Adrienne Shulman, Tenger Ways

Episode Transcription:

Trac Bannon:

I was introduced to Adrienne Shulman through our mutual involvement with the DevOps community. We had an immediate sense of camaraderie and purpose looking to inspire the next generation of technologists. Adrienne, in particular, is passionate about the need for more women developers. We had lengthy discussions on Slack about different dimensions of this problem.

You see, Adrienne spent many years as an instructor for the Girls Who Code organization. Their mission is to close the gender gap in technology and to change the image of what a programmer looks like and what a programmer does.

Adrienne and I had some pretty heavy discussions on the continued trend to celebrate “women developers”, “women engineers”, “women leaders”, and even “girls who code”. My own journey as a software architect continuously pushing to improve made me post this to Adrienne: if you are excellent at your craft, does your gender or other personal trait need to be part of your title? If we can elevate the focus to be on character and achievements, can we take control of our own adjectives?

We agreed that the answer is not binary and that the context of the conversation matters. This is how Real Technologists concept and podcast was born. From a passionate Slack discussion.

Adrienne Shulman:

I remember reading a newspaper article about Reshma Sajani who was just starting Girls Who Code, and she talked about everyone was looking at why aren’t there more women in engineering? And women in tech, everyone will just blame, hey, for every a hundred resumes I’m getting, there’s just not enough women applying, so there’s nothing I can do.

She really looked to say, okay, well maybe the problem goes back to middle school, high school, that girls in seventh grade report that they are just as interested in math and science as men. But by the time they go to choose their major, they weren’t choosing math and science and STEM degrees.

Girls Who Code was get the girls when they’re in as young as middle school and high school create clubs. So you’re creating a sisterhood. It’s not just teaching a skill, it’s saying this is something for you. You might not have see the role models, but this is for you.

Trac Bannon:

You are listening to Real Technologists. I’m your host, Trac Bannon, coming to you from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Each week we choose a unique guest behind leading Edge Tech innovation to explore their genuine stories, their true journeys. Technology touches nearly every aspect of our lives. It’s being driven by diverse perspectives and experiences of real humans.

You’re in the right spot to hear about the Real Technologists reshaping our world. Stay tuned for stories that will give you something to noodle on.

Adrienne is a leader in helping girls and women navigate technical education and landing jobs in software development. Interestingly, her degree is not in computer science; she’s a trained environmental engineer. A degree heavily influenced by her mother, an artist and an art teacher.

Adrienne was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her mother was a refugee from Mongolia in the 1950s, fleeing the aftermath of World War II. The United States brought her in as a refugee and they initially settled in New Jersey. Adrienne’s mother was accepted to the Philadelphia College of Art. While she was in school, she met her future husband; he was an undergrad at Temple University. Adrienne’s mother graduated, married, and eventually took leave from her professional career to apply her skills and talent to raising her children. Her mother set a high standard for Adrienne who is naturally talented with math and science.

Adrienne Shulman:

My mom always pushed me to get good grades. I remember one time, maybe middle school, I brought home a C on a test… and I said, it’s average. Like I was fine with that, like, why are you… you know? And then she just looked at me and she said, but Adrienne, you’re not average.

Trac Bannon:

Adrienne was a good student and when it was time to pick a college, she applied to only two: Penn State and UVA. It was the days of paper applications. Her older brother was already in college and family finances were tight.

Her parents offered her a bit of a bribe to stay in Pennsylvania and take advantage of the in-state tuition: They would buy her a car. She took that sweet deal and it was a good thing that she did. She was not accepted to UVA. Adrienne headed to Penn State’s main campus: University Park in Central Pennsylvania. Her major? Environmental Engineering.

With no math or science role models, she read through the course catalog and picked an engineering major at the prompting of her mom.

Adrienne Shulman:

I had my mom who was kind of pushing me towards math and science just because I think she saw that I was good at it and she would say, hey Adrienne, you could do anything a guy can do.

She kind of just made that my identity and I accepted it. Because I enjoyed learning about it. So then it came time to, okay, what major do you wanna pick? And she was always in my ear… she said, you should do engineering. And I didn’t know what engineering was. It was just, you should do it.

It was to her, it was practical. It was somewhat prestigious

Trac Bannon:

Adrienne knew nothing about engineering so she picked an engineering major that sounded fun: environmental engineering. She loved the environment. She laughs now at her own naivety looking back. She had no clue what she was getting into… until her junior year when she started to go on university field trips.

