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Women in IT
Interview by S. Ibaraki, I.S.P.
As part of CIPS's ongoing commitment to highlighting and promoting the
role of women in the IT field, this week we are including an interview by
Stephan Ibaraki, I.S.P.
Stephan spoke with one of the first women to start a computer company, Cathy
Michitsch of Michitsch Systems Inc., Raiser's Edge specialists and
customized database & web site designers and developers.
Q: Your experiences as an IT expert would be of benefit to many veterans as
they walk the dynamic tightrope of technology. What personally prompted you
to enter the computing field? What led you to becoming a leading provider of
A: I was fascinated by the data coming out of the first IBM point of sale
terminal. I don’t know if you know this but the data came out on yellow punch
tape. I was 16 at the time and this fascination led to my career choice first
enrolling in Mohawk College in computer systems technology and immediately
starting my own consulting business while still a student. I just couldn’t
wait to get inside database design and have followed this development through
to the present. To this day my company, Michitsch Systems Inc. continues to
build on my initial fascination developing database solutions in the not for
profit and corporate sectors. I owe a debt of gratitude to my long term
customers in the not for profit sector who believed in me when I was starting
out and who remain my best customers to this day. I am extremely excited now
by our work in web enabled database design and implementation. I guess you
could say that my initial motivation is unchanged but the products and
delivery methods change almost daily.
Q: Cathy, what obstacles did you have to overcome and can you share your 20
leading tips for those thinking of starting a computing-based company? Can
you describe your role with your company and how you plan to shape the
company one year and two years into the future, and in the long term?
A: Obstacles? …..hmmm I guess being a woman in technology fifteen years ago
and a young woman at that. Picture this “ I walk into my bank to apply for
financing for the company and am asked to bring in my husband to
co-sign”…husband? … Who had time? I have many stories like this but I am sure
your woman readers know them without seeing them written here. These days not
so much an obstacle but a challenge is feeding my constant curiosity for
database technology and keeping up with its incredibly rapid change.
My twenty tips include
- If you give you win
- Hire Co-op Students
- Have an AR policy in
place from day one
- Hire a good accountant
- Hire a good lawyer
- Learn to speak the
language of your customers – minimize geek speak
- Interview your
accountants and lawyers and get several references
- Ignore buy out offers
- Solidify your dreams
and don’t let other organizations buy them from you
- Surround yourself with
- Marketing, marketing,
- Take care of your
employees – stop them from burning out
- Make sure one of your
team has the title and responsibility of “FUN MASTER”
- Have a change
management system in place from day one – that
- is when change starts
- Have a Human Resources
consultant on board from day one
- Have partnership
agreements and personal service contracts written so that trust is not
- Understand your costs
- Write clear and
- If you win you win if
you lose you learn ( a quote from one of my senior developers)
- Help your customers
don’t just work for them
- It is all about
- Give back to your
- Teach in your area of
- Contribute to the
development of the next generation of IT professionals
- Join professional
- Learn from your peers
Sorry Steve I realize that is more than twenty and I could
go on a lot longer.
I am the visionary and the janitor also cook and guitar player. As President
I hire the teams that do the work and I learn from them. Into the near term
one year out, Michitsch Systems will increase its presence in the corporate
sector and continue to build our Calgary Alberta office.
Two years out we will be firmly established as leaders in web enabled
database solutions and .NET implementation across Canada and
And I still get to feed my curiosity for database design and implementation.
Q: You have a reputation for being plugged into the stream of computing
consciousness about where it’s going now and in the long term. You’ve also
done a lot of research. Can you comment on the studies that you’ve performed
and your experiences?
A: As the President of a growing company I have a responsibility to my employees
and to my customers to keep up to date and ahead of what is coming next. In
my day to day operational environment I am surrounded by team members who are
constantly investigating and learning emerging technologies. This plus my own
extensive reading and consultations with industry leaders combined with
onsite solution design guides the development of Michitsch Systems. As a
part-time computer systems technology instructor at the British Columbia
Institute of Technology I have to keep up to date and in front of
developments. This association and my ongoing relationship with Computer
Co-op programs such as Capilano College are a research gold mine that I and
my company have benefited from. In fact one of my most recent co-op students,
Serena Bertolli-Haley, recently won the CIPS IT Student of the Year Award
given to the top IT student in British Columbia. With people like Serena
contributing to the Michitsch Systems knowledge base you can understand why
we are so confident in our research and future direction.
