The question I often get asked is, “How did you get started working in tech?” followed by, “How do I start working in tech?”
It’s no secret the technology industry is lacking in women. I for one, seem an unlikely candidate to have built my career in technology as a Mass Communications and Public Relations major. Now, I believe anyone can work in technology with passion, willingness to research, continuous learning, resilience, and consistent work ethic.
I never imagined that I would work in technology – yet here I am 17 years later.
It’s challenging and rewarding. The road hasn’t been easy but the lessons have made it worth the while.
My passion for art, marketing, technology, and entrepreneurship continues to lead me towards the future. If you’re curious to learn more about my journey in technology, then I hope you enjoy this long post. Thank you for subscribing!
- Freelance Graphic Design
EV Chargers & Technology Incubator
Cloud, Data Centers, & Cybersecurity
Altairzen Marketing Technology
Writing & Beyond
I taught myself Adobe Photoshop as a teenager with an old college textbook, and companion CD, my older brother left behind one summer. It was a thrill to use the box computer my brother set up at home. This was AOL dial-up days where I would sit in front of the computer with a long string connected to the telephone line.
It was fun, and I could design little things here and there for my MySpace page and AngelFire. I know, so rad. I chatted with friends online on AIM Chat and discovered the internet for the first time. I learned basic HTML and CSS to make simple text boxes with moving marquee texts. Mad cool.
In high school I heard about a website called Craigslist where you could buy and trade stuff. My brothers used it to buy furniture, sell car parts, and computer parts. I explored the website and saw a “Gigs” page. At the time, it was free to post a gig or a service. So I created an account and posted that I could do graphic design.
Didn’t think much of it. I was waitressing at a Vietnamese restaurant and wanted to see if I could make extra income with graphic design.
A couple of weeks later, someone e-mailed me through Craigslist requesting my services. It was a beauty company selling lotions and candles. The guys needed a postcard flyer for a trade show they were attending, but were tight on time and didn’t have much money.
I was nervous, but said I could complete the graphic design job.
I put on a professional outfit of a button up shirt and slacks. We met up at Panera and had coffee. He asked me how I was designing it and I told him about Adobe Photoshop. I brought a plastic 3-ring binder with examples of what I’ve designed in clear inserts. Everything was printed at high school, of course. He liked it and suddenly pulled out $150 in cash. We shook hands and then I left.
I happily completed the project over the weekend and e-mailed them a flyer. We discussed two rounds of edits and they got it printed at FedEx for their trade show.
I was over the moon!
Designing the postcard felt fun and not like a job at all. It was the first time I felt like I could make a living off of graphic design and online. I continued posting jobs on Craigslist and doing little graphic design jobs here and there. Eventually, I learned about a website called Elance (now UpWork) in college and got jobs through there.
Freelancing graphic design helped me make extra money in high school, pay for books in college, and support me when I was starting my own company years later.
I graduated college in the summer of 2010 and moved back home with my parents. I didn’t find a job. I ended up doing freelance graphic design for small businesses and fashion public relations for a while.
I wanted to start a business and work for myself but didn’t have a clue how to begin or what that entailed. So I decided to change my luck by moving.
As a sophomore in college, I had the opportunity to be in the UNC Honors Public Policy Seminar, where I lived on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. It was an enriching experience where I studied Public Policy and Global Affairs while also interning for a Communications agency.
After three months with no job, I moved back to Washington, DC.
On the post-grad job search, I decided to look on Craigslist and saw a job posting for a Marketing Specialist in EV Charging Technology. I thought – “interesting, why not?” I knew graphic design and felt like I could contribute in some way.
It turned out to be a little basement startup in EV Charging stations that simply had a mailing address. I sent my resume and was called to meet in person. Like a good student I studied their one page website, competitors, and the news.
I poured into researching about the electric vehicle industry and what a technology incubator was. It was such a cool opportunity and different from any of the jobs I applied for. There was a lot of potential I saw. I was ready and willing to learn and dive into something new even though I was nervous.
I brought my resume, freelance portfolio, and a simple bullet point list of what I could help them with to the interview.
I also interviewed at a large corporate public relations firm. It aligned with my major in Mass Communications and Public Relations and seemed like the right next move to make.
I was given an offer from both.
The EV Charging station company had a low salary, no benefits, and no office. The large corporate PR firm had a higher salary, full benefits, and a healthcare plan with global offices. For a recent post-grad, the PR firm was a no brainer. I could get an apartment and gain some entry level PR experience.
