Stories from the Front: Telecom Start-ups

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These articles were prepared for the July 18, 2001 edition of U.S.

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Women in IT Careers: No Barbies Here

At the first meeting of Women in Technology, a New

Jersey

Technology Council group, Margi Fatcheric stood up and said

"Let’s just look around the room for one moment. Is there a geek

in the room? A nerd?" The audience, technology professionals one

and all, had to agree with Fatcheric, president of Relational Options,

an IT solutions company based in Florham Park, that, indeed, it was

a pretty normal looking crowd. "These were attractive women,"

Fatcheric says. "There were no pocket protectors in sight."

Fatcheric moderates a discussion of "Balancing the Running of

a Company with Juggling Personal Responsibilities,"at the second

meeting of the group on Thursday, July 19, at 8:30 a.m. at the offices

of Relational Options in Florham Park. The free meeting is open to

women who head up technology companies. Call 856-787-9700.

A strong advocate for getting women into technology careers, Fatcheric

says the industry has to fight the perception that the successful

IT professional is a loner who thrives on writing code in a corner.

"Customer retention is the critical piece of the business

now,"

she says, and superior communication skill is the way to achieve it.

"I believe women are innately better communicators," says

Fatcheric. Maybe it’s because women’s brains are hard-wired for the

multi-tasking that is motherhood, she muses. Whatever the reason,

the industry needs the skill that women bring, but it is not getting

it. "Women occupy less than 10 percent of the IT arena," she

says. What’s worse, that percentage is shrinking. "In the last

five to seven years, there has been a decline," she says.

"It’s

a good old boy network. Women are entering their child bearing years

and need time off, but their bosses don’t want to make the adjustment.

They’d rather hire a man."

The Women in Technology group will strive to attract more women to

IT careers, and to create an environment in which they will want to

remain. In a field where recruiting personnel — of either gender

— is still a challenge, despite the demise of the dot-coms that

soaked up so much talent, Fatcheric says the obstacles to attracting

women start early.

"In elementary school girls are channeled away from science and

technology," she says. "And look at the video games! Are they

made for girls? No. And if they are, it’s Barbie," she says, her

voice dripping with disdain. "It’s glitzy, sexy, not

relatable."

The Women in Technology group will look to the women who have been

successful. It will examine, Fatcheric says, how they did it, and

will look into how all women in technology careers can make their

lives better.

The story of how Fatcheric herself did it is in many ways typical

of the zig-zag course women tend to travel in lives that weave work

and family together. She met her husband, Jerry Fatcheric, CEO

and co-founder of her company, in high school in 1966. Raised in

western

New York State, she attended William Smith, where she majored in

sociology

and education with the plan of becoming a teacher. "That’s what

you did," she says. "You went became a teacher, had children,

and had the summers off."

The plan didn’t work quite that way. She left school to marry Jerry,

who had majored in library science at nearby Hobart College. The

couple

had two children, a son who is now 30 and a daughter, 26. As they

moved around following Jerry’s work, she cared for the children, took

courses wherever she could, and worked too. Many of her jobs involved

sales, often of electronics. By the mid-’80s, she observed that

"data

processing is going like crazy." Working, at that point, in

recruiting

in the dying machine tool engineering field, she taught herself about

the data processing industry, and became a recruiter, and then a

consultant.

By the late-’80s, her husband, who had parlayed a job using

computerized

systems to organize abstracts into a IT career, was growing unhappy

with his work for Oracle. "Why don’t we start our own consulting

firm?" she asked him. His reply: "Are you crazy?"

She convinced him that if it didn’t work out, they could both go back

to their former professions. "What’s the worst that would

happen?"

she asked. Agreeing that they most probably would not starve if the

enterprise tanked, he agreed, and they co-founded Relational Options

in 1988. The company’s services include systems planning, application

definition, development of custom software applications, training

and education, and computer time-sharing. She handles strategy,

consulting,

marketing, personnel, and sales. He is in charge of the technical

side.

While building the business, Fatcheric completed her college degree,

graduating from Caldwell College with a psychology degree on the day

that her son turned 21.

Perhaps because of her own varied background, Fatcheric says women

who would do well to look into IT jobs are career changers, perhaps

"moms getting back into the job market." Key requirements,

in her view, are superior communication skills, an ability to relate

well to other people, and aptitude. "The aptitude part is really

the ability to think logically," she says. In IT consulting, the

most important thing is to understand what the client needs. "You

talk to the user," she says. "You say, `What do you want it

to do? How do you want it to look,’ and then you repeat back to them.

