Writing code, breaking barriers: Jennifer Kyriakakis ’96 talks IT major, marketing at Silicon Valley company

0
89
COURTESY PHOTO / JENNIFER KYRAKAKIS Jennifer Kyriakakis ‘96 was one of seven students, six of whom were women, majoring in information technology at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business.

When Jennifer Kyriakakis ’96 left the College of William and Mary, she was one of only seven students in her major. Entering her career, she was a woman in a male-dominated information technology field. Now, she is the vice president of marketing for MATRIXX Software, a company she co-founded.

Kyriakakis majored in information technology and operations management, a program that was part of the Raymond A. Mason School of Business. For current students, information technology is not an option. She also had a minor in philosophy, which she said helped her learn how to build arguments and prove theorems, complementing her technical skills to strengthen her career.

“I knew I wanted to go into IT when I was a senior in high school, and when I took my first IT class at William and Mary, I loved it and knew it was a growing field,” Kyriakakis said. “I wasn’t the hardcore software engineer type, so the mix of technical and business is what appealed to me.”

“I knew I wanted to go into IT when I was a senior in high school, and when I took my first IT class at William and Mary, I loved it and knew it was a growing field. I wasn’t the hardcore software engineer type, so the mix of technical and business is what appealed to me.”

During her time at the College, Kyriakakis said that the majority of business students were accounting majors, leaving a group of seven students in her major. For her, what was the most exciting was the fact that six out of seven students were women.

“I loved that we had a small, tight knit group in our core classes,” Kyriakakis said. “I remember on one exam, all seven of us got a question wrong, and our professor said, ‘Well I must have taught it wrong since you all missed it.’ It was a wonderful group to go through my major with and taught me the value of teamwork for problem-solving and support.” 

Outside of the classroom, Kyriakakis built her resume and her job skills as a student by working off campus at The Green Leafe Café and College Delly. She said these jobs were a great way to meet people, earn money and gain experience.

When she wasn’t at work or in the classroom, Kyriakakis said that one of her favorite memories of the College came from long walks across the campus — which she finds particularly beautiful. She said she also loved getting to see the blending of modern students and faculty with colonial reenactors all across campus.

After graduating, Kyriakakis started her career in the field she majored in, unlike many of her peers. She began working at the Washington, D.C. office of Andersen Consulting, which is now known as Accenture. There, she worked on larger information technology system implementation projects, writing and developing SQL reports.

She worked at Andersen Consulting for a few years and eventually moved up into a project management position. Moving from D.C. to Mexico City, she started running a project for a mobile operator. Working with Logica, now part of CGI Federal, she was part of the boom of mobile phones.

She said that in this position, she learned how the mobile and telecommunications business worked.

“After a few years, I moved from sales into marketing which was my first non-technical role,” Kyriakakis said. “I enjoyed the storytelling aspect of it, as well as using my technical background to build positioning and help drive the company strategy. That software vendor was acquired in 2006, so in 2009 I co-founded MATRIXX Software together with the CTO/CEO of the previous company and a small group of engineers. Since then we’ve been growing the company to where it is today, around 200 people across 13 countries.”

Silicon Valley-based MATRIXX Software is a company committed to helping telecommunication companies reinvent themselves in a digital economy. They offer a Digital Commerce platform designed to help companies with customer engagement along with other business solutions.

According to Kyriakakis, her organization spans content development, creative and brand, demand generation programs, events, digital marketing, public relations, analyst relations and market development.

“Any given day is a mix of strategy, review, execution and measurement across these functions,” Kyriakakis said. “I’m also part of the leadership team in which I help drive the overall strategy of the company. I work remotely with a highly distributed team, so I spend lots of time doing online meetings and traveling to our various offices and customer sites.”

“Any given day is a mix of strategy, review, execution and measurement across these functions. I’m also part of the leadership team in which I help drive the overall strategy of the company. I work remotely with a highly distributed team, so I spend lots of time doing online meetings and traveling to our various offices and customer sites.”

While Kyriakakis was surrounded by women in her undergraduate experience, that has not been the case for her throughout her STEM career. She’s dedicated a part of her professional life to advocating on behalf of other women in the technology sector.

She said that as a woman in her career she has faced two main challenges: standing her ground when she’s the only woman in the room and expressing a differing opinion.

“I think women are still perceived as being ‘overemotional’ and men worry about ‘hurting our feelings’ in a workplace environment,” Kyriakakis said. “It’s good to be passionate and emotional — in a way that is positive and is perceived as positive. Often, I think women don’t get coached enough or don’t get the same professional feedback a man is given, because a male manager feels they need to be ‘gentler’ in the delivery of constructive or even negative feedback. I always encourage those around me professionally to be direct and honest, as doing the right thing for the team, project or company is the ultimate goal.”

Kyriakakis also said that she faces bias as a woman with a marketing title; people assume she doesn’t understand the technical aspects of her company’s products.

She said that she overcomes this by building rapport and asking lots of questions.

“[My favorite part of working in a computer science field] is the speed at which advances are made and the fact that you are ahead of the curve in understanding the cultural impacts of technology,” Kyriakakis said. “For years, my parents didn’t understand what I did. When I got my mom her first iPhone, she finally said, ‘Oh I get it now!’”