Catherine Wood, Service owner, Engineered Deployment at Compugen, talks with Sarah about the role of creativity in IT and how she views it as an art form as well as her experiences as a woman in IT leadership and the advice she’d pass along to newcomers.

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Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service Podcast. I’m your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today, we are going to be talking about the art of IT. Yes. You heard that correctly. We’re going to be talking about how IT relates to art. I’m excited to welcome to the podcast today, Catherine Wood, who is the Service Owner for Engineering Deployment at Compugen. Catherine, welcome to the Future of Field Service Podcast.

Catherine Wood: Hi, thank you for having me.

Sarah Nicastro: Thanks for being here. So before we talk about where are the worlds of art and IT collide, why don’t you say hello to our listeners, tell them a little bit about yourself and your role with Compugen?

Catherine Wood: Sure. Well, I’ve been with Compugen for 15 years. Before that I was with IBM. I am currently the Service Owner for Engineered Deployment. So the installations across the country, very technical services role. And that’s about it. I’ve been in IT for about 20 years.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. All right. So let’s talk about your life before IT. So I found this interesting when we connected, it hasn’t always been IT for you. You went to school for fine arts and you were a teacher at one point. So tell us a little bit about that and how this transition to the world of IT occurred.

Catherine Wood: Yeah. It’s been a strange road. I went to school for fine art. I loved art, always have, but I’ve always been interested in computers since I was a kid. When I was finished school and started having a family, I wanted to go back to work after my kids were in school. So I took a computer courses at a local computer college, but just to be able to use a computer again, been a while, but I got a job as a teacher, teaching arts. I was teaching art for a while and I moved to a couple of different schools. But at one point I was teaching at a private school and their computer teacher left and they knew I had this computer background. So they asked me to fill in and they needed a teacher fastest. So I all of a sudden became a computer teacher and it turned into me only being a computer teacher after a few years. And from there I went to IBM and now I’m here.

Sarah Nicastro: And the rest is history.

Catherine Wood: Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: Cool. Okay. So this correlation between art and IT, so you said that one of the reasons you love IT is because for you, it requires the same type of creativity that art does. So talk a little bit more about what you mean by that.

Catherine Wood: Well, first of all, the exciting part to me is you could do anything with a computer, whether that’s programming or automating, it’s very creative. All you have to do is dream it up. Computer programming is just another medium. It’s just like oil painting or water painting or writing or film. It’s just another medium. And it requires that somebody dreams up something new to do with it. And so it requires that creative process right at the beginning, what do I want to do? What problems am I trying to solve? And from there, then you decide on the technical pieces and you put the technical pieces together about how to build it, but the dreaming it up, that’s absolutely creative.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. So you paint. So when you are going to paint, do you have in mind what you want to create?

Catherine Wood: Yes. Me personally, I do. Not everybody is like that. Some people get in front of a Canvas and they just start. Me personally, I do. I have an idea in mind. I have something I want to say, something I want to communicate. So I will start with sketches and then outline. And sometimes you do color samples and you test different things on test canvases. Absolutely. Plan it all out beforehand.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I was just thinking about the consideration of those two mediums, if you will. So thinking about your process when you paint and the process of an IT project and you have a vision in mind for where you want to be and that process of working towards it and the use of technology as a medium is the creative journey. I think there it… Just the reason I was asking is I was thinking if you had a different type of creative process where you just sat down and painted, and you didn’t know what you were trying to get out before you start.

Catherine Wood: Well sure. I mean, if you’re going out and you’re painting something spontaneously or you’re painting outside but you’re still choosing what it is you want to do. You’re not trying to create a great work of art or necessarily, you’re trying to paint what’s in front of you. So yeah. In that case, you’re not doing a lot of planning other than making sure that you have all the tools you need with here. There’s still not. And you have to be skilled enough with the medium that you’re working with too, whether that’s paint or whether that’s computers, or IT in general, what is it capable of doing so that I know when I get inside in front of something that I can do whatever it is I want to do.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Just it’s interesting because it had me thinking a bit about and I know agile becomes a tricky word, but just the idea of what you can find or learn as you’re going through the process. So the idea of maintaining some level of flexibility. So as you embark on a journey, either journey, you’re going to create as you’re going along to some extent, so okay.

