Women Behind Innovation: Mary Beth Westmoreland

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  • Technology leader Mary Beth Westmoreland   Named one of the 2017 Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology by the National Diversity Council — a definitive list that honors the most extraordinary female leaders, influencers and achievers impacting the technology industry. Mary Beth Westmoreland understands what it takes to keep her team moving forward.

As  Chief Technology Officer, responsible for leading Blackbaud’s worldwide technology strategy across the company’s entire solution portfolio serving approximately 35,000 customers. Westmoreland started with Blackbaud in 2008 and has almost 30 years of experience in software engineering and product development.

Westmoreland is a member of the board of directors of the South Carolina chapter of the Make-a-Wish Foundation and a Computer Science Advisory Board Member for Clemson University, and is actively involved in a variety of STEM programs and Women in Technology initiatives.

The Edison Awards recently spoke with Westmoreland about her interest in engineering, what misconceptions she feels people have about her field, and how her company is leading the way in innovation. Here’s what she had to say: (edited for brevity and clarity)

When did your interest in engineering begin?

I developed a love for math and science in middle school. It came easier to me than English and social studies, and I had great teachers that bolstered my confidence and encouraged me along the way.

What was it like to be a woman studying in your field?

I attended a predominantly women’s college and truly felt supported by amazing faculty as well as my fellow students.  Only a few women chose to major in math/physics/computer science, which resulted in very small class sizes and a customized educational experience.  Our professors pushed us to learn as much as we could and to reach our potential, but also cheered us on as we achieved it.  I reflect on that experience and try to model that behavior as a leader today.

Do you think people have any misconceptions about what it’s like to be an engineer or about the field itself?

This is an interesting question. I actually think the fields of computer science and software engineering get a bad rap. Here are two examples:

Some think that engineers sit at their desks all day, never talk with anyone, and only write code. In our world, engineers work together in teams to understand and then solve problems in creative ways. They often interact with customers, work with people in the business, and are in almost constant communication with their teams. And our work environment is very cool!

I sometimes get to work with middle students who are forming early opinions about what they are good, what they’re not good at, and what a future path may look like.  So many of the girls tell me that they aren’t “good” at math that boys are smarter at math and science, or that “geeks” like math (and they aren’t geeks).  These misconceptions are rampant, and significantly contribute to the lack women in STEM fields. As parents, teachers, aunts/uncles and role models, we should more actively encourage young people to pursue careers in the sciences, and we should also work to make those fields more attractive to a more diverse audience.

How is your company bringing innovation to the forefront?

Blackbaud  is the largest cloud software company powering social good. This means our software powers emerging and leading brands in the nonprofit, foundation, education, healthcare and corporate CSR space.

We make it a priority to deeply understand how our customers work each day, and to build best practices into our solutions (ex. what is a best practice for major gift fundraising and how can our software best enable that?). As we design our platforms and solutions, we carefully consider how people inside and outside of the company can easily and elegantly innovate on top of what we’re building.  We’ve built a developer platform, a commerce platform, a data platform, and independent customer-facing solutions with powerful API’s that are revolutionizing how partners, customers, and engineers everywhere can “innovate for good.”  We’ve also open-sourced all of our UX code (what we call SKY UX™)so that anyone can build new capabilities that look like, and can seamlessly integrate with, Blackbaud’s products and solutions. And through the cloud we’ve built, we’re able to harness AI-powered data intelligence that surfaces as actionable insights to our customers; powering a new level of innovation.

At Blackbaud our vision is “to power an ecosystem of good that builds a better world.” This means we don’t just stop at powering customers with our solutions. We work to connect them with each other (ex. grant-making institutions with nonprofits through our Blackbaud Outcomes™ solution) so every player in this ecosystem—Blackbaud, every organization, every company, etc.—can radically collaborate to lift the entire social economy.

To date, what project is your greatest success?

As CTO for Blackbaud, leading the company’s transition to the cloud has been one of the most challenging and fun projects I’ve ever worked on. I’m inspired every day by how the technology enables an ecosystem of good for our customers – all of whom work on addressing challenges in the social good space, from nonprofits to education and healthcare institutions, to foundations, corporate CSR teams and even individual change agents.

We transitioned our on-premises portfolio to the cloud in less than 24 months. On the business side, because of the way we made the transition, we didn’t see a top or bottom line revenue hit, which is extremely rare for tech companies making this transition (oh, and our stock price has more than doubled in the last three years too!). Our talented team of engineers not only modernized our entire delivery model and solution line, but also built an intelligent cloud platform that is light years ahead of our competitors’; allowing us to deliver rapid innovation (even daily!) to organizations who work to change the world. And we have built strategic innovation partnerships with best-in-class companies like Microsoft that bring extra value to our cloud offerings. But what’s most exciting is that within just a few years of us building Blackbaud SKY™, millions of users in the social good community are benefiting from this innovation—from the common user experience across solutions, to the integrated intelligence and other modern capabilities we baked in. This has translated to lower TCO and other operating efficiencies for customers, in addition to real “end mission” outcomes, which is really exciting.

For example, Water Mission told us that our predictive analytics allowed them to identify enough donors with the potential to give enough to bring safe water to 100,000 people for the rest of their lives. And ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge (powered by our cloud software) helped them raise funds that helped them isolate a gene that got them one step closer to a cure. These are the kind of stories we hear every day. These are the stories I love. And this is one of the many reasons why I’m humbled and honored to be the CTO at a company like Blackbaud.

For an exclusive look at the Edison Awards “Women Behind Innovation” series, sign up for our free email newsletter.

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Mellissa Hopkins

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© 2017 Edison Awards. Edison Awards is a program of Edison Universe, a 501(c)(3) organization.