Tech 10 Awards 2015

Meet Rhode Island's top ten IT professionals.

Hair and Makeup by Femme Fatale

Photography by Chelsea Shaw

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Nerds. Computer geeks. Techies. Those interested in information technology (IT) sometimes earn nicknames with less than flattering connotations. While some might embrace these labels, others might favor innovator, visionary and entrepreneur. Either way, technology is a fundamental part of the world we live in and these ‘dorks’ are the driving forces behind it. Often confined to behind-the-scenes action, we’re thrusting them into the limelight (some kicking and screaming). Rhode Island Monthly is proud to partner with Tech Collective to honor this year’s top ten IT professionals in the state. Little Rhody has always had a penchant for creativity — techies are just the new wave of artists.

The nonprofit Tech Collective is Rhode Island’s technology industry association and it aims to inspire, establish and expand a technological community and economy throughout the state. Each year, thanks to careful consideration by a panel of technology professionals and experts, Tech Collective names the state’s Tech10: ten exceptional practitioners and entrepreneurs who best exemplify innovation, passion and success in Rhode Island’s IT community. This year’s Tech10 is made up of mentors, business leaders, former art majors and people who just like to take things apart for the sake of putting them back together. Here, the winners share their experiences in the field and, for those of us who are less technologically inclined, explain just what it is that they do.

Roberto Gonzalez

Founder, president of the board and executive director of STEAM Box.

In plain speak: STEAM Box is an organization that cultivates technology-based youth program development and participation.

Impact: STEAM Box programs allow students to design, make and play with various technologies, enabling them to explore new passions and interests. They give young people, many of whom go on to pursue tech-based careers, ownership of their projects.

Is there a push to get more young girls involved in tech? The trend shows that young women will only take about twenty-one percent of new engineering jobs. There’s still this disconnect between girls and their interests in the sciences to their following through with careers in science. One of my priorities is to engage our young girls and offer them these programs, even if it’s a girls-only program. We started one and they did all these cool things. They made a geodesic dome and went to Six Flags where they learned about the architecture and design of rides. I want girls to feel entitled to those jobs.

Do you keep in touch regularly with students who have graduated?  These students humble me. There was this student, who is now at Rhode Island College, who sent me a Facebook video this year. In the video he says, ‘It’s my birthday, this is really cool that I got a car for my birthday, it’s really cool that I’m at RIC, life is beautiful and I have to thank you, Roberto Gonzalez.’ I got chills. And Mozart Louis, he called me up from his job at Google and he’s like, ‘I can’t believe I’m here.’ I’m just so appreciative of things like that.

Maeve Donohue

Founder and creative director of Nami Studios. Co-executive director of MedMates. Founder and creative director of Buttrfly. Founder, creative director and developer of Tango RI.

In plain speak: Nami Studios is a creative services firm that provides design development from infographics to branding to website design. MedMates is a platform that connects people working in the medical technology industry in Rhode Island to one another. Buttrfly is a startup company that involves hyperlocal geosocial networking (aka close proximity networking) in real life. Tango RI is a central database for Rhode Islanders where users can join participating organizations’ websites and access a shared suite of common services.

Impact: Donohue’s projects empower individual users to have more control over their information and encourage people with similar interests and backgrounds to connect.

How would you summarize what you do? I bring a design aspect to different types of technology, primarily the ones that end up in your palm, on your desktop or on your lap. Design is a very important factor in technology. I also do a lot of what I call translation. Because I can speak techie and programming and design and business, I find myself translating between each of those groups.

What drove you towards programming? Even when I was little I liked programming. We had a Commodore 64 and I liked moving the little dots on the screen. I went to RISD for art, but after I graduated I traveled and lived in different places. I have a faculty for learning languages and programming is really just another language. You don’t have to be good at math. If you understand language and syntax, at least conceptually and creatively, you can program. 

Jim Mcassey

Vice president of Brave River Solutions.

In plain speak: Brave River is an IT services company that assists local companies with software development, custom programming, helpdesk support and Internet marketing.

Impact: Since its inception, Brave River has helped a number of Rhode Island-based companies realize that having a website is just as important as having a business card. Brave River is customer service oriented. Does that part of IT ever get frustrating? We’re here because our clients are not experts in technology. Our clients are very good at what they do, and our job is to supply them with the technology to help them do what they do. If someone in our company gets frustrated with the problems that are presented, then they are probably in the wrong business. You need to embrace the challenges and help the client through that immediate problem, but most importantly see if there is something you can do to help them not encounter that same problem again.

What advice would you give to young people who are considering a career in technology? Technology is a great field to go into. I think they need to understand two things about themselves: One, do they really like solving problems, because that is what you are doing on a daily basis, and two, do they like to build things. It’s a lot of building solutions, building opportunities and being creative.

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