Women in Tech | Cracking the Code as a CIO

4 min read
  • Government
  • Information Technology

Laserfiche was founded by Nien-Ling Wacker, a woman who began her career building custom solutions out of her home in the 1970s. She grew her business into the world’s leading ECM software company, which works to enable the digital workplace of the future. Today, she is recognized as a visionary leader and a pioneer in her field.

Wacker, along with countless other women, have made huge contributions to technology—yet women are still fighting for equality in the tech industry. Fortunately, the team at Laserfiche draws inspiration from women across the world who have blazed trails as technology leaders. As an ongoing initiative, we will highlight some of those talented women who have excelled in the technology field.  
CIO Lea Deesing
Lea Deesing is the chief innovation officer at City of Riverside, CA. In her role, Lea is responsible for the city’s strategic use of technology and works closely with other city departments to improve processes and enhance citizen services. Read on to learn more about Lea and what inspired her to pursue a career in technology.

1. How did you become interested in a career in technology?

At about 9 years old, I read a book called “Alvin’s Secret Code” by Clifford B. Hicks, which was a story about a boy who solved a mystery in his town by cracking codes and ciphers (cryptology). In the back of the book, there were step-by-step instructions on how to crack codes using probability and patterns. I was fascinated by this new knowledge.

Soon thereafter, I received my Tiger Beat magazine in the mail and there was a “secret love message” from the heartthrob of that time. The message was written in code, and in order to find out what the message was, you had to join a club and pay a $10 fee. I recall placing the magazine and blank paper on the floor in my bedroom and within an hour I had cracked the code myself.

I then started my own code and cipher club known as the “C&C Club” and all of my friends were members. We had code names, secret handshakes, and we often buried treasures in the backyard with accompanying treasure maps. This went on for years, and later my father brought home an early model computer with a book called “B.A.S.I.C.” which was a computer programming book. Due to my love of cryptology, it made sense to teach myself how to program using this book. I then took the first computer programming class taught at my high school.

2. Have you always worked in technology focused roles?

I knew very early that I wanted a career in coding and I became a self-taught paid programmer by the time I was 20 years old. The rest is history—I’ve been in IT for over 30 years now, and I’ve held technical roles such as PC technician, application developer, network administrator and system administrator. I later moved into management, and now I serve as a CIO for the City of Riverside. In my personal time, I enjoy small coding projects and searching for treasures with metal detectors.

3. During your time at the City of Riverside, what are some of the projects or achievements of which you are most proud?

While Riverside is a nationally award-winning “Top 5 ranked” Digital City, I am particularly fond of seeing my team members progress in their careers. We focus heavily on professional development and mentoring in our department and it is very rewarding to see staff develop new skills and get promoted.

We created an award-winning mentoring program called the “Kaizen Career Roadmap,” which focuses on professional development, mentoring, cross-training, and breaking down information silos. We also have a program called “Tech Showcase” which allows staff members the opportunity to “show and tell” projects or activities that may be of interest to others in the department. This helps refine their public speaking skills and gives them a platform to share information across the department.

We just launched a new training program which gives staff members access to thousands of online books and videos, and we encourage them to set aside a few hours each week to learn new skills. We also have an on-site Toastmasters club in which many of our IT staff are actively engaged.

4. What advice would you give to other women who are interested in careers in technology? What about if they have no experience or formal education in technology?

I would say learn as much as you can in every aspect of IT, even if that area of specialty is not your final destination. For example, if you want to get into the very hot and well-paid field of cybersecurity, become a developer first. Learn how to code secure applications. Then become a network technician and learn how hardware works, how to secure a firewall, how to create and run cables, and to connect devices. Learn phone systems, learn how to administer a software system like Laserfiche. Learn everything. You will then be well-equipped to move into cybersecurity or any other aspect of IT—you will be more valuable if you have knowledge of a vast array of IT specialties. There are so many free resources available online to learn these skills and many students now have access to coding classes through schools and after-school programs.

5. What is the best career advice you have ever received?

Through osmosis, my father taught me a lot about business. I think that helped set the foundation I needed to become a good manager. More importantly, he taught me the importance of developing both good technical and business skills. This advice has served me well as I progressed in my career.

6. If you could spend a day with any woman in history, who would it be and why?

I’d like to get into Ada Lovelace’s head to learn more about how and why she had such a strong inclination to create mathematical formulas and computer-like algorithms, during a time when “ladies” didn’t generally do that sort of thing.

Read more from the Women in Tech series:

Helping the World Work Smarter via Marketing

Shaping the Future as a Presales Engineer

Making Her Own History in Product Marketing

Fostering Innovation as an Associate Counsel

Embracing the Hustle of the Tech Industry

[Watch] Women in Tech Video

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