Director, Product Marketing and Strategy, Bandwidth
Bachelor’s in computer science from Rutgers University
Daughters Kylie Geller, 21, and Shannen Geller, 18, and son Brett Geller, 19
Delivered newspapers, bused tables and worked as a cashier during middle and high school; waited tables and tended bar during college
Two things about you that would surprise your colleagues:
My parents owned a trucking business, and I was the first in my family to graduate from college.
I’m proudest of:
Mentoring the next generation. If I am able to impact one person’s future in a positive way, that is golden.
Exercise and being active, being outdoors, healthy eating, laughing with friends
Little would offer a more powerful attraction than the laptops, tablets and smartphones 12 middle school girls brought to a recent workshop at Research Triangle Park.
Then someone shouted “Cookies!” — sending the aspiring software developers, quality control experts and engineers squealing and scurrying in hot pursuit.
From the sidelines, tapping keys on her laptop on an assignment for Bandwidth, the Raleigh telecom where she’s worked for two years, Deirdre Clarke smiled. Their excitement is her reward.
Clarke is the community coordinator of Triangle TechGirlz, which held the two-day mini-camp. Since its late 2014 launch, this chapter of the national nonprofit TechGirlz has grown to 70-plus volunteers — most of them women — who are giving girls a head start on careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), fields where high-salary jobs are abundant, but women are rare.
“Men and women think differently,” said Clarke. “We’re creating products to sell to the general population — female, male, minorities — and the best ideas come out when a team is more diverse.”
At Bandwidth, Clarke is a rising star. Sixteen months after joining the company, she was promoted to lead product marketing and strategy.
She helps figure out what software products companies want, what to charge for them and how to get the word out about them. She is also in the forefront of rebranding the company as a software business. Bandwidth got its start as a phone company but specializes today in software to embed voice calling and texting into any app. Clarke supervises a team of four — a man and three women.
To funnel more girls into tech, connecting with them in middle school is a must, Clarke says. That’s when many shy away from math and science, wary of being labeled “geeks” or “nerds.” And as Clarke knows firsthand, girls can’t aspire to careers they know nothing about.
She wanted to be a teacher or a doctor because those were the jobs she saw women do in the blue-collar suburb of New York City where she grew up. Then, an 11th-grade math class rebooted her dreams.
“The teacher, Marcia Bailey, liked to teach a little about (computer) programming in math class,” Clarke recalled. “The principle was pretty straightforward. You had a bunch of boxes, like a checkerboard, and a robot on the far left corner on the bottom. How would you get the robot to the far right corner on top?”
The challenge appealed to her passion for problem-solving.
In engineering school, Clarke barely noticed that she was sometimes the only woman in the room. As she moved from tech support into software design and then to product management and marketing, however, it became the norm.
“I wasn’t even aware of it until people began talking about how many women there are,” she said.
But the gender gap really hit home during her oldest daughter’s engineering school orientation at N.C. State University in 2013.
“They said the least popular (discipline in engineering school) for females is computer science. I said, ‘What?’ That’s crazy!’ “ Clarke said, her voice rising as she recalled her astonishment to learn that women represent only about 12 percent of computer science graduates nationwide.
TechGirlz is one way to boost those numbers. The program is Clarke’s joy, and her enthusiasm is contagious. When she asked for help to organize the mini-camp, Maria Liberovsky, a teacher-turned-developer, raised her hand.
“I said, ‘Me, me, me!’ “ Liberovsky recalled with a laugh. “Deirdre sounded like someone I wanted to learn from. Some people volunteer and just do it on the weekend, but Deirdre is not like that. This isn’t something she fits in just when it’s convenient. It’s her life.”
A self-described “go-getter who loves to help people,” Clarke said taking care of herself, learning from mistakes and relying on trusted mentors are vital to her satisfaction on and off the job.
She makes time for a daily Crossfit workout and takes pains to eat right. And after years of taking work home at night, she is happy to be part of a company that fosters a healthy work-life balance.
It “gives me the energy to do everything I want to do,” Clarke said.
That’s not to say that she hasn’t stumbled: Think failed exam in college, a buggy software program or a new product that never caught on. She encourages women to learn from failure and persevere. Having a mentor helps.
She credits a former boss at Motorola for grooming her for an executive role. Besides recruiting her to be a product manager, he also provided candid and specific feedback that helped her grow.
“The best mentor not only gives you praise but also calls you out on the stuff you need to work on,” Clarke said. “Some of it is hard hearing at the time, but it does make you better for sure.”
Someday when she takes the measure of her career, Clarke says she will think back to the people who have encouraged her and how she paid that encouragement forward.
“I want to know that I’ve made an impact on somebody else’s career choices,” she said. “It’s all about giving girls all the tools and the education they need to get excited about changing the world someday.”
Editor’s note: Following the publication of this article, Clarke has left Bandwidth to take the role of Senior Manager of Customer Success at Aha!
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