Adrienne Shulman:

It’s cleaning up industries mess. It was waste water treatment plants… it was garbage dispo, you know? And here I am going out on field trips with a hard hat on and looking around and thinking like, how did I pick this major?

Trac Bannon:

She came back and talked to her faculty advisor and they came up with a plan to continue in the major since she was already three years into a four year program. She would not take the 400 level engineering classes but rather, would substitute 100 level business and finance courses.

It was the late 1990s and there was an explosive new industry called management consulting.

Adrienne knew that people graduating with any sort of engineering degree were getting snapped up quickly by industry. So she would graduate with an environmental engineering degree though with a depth in finance and business. Her strategy was sound: she would target consulting and her angle would be the tech side

In her time at Penn State, however, She does have one regret.

Adrienne Shulman:

I didn’t talk to my professors enough. It was like I was there to get the education, to get the good grades and move on, but, oh, I wish I had gone to office hours… I wish I had gotten to know them as people… even if I didn’t end up as an environmental engineer, because even this, I think there’s so much I got from my education that I do use today.

Trac Bannon:

During her senior year at PSU, she interviewed with a global consultancy, PriceWaterhouse Coopers and she landed her first job. Like many of the big consulting firms, PriceWaterhouse Coopers had grown from origins in accounting. Companies like Deloitte, KPMG, and PWC have very strong technical departments and they would spin off new lines of business and services including business and technical consulting. These firms also took their new hires and put them through weeks of rigorous technical training. Adrienne was sent to PWC’s program. This is where she first learned to program… to write code…

Adrienne Shulman:

It was called the Ascent Program. I think they trained probably hundreds of thousands of computer developer, computer programmers in the late nineties, early two thousands. So I went through that and learned Java and SQL and client server architecture and just six weeks of learning to code and I loved it. It was awesome

Trac Bannon:

Adrienne’s way of logically approaching problems and looking for efficiency is a core skill for all types of engineering. This is probably why so many engineers – chemical, mechanical, electrical, often end up working in software development and delivery. Her time at PWC ignited her passion for software development that her time with them was short. It was 2001 and the dotCOM bubble had burst. Like many corporations, PWC had overhired and found themselves in a difficult position.

Adrienne was “on the beach”, that’s the term that was being used in business consulting… instead of saying “on the bench” or unstaffed. She saw the climate and she acted quickly.

Friends around her were starting their own companies. She had a connection and took a role with a company called City Feet. Her short time at PWC kickstarted her software delivery career.

In 2001, City Feet had an innovative idea to host commercial real estate online. Brokers were not trusting the approach, so City Feet took another route.

Adrienne Shulman:

It was a commercial real estate company putting commercial real estate listings online. So radical at the time, because we were working with trying to get the big brokers to put their listings online, they wouldn’t even wanna do it for free.

It was all through the newspapers, it was still a very much of a print-based, traditional advertising.

We couldn’t get the brokers to kind of engage with us, we partnered with the newspapers, so we would partner with the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the AJC and said, send us your commercial listings. So they would dump the MLS into a text file, FTP it over, and I was the developer that wrote the script to load it onto the website.

You know how we did code deployments back then was like, copy and paste over, or through FTP. You’d move files, you’d hit F5 and you’d see your change.

Dopamine hit, it felt great. It’s fun. It’s cool. It’s creative. Can you create, can you build, can you make something that wasn’t there before?

Are you solving problems?

Trac Bannon:

The rush of a production deployment. The adrenaline hit when your code and your products are being used by others drives many developers, engineers, and architects in the software industry. City Feet was helping the commercial real estate industry move from paper to digital. Adrienne stayed more than a year with City Feet before moving to another startup called More Benefits. They were digitizing benefit enrollments, doing away with the massive paper packages of health and medical benefits that used to be mailed out by HR to employees.

More Benefits was acquired by a multinational insurance firm, Aon Hewitt. She spent the next decade at Aon Hewitt very obsessed with career advancement and very obsessed with that dopamine hit of delivering software to production. Like many women in technical roles in the early 2000s, she was often the only woman on the team or even in the department. The More Benefits pod remained largely intact when it was acquired by Aon Hewitt being overseen by a male CTO. They were almost like a small startup inside a large company.

She was growing and expanding in her technical career. She was also taking on a very new role at home that of Mom. When she was at City Feet, she met the man who had later become her husband. And in 2006, Adrienne had her first baby. Career,

family fit was a struggle and the fatigue was beginning to show.

