From Programmer to VP: Ribbon’s Sarah Walker on Impactful Career Advancement for Women in Tech
Native New Yorker Sarah Walker loves everything about city life. “I grew up on Long Island and I currently live in Downtown Manhattan,” she says. “I'm a New Yorker through and through.” But she doesn’t mind getting away from the city every once in a while to spend time in nature with her husband and daughter. “We love to boat, we love to ski, we love to hike,” Sarah elaborates.
When she’s not exploring the bustling city or spending time outdoors, she’s leading a team of leaders as the VP of Product and Engineering at real estate technology company Ribbon.
Sarah has grown her career intentionally around social impact. We sat down with her to learn more about her journey from a Programmer to VP, and to hear her advice for other women looking to advance in their tech careers.
A Marriage of Business and Technology
Sarah’s initial plan was to pursue a career in finance when she decided to major in business in college. “My first two years really focused on broad, business-oriented classes like marketing, finance, accounting, et cetera,” she says. But when she scored a summer internship doing Quality Assurance at her father’s employer, something shifted. “I really enjoyed it. I thought, ‘I don’t love my finance classes, but I really love this.’”
This experience led Sarah to shift her concentration within business to Computer Information Systems. With this new trajectory, she was able to craft a career path where she’s gained experience that allowed her to leverage both her business and tech skills. “In my career, I’ve always not been just a pure technologist, and I've never been purely a business person. Now, I'm running both product and engineering and I feel it's a perfect culmination of my skills and experiences,” says Sarah.
Intentional Career Moves
Having graduated at the cusp of the dot-com era, Sarah’s been able to see the evolution of the internet and technology industries. “I saw all this activity going online, and it was really exciting,” says Sarah. With many businesses aiming to build an online presence, she worked as a programmer for consulting companies and delved in the ad-tech space. “I loved it because of the complexity of the technology and it was really interesting work on an intellectual level,” she states. But she wanted to use her skills for something bigger. “Optimizing advertising campaigns doesn't really have the greatest impact on the world.”
So, she searched for an industry that would allow her to work toward a cause she aligned with. “ I wound up taking my ad tech skills and working at a cybersecurity company focused on ad fraud prevention and detection,” she explains. With this new endeavor, she did more than just fight cybercrime, she focused on getting to the root of it. “We worked with the FBI, got servers seized and shut down overnight, and individuals got arrested,” reminisces Sarah. “It was this amazing time in my life where I was using technology to stop criminal activity."
Her time in cybersecurity sparked her journey to work for more mission-driven companies. “I like when [my work is] not [just] about increasing the number of customers, but it’s focused on solving problems,” she says.
This mindset shift led her to the nonprofit world. “I worked at Thorn, a nonprofit that was founded by Ashton Kucher and Demi Moore to identify and build technology that helps rescue children who are victims of child sexual abuse," Sarah explains. "It was really hard work. Probably the most important work I'll ever do in my career.”
But the emotional toll and the hardships of the pandemic resulted in burn out. “It was a hard subject and it was just really hard for me to think about enduring for the long run," Sarah admits. So she took some time to contemplate what her next career move would be.
“I thought, ‘I can’t go back to an ad-tech job or any type of fluff work. I need to do something that has a true mission,” Sarah explains. That was when she was approached by Ribbon, which offered her a space to do impactful work within the real estate space. “[At Ribbon,] I could work on a mission of hope versus a mission after something terrible has already happened," she shares.
Fulfilling a Mission at Ribbon
Ribbon is a first-of-its-kind technology company transforming the real estate transaction by delivering certainty, transparency, and joy to the home buying process. “We turn everyday buyers into competitive buyers,” Sarah explains. “When you put in an offer on a home backed by Ribbon, you become an all-cash offer to that seller which makes you more competitive."
Adapting to the new space at Ribbon, she quickly learned that homeownership in the United States is a key to intergenerational wealth among other physical and mental health benefits. “What compelled me to go to Ribbon was [the possibility] of helping individuals and families be able to build wealth and to change the rest of their lives," she shares.
Just over a year after joining the company, Sarah accepted a promotion as the Vice President of Product and Engineering and has been developing the team in that role for almost six months. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t miss some aspects of programming, though. "I love to get into the details, and sometimes, I wish I could spend all day coding,” she elaborates. “But I think the reason I've always been drawn to leadership is just the impact I could have."