Catherine Wood: Actually an interesting point about that. So part of creativity is not creating something right up front, like starting to sit it down and write a program or build something, but how you’re going to find creative solutions for the limitations or the challenges that come up. And I think that speaks to the agile piece that you’re talking about there, where coming up with creative solutions to things that come up in front of you are really part of the creative process and all part of it. You’re constantly creative as you’re trying to problem solve.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So let’s talk about this idea of creativity for a minute. So you hear people say, well, I’m not creative. And then there’s people that wholeheartedly identify themselves as a creative. So there’s two ends of that spectrum. Do you feel like people either are, or aren’t creative? Do you feel everyone is and it’s just a matter of whether it’s tapped or untapped. Like what do you think about that?

Catherine Wood: Well, yeah. People look at me like I have two heads. I’m creative in IT, that can’t possibly work. How does that work? So I think I innately feel that everybody has a creativity that they don’t make it necessarily recognized in themselves. I mean, somebody who builds their own deck or renovates a house, or even cooks or bakes or how about creates a PowerPoint presentation because they have to for business. To do that those are all creative endeavors. And I think people fail to recognize in themselves when they’re creative. I hear that all the time. I can’t even draw a stick figure. I’m not good at that. But people are creative in so many different ways. They just don’t recognize it. And so they don’t give themselves that credit and they don’t have the confidence to say that I can create something new when they do it every day in other areas of their life.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So I think confidence is a really good point. But if we take that a layer deeper, I think that this idea of how creativity fits into the way you just explained it into all of these different work projects and processes that we do or could be responsible for. Part of it is confidence. It’s kind of like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets.

Catherine Wood: Sure.

Sarah Nicastro: But I think the other thing is in terms of corporate culture, it isn’t necessarily urged in the sense of an employer may think it’s great if they have a creative employee, but they’re not necessarily giving people the space or the fail-safe environment that they might need to feel that they have the latitude to explore their creativity or build that creative confidence. Does that make sense?

Catherine Wood: Yeah. No, absolutely. Creativity, well, has been traditionally not thought of in business or in IT. So I definitely think there’s some, it’s undervalued there for sure. I think that’s changing. The employers are starting to see where creativity needs to come in to problem solve. And if you look at any CEO or anything else, to be able to change is a creative action itself, but it is undervalued. But I think that it also takes a leadership team or the leadership needs to be able to provide the trust. People need to be able to trust that they can take chances and that they can try things and fail and fail fast and recover.

Catherine Wood: And that’s all creativity, but that comes from the leadership down. Absolutely. The other thing is that I really think is the organizations don’t tend to value that time, where someone is sitting in themselves and just giving themselves the space to stop and think and people have been told our whole lives. You’re sitting there doing nothing. What are you doing? You’re not doing nothing. You’re thinking about… you’re problem solving. You’re thinking about things. Your mind is wandering. You’re making connections that you wouldn’t be able to make if you didn’t give your mind that kind space.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think that’s such a big part of it. Everyone’s busy, everyone’s overtaxed and it can be really hard as individuals and then for organizations to prioritize the white space that tapes to have time to think creatively, definitely something that I struggled with a little bit. I always blocked time in my calendar and never keep it. So, yeah. So is there any tips you have either, again as an individual or as a leader for how to give yourself some of that creative space or provide that creative space to your employees?

Catherine Wood: Well, for myself, it really is that set the time in your calendar and keep it. You need to have time to think about things to problem-solve, to strategize, all of that kind of thing. You need to give yourself that space. For my teams, I try and for team members that really are comfortable doing that or don’t have time, I’ll try and get on a call with them and brainstorm with them and then give them the time and space to take it away and say, look, this is a priority that we solve this or that we find a strategy for this. So we’ll start to brainstorm and Hey, why don’t you take that away and see what else you can do with it? What else can you come up with? And that’s encouraging that creativity time. And hopefully they understand that they can take that and they can take the space to do that. It is a priority and it’s a part of their job.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That makes sense. Can you share an example of what it looks like to use your creativity in practice in IT at Compugen?

Catherine Wood: Oh, it’s pretty messy. I use a lot of whiteboards. And when we were locked down in the pandemic, one of the first things I did was run out and order. Now I have a lot of easels around, so I have an easel in front of my desk here and by all sorts of big newsprint and colored markers. And so when I do book myself, that time that I need to write it down or I need to see something visually, or I can do a mind map or where I’m just brainstorming with myself and trying to let my mind free flow, different concepts in different words.