`You want it to do this. You want it to look like that.’"

This back-and-forth is where women shine, says Fatcheric, and why

more of them should jump into IT. Asked about the percentage of her

own company’s roster that is female, she says, "It’s a sad number.

It’s abysmal." Maybe 20 percent of her employees, tops, are women.

The problem is twofold: The company does not get a great many

applications

from women, and many of the women it hires and trains leave to go

to work for clients. "It’s good news, bad news," she says.

On the one hand, she is glad her company has trained so many women

so well that "the Merrill Lynches of the world" are eager

to hire them, but she does wish they would stay. "Shoot,"

she says of the defections, "that’s not how we planned it."

As far as juggling stewardship of a company with a personal life,

the topic of the second Women in Technology meeting, Fatcheric

confesses,

"It’s not something I do real well. I’m sort of married to my

business." When you’re a Type A personality, she says, you give

150 percent to whatever you do. Nevertheless, she does have some tips.

Have significant outside interests. Fatcheric says she

doesn’t just go home, and let the time away from work fill up any

which way. Rather, she has developed interests that absorb her. She

works in her garden and makes pottery. It’s important to choose

activities

that push aside all thought of work. "You have to be totally

immersed,"

she says. "For my husband, it’s racing cars. That’s something

where you really have to think about what you’re doing." For an

attorney she hired, a career switcher who is new to IT, it’s workouts

at the gym and coaching junior football.

Learn to let go. "You have to learn to let go of some

stuff and let other people do it," she says. If you have a finance

manager, by all means let her manage the finances. Go to meetings,

stay on top of the numbers in a general way, but do not try to

micro-manage.

Without this philosophy, Fatcheric says her business would not work.

She sees to the company functions that are her responsibility, and

leaves the rest to her husband. Both are careful not to "cross

the line."

Find someone to lend perspective. Fatcheric rarely sees

her husband and business partner during the work day, but does bounce

ideas off him at home. It doesn’t have to be a relative, but it is

important to find someone who is willing to listen to work problems

and brainstorm solutions.

There is no need for women to go it alone in their IT careers.

"Mentoring is so important," says Fatcheric. And so is

learning

from high-profile women. One of the women she looks up to? "Ivana

Trump," she says. "There is a woman who has been

successful,"

she says. "She’s a survivor. It got ugly there for a while, but

she managed to keep it together."

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Stories from the Front: Telecom Start-ups

The telecommunications industry may be in disfavor on

Wall Street, but telecom start-ups are flourishing here. Paul

Nolting,

of the law firm Hale and Dorr on College Road, will moderate a panel

for the New Jersey Technology Council entitled "Telecom Start-Ups:

Stories from the Front Line," on Thursday, July 19, at 4 p.m.

at the Princeton University School of Engineering. Cost: $40. Call

856-787-9700.

The CEO of Summit-based Teltier Technologies, Sharad Sharma,

will speak. The panel also includes Tom Curtis, CEO of Ultra

Fast Optical Systems, a Princeton University spinoff that has been

funded by Harmonic Research and has an additional office in Manhattan.

The third panelist is John Connolly, co-founder of Princeton

Lightwave, a Sarnoff spinoff (U.S. 1, May 9).

"Market conditions for startups have changed rather dramatically

in the last year and a half," says Nolting. "It will be

interesting

to hear how companies with very interesting technologies are

continuing

to raise money and forge ahead."

An alumnus of Columbia University (Class of 1976) and New York

University,

Nolting has been involved in the technology industry since 1982 when

he was an inhouse attorney at Applied Data Research in Princeton.

When ADR was bought by Computer Associates in 1988 he worked at Unisys

Corporation and in Woodbridge at RAM Mobile Data (now Cingular

Interactive)

before joining Buchanan Ingersoll on College Road. He was one of the

Buchanan Ingersoll attorneys who went to Hale & Dorr. Among his

clients

are a Hackensack-based wireless telecommunications company, GoAmerica

Inc., and Enerwise Global Technologies Inc., an energy management

service firm in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.

Nolting likes to quote one of New Jersey’s own, Thomas Alva Edison,

on the definition of genius: "Hard work, stick-to-itiveness, and

common sense." That summarizes where entrepreneurs need to be

in the current market, says Nolting. "It is easy to be successful

when everyone is successful, but it takes hard work and perseverance

when things are less favorable."


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