Now as VP, Sarah is impacting multiple areas from project strategy discussion, people management, and company culture. “I put a heavy emphasis on really making sure my leaders are supported, and helping unblock them from their challenges, giving them coaching, and supporting them as they work through projects," Sarah says.
Advice for women in tech
In the world of tech, everyone’s career path looks different, and Sarah reminds us that the possibilities are endless. Whether you’re looking to become a highly specialized individual contributor or move toward management, here’s her advice for advancing in your career:
1. Build community. “Find your peers. I've gotten the best advice from others, even if they're not in tech,” Sarah says. Navigating through challenges is a lot easier when you know someone who is experiencing similar obstacles. Sarah encourages women to tap into their communities when they feel the pressure of being an “only” in certain spaces.
2. Don’t let the fear stop your progress. “There's going to be times where you're going to feel like, ‘If I take this particular role, I'm going to be an only for a little bit.’” But you must stay strong. “It's worth sticking it out because the rewards are great.”
With more women in positions of authority, bigger changes can be made that allow more women to move up the career ladder. “We need more people on the other side of the table,” says Sarah. “So, that might mean you have to stick it out, even when faced with adversity."
3. Keep up to date with your technical skills. Technology is constantly changing, so Sarah encourages women to stay on top of it. “Be an expert in an area, but have a good breadth of understanding. If you're a front-end engineer, learn back-end. If you want to accelerate your career, you have to have more under your umbrella.”
This is especially important when looking for new professional opportunities. “That's how we assess who we're promoting next; how they have proactively expanded on their skills,” Sarah shares.
These skills are also important for those looking to join the team at Ribbon. "On the skill side, we're looking across the board. From designers to engineers, to product managers, we have all those roles open,” says Sarah. “We're willing to train on different parts and we're open to helping people expand their skill set. But we do look for at least one area of strength, within the technical dimensions.”
But tech isn’t everything. She wants passionate and innovative professionals to join her team. “We're looking for mission-driven people,” says Sarah. “We want people that are coming here because they're passionate about what we do."
If you’re ready to start advancing in your career at a mission-driven company, check out the opening positions at Ribbon by clicking here.
Chainalysis’s Ashley Vaughan on Why She Finds Cybersecurity So Meaningful, and How More Women Can Find Their Niche in the Industry
How much money do criminals control today, and where is it?
These are some of the many questions that Ashley Vaughan, Senior Solutions Architect at blockchain data platform Chainalysis, spends her days working to answer.
“You learn more about a situation or problem by following the money than from any other resource or piece of information,” she explains. “Money doesn't lie. People can lie in text messages or other means, but the path of the money leads you to what you're trying to accomplish.”
Though Ashley always knew she wanted to work with computers, she found her way into roles in cybersecurity, and then specifically blockchain security, through networking and exposure — not by setting out to do so.
We sat down to talk about her career journey, as well as what advice she has for other women looking to make their mark in these burgeoning fields.
Resilience and Curiosity
Ashley doesn’t often give up, and credits some of that attitude to an obsession with soccer as a kid.
“Playing sports makes you a more resilient person, I think. You learn failure and risk, which are very applicable to my job and my career path,” she says.
That resiliency was a good thing, notes Ashley, because as a young girl, she wasn’t always encouraged to pursue what she was most interested in: math and science. A teacher early on had told her that she wasn’t good at math, and Ashley believed that narrative until high school.
“We really shouldn’t put those ideas in children’s minds, because it affects them for much longer than you might think,” she says of the experience. “But I’m the kind of person that when someone tells me I can’t do something, it makes me want to do it even more, and do it better.”
Finding out in advanced high school math classes that she actually was good at math turned into choosing a computer engineering major when she got to college.
Graduating during a recession in 2010 meant Ashley didn’t have the job market of her dreams, but after working in IT, she networked her way into a role in the cybersecurity department of a prominent DC law firm.
“They were getting hit left and right from social engineering and phishing attempts,” says Ashley. “Due to the sensitive nature of the work they dealt with, I was exposed to the darker realities of the digital era, and I began to see a new side to the world—one of real significance to national security.”
Specializing in Cybersecurity — and Finding a Home in the Private Sector
Inspired by what she was working on at the law firm, Ashley pursued a master’s in cybersecurity with a focus on counterterrorism.
“I wanted to help protect our country,” she explains. “I have a lot of family members who are former military, so that was a natural step for me.”
That led to her taking a contract role specializing in offensive security at a government agency that frequently worked with Chainalysis. After working with Chainalysis folks onsite, she was sold and started pursuing a position with the company.
