesses in both the private and public sector in the months and years ahead.  

GD: What do you want people to know about you? 

RP: I have a deep love of learning. For so many people learning is so closely associated with schoolwork or tests, but I really have always thought of learning as fun. This love of learning is fundamental to who I am and is a large part of why I’ve been drawn to technology. It’s a rapidly evolving field and so I feel lucky that every day I am presented new opportunities to challenge myself and learn something new.