However, I didn’t enjoy my interview at the PR company. It was in a large building, with rows and rows of cubicles, and felt sterile. The EV Charging company interview was with the CEO and VP of Sales in a rented office space. We talked for an hour about their powerpoint with hopes to build a hardware product. They had a budget of $250 per month for marketing.
After contemplation, I decided to choose the EV Charging company.
As one says, the rest is history.
I was curious about working in a startup and a technology incubator. It was different from anything I ever experienced before. I thought, maybe I could try it for a while and if I failed or didn’t like it, I could find another marketing, design, or public relations job.
Everyone thought I was crazy.
So did I!
It was overwhelming, exciting, creative, and fun working at the technology incubator. I was the only woman on the team and few in the tech incubator.
We had a large empty room in the Chesapeake Innovation Center Technology Incubator with a large window. I drove to Ikea with the business credit card and bought a couple of desks. The CEO and VP had small offices. The first people in the large office room was me and a software engineer who relocated as well.
We set up our desks and discussed our skills. I told him my freelance design, starter website experience, marketing, and PR. He was great at robotics, development, and engineering. I could design it and he could turn it into something workable. We were both thrilled and excited to be working on the project.
We were tasked with designing a software that could manage EV drivers and later a phone app. I started sketching a bunch of ideas on paper. Little did I know, I was doing UI/UX in its early stages.
Together, we brainstormed what the EV drivers would need to do, how to display the content, and which tools they would need. There was no guide book since there weren’t other softwares on the market. Connecting the hardware and software data in real-time was also a challenge.
Alongside us, a mockup of the physical hardware of the EV Charging station was being created and sent from India. There was so much anxiety and excitement.
I went to the library and checked out countless books and tried them out at the startup. We worked day and night with passion and grit.
It was strange that all my friends were enjoying corporate jobs at a regular 9 to 5, and I was working long and random hours to meet deadlines. It was so challenging to keep up, learn on the go, implement and test ideas – all on a shoestring budget.
For a while I felt like a Jill-of-all-trades creating endlessly. The startup graduated from the incubator and into a new 8,000 square feet facility with $2M secured in VC funding. We soon went from a startup to scaling with more employees, departments, hardware tooling, national sales team, and factory with growing team in India.
Today, I’m proud to say they have been acquired by Blink Charging.
It was a challenge, a pain, a joy, a happiness, a classroom, a home, a calling.
I enjoyed it all, whether that was designing the software for the development team, doing public relations, creating marketing campaigns, supporting a national sales team, developing customer service, or designing products and commercial parking. Working with an international team expanded my mind. Partnering with OEMs, auto makers, major commercial customers, and government programs were also highlights.
It taught me so much and still helps me to this day.
I saw, and became a believer.
Being around other entrepreneurs was (and still is) so inspiring and interesting to learn. I highly recommend it. I spent about five years with them and transitioned into a new role.
Cloud, Data Centers, & Cybersecurity
My next opportunity was working at an Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Company in Cloud Hosting, Data Centers, and Cybersecurity.
Throughout my time working at the incubator, other entrepreneurs started to learn about me and that I could do graphic design and marketing. I freelanced here and there for a number of entrepreneurs, whether that was creating logos, presentations, or pitching them for news coverage.
One day, my name made it to a head hunter who was trying to find a young ambitious person at a 17 year old cloud company, looking for a new Director of Marketing. The company was headquartered in downtown Baltimore on the 19th floor with a 100 person staff, operating 24/7/365.
I was interviewed by the CEO and COO. Coming from a startup environment that scaled to an established business was a different pace. First, I had acquired many skills at the startup and lessons that could help me at the cloud company. Second, the company needed a fresh perspective and better way to stand out.
The cloud company was in a crowded market with few differentiators. Some would even say the market was being commoditized making it difficult to stand out to potential customers.
I spent the first month simply learning, listening, and interviewing employees for internal and external marketing. The CEO taught me about cloud hosting and assigned an employee to give me weekly lessons on cloud, data centers, and cyber security so that I could better market and sell.
The CEO, COO, and I decided that after 17 years we were going to rebrand the company and redesign the cloud portal software to be one cohesive brand experience. It later extended to internal branding as well to help build team morale.
I established a new marketing department, hired a Marketing Assistant, and various agencies to achieve our goal. We kept design in-house with an international team to ensure brand consistency. I coordinated with Development and Engineering often to discuss how data should appear, how we can make it more self-service, and updating branding in every possible way.