Adrienne Shulman:

The CIO overseeing our department was a woman.

She wasn’t based in New York, so I didn’t see her much. So we had a CTO overseeing our 20 person department. He reported up to the CIO. We knew who she was, but we didn’t see her much. I had my first child in 2006, by 2007 I was burnt the fuck out.

Trac Bannon:

Adrienne loved her job and was doing all she could in her power to keep climbing the ladder. There was a defining moment, when she was responsible for a big, important presentation. Her daughter was perhaps 8 months old, and on the day of the presentation, the nanny called off sick.

This was uncharted territory. She had heard of colleagues needing to take a day off to care for a sick child, but her issue was lack of childcare. Taking that all to her boss that day was terribly hard. Adrienne is one of those driven folks who always shows up, who is dedicated. That day left an indelible mark on Adrienne and one that has helped her in mentoring other women. Learning to be a mom is a new skill and this is the message that she shares when mentoring others: relax a bit.. give yourself a little grace… you’re learning.

Adrienne, however, learned to give grace only after burning out. It was a very hard year. She was trying to be 100% at work and 100% mom. She made a very difficult decision.

Adrienne Shulman:

I went to my CTO at the time and told him, and he said, okay, he accepted my resignation.

He was sorry, sorry to hear, but he understood. And he said, okay, well I’m gonna tell Anne. Anne was our CIO. I got a phone call from Ann and she said, I’m not accepting your resignation.

Trac Bannon:

Anne sat and listened to Adrienne. Adrienne told her that she was burning out and could not balance anymore. Anne, ask her point blank, what will it take for her to balance. Adrienne suggested reducing her hours to part-time in Anne’s response. “Done!” This new arrangement enabled Adrienne to keep her skills current, stay in the game on projects and explore her new identity as a mother.

Adrienne Shulman:

I mailed her a thank you note about two years ago. Because at some point when I had gotten my, the last promotion I got at my job as Vice President of Global business operations, overseeing all of internal IT for a company at of 100. I was really proud of where I’d gotten, and I was just thinking back… what if they did accept my resignation?

Where would I’ve been… so ver very grateful to you, Anne, wherever you are out there.

Trac Bannon:

This simple act of empathy and grace has likely impacted hundreds of women in technology: Those mentored by Adrienne and those she instructs through Girls Who Code Organization.

Thank you, Anne.

Adrienne had three children between 2006 and 2011 and kept her work profile as part-time. With the support of her company, she has continued to bring this sort of empathy and non-traditional arrangements to her teams and to her career.

During her tenure with Aon Hewitt, she progressed from lead developer to senior architect to solution architect.

She decided to try her hand with a new company: Cornerstone OnDemand the same year her youngest son was born 2011. When she interviewed with Cornerstone, she hid the fact that she was working part-time. Her resume had her experiences and her skills clearly listed. In fact, looking back, Adrienne had been hiding her part-time arrangement for fear of being judged… for fear of bias… she was worried she would be seen as apathetic or not invested in her job.

Adrienne Shulman:

Only many, many years later when I was talking with my CTO about how do we get more women in technology and how do we make engineering a more attractive place? Did I start talking more freely about what it took for me to get to where I was? And ironically, I mean, I can’t think of a better job for women than coding because it is so stood to flexible work.

At Cornerstone, there were so many women that I got to work with. And really, really badass women.

And I think for that date at Cornerstone is really where I came into myself, learned my leadership skills.

Trac Bannon:

Adrienne spent the next decade focusing on improving the way software is designed and delivered. This included a nearly five year role diving into the internal modernizations of Cornerstone Systems. She rose to the role of Associate Vice President of Business systems where she led a 25 person Internal Tools team. They were enabling Cornerstone to achieve their corporate mission. She did this by leading strategic initiatives ranging from business intelligence to developer tooling, business process automation, even data integration, integrity and data privacy. It was Adrienne’s vision to run the internal platforms as products to the organization. In our digital industry, this is only now being adopted. She was and is luminary, applying common sense and empathy.

Adrienne Shulman:

I was leading teams at the time. I enjoyed leading teams because you can have more of an impact, but I stopped getting the high of shipping code and I just thought… yeah, when you’re managing people, we’re not supposed to be fun anymore… because you’re dealing with people issues and, and you’re kind of coordinating work.

