Women in Tech Trailblazer Tracy Pound: CompTIA’s 2016 Member of the Year

Tracy-PoundThere’s one constant in Tracy Pound’s diverse 32-year technology career: When obstacles arose, she persisted. “Technology can be scary for people,” said Pound, easing her British roadster onto an English highway. “I know it can be a struggle to learn, or a struggle to be allowed to learn something. It gives me empathy for people who are struggling with technology and feeling vulnerable.”

Funny thing is, Pound, CEO of British-based IT consultancy MaximITy, almost didn’t make it into technology, despite her parents’ heavy involvement in computing during the1950s. They counted micro-computing pioneers as their friends and installed one of the very earliest personal computers at home, giving Pound plenty of opportunity to explore. 

“Technology is what we had around, what we used, what we tinkered with,” she said. Unfazed that her hobbies didn’t fit the typical girl mold, she applied to study computer science, only to be told her math grades disqualified her.

“I was not good at math,” she said. “My Dad is, but I didn’t inherit that gene set. I struggled with school and had to fight and fight and fight to get my way into the program.” When her persistence paid off, she became one of just two women in the area studying computer science.

Early on, she understood there was no precedent for women in technology, which gave her plenty of freedom. “You could go far as long as you’ve got that inclination,” she said, “and I’ve always been naturally inquisitive.”

Since then, Pound has built computers, wired cables, and crawled under desks to install server racks and expansions. She’s worked as a programmer, software installer and trainer, and spent years as a technologist in manufacturing, where she digitized processes and learned product development soup to nuts. Today at MaximITy, she’s the definition of a trusted adviser.

‘CompTIA was a Breath of Fresh Air’

Stereotypes have never suited Pound. “I don’t mind being different to other people,” she said. “I have long, painted nails and I like driving fast cars. I don’t fit the geek stereotype.”

One cliché she couldn’t shake, though, was how the IT industry was perceived when she first joined. “In the 1980s, I struggled with the image that IT was like the used-car salesmen who’s going to rip you off,” she said. Through the grapevine, she heard about a nearby meeting of CompTIA’s UK Community, and, after just one session, she was hooked and became one of the association’s Premier Members.

“I had thought for a long time that something needed to be done about the state of IT, and coming across CompTIA was just a breath of fresh air,” Pound said. “Right away I was like, ‘How can I play my part and share what I’ve learned?’”

She became heavily involved with UK Community initiatives and soon found herself on the executive council. “Later, I met Nancy Hammervik, EVP of Industry Relations at CompTIA, and we got on well,” Pound said. “One day she took me aside and said, ‘We would like to consider you for the Board of Directors,’ at which point I nearly fell off my chair.”

Pound jumped at the chance, and was proud to be asked back in 2014. “CompTIA is that organization that wants to raise the standards [and] show how technology companies are good at what they do and the vital role technology plays in taking companies to the next level,” Pound said.

Her work and experience culminated in being named CompTIA’s Member of the Year for 2016, an honor she calls “absolutely amazing.” “Todd Thibedoux, CEO and President of CompTIA, rang me and I was at a loss for words,” she said, adding it was humbling to be nominated in the first place, let alone be chosen. “It’s a fantastic honor.”

Tracy’s Take on Women in Tech

Even as she drives, Pound gets animated when she talks about women in tech, her sapphire eyes flashing with excitement about an issue she’s truly passionate about.

“If you take a step back and look at the way a majority of people see tech, it’s understandable why girls aren’t interested. There’s such a lot of unconscious bias in the images that are presented and the words that are used,” she said.

Another barrier: Young boys are more likely to be encouraged to play with technology, to take apart and fix things. “In those early, formative years, teachers don’t think about needing to get more girls involved in technology, and parents don’t always think it’s a good idea to get girls involved,” Pound said. Moving the needle on women in the industry is one of the platforms she plans to advance as CompTIA’s Member of the Year.

Pound is actively involved in CompTIA’s Make Tech Her Story initiative and regularly blogs about diversity issues like unconscious bias in technology. “Sometimes people say, ‘You’re unfairly promoting women. It’s not that women are better than men, it’s about a level playing field, with a diverse workforce,” she said.

Pound will also focus on global IT needs, like increased cybersecurity threats and workforce development. “Skills and workforce development is just a huge issue that people are really struggling with,” she said. “We’re convincing people that IT’s the place to be.”

“Initiatives like CompTIA’s Creating IT Futures are going to open up the pathway to children to careers into tech,” she said. The Internet of Things is also a huge opportunity, “but not many people in the MSP world over here know how they can leverage it.”

In the UK, the hot topic of the moment is incoming data protection regulations, considered onerous from a cybersecurity perspective. “There’s not a lot of clarity about what companies should do to secure themselves against cyber-attack and to mitigate risks,” Pound said, noting that the UK government has been criticized for not doing enough to tackle cybersecurity. “Hopefully that will light the fire.”

Pound’s experience through work and CompTIA aligns nicely with her inclination to educate. She frequently gives talks to students about the possibilities in tech, to women about breaking the glass ceiling, and to industry members about workforce development, cybersecurity and IT issues in the UK as an Apple vendor member and CompTIA educator.

On any given day, Pound could be advising, exploring or educating anywhere in the world. In the last seven weeks, she’s had her passport stamped in Paris, Prague, Wales, Chicago and Amsterdam.

It’s a long way from her early career, running the helpdesk for a software house before remote access. “Everything you did was over the phone or you had to get in the car and drive,” she remembered with a laugh. “It was soul destroying to get call after call after call, and no thanks because the software shouldn’t have gone wrong in the first place.”

Striking A Work-Life Balance

At the last job she held before starting her own company, the challenge wasn’t the 44 servers they kept operational every day of the week, or the network of people she managed from the UK, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and the U.S. It was the 124-miles she drove in each direction to get to the office. She’d just had her first child, and started MaximITy to guide her own destiny. “I wanted to do something for me, and have something closer to home,” she said.

Close to home is an understatement these days. Her son Tommy, whose birth sparked her to start her own business, now works for her in an apprenticeship at MaximITy. “He’s got a natural affinity for technology,” she said.

She shares an office with her husband in Tamworth, where he’s an independent insurance broker for Prizm Solutions. In a fun coincidence, last year, the couple went off to separate industry award ceremonies and both came home with good news: As Pound was being named PCR’s Woman of the Year, her husband won the Bluefin Network Star Broker Award.

“We work together very well. I have a fantastic husband who looks after the children when I go away,” she said.

For Pound, breaking all the rules helped her build a life with which she is truly satisfied.

“People go through life just accepting what they’re told, and they work in their own narrow blade,” Pound said, pulling into her client’s parking lot and grabbing her iPad to run through her pre-meeting notes. “I use my experience of having knock-backs at school – with people saying I couldn’t take computer science and being a woman in the industry – to help people understand they can be who they want to be.”

“You shouldn’t let society or people at school or anybody get you to try to conform.”

Michelle Lange is a writer and editor living in Chicago.