Tech Ten Winners 2016

These fifteen people have distinguished themselves in tech this year.

YOUTH ENGAGEMENT

Mary Johnson

Executive Director, RI Students of the Future
Mary Johnson had an unconventional road to her involvement in the tech sphere in Rhode Island. “I started my career in the theater industry as a stage manager and I was also a theatrical dog trainer for a while,” she says, laughing. Her foray into technology began when her son, seven at the time, saw an ad in the paper for a First Lego competition and convinced her to take him. “After that I heard about it for two years, how he wanted to be on a robotics team. We weren’t able to find a team for him to join, so I started one in my house.”

Since her son’s fateful foray into Lego robotics, Johnson was pulled into volunteering with RI Students of the Future, a nonprofit that encourages kids to get involved in the STEM field through robotics, a part of this being the First Lego League. “The kids get a challenge and they build a robot to score points in the challenge; it’s like a sports competition,” she explains. “They work as a team for six to eight weeks to build robots and meanwhile learn gracious professionalism. Then they go to competitions and there are awards and  the winner goes onto the world festival.” Johnson has seen first hand how the program can spark an interest in a tech career that a child might normally not have thought about. “It’s funny to meet the kids who were on my son’s team now. My son just graduated college in May and he’s developing self-driving cars for Google. One of them is in med school and one of them traces her interest in ocean engineering back to First Lego League,” Johnson says. “It’s interesting how these projects and robots have made a lasting difference in their lives. And mine. I stayed involved; my son’s twenty-two and I’m still helping First Lego League and RI Students of the Future.”


CIO/CTO

Jason Viera

Director of Networking Solutions, Carousel Industries
Jason Viera is the director of networking solutions at Carousel Industries, but his passion for technology started as a kid. “I grew up with tech around me. My dad was a programmer back when they had punch cards, which were literal cards that you put into machines. I realized early on that I didn’t want to be a programmer, but I still loved the technology,” he says. “Back then, the internet started to become a thing. Having that connectivity and being able to talk to people around the world was extremely appealing to me. That’s what drove me into technology.” He’s witnessed a ton of change in the tech world, from the brick-size cellphones of the ’90s to dialup to the lithe touch-screen phones we all have in our pockets. Yet with all this advancement in technology, there are bound to be bumps in the road, problems that need fixing, and that’s where Viera comes in. “I look at a customer’s problem and tie it back to the tech. A lot of technologists get super excited about the technology, but they tend to over fixate on the technology versus actually addressing the problem for the customer.”


WORKFORCE CHAMPION

Damian Ewens

Project Director, Opportunity@Work
Damian Ewens is the hot name around town. If you speak to someone who works in Rhode Island’s tech industry, his name will probably pop up in the conversation. Ewens is the project director for Opportunity@Work, a nonprofit “with the big mission of enabling a million more workers to learn work, and earn to their full potential.” Within that goal is a project called TechHire, which Ewens runs in Rhode Island. “TechHire RI is the tech talent pipeline for the state. One of the biggest issues facing our companies is the skills gap in the tech industry, specifically software development workers,” he explains. “We are working on solving that issue. We build skill assessments to make it easier for companies to hire based on mastery and not pedigree.” TechHire’s goal is to help people who might not have the resources or means to get a specialized degree to not be overlooked if they have the skill to do the job. “I ran Providence’s after school system for high school kids, I worked in several innovative schools both here and nationally, and noticed a lot of our kids, if they get through school and get into college, they don’t finish and they get into debt,” he explains. “We’ve got to fix that, to build better pathways that provide relevant learning for real opportunity. Even at Community College of Rhode Island, more than half the students take general education courses when they could be specializing in strong computer science courses and getting jobs that allow them to pay for college. For me, in terms of true systemic change, this is the sweet spot, specifically through computer science.”


ENTREPRENEURSHIP/STARTUPS

Pat Sabatino

CEO and Founder, Datarista
Pat Sabatino is a believer in Rhode Island. That is, he believes creating a tech startup in the state is something worth trying, and that is exactly what he’s done. His company, Datarista, uses cloud technology to “reinvent how third-party sales and marketing data providers deliver data to their customers, through automation (i.e. artificial intelligence).” Sabatino likes to describe this by citing an article called “What the Jetsons Got Wrong.” “In the Jetsons’s view of automation, it always ended with George or Jane or Judy or Elroy at a console having to push a button to make something happen,” he says. “Automation doesn’t require a human to push a button; once you do integration, it should just work.” In plain speak, Datarista makes data delivery fluid and data updates constant through automation, rather than a manual information plug-in. Sabatino was a thirty-year data professional, but as tech and data began to intersect more and more, he was pushed into the tech field.  After years commuting from Narragansett to California for his job, he saw the opportunity to merge data and tech to create Datarista, but instead of defaulting to Silicon Valley, he decided to look closer to home. “I was set to do it in Silicon Valley. I had people I had worked with in the past that I had handpicked to do this. At the last minute, I stopped and I said you know, maybe in 2005 this was all very true, but this is 2015 and there are now some very talented people here in Rhode Island.” Besides finding and hiring talent here in Rhode Island, Sabatino believes that when people see his startup growing roots in the state, others will follow his example. “I think there are a lot of great entrepreneurs here and I think they need to realize you can do this here. Don’t be shy, don’t go to Boston, don’t go to Austin, you can do it in Providence.”