Trac Bannon:

Even with the amazing and transformational work, she was moving further from the code, further from the rush of delivering code. She is tech savvy, human-centric, and practical. Her desire to make work fun and to help others to get that rush by delivering software to production is what led her to the DevOps community.

DevOps is also how Adrienne got her groove back.

Adrienne Shulman:

That changed my life. And, you know, I, I loved everything about it, it brought joy back.

So when I learned DevOps, but once we started shipping small and going from big bang releases into more of a continuous kind of constant flow of value, even though I wasn’t the one shipping code, it was my team… work got fun again. And I loved it.

Trac Bannon:

Her last pivot at Cornerstone OnDemand was taking on the role of VP of Global Business Operations and Systems. This was the peak of the Pandemic Cornerstone’s HR Tech SaaS solution had 6,000 customers and 75 million users. They had just topped 2000 employees.

She was applying digital transformation principles of DevOps, agility and flow to the no-code, low-code world of systems. Low-code and no-code platforms are continuing to surge, enabling rapid value delivery by those even without computer science degrees. What the industry calls citizen developers. Adrienne has spent the bulk of her career working on SAS and platforms which makes her a visionary and a pioneer in applying DevOps outside where it started with Custom Development.

She has experienced life in both massive global firms and with startups, and she can thrive in both That unique perspective of applying DevOps in low-code and no-code situations and to help bring joy to value delivery is the catalyst for her next adventure: she is the founder of a startup – Tenger Ways.

This new adventure has proved to be exceptionally exciting while at the same time, bittersweet. As life would have it. Adrienne’s mom was diagnosed with cancer and passed from this life in early 2023. What drives Adrienne forward?

Adrienne Shulman:

I think the common thread anywhere you are is, what makes me happy is am I working somewhere with a team of people with a common goal? Are we working on interesting problems? Can we solve them? Are we able to get shit done? I figured out how to still ship and get that done. I don’t need like-minded, but like values.

Trac Bannon:

And that’s a wrap for today’s episode of Real Technologists. I want to thank my guest, Adrienne Shulman for sharing her story. Your insights and experiences are truly inspiring. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share them with the audience. This podcast is a Sourced Network production and updates are available weekly on your favorite audio streaming platform. Just search for real technologists and consider subscribing. Special thanks to our executive producer, Mark Miller, for making this show possible. Our editor and sound engineer, Pokie Huang has done an amazing job bringing this story to life. Thank you both. The music for today’s episode was provided by Blue Dot Sessions, and we use Descript for spoken text editing and audacity for the soundscaping. The show distribution platform is provided by CaptivateFM making it easy for our listeners to find and enjoy the show.

That’s all for today, folks. This is Trac Bannon. Don’t forget to tune in next week for another intriguing episode of Real Technologists and something new to noodle on.


Episode Guest:

A visionary and creative engineer, Adrienne Shulman has worked in Enterprise SaaS since the early 2000s in various engineering and leadership roles across Platforms, Tools, Analytics, Data Privacy, and Business Systems, ultimately leading the global Enterprise IT function for a large SaaS company before starting her own consulting firm, Tenger Ways.

Adrienne became a passionate DevOps evangelist after her experience helping engineering teams successfully transition from big bang releases to continuous delivery, seeing firsthand how DevOps creates significantly better business results and makes people happier.  Adrienne is a long-time advocate for women in technology, helping to narrow the gender gap as a mentor, sponsor, volunteer, and investor. 

Episode Transcription:

[00:00:00] Trac Bannon:

In our world today, technology plays an increasingly significant role in shaping our lives. The way we communicate, work, and even entertain ourselves is being revolutionized by tech. Behind every innovation, there’s a person, a human being with unique experiences, perspectives and challenges. Understanding what shaped their perspective is a real goal.

From The Sourced Network remote offices in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, welcome to Real Technologists. Each week we explore the genuine stories and true journeys of folks shaping our digital future. How did they navigate this complex world of ours? What challenges did they face? What are the innovative ideas that continue to propel them forward?

Each episode is crafted to broaden your perspective, spark innovation, and help you make better decisions by showcasing the diversity of thought and experiences within the tech industry.

Today, we’ve included some short excerpts to give you a taste of what’s to come.

Let’s start out with Jennifer Leggio, Chief Marketing Officer for Netography and cybersecurity strategist. She’s also luminary for the accountability and responsibility and security marketing. Just who helped her along the way?