Catherine Wood: And then I can sit back and I’m a visual person, obviously I’m a painter, so I can sit back and I can look at it again and from a distance and say, oh yeah, okay, that works or that doesn’t work, or, oh yeah. What was I thinking? I’m a visual person. So I use those kinds of mediums to try and work on something creative if I’m doing it just the same as I would, if I’m painting where I’m going to do a bunch of sketches beforehand and sketch it out, what works, what doesn’t.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). That makes sense. So let’s talk a little bit, shifting gears slightly, when you first transitioned into IT, we talked about the fact that, so you said that was 20 years ago. And you said you were often the only woman in the room. So how much or little would you say that that has changed?

Catherine Wood: It has changed. It’s slow, but it has changed. I’m not as often the only woman in the room. Men are more comfortable seeing women in IT. And we’re seeing more women in leadership roles in IT, which gives other women the confidence to be able to say, Hey, I can see myself there or I can succeed in this. It’s unfortunate. It’s still happens where you get questions. But and even just a few weeks ago, I was in a meeting and someone tried to explain to me where the start menu is.

Catherine Wood: He knew we both work in IT. He knows the company I work for. He knows my role. And he’s explaining to me how to find the start menu. I don’t keep quiet in those situations. I used to when I was younger, but I don’t anymore. And I really asked him as politely as possible. I asked him what makes you think that you need to explain to me where the start menu is? And I know he was uncomfortable, he was. But I said, Hey, look, if you’re wondering, ask before you explain something like this. So it is changing. When I first started at Compugen, there was no women in upper leadership and there are now, and that goes across the industry. So it’s so exciting and women bring new perspectives and new problem solving and new experiences to IT that I think really expands and helps solve the problems of the world that we’re all trying to deal with right now. But yeah. There’s still ways to go.

Sarah Nicastro: Work to do, yes.

Catherine Wood: Yeah. Work to do.

Sarah Nicastro: What would you say have been the biggest challenges of often being the only woman in the room?

Catherine Wood: Hmm. I often feel, I have to give my resume every time I’m in a new room and I’m asked questions that nobody would think of asking a man, because if he’s in that room, he’s already qualified to be in that where they see a woman walk in and they think, oh, she can’t possibly be technical, or she can’t possibly know anything about this. Women get talked over. We still get spoken or talked over in meetings or dismissed or someone will say something and will get ignored. The conversation will just keep going. Those are still challenges that we deal with today.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. It’s interesting. I mean, you hear a lot about, you hear the term like microaggressions, you know. And it is really true. There’s a lot of things that get said that I question, “Would somebody say that to a man?” And it’s not always malicious, but that doesn’t change the impact of it. And so it’s very easy to say or think, oh, they probably didn’t mean it that way. But it’s still harmful even if there isn’t mal-intent behind it.

Catherine Wood: Well, isn’t that just the same boys will be boys kind of excuse. Like they didn’t mean it that way. Just move on, get over it. If it happened once in my lifetime, I’d get over it.

Sarah Nicastro: Sure.

Catherine Wood: When it happens multiple times a day, it starts to have an impact on me. And maybe it’s multiple people during the day and they all didn’t mean it. But the challenge is changing everyone’s understanding of what that is not dismissing the fact that it has an impact on the people it’s happening to.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So you gave the example of the start menu the other day and speaking up about that, and you said you wouldn’t have always spoke up. So can you talk a little bit about what do you think helped you find that voice and being more comfortable using it and what might you say to a younger woman who’s starting a career in a male dominated field in terms of not maybe waiting as long to speak out or speak up.

Catherine Wood: Hmm. Those are a few different questions in there.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I have a tendency to do that.

Catherine Wood: Okay. Well, let me see. I might start with the second one. What I would say to someone who’s younger than me is advice based on what I had to learn, which is first be a sponge, learn everything that you can from every interaction, because there’s always something that you’re going to take to the next meeting, to the next project so learn everything that you can. And the other thing is, don’t worry about it. If you ask a question and you think it’s stupid or forgive yourself, if you make a comment and somebody gives you a look like I ask it that, just let it. Forgive yourself, because we are so hard on ourselves that we’re going to say the wrong thing or somebody’s going to think less of it. Nobody’s thinking that. Nobody in the room knows everything. Everybody contributing makes goes towards that shared goal of solving the problem of moving that project to completion of great customer experience, all of those kinds of things.

