In honor of Women's History Month, we sat down with TPF4Y board member Gail Farnsley to talk about her career, which began with programming and computer science and has shifted and grown through jobs both in the U.S. and abroad, to advising corporate IT leadership. She is currently an Executive Partner with Gartner, working with CIOs and other executive clients as a trusted advisor to provide expertise and guidance to help them achieve their business objectives.
"I think the most important thing is to find something you are interested in," said Gail, when asked what advice she has for girls following in her footsteps. "I didn't set out to do this job; in fact, I am sure I had no idea jobs like this existed."
Encouraged by a high school math teach who taught a programming class she liked, Gail got a degree in computer science. She had always liked puzzles and programming was like one giant puzzle, allowing her to figure out how to get the computer to do what she wanted it to do. After a few years as a programmer, she moved on to designing programs, and from there started designing whole systems, not just individual applications. And with a more well-rounded view of the business side of things, she eventually moved into management, something she never thought she would end up doing.
"I would also advise being open to new opportunities," Gail continued, "things you might have never guessed you would like. I never had a plan that I would run IT for a company or even be a manager, but I focused on doing a great job in the role I had, and all those other opportunities opened up for me."
And what memorable opportunities they were. As an analyst at Emery Air Freight, Gail traveled to Europe for two weeks to meet with the leaders of their offices in France, Germany, and the UK to demo software for a new pricing system. As it turned out, she was in the UK on July 13, 1985, and was able to attend the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in person, a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As a project leader at Georgia-Pacific, Gail had a chance to work with their TV studio, where they needed to select software to keep track of all the work they did. She was chosen to go to Hollywood to visit a company that had developed a software tool that met their needs. When Gail first started with Cummins, she was working with their international distributors to implement new systems before Y2K. She traveled to Hong Kong, Singapore, Beijing, Tokyo, and Europe to work with those distributors to ensure the software would be able to support their systems. Gail's job with Cummins also afforded her the opportunity to live in the UK for two and a half years, where she was responsible for IT for all operations in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
Interestingly, Gail did not have many women who served as role models for her during her career.
"I think that is probably because when I was coming up through the ranks in IT, there were very few women in front of me," Gail speculates.
Luckily, she had some terrific male role models and mentors who pushed and encouraged her. All aspiring STEM students could use the helping hand, be it a man's or woman's, of a STEM mentor. Sign up with our US2020 initiative today and begin making a difference in the lives of Indianapolis students. You never know, you could be helping them towards the same inspiring career Gail has had.