[00:01:17] Jennifer Leggio:

” He would push me and say, I see more in you. I see more in you. And so because of that, Cisco wasn’t enough for me anymore, and it wasn’t Cisco. It was the role because it’s such a huge org. My role was very finite there, focusing on security strategy and communications and messaging and such. I’m like, you know what? I’m gonna quit.”

[00:01:41] Trac Bannon:

Caroline Wong, Chief Strategy Officer at Cobalt got her start with eBay as an intern. Her experience and exposure to eBay said in motion a series of domino events transforming her into a leading voice in cybersecurity. Funny to think it all started with dating a Stanford student.

[00:02:02] Caroling Wong:

” For my summer internship between my junior and senior year, I wanted to live at his house with his parents in Silicon Valley and not my house with my parents in San Francisco. And so when I applied to internships that summer, and I must have applied to 50 different internships, I only applied to companies located in Silicon Valley. And I got an internship in IT at eBay.”

[00:02:31] Trac Bannon:

Katy Craig is a cybersecurity expert who has spent her career focused on the US Navy. She’s a retired veteran, educating the next generation of ethical hackers.

[00:02:43] Katy Craig:

” It’s very special to build a ship, to be part of the pre-com crew, to be a quote unquote plank owner is a very special, privilege. I am a plank owner of Bonham Rashard. We went through a lot on that ship. I was there on 9-11 when the planes hit the towers. we deployed early to go hunt for Osama Bin Laden.”

[00:03:06] Trac Bannon:

Lonya Ford grew up on the south side of Chicago and joined the military as a way to put a roof over her head and maybe give her an education. When she started out, she found herself believing that she could not be her authentic self.

[00:03:19] Lonye Forde:

” It was scary joining the military because I was transported to a land where no one spoke like me. No one really looked like me. And so that was, a tough environment for me. And, you know, for a while I think what I started to do was conform a little, right?

[00:03:39] Trac Bannon:

Rosalind Radcliffe is an esteemed IBM fellow driving big blue to drink their own champagne, so to speak, in their adoption of modern software practices and DevSecOps. As a self-proclaimed high school dropout, she is leading the way for the DevOps-ing of IBM’s z/OS.

[00:03:58] Rosalind Radcliffe:

” So I went to school in Wisconsin for two years and then my dad was moving to Florida to teach at the University of Florida via England for a year. And so they sent me to the university and the university said, would you like to show up in August? I said, no, I’m going to England for a year. So let me go to England for a year and I’ll come back and then I’ll go to the university. And so technically I’m a high school dropout.”

[00:04:22] Trac Bannon:

That’s what Real Technologist is all about. I delve into the lives of innovators to discover their journeys, their passions, and their motivations.

This is Trac Bannon, the host and storyteller for the Real Technologist Podcast. I’ve been in the tech industry since the 1990s. Along the way, I’ve worked with scientists, researchers, consultants, educators, military and hardcore technologists driving digital innovation.

I’m an active member in many technical communities ranging from digital transformation to software architecture, to DevSecOps. With a vibrant network of professionals who are constantly monitoring what’s going on, I’ve developed a passion for uncovering unique stories and perspectives.

I believe that behind every technological innovation, there’s a unique individual with a captivating story to tell. Our goal, my goal, is to bring you face-to-face with the real technologists behind the latest tech trends, and to give you a glimpse into their lives, their passions, their motivations.

Real technologists is more than a podcast about diversity. It’s about amplifying the goodness that comes from our diverse spectrum of voices and experiences. It’s about genuine stories, true journeys, our complex world. Whether you’re a tech enthusiast, an entrepreneur, or just curious about the world of technology insights, the interviews are sure to inspire and educate. Consider joining me weekly at Real Technologists. Each episode will leave you with something to noodle on.

Episode Guest:

A visionary and creative engineer, Adrienne Shulman has worked in Enterprise SaaS since the early 2000s in various engineering and leadership roles across Platforms, Tools, Analytics, Data Privacy, and Business Systems, ultimately leading the global Enterprise IT function for a large SaaS company before starting her own consulting firm, Tenger Ways.

Adrienne became a passionate DevOps evangelist after her experience helping engineering teams successfully transition from big bang releases to continuous delivery, seeing firsthand how DevOps creates significantly better business results and makes people happier.  Adrienne is a long-time advocate for women in technology, helping to narrow the gender gap as a mentor, sponsor, volunteer, and investor.