According to a new study released by CompTIA, a leading IT association, Raleigh is ranked as the number two Tech Town in the nation, offering IT workers an abundance of job opportunities and a desirable quality of life. Meredith College is located just minutes from downtown Raleigh, a perfect location for women interested in a career in the technology field.
Meredith prepares women for successful careers in STEM fields. With a liberal arts foundation that is geared towards success in any field, Meredith has a solid reputation among employers. Graduates have found success in the technology industry and are excelling as tech professionals.
The graduates featured on the following pages are thriving in the tech world. They’ve overcome the obstacles of being in a male-dominated industry, and they aren’t afraid to take on a challenge.
Senior Vice President, Chief Information Officer, Neiman Marcus Group
Computer Science Concentration
From early on in her education, Sarah Miller knew she wanted to work in the technical field. It wasn’t until she was 12 years old that she had her first exposure to technology and computer programming while attending a computer camp. With that experience, she fell in love with coding.
Going into college, Miller wanted to pursue a computer science or computer engineering type field, but she didn’t know how she was going to get there. An all women’s college intrigued her because of the personal, individualized attention and the academic focus.
“In a technical field like this, it is important to have that mentorship and that individualized attention from your professors. That is why I chose Meredith,” said Miller.
Meredith’s location near Research Triangle Park was perfect for Miller, who had her eyes set on IBM from a very young age. When looking for a co-op opportunity, Miller targeted IBM. With the assistance of the Office of Career Planning, she landed a co-op position there.
“The co-op with IBM really solidified my decision to work in the tech field,” said Miller. “I was very lucky to get the co-op that I did at IBM. I knew that was where I wanted to work, and that position got my foot in the door.”
From a co-op to a full-time position as a computer programmer, Miller started her career in the place where she had always dreamed. She spent nine years with IBM, before taking on roles at Nash Finch Co, Lowe’s Home Improvement, and now with Neiman Marcus Group in Dallas, Texas.
With the fashion company, Miller started out as vice president over enterprise applications in 2013 before being promoted to senior vice president and chief information officer (CIO) in 2016.
As CIO, Miller is a member of the executive leadership team and helps with formulating the company’s strategy. She is responsible for developing all the technology strategies and road maps to support that strategy, while overseeing about 230 associates and working with more than 700 partners.
“My interactions from a day-to-day perspective are a lot of engagement with our business partners, our customers, and our brand partners to understand business problems that they are trying to solve, or solutions that we are trying to get to our customers, to translating that back to how we develop the technologies to enable that.”
In the beginning of her 28 years in the tech industry, Miller had to overcome the challenges of being in a male-dominated industry. She found that she was often underestimated as one of the youngest in her peer group and as a woman. Miller had to prove her leadership and other skill sets and how she could be effective in her role. And she credits her mentors, male and female, for helping her along the way and for taking a special interest in her, whether it was understanding a career option or how she could improve her leadership skills to move to the next level.
“As a woman with an interest in learning technology, Meredith gave me the confidence needed to enter the technology field,” said Miller. “Meredith helped me have a voice, helped me understand how to sell myself, and taught me how to express my opinions effectively.”
Miller has made a point of bringing women into technology. At Neiman Marcus, she is part of a Women in Technology group, where she mentors other women, advocates for women in tech at local schools, and helps young women better understand the opportunities available in technology and the education needed to move into those roles.
“There are lots of opportunities available for women in technology,” said Miller. “I think younger women and girls get intimidated by technology because of the lack of women in the field and the lack of having role models. There are a lot of resources for women and girls out now to teach coding and the basics of technology. Having that foundation and education early on will help women be less intimidated.”
Software Developer, Credit Suisse
B.S. Computer Science
B.S. Business Administration
Mercy Rialem was always good at math and science, and she thoroughly enjoyed the subjects. So, it seemed fitting that she would take a STEM-related path in college.
