Yolanda Ward-Jones was recently recognized as the Women & Hi Tech Volunteer of the Year at the 2019 Holiday Networking Event held at The Montage. Since she discovered the organization at its 20th Anniversary Celebration, Ward-Jones has provided programming volunteerism for several Women & Hi Tech events, including Ignite Your Superpower (IYS), the OperationALL male allies training event, among others.
“I was invited in April to attend the Women & Hi Tech 20th Anniversary Celebration event. The timing was so great because I knew last year I wanted to get more involved with some organization. I knew I could do more,” Ward-Jones said. “The 20th Anniversary Celebration program was so organized and so impressive that evening. I knew Women & Hi Tech was what I wanted to pursue and where I wanted to engage to give my time. Since then, every chance I had, I attended and showed up where I could.”
Ward-Jones has worked at Sallie Mae for 30 years and has been part of Information Technology most of that time. Today she is a Scrum Master leading two teams through the development and deployment of key features and improvements in Application Development software. And at the end of each sprint we host team iteration reviews/demos, where each developer shares the work they completed during the specified sprint. “I keep the work moving forward, but also help us look back,” she said. “I come up with interesting retrospective exercises for the team as we reach landmarks, commitments, and business objectives.
Ward-Jones went through training and became fully certified as an Advanced Scrum Master when the waterfall environment changed to agile. “Today, we are turning over code so quickly every ten days I need to find a new path to a new set of goals. Or rather, make sure my team is not encountering blockers on their path. When something comes up that is a barrier, there already wasn’t time for it to be there. We work together to focus, meet goals, and have fun.”
She pointed to the recent college students that were part of the Sallie Mae summer internship program as examples of the kind of potential that can be nurtured with the right opportunities. “Internships and job shadowing allow students to see what it’s like to work in a STEM environment. The students learn about the kind of challenges and collaboration that make the work rewarding,” she said. She believes creating more of these opportunities is one important step that companies can take to accelerate STEM innovation and cultivate diverse talent. In addition to her volunteer work with Women & Hi Tech, Yolanda has also gotten involved in Women of Agile Indy. There she has become a mentor to a young woman who has just become a Scrum Master.
One of the reasons Yolanda wanted to step up and get more engaged in the STEM community is the feeling that change is underway and that it’s gaining momentum in Indianapolis. “I have recently met many women in technology, which is very encouraging that more women will have the opportunity to advance into IT leadership positions. I hope awards, like this honor from Women & Hi Tech, and just showing up and being engaged exemplifies why more women should be in STEM leadership,” she shared.
“I also started thinking about opportunities to help kids in the K-12 school systems learn about the basics of coding and what it looks like when it’s applied,” she said. That curiosity drove her investment in a product called Smart Gurlz, as seen on Shark Tank. These dolls appeal to both genders as an opportunity to achieve missions by completing coding tasks. “I love talking on an individual level and taking action as a volunteer, but I also loved the idea of an opportunity to leverage my financial power to bring a product to the market that could help kids appreciate the basics of robotics and software without me even needing to be involved at all.”
All of this engagement points back to the reason Yolanda has thrown herself gung-ho into the Women & Hi Tech organization and won the award for 2019 Volunteer of the Year. “When I look at Women & Hi Tech, I wish I had encountered an organization like this many years ago in my STEM journey. I now realize that I did not get full exposure to the STEM opportunities available to me. As a blue-collar person or young woman or both, you need someone to want to get that message to you. You need someone to see your potential and encourage you in math, science, engineering, technology, or whatever industry of the future you haven’t been exposed to yet,” Yolanda said. “The community service opportunities and professional development opportunities that Women & Hi Tech provide to support women STEM professionals and to expose young girls to STEM represent the full spectrum of what someone could want from a professional nonprofit organization.”
Yolanda, Women & Hi Tech deeply appreciates your energy and the commitment you bring to our organization. Thank you for all you do to elevate and promote our mission, and congratulations again for being named the 2019 Women & Hi Tech Volunteer of the Year.