Catherine Wood: So speak up. Even if you think that it’s stupid or it’s wrong, it’s a bad question, or maybe you’re wrong. I was in the room. And so to address the first question, what did it for me was leadership. People who would call someone out in a meeting who hadn’t spoken, do a round table at the end of the meeting so that everybody gets a chance to vocalize something. What do you think? And what do you think and what do you think? And leadership that would say, “Hey, Catherine, we haven’t heard from you, did you have anything?” “Well, yeah, yeah, I do. And the more you do it, the more confident you get. And so leadership goes a long way towards giving people that confidence, men and women, young men have the same problem. Men and women, giving young people the confidence to speak up and say something in these projects and in these meetings.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s such a good point because some of this issue, the issue of learning to use your voice. Yes. It’s something that everyone’s personally responsible for. And you want to work on and work on doing well. But that point, I think, is an important one because there are ways that leaders can really help enable that rather than just sitting back and waiting for everyone to miraculously build their own confidence level enough to verbalize their thoughts and feelings. Yeah. I think that’s a really good point. And I think it’s also a good point that the idea of asking questions. I’ve shared a story a bunch of times about very early in my writing career. It was actually the first like case that a type article I ever wrote.

Sarah Nicastro: And I didn’t understand probably 80% of what the guy said to me in the interview, but I didn’t want to seem stupid. And so I just did a lot of aha. And then I tried to write an article based on that. And the copy editor just threw it back at me and said, call him back. And I had to call him back and so it was a good lesson and just asking and once I became comfortable in really any situation, just saying I don’t really understand what you mean. Can you explain it to me differently? Or I’ve never come across someone that wasn’t willing and it’s helped me learn so much just by being able to, you know, ask for clarification or examples or details, you know?

Sarah Nicastro: And then the final thing, I think is the example that you shared from the other day with that gentlemen. I think it is important to, you said he was uncomfortable and you’re probably at a point in your career where you could have just easily ignored it or blown them off. Like, you don’t need to point that out to make yourself feel better or different. But I think it is important to do because in a lot of cases, like I said, there’s things that get said that it’s not ill intent, but it’s unnecessary and it shouldn’t happen. And so it does take someone who has built up the confidence to speak out so that maybe that person thinks a bit about how they’re coming across and can acknowledge that behavior so…

Catherine Wood: Right. And it wasn’t trying to… My goal wasn’t to make him uncomfortable obviously. But my goal was to gently educate him. Because he wasn’t doing it on purpose. He was trying to help. He really thought he was trying to help, but he just was going about it in a way that he needed to think about it a little bit more and be aware of.

Sarah Nicastro: And he was probably uncomfortable because he cared about the fact that he had come across that way.

Catherine Wood: That’s right.

Sarah Nicastro: If he was doing it maliciously, he probably wouldn’t have been uncomfortable so much as combative or dismissive. I think that discomfort comes from any time you realize you’ve done something wrong and you care about what you’ve done. You feel that discomfort. And to your point from earlier, you have to forgive yourself. You do as best as you can until you know, better and then you do better.

Catherine Wood: And then you do better.

Sarah Nicastro: So hopefully that’ll help him.

Catherine Wood: Sure.

Sarah Nicastro: A couple other questions. So before you were with Compugen, you changed roles pretty often because you liked variety, you liked new challenges and now you’ve been with Compugen for 15 years. And so when I asked you what made you stick around, we talked about the culture and how as a woman and especially a working mom, the culture has been a really good fit for you.

Sarah Nicastro: This is a conversation I think is very important because also being a woman and also being a working mom, I started my motherhood in a career, in a workplace that was not a very working mom friendly culture and come to be a part of IFS and to be in this role, it’s really honestly changed my life. I mean, it has made me feel that I can excel in both my career and my role as a mom at the same time, without constantly feeling like I’m sacrificing in any area. Of course, it’s still a lot to juggle. I mean, we all know that, but it’s at least impossible. So can you talk a little bit about as companies look to continue to bring more women into the workplace, particularly into IT roles and things like that, what are some of the aspects of culture that you think are particularly important and beneficial?