Working with a smaller sales team required the same upgrades with websites, sales materials, corporate partnership, and channel marketing strategies nationwide.
We completed the entire rebrand in a year with a larger team, budget, and support.
Today, I’m proud to say that they have been acquired by DataBank.
One thing remained true – having a great product and service is at the heart of every business. Doing business with people in a respectful way is never out of fashion. Learning continuously means learning endlessly.
Marketing Technology & Altairzen
Remember my dream of starting a business?
Yes, it was keeping me up at night now. First a little, then a lot. I started writing more about what I wanted to do as an entrepreneur but a part of me always came back to design or writing. Working in marketing was a great compromise for me.
Ultimately, I bootstrapped my marketing technology company. I worked part-time at a jewelry shop while I was starting up Altairzen. Learned all about diamonds and gems there too. I saved up and put myself on a strict budget. I did freelance graphic design and marketing for various startups, small businesses, and even a ballet studio.
Throughout my time working in technology, I became increasingly frustrated at marketing agencies that didn’t understand how to implement a website’s content management system with customer relationship software and e-mail.
Parallel to my career, I continued keeping up with marketing as things went from building simple websites, email, marketing automation, and now AI. I had a feeling Marketing-as-a-Service and Marketing Technology was going to be a point of concern as our reliance on digital business grew.
I was able to run a marketing department with a virtual team.
Why couldn’t I run a company with a virtual team?
After some research, I found a remote work handbook created by Zapier. My previous experience working with a virtual team also helped me build a remote team quickly.
I started spreading the word about my marketing technology company and doubling down on entrepreneurship. It was back to startup mode which meant – sales and marketing.
Many of my freelance customers became my first clients. The ultimate jump and leap that it took to go from freelance to company was a financial challenge here. I had to make peace with certain things, and approach my business differently to build revenue. I was a one-woman show for a long time.
Landing bigger clients helped me hire a dedicated virtual team in the United States, India, and South America.
As the first sales person, I created all the marketing materials and began smiling and dialing to prospects utilizing all the skills I learned. I pitched them on connecting their Salesforce and HubSpot with their website, and creating e-mail marketing.
Eventually, I landed a technology client making a website followed by a data center company with email templates. To widen my net, I realized that I had to market to other industries than technology.
If IT could be turned into a service, why couldn’t marketing?
That’s where Altairzen fits in. A dedicated cloud marketing department when client’s need it.
Today, we still perform all the marketing tasks of an in-house department as well as offer cloud hosting solutions for businesses through our partnerships. We build WordPress websites, implement CRM & Email solutions, Marketing Automation, and marketing consulting. We have customers in healthcare, technology, nonprofits, and associations.
My current challenge is actively learning more about AI and finding ways to productize so that we can transition into a product company with a marketing service. I created a software portal a while back as a digital marketing dashboard for agency and corporate. I wasn’t successful in securing funding for this project so it’s currently parked.
I run the business from my laptop, travel to our co-working space, work entirely in the cloud, manage a virtual team, and do marketing consulting.
Writing & Beyond
During COVID, I got back into art and writing; been working on a fiction novel for the last two years. Learned about NFTs and even designed a couple collections on Rarible.
Art and writing allows me to express myself in a different way. At my core, I am a writer and life-long learner. I’m enjoying testing my pen by writing different genres and musing on writing prompts. I started writing prompts and poetry on Twitter which has been a great place to find inspiration and community.
Last fall, I relaunched my personal website NalyRice.com with a small virtual team and started Notes by Naly here on Substack.
Being part of organizations like Women Entrepreneurs Grow Global, Cartier Women’s Initiative, and Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network has helped me feel part of a larger community of entrepreneurs.
Sharing my journey at a couple of business events has helped me open up about my personal journey as a woman through technology. After 11 years, I was honored to share my journey at my alma mater The University of North Carolina at Pembroke with Google Startup Grind in their new Thomas Entrepreneur Hub. That was a dream come true from my humble roots and brought everything full circle.
I’m grateful and thankful!
There are many paths to work in technology. Entrepreneurship is not limited to those who are blessed with economic, social, and cultural advantage. The internet enables anyone to become an entrepreneur if you have the willingness to learn, grow, and help make a difference in small or large ways.
Have you ever thought about working in technology? If you work in tech, what has your journey been like? What are your interests outside of working in tech?
If you’ve read this far, thank you!
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