Not sure which direction to take, Rialem took her first computer science course during her first semester at Meredith. That was when she knew that computer science was the field she wanted to pursue. Because she was also fascinated by the world of business, she added a business administration major.
“Meredith’s small class sizes and personalized attention from professors and faculty allowed me to thrive academically and build long-lasting relationships,” said Rialem.
As a woman pursuing a career in the technology field, Rialem knew she needed to be prepared for the industry. And Meredith provided a plethora of opportunities. She served as a student assistant in the technology services department, interned as a technology assistant for Raleigh Mortgage Group, and landed an internship with Credit Suisse – leading to a full-time position after graduation.
In her role as a software developer for Credit Suisse, Rialem’s main responsibility is to develop and maintain IT solutions that fulfill business needs and aid in the smooth running of the business. She spends much of her day collaborating with colleagues, thinking through problems that need to be solved, and coding the solutions. And she is constantly learning and growing.
“As much as coding is the order of the day for me, I really enjoy the fact that I work with very smart individuals whom I learn a lot from,” said Rialem. “It is very satisfying because every problem gives you a different challenge and perspective. There is always something new to learn.”
Being in the tech industry has presented a few challenges for Rialem. As a beginner, Rialem was a little intimidated starting out in a male-dominated field. She was afraid she didn’t know enough to do the job well, and that she wouldn’t match up to her male counterparts. At some point, she had to shake that intimidation off. She worked hard to learn the ropes, and she has found success.
“The classes I took at Meredith gave me a good foundation and sharpened my critical and analytical skills that are essential in this field. All of my experiences played a critical role in shaping me into a well-rounded individual.”
As a woman in tech, Rialem is actively engaged in volunteer activities that help develop a talent pipeline of young women and narrow the gender gap in the field. She has served as a Girls Who Code Club facilitator at Research Triangle High School in an effort to expose young women to technology and generate an interest and enthusiasm for tech before college. And she has worked and interacted with other women in the field who serve as mentors and provide support.
“Meredith taught me to go strong wherever I go,” Rialem said.
Software Engineer, Imangi Studios
B.S. Political Science
When Jessi Agee started her college search, women’s colleges were at the top of the list. Coming from a small math and science high school, Agee wanted a similar environment. Because Meredith offered an attractive location and a better financial aid package than other schools, the Alabama native enrolled.
With a number of interests ranging from building computers to robotics, to public interest and public policy, Agee chose to major in political science. Meredith’s liberal arts foundation allowed her to still take the tech classes that she enjoyed, while completing her major and three minors.
“I took a lot of advanced math classes. I took Java and advanced statistics classes,” said Agee. “I also took several biology courses and Women in Science. I invested in as much technical stuff as I could.”
Then, a casual comment changed her life – and her career path –forever.
While at Meredith, Agee worked several jobs including a 30-hour per week job at PetSmart. During one of her shifts, she ran into the engineering quality assurance (QA) lead of Epic Games. A mutual bond over video games, which started with a simple “Hello! Those are cool shoes,” turned into a direct connection to the gaming industry.
After learning that there were entry level positions at Epic that didn’t require a technical degree, Agee applied, interviewed, and was hired, starting her career in QA for Epic Games. Two and a half years later, she moved to Oracle as a result of another connection – this time with a Meredith alumna.
After receiving her computer science certificate, Agee began working as a software engineer for Imangi Studios, the makers of Temple Run and Temple Run II.
“My current role is to do more of the experimental and architectural programming,” said Agee. “For the next three years, we are going to be working on three new games. I am helping to lay the foundation for our future products. My passion right now is on the native side, like plug-ins, getting our games to work with the iOS and Android platforms, as well as making sure it can run on different devices.”
Being at Imangi Studios, Agee has had the opportunity to take on various tasks involved in game creation from coding the buttons and menus to programming the game play elements.
“The biggest things I got from Meredith were the soft skills and learning how to deal in a day-to-day world, especially going into a male-dominated industry,” said Agee.
From being ignored and talked over to having ideas and suggestions stolen and presented by co-workers, Agee has experienced significant challenges and obstacles.