Q: Can you comment on the integration of mainframe, Unix, and Windows-based
technologies and how they all fit in large, complex, enterprise environments?
A: One of the greatest challenges facing enterprises as they face the
inevitable need to web enable their business processes is the internal and
external integration of existing legacy systems. From a technical and even
more so from a human resources point of view this is a daunting task for
these companies. Not only must they attempt to get systems designed to stand
on their own to talk to each other they must convince, motivate and retrain
their valued long term employees to perform in a new environment. Failure on
any project is caused from the human resources side not the technology.
Getting the people on side and building the team commitment first is my rule
for entering into this any legacy integration. In fact if I had to give one
reason for my success on projects such as this it would be my and my team’s
ability to work with the people not just the project.
Q: What are your views on SQL and its future?
A: Michitsch Systems has recently assisted one its employees in attaining the
MSSQL MCDBA Designation. This is an obvious indication of our belief in the
future of this product. Its position as the database component of the MS .NET
Framework will move it to the forefront of Enterprise Data Management. Recent
research I have conducted has convinced me that in high transaction volume
environments SQL 2000 in combination with appropriate .NET Enterprise Servers
will compete favorably any other industry combination. I will continue to
invest my company’s resources in training my team up to the SQL expert level.
Q: What are your views on XML and its future?
A: It is a necessity. If you don’t know it, learn it. It will revolutionize
business data communication. Welcome to the information age – XML is the
highest impact development to come along in a long time arguably in all time.
Its use will only grow as we move more and more to integrated cross corporate
Q: EAI, CRM, B2B are exploding? What are your views about these in related
areas for the current and future marketplace?
A: Steve that is a very good question. My whole career has focused on helping
my clients use their data and information in the best way possible. The
initiatives you listed are but the beginning of a huge wave of convergence in
data, information and business knowledge. Companies who do not utilize some
of this functionality will find it harder and harder to remain competitive.
As more and more companies routinely do business with customers around the
world web based business solution will be required not a luxury.
Q: For those relatively new in the computing field and for seasoned veterans,
which areas should they target for future study, what are the high-growth
A: If I had to give my top three I would say –XML, SQL and .NET . Not that
there aren’t many more things to learn but these three capture best of all
where the business internet is headed. Web based programming languages
generally, for example JAVA, should also be on the must learn list. I also
think it is important for all technology people to spend time studying and
understand general business and also industry specific business process. The
convergence of technology and business will require multi-disciplinary
understanding. Those with a high combination of technology AND business
knowledge will thrive!
Q: What changes do you see for the future of computing, conducting business,
and the use of the Internet?
A: As I mentioned earlier I really see a convergence continuing. Even today
many businesses see the internet as an. Very soon it will no longer be that,
but a necessity for business success. Today’s magical tools such as Voice
recognition over the internet will become a necessity for those wishing to do
business for example where customers may be facing a physical disability. It
will continue to be an extremely exciting time to in this business. I can
honestly that I am as excited now as when I first saw that yellow punch tape.
Q: Traditionally there hasn’t been a high penetration of woman in computing
but the landscape is changing. What are your views in this area?
A: You are absolutely right. As one of the first woman in Canada to start
their own IT company fifteen years ago, I have seen a huge increase in
women’s participation. My own team has been fortunate to have a balance of
men and women over the years and I believe that this has been a strength for
us. I have made a personal commitment to mentor women in technology so you
can understand why I am so proud of one of my current employees , Serena
Bertolli-Haley, who recently won the CIPS IT Student of the Year Award given
to the top IT student in British Columbia. While I was delighted to see
Serena win I was also pleased to see that other finalists were also women. We
have come a long way from my early days in IT. Who knows maybe the next time
I go into a bank to request financing I won’t have to produce a husband.
Q: It’s a blank slate, what added comments would you like to give to
enterprise corporations and organizations?
A: Although these will sound like clichés, and they are, I truly believe in
Never Give Up! Quitters never win and winners never quit.
Invest in your people, they are your organization!
Encourage balance for your employees, promote ways to have fun and enjoy the
ride yourself. Lead by example not by delegation in taking time to recharge,
refresh and revitalize.
Sincerely care for your customers and try to understand their needs by
putting yourself in their shoes.
Admit your mistakes, take responsibility for them and not only learn from
these mistakes but teach others not to fall into the same traps.
Don’t live in the past, live for the present, by courageous and Dream …