Welcome to the first installment of the INAP Executive Spotlight. In this series, we’ll be interviewing senior leaders in the company, hearing candid reflections about their careers, the mentors who shaped them and big lessons learned along the way.
First up is Jennifer Curry, SVP of Global Cloud Services. An industry thought leader and champion of unsung IT workers everywhere, Curry is responsible for the architecture, infrastructure engineering and technical support of INAP’s cloud and hosting solutions, including bare metal, private cloud, managed hosting, third-party managed cloud and business continuity.
Read on to hear her take on what makes a great leader, the challenges of diversity in the industry and how our office’s most vocal Fighting Irish fan almost became an accountant.
The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Tell us how you got into IT/tech. What inspired you to pursue it?
It was a little by accident, to be honest.
I come from a family of accountants, and I assumed I would simply follow in their footsteps. I went to Notre Dame and graduated (from the best business school!) with a degree in accounting. A career in IT wasn’t on my radar.
Fast forward to my second job after college—I was working as part of the finance organization at Platinum Technology. They decided to start a financial systems group inside of the organization and asked if I would be interested in being a part of the group. Never one to back down from a challenge, I said “sure.”
I fell in love with the systems work immediately. From there, I continued in IT and eventually into engineering operations.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I don’t feel like I have a typical day, which is why I love what I do. It is actually true that there is never a dull moment in my world.
As a P&L owner, I spend considerable time looking at the financial health of the business unit—reviewing sales, updating forecasts and trends, evaluating spending. But the best part of my job is working with my teams on new products, reviewing technology updates and engaging with our customers to strategize on their needs and how we can help.
What do you love about your role in tech? What do you think is the best part about being in the tech industry?
Our industry is always changing. It is highly competitive, and you have to consistently ensure your value proposition aligns correctly with the market. Being a competitive person, I embrace that challenge. As a service provider, we are exposed to more emerging technology than a typical enterprise IT organization. It’s exciting to be close to the VC markets and the technology they are bringing to the industry.
How have you seen the industry change over your career in regard to diversity? How would you like to see it change?
There has definitely been a change in raising the awareness on inclusion in the tech world. However, I am still the only woman at the leadership table more times than not. Obviously, change like this takes time and it is important for those of us who are in leadership positions to not become complacent. We cannot stop being surprised or disappointed when we walk into the room and don’t see diversity in the folks sitting at the table. We have to remain vigilant in our execution of changing the look of the IT workforce.
Out of the qualities you possess, which do you think has had the greatest influence on your success?
This probably sounds cliché, but my competitiveness is likely what has propelled my personal career growth the most. I am talking about competitiveness with myself and constantly expecting that my execution is better every day. If I were to always focus on competing with the person next to me, I wouldn’t be as successful. It wouldn’t fuel the right growth focus.
In my role as a leader, I believe loyalty is the quality that helps develop and maintain high-performing teams. If your team trusts you, they will deliver more for you.
Who are the people that have mentored you or been role models?
Kristin Ruth was my first true mentor and the reason I stepped into this IT world. She plucked me from working in Excel spreadsheets 12 hours a day and put me into a financial systems role.
Doug Butler has been influential in my career for the past 10-plus years. He was the CFO at Looking Glass Networks and Latisys while I was at both companies. I seek his advice often. You wouldn’t think that a CFO would be an IT person’s mentor. But it makes sense since we spend a considerable amount of time managing our spend and ensuring we can articulate the ROI of what we are doing to our business leaders. He is now the CEO of an employee engagement software company and provides me a very different perspective on leadership these days.
What are your thoughts on work-life balance and have your ideas changed over time?
Burned out employees are not good employees. That’s why I encourage balance. You have to shut off sometimes in order to remain fresh and able to operate at your highest potential. Our culture is an always-on mindset, but if you look at the top technological minds, they all take time out (a lot through meditation).
What advice would you give to someone pursuing IT as a career path?
You are going to have to self-study—a lot. If leadership is your goal, realize that means putting your team first, over yourself.
How would you do things differently (if at all) if you were starting out now?
I’m not sure I would change anything. I wouldn’t be who I am if I took a different path.
What are some of the big lessons you’ve learned in your career?
Be open to new opportunities and just work hard. If you work hard and execute consistently, opportunities come your way. I didn’t seek out many of my positions: They were offered to me based on my track record of execution and my willingness to take on something new.
I’ve been terrified of some of the roles that were given to me to be honest. I think that is why I have been successful in such a male-dominated industry—I wasn’t afraid to be afraid.
Watching people interact, listening not just to learn about what they are saying but to seek to understand the dynamics of how people react to one another. Sometimes people mistake the quiet ones for being disengaged, but those are the folks who are going to blow you away because they have taken the time to truly understand all of the dynamics of a situation or event.