COMPANY INNOVATION

MOJOTECH

Represented by Nick Kishfy, CEO and Founder
Mojotech, in simple terms, helps clients develop software applications. Founder Nick Kishfy says, “In some cases we’re helping to build a new, novel idea from the ground up and in other cases, we are working with a larger company to help them tap into a new market, adapt to new opportunities.” One example of their work is with a recently launched app called Dockwa. “Dockwa is a startup based in Newport, and the founder, Mike Melillo, had this idea for an Open Table style thing for boaters,” Kishfy says. “So if you’re out on your boat somewhere and you’re far from home and you’re not sure where the moorings or marinas are, where you want to put your boat, you can just take out an app and look at all the spots available for you, pick a spot and pay.” Mojotech helped Dockwa to build the software, get the product out to market and since then it has seen considerable growth. Pretty impressive stuff from a company that was started in Kishfy’s Barrington backyard.


TECH EDUCATION

Skills USA

Represented by Josh Klemp, State Association Director, and students Austin Stawicki and Josephine Wolfe
SkillsUSA makes an impact on the lives of its student members through the development of personal skills, workplace skills and technical skills that are grounded in academics. Joshua Klemp, state association director for SkillsUSA RI, explains that they do this through “a professional development program that we provide to our teachers that helps them integrate employability skills in their technical programs, so they have a tool to teach that. We also have a competitive events program,” he says, “where we have close to seventy different competitions in various technical and leadership areas.” The kids’ interests range from technology in the traditional sense to technical careers like baking and the graphic arts. But the overarching goal is to help them towards a career and develop the skills necessary for that path before they even leave high school. “When you go through one of our programs in a local high school, you’ll leave that program at the end of three years with some sort of industry certification, whether you’re in CS or digital media,” Klemp says. “You’ll leave with not only a diploma but with something in industry that says you’re employable.” Kids can jump right out of high school into entry-level jobs, making SkillsUSA an integral way of mending
the skills gap in the state. “SkillsUSA is a solution to our state and country’s skills gap. Our programs and competitive events are designed by people from industry, so our students are prepared
not only with employability skills
through our curriculum, but they’re ready for what an entry level job experience would be like.”


COMMUNITY PARTNER

Junior Achievement

Represented by Pauline Abetti, Senior Education Manager
Junior Achievement creates programs in entrepreneurship, financial literacy and work readiness, which are implemented in classrooms throughout Rhode Island. Pauline Abetti, senior education manager at Junior Achievement, says, “The special thing about JA is we have business and community volunteers to teach our programs in classrooms. So not only do students get great content, they also are introduced to a new role model.” Students learn work skills and more about jobs in fields like tech through interaction with people directly in those industries. The success of these programs can be seen in the decisions by students to study things they may never have had an interest in, or to learn life skills that can help them to live a more fulfilling existence. “We actually had a high school student come speak to some partners and board members and staff, and she talked about her experience with JA in the classroom,” says Abetti. “She had a volunteer come in from the finance community and he talked about personal finance. After going through that program, she actually went and created her own budget.”


WOMEN IN TECH

Carrie Majewski

Director of Marketing, Atrion
Carrie Majewski might be in marketing at Atrion, but her impact in the tech sphere is worthy of recognition. This past March she began a blog called Women in Leadership for the company. “I noticed that no matter what role I held or what company I was with, I was always surrounded by men,” she says. “There was a lack of women in leadership, particularly in the technology sector. I wanted to know how I could assemble a group of strong, powerful women and give voice to their story.” But her blog does more than just tell stories; it fosters connections between the women featured and inspires future generations of women to leadership positions in tech. “The blog finds these strong women in the local community, profiles their stories, their experiences and the challenges that they’re encountering and shares their stories with others in the hope of inspiring future leaders,” she says. Majewski relishes sharing these stories, as well as her own personal challenge of marketing for a tech company. “I fell into technology marketing about eight years ago and never left. My challenge is, how do you bring creativity to a drier, denser subject matter? It’s a challenge that I embrace,” she says. “It’s different; marketing is typically a very female oriented industry, so to be in a marketing department within an IT company, that’s where I totally relate to these women.”