Catherine Wood: Well, first and foremost, I would say flexibility. I mean, women are responsible for so much when it comes to the family. Rightly or wrongly, I’m not going to debate that one way or the other at the moment. But at the end of the day, when it comes to dentist appointments, doctor’s appointments, dealing with schools, all of those kinds of things, they tend to fall more on the mom, on the woman in the household. And so to be able to have an environment that you’ve got some flexibility with your schedule, whether that’s here’s your deadline, you meet your deadline and you figure out how you’re going to meet that deadline, or whether it’s just, you are in an environment where if you have to say, I have to run out to my child’s school, something happened, they just fell off the swing set or something.

Catherine Wood: And you can say that without fearing for your job or that it’s going to negatively impact your career. The flexibility that I was afforded in my first few roles went a long way to that. It really gave me a quality of life and feel and quality to my children’s life and my family that I could be there for them. And that only made me want to work for Compugen even more and even harder and do everything I could to help the organization succeed. And I think organizations miss that. Some organizations who don’t do that really miss the point that doing that will make the employees work so much harder for you.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. It pays dividends.

Catherine Wood: It definitely does.

Sarah Nicastro: I really really believe that. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Catherine Wood: Yeah, I do too. Compugen has employees who have been there for well, and I still feel like the new girl at 15 years, because they’ve got 15, 20, 25, 30. There’s a lot of employees that stay and stay for a long time. And that’s a real indication of a great corporate culture. So that’s a lot of it. The other part of it that made me stay personally is I worked in all these different jobs and different roles and I think this is career number six for me overall.

Catherine Wood: And I like variety. So I don’t have a role right now. And I haven’t in the last 15 years where it’s the same day, every day. I’m not doing the same thing all day, every day, the kind of variety and choose what I’m working on right now. I mean, I have a list that I’ve been given. I have to do all of this, but I don’t have to do it all in a certain order. As long as I get them done by my deadlines or a new problem comes up that I have to solve, or a new project comes out that has a different, so that gives me the variety to keep me interested and keep me excited about what it is I’m doing. And they afforded me opportunities to succeed. Like I have been in multiple roles in Compugen. And so I’ve been able to feel like I can grow my career, that I’m valued, that I’m respected. All of that is that corporate culture in Compugen specifically which has really kept me here.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I just think it’s an interesting dynamic. There’s huge conversations happening right now around what will the future of work look like and how are we going to attract and hire and retain talent, all over the board, from leadership all the way to the front line and I think this whole idea of re-examining company culture and really thinking about what your employee experience is like, and is it conducive to the type of experience that the level of talent you want to attract is going to want for themselves? And some of the things we’re talking about, it’s not trips to Aruba every year and $50,000 bonus. I mean, it’s nothing ridiculous that is so important. They are things that are absolutely attainable if people are just willing to reflect and think through and that sort of thing.

Sarah Nicastro: So I think it’s important for across the board. I think particularly the idea that we talked about as working moms, I think that we bring a lot to the table, but there’s some of those key factors that are going to be extra, extra important. And I think the point you made about being, given that flexibility, making you only care and be more loyal is absolutely true. Okay. Last question for today is as a leader, but I’m also going to ask you as an artist, what are your biggest sources of inspiration?

Catherine Wood: Hmm. People. People are my biggest source of inspiration. As a leader, I really only want to be of service to people. It’s about my team. It’s about giving them everything they need to succeed personally and to be able to succeed and for the organization to succeed and to guide them and to be of service to them. In my art and creativity, it’s still people, it’s learning in so many different ways from so many different people. So mentorship means a lot to me. Me mentoring, because you get so much back when you mentor, but also me having a mentor and guidance and different kinds of medium like podcasts and books and other people’s experiences. That brings me so much inspiration for where I want to go and what I want to do. People is my biggest source of inspiration. And it’s also what I paint. I paint. I do a lot. All of my paintings revolve around the human form and portraiture and things like that. So, yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: Very cool. Very cool. All right, Catherine. Well, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. I really appreciate being here.

Catherine Wood: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been fun.

Sarah Nicastro: Thanks. You can find out more by visiting us at futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter @TheFutureOfFS. The Future of Field Service Podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.