“The biggest obstacle is getting into the field,” said Agee. “I gained a lot of confidence from Meredith. If I hadn’t had the personality that I have and if I hadn’t had the backing of having gone to such a strong school then I probably would have failed. I feel personally responsible for other people who may not be as willing or able to speak up.”
Meredith gave Agee the confidence and strength to stand up for herself and to be a voice for others. She uses those strengths to encourage other women who are interested in STEM, including Meredith students. Agee returns to Meredith on a regular basis to speak in science courses and on career panels.
“I do a lot of work with getting young girls and women involved in STEM,” said Agee. “I work with Black Girls Code and Girl Scouts of America, and try to put on group talks and workshops. Part of my political science program was investing in underrepresented populations and women, specifically.”
In the gaming industry, your biggest accomplishment is having your name listed in the credits. Agee is listed in the credits for Gears of War, Bulletstorm, Infinity Blade, Temple Run, and Temple Run II.
That is success for this gamer.
Senior Director, IT Service Excellence, Cree, Inc.
B.A. Political Studies
When Jennifer Burke-Harris Durbin graduated from Meredith, her goal was not to enter into the technology field. With a bachelor’s degree in political studies, Durbin started her career in finance.
“Meredith College was the perfect fit for me as a small liberal arts school, which gave me the ability to explore a wide variety of disciplines,” said Durbin.
Durbin started her career managing the corporate financial planning and analysis team at RTI International when she enrolled in business school. After earning her MBA, she was offered an opportunity to transition into the IT field.
“My experience in finance and my diverse educational background have positioned me to bridge the classic communication gap between technologists and the business,” said Durbin. “Effectively translating technology into ‘plain English’ that customers and non-technologists can understand is an art form and one of my favorite parts of my job.”
In her 11 years in the field, Durbin has led production support, quality assurance, security and compliance, IT audit, service desk, desktop engineering, risk and governance, and IT service management.
In her current role, Durbin’s core responsibilities are leading IT governance, risk and compliance, IT service management, running IT as a business, and developing IT’s transformational framework. Her job entails everything from establishing data protection policies, reviewing IT security requirements in a client contract to assessing the impact a new data privacy law will have on Cree’s IT operations, and planning IT process training for Cree’s global IT employees.
“Two aspects of my job that I love are raising awareness and understanding of key technical and compliance challenges across the organization, and impacting change and organizational maturity,” said Durbin. “Having the opportunity to see programs we initiated a year ago blossom into transformation initiatives that reach across the globe and throughout all areas of our business is truly an honor.”
One of the most important skills she gained from Meredith that she leverages daily is thinking outside the box and looking at each challenge, whether it be technical, managerial, or financial, from every angle.
Durbin has been recognized for her accomplishments. She was named one of the Triangle Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 Leaders and was a 2015 Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce Emerging Leader.
Even with the success, Durbin is not immune to the challenges of working in an industry that is dominated by men. She has encountered obstacles at professional conferences and with vendors.
“While I cannot change the behaviors and opinions of others, I do have the ability to impact change with my own actions and whom I choose to do business with,” said Durbin.
She has overcome these challenges by focusing her attention and spending on companies that support diversity and inclusion. For most of her career, she has been very fortunate to work at companies that value and promote diversity.
“My Meredith experience instilled in me the importance of helping others and promoting organizations and activities focused on positive improvements, which I believe is ultimately the best way to overcome obstacles,” said Durbin.
Durbin feels giving back and helping remove obstacles for others is a privilege. She has supported many local organizations that promote women in technology such as the Association for Information Technology Professionals (AITP), Youth Leadership of Wake Forest, and TEKsystems Women in IT.
“Above all, have faith in yourself and remember that you do not have to map out your entire career before graduation,” said Durbin. “It may take some time and a false start or two to settle into the right career, and that is perfectly fine. Celebrate your wins, learn from your losses, and understand that success looks different for each of us.”