“I wanted to help make sense of blockchain data for a bigger purpose, like assisting in the continued threat of ransomware activity against American interests,” she explains.
Although she credits her public sector work with providing a solid foundation in blockchain security, the private sector turned out to be a better fit for her.
“What I love about Chainalysis is that my colleagues are really happy people, and I’ve always felt welcome and not scared to ask questions,” says Ashley. “In past jobs, where I was one of five women in a group of 150, I felt a lot of pressure. I didn’t ever want to make a mistake. I felt as if I had to be a chameleon to match the social environment of my male counterparts.”
Blockchains are all about democratizing data, and Ashley likes working with a team of people of all backgrounds to help support that mission. At Chainalysis, Ashley works with internal product and engineering to show customers how Chainalysis data can help them use complex blockchain solutions to solve data problems — and catch bad guys.
“Sometimes we’re following a bad actor who’s tied to child sex trafficking. Being part of a coordinated operation to put a stop to things like that is really fulfilling,” she says.
3 Tips for Women Who Want to Find Their Place in Cybersecurity
For a long time, reflects Ashley, she just wanted to come into work, do her job, and feel supported, without feeling like she didn’t fit in or was representing her entire gender. Fortunately, she found what she wanted — and she hopes other women will find that, too. They can start their search by:
- Knowing they’re not alone in having tough experiences. “Everyone has different definitions for how you’re supposed to act or supposed to handle your emotions as a woman at work, and it’s exhausting. It’s like, ‘This is just me.’ I can’t repeat enough how tiring that is,” she says.
- Prioritizing self-directed learning. Although Ashley completed a master’s in cybersecurity, she emphasizes that there are many other routes into the industry, including self-study. Whether you get involved in programs like Girls Who Code or do self-paced learning through platforms like Udemy or Coursera, the important thing is that you pursue independent learning about topics that interest you, she says.
- Creating and maintaining relationships. “Really talking to people is almost a lost art,” says Ashley. “Getting together with someone who has the same sort of mindset and leveraging their knowledge, and making sure you keep in touch with people who help further your career, is a good move. Most of the places I got to professionally were based on my human connections.”
Nowadays at Chainalysis, Ashley is no longer one of five women in the office, and is excited to start paying it forward so that more people with backgrounds like hers can pursue their own professional success.
“We tend to feel more comfortable talking to people who might have our same gender or educational background, and being open and vulnerable with them,” she says. “Being a visible role model is really important to me.”
Check out Chainalysis’ open roles here!
We all have our favorite websites– the ones we frequent, bookmark, and recommend to others. You might even enjoy some website features so much that you’ve found yourself wondering why they aren’t more popular. Or maybe you’ve experienced times where you were frustrated with a website and wished you could add features or even design your own!
If you’ve ever found yourself intrigued at the prospect of designing and developing your own websites, then a career as a web developer might be just for you!
As a web developer you would be responsible for coding, designing, optimizing, and maintaining websites. Today, there are over 1.7 billion websites in the world and, in turn, the demand for web developers is on the rise. In order to figure out what kind of web development work best suits you let’s start with an introduction to the three main roles in web development that you can choose from.
The Three Types of Web Development Jobs
Front-End Web Development: The Creative Side
In addition to programming skills, front-end developers need to be detail oriented, creative, willing to keep up with the latest trends in web development, cyber security conscious, and geared toward user-friendly designs. The median salary for a front-end developer can reach well into the $90,000 to $100,000 range.
Back-End Web Development: The Logical Counterpart
While a house can be beautifully decorated, it’s incomplete without a solid foundation and efficient infrastructure. Similarly, a well-designed website depends on logical and functional code to power the features of that website. Back-end web development is code-heavy and focused on the specifics of how a website works. If you enjoy the analytical challenge of creating the behind-the-scenes code that powers a website, then back-end development is for you.
Full-Stack Web Development: A Little Bit of Everything
A full-stack developer is essentially the Jack (or Jill)-of-all-trades in web development. Full-stack developers need to be knowledgeable about both front-end and back-end roles. This does not necessarily imply that you would need to be an expert in both roles, but you should fully understand the different applications and synergies they each imply. In order to work in this position, you will need to know the programming languages used by front-end and back-end developers. In addition to these languages, full-stack developers also specialize in databases, storage, HTTP, REST, and web architecture.