 

COMPANY INNOVATION

Gerald Deane

President and CEO, EchoMessaging Systems
Gerald Dean works with artificial intelligence systems, a super futuristic branch of technology. A former professor at Johnson and Wales, he believes in helping the little guy, and his company, EchoMessaging Systems, does just that. “Twelve years ago when we started our company, nobody was servicing the small industries,” he says. “A lot of small companies had ideas, but if they had brought their ideas to the software giants, it would have cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars. There’s no way they could afford it. So we aimed our software at small businesses.” The software does the mundane tasks that would normally take excessive hours to accomplish. “It frees up people from doing all the menial things, like sending out notices and invoices, which can take a few days to do. Our system automatically does that in the background,” he says. “It’s all based in artificial intelligence; the AI monitors the changes in the reactions and it learns.” Deane is also working on something called Push EchoWare that will change the game when it comes
to how data and information is shared. “This new software, you don’t have to have a mobile plan, you can push information into any device, you can push information to anything that has bluetooth or WiFi,” he says. Innovation aside, the thing that is most important to Deane is for young people to not be afraid to pursue their ideas. “That’s at the core of what I do. You just have to keep pushing and believe that it’s gonna work. Don’t quit.”


WORKFORCE CHAMPION

Joe Devine

Partner, Bridge Technical Talent
Joe Devine is part of the cadre of techies in the state devoted to linking skilled workers to jobs and boosting their confidence in their abilities. After working for years in engineering electronics, Devine had a career change himself. “About fifteen years ago I made a career change and met my business partner who had done IT recruiting and staffing his whole career. We came together and bought a company.” That business became Bridge Technical Talent, an IT staffing company. “We help folks who are involved in careers in computer and information science/tech to find their next role, whether it’s a contract role or a full-time role. And we help companies find those people.”  Helping people find a satisfying job is what makes Devine’s job so satisfying to him. “My favorite part of my job is helping somebody who is struggling to find their next role to better understand what they want and trying to expand their thinking outside ‘I’ve done this I want to keep doing that,’ ” he says. “I like helping them find new opportunities that make them happy, whether it’s financially fulfilling or a challenging aspect of their new job, or putting them in a position that allows them the chance to grow.”


ENTREPRENEURSHIP/STARTUPS

Kerri Lemoie

Founder and CEO, OpenWorks Group
As a successful self-made business woman in the tech industry, Kerri Lemoie is dedicated to expanding opportunities for her fellow techies. She does this through her work with open source technology, specifically OpenBadges, a platform that allows people to get recognition for learning that happens anywhere. LeMoie did not start in the tech industry, rather she always envisioned herself as a writer and photographer. Then after stints working in web building and scripting languages, she discovered her passion for helping others through technology. “When I worked with the Providence After School Alliance, the kids really inspired me. They’re faced with all these challenges in their daily lives and yet they were so anxious to do something,” she says. “One of the greatest things about Open Badges is that they recognize learning and skills that happen outside of the normal range of things. It brings us equity in learning.”


TECHIES TO WATCH

Mike Barry

Lead Software Developer, Amica Mutual Insurance
Mike Barry is not your stereotypical software programmer. He began his career in technology as a student at Rhode Island College, where he was a part of the successful wrestling team.

“I struggled to lock onto a major because one thing I wanted was the prospect of a job after I graduated. I didn’t want to waiter,” he says.

“So I met with a few of my wrestling coaches, counselors and upperclassman on my team and they advised me to either choose IT or accounting because jobs were plentiful. I tried each path and ultimately IT won out.” From wrestling opponents to wrestling Java at his job as lead software developer at Amica Mutual Insurance, Barry finds the challenges in his tech career to be just as satisfying. “One thing I appreciate about my job is that you can’t have a comfort zone, you have to reinvent yourself every year or two because of the landscape of our changing technology. You can’t get comfortable, you can’t rest on your laurels, and that’s a good thing!”


TECH EDUCATION

Don Gregory

Technology Instructor, Providence Public Library
Don Gregory is the technology instructor at the Providence Public Library and teaches people from all walks of life a variety of technologies, from how to open an internet browser to how to code. Gregory also likes to throw starfish into the ocean. “Have you ever heard the starfish story by Loren Eiseley?” he asks. “Well, the premise is that a man is on the beach sees a young girl throwing starfish. The tide had washed all the starfish up and was going out. The man comes up to her and says, there’s thousands and thousands, you’re never going to make a difference. She bends down and throws another one in and says, ‘well, it made a difference to that one.’ ” This is how Gregory sees his life, his work. No one is a lost cause, and the feat of trying to end digital illiteracy is a daunting one, but one he is passionate about. “I teach folks that are experiencing homelessness, people from the VA that have proudly served this country and can’t get a job because they don’t know how to attach a resume. All the way up to people who are looking for a new career, workforce development,” he says. “I continue on with the digital literacy mission because I believe in the world today, it is critical that you have skills and that you have access to the technology and the WiFi. To me, it’s a human right.”


CORPORATE GIVING

FM Global

Represented by Rama Koppaka, Aislinn Walters, Cory Murphy, Erik Waal, Peter Reid, Brian Gabriel, Brian Prince and Nick Blake
As a mutual insurance company, FM Global makes sure that mutuality is inherent in everything they do and support. Their support of the PTech and CS4RI initiatives to introduce kids in Rhode Island to technology careers is part of their commitment to community and to mutual learning. “Mutuality is engrained in everything we do,” says Lisa Cooper, manager of business systems. “There are five groups that benefit from us supporting these local tech initiatives: the students, the state, our employees, us, and our clients; we all benefit.”

 

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