Full-stack developers are often required to act as liaisons between front-end and back-end developers. Full-stack developers need to be both problem solvers and great communicators. The end goal for a full-stack developer is to ensure that the user’s experience is seamless, both on the front-end and on the back-end. In return, you can expect to earn a median salary of $100,000 – $115,000 a year for this role.
Taking the Next Step
Web development is both in-demand and lucrative! All three roles described above contribute to specific aspects of web development and the scope of each one can be customized to the industries and positions you feel best suit you. Regardless of which role you choose, all of them need a foundation in programming.
To gain the programming skills needed in each role, you can enroll in courses or learn independently. Coding bootcamps are a great way to boost your skillset quickly and efficiently.
Click here for some of our highly rated programming bootcamp options! Make sure to check out the discounts available to PowerToFly members.
💎 “What are you passionate about?” In an interview, you may have to answer this and other personal questions. Watch the video to the end to succeed in your job interview at Ribbon.
📼If asked “what are you passionate about?” in an interview you need to show how your passion can make you a good candidate for a job position. Ryan Key, Talent Partner at Ribbon, shares some tips and tricks for you to stand out!
📼Answering what are you passionate about in an interview is not the only thing you need to know how to do to succeed. You should try to make sure that you express your experience in a way that shows your interest in Ribbon’s mission. Also, prove that you did your research and demonstrate to the recruiter that you understand exactly how your role affects Ribbon’s purposes. Don’t forget to share some ideas on how you intend to fulfill the company’s mission!
📼 You are asked what are you passionate about in an interview, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t ask as well. You should feel empowered to ask any question you want during your interview process. It may be helpful to save certain questions for certain people. If you're in an interview with your potential manager, you should take that time to ask about their assessment metrics for the role and their management style. If you're speaking with a potential peer, this would be a great time to ask about their experience during training and to learn a little more about the team and culture.
What Are You Passionate About? Show In Your Interview That You Are Aligned With Ribbon's Values
The mission at Ribbon is to make homeownership achievable for everyone, especially communities traditionally left out of the homeownership story. One way Ribbon addresses diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace is through its support of employee resource groups. Remember to show that your passion is aligned with these core values!
🧑💼 Are you interested in joining Ribbon? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Ryan Key
If you are interested in a career at Ribbon, you can connect with Ryan Key on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Ribbon
Ribbon is a first-of-its-kind real estate technology company transforming the real estate transaction by delivering certainty, transparency, and joy to the home buying process. Consumers and realtors deserve a better experience, and they have designed an open platform that welcomes everyone in the ecosystem to participate.
💎 Partnerships in remote environments is one of the most important aspects to construct in a company. Watch the video to the end to get good tips on how to do it successfully.
📼Wondering how to create partnerships in remote environments? Play this video to get three top tips that will help you to achieve it. You'll hear from Olga Shvets, HR Business Partner, and Viktoriia Litvinchuk, People Team Operations at Unstoppable Domains, who will explain the essentials of this process.
📼How to build partnerships in remote environments? Tip #1: Communicate Effectively. Communication is the key to enabling your remote team to be successful. Choose the channel that works best. For this, chat with your employees and see what they use to communicate, that's how you find the best solution. Also, make sure your team is on board with your internal tools and they know what, how, and where they need to use them.
📼A requisite for building partnerships in remote environments is Tip #2: Show appreciation. Appreciation is shown through your actions. Let your employees know that you value everything they do for the company. Create a special gratitude channel where everyone can share their appreciation for their colleagues for some contribution. Celebrate some wins, promotions, and everything that is important for the company. If you appreciate the employees, employees do the same for the company.
Create Partnerships In Remote Environments Using Trust - Tip #3: Give Honest Feedback
Use engagement surveys! They are a quick and effective way to receive honest feedback from your team and you can see what's working well and what needs to be improved. Your main priority is to create spaces where managers and employees can share honest, relevant feedback.
📨 Are you interested in joining Unstoppable Domains? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Olga Shvets
If you are interested in a career at Unstoppable Domains, you can connect with Olga on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Unstoppable Domains
Unstoppable Domains is bringing user-controlled identity to 3 billion+ internet users by issuing domain names on the blockchain. These domains allow users to replace cryptocurrency addresses with human-readable names, host decentralized websites, and much more.
By selling these domains direct to consumers for a one-time fee, the company is making a product that will change cryptocurrency and shape the future of the decentralized web by providing users control over their identity and data.