Sarah Valerio

Tell us your story: how’d you get in the tech world? We want all the twists and turns that led you to your current role.

I wound up in the tech world in a roundabout way.

I didn’t originally see myself in the tech sphere. I grew up in a society that subliminally discouraged women from pursuing careers or interests in science, technology or mathematics. In the late 80s and early 90s when I grew up, all the pictures in toy catalogues of children playing with computers or video games were all boys. The girls were all playing with Barbies and games about shopping and easy bake ovens. Nevertheless I persisted in playing video games and computer games and in teaching myself .html coding. By high school I created my own website and in college I took courses in computer science and wrote coding for a calculator program. I have to credit my little brother with this as it was his interest in video games, computer games, and coding that helped inspire mine.

In undergrad at Boston University I was a political science major, sociology minor with plans to go to law school. I always thought I’d end up in the public sector working as an attorney for the government. I attended law school at George Washington University and spent my summers working for the Department of Labor and Federal Mine Safety & Health Review Commission. Unfortunately I graduated law school in 2009 into a severe economic recession and the worst legal economy in over 80 years. I actually bartended briefly just to pay the rent, which I can’t complain about because it is probably one of the most fun jobs a person can have and is now one of most practical skills I have! I eventually got a job working for the Department of Health, then out of desperation to make a career change in an economy with limited options, took a job working on Capitol Hill for a member of Congress. Politics had always been my passion, but I was underpaid and overworked so I took a shot in the dark applying for a job I heard about through a friend in the private sector with a holdings company, The Resource Group. They took a chance on me, and soon welcomed me into their largest growing portfolio company, Afiniti, an artificial intelligence company. There, management valued and encouraged my talents and I was promoted to Corporate Counsel. Though I had no prior experience in the private sector or in the tech field, my higher-ups invested in me and taught me the ropes and gave me opportunities in a way that truly fanned my love of the tech sector. I definitely took the long way around but couldn’t be more pleased that I ended up here. Everything works out the way it’s supposed to.

What is the best piece of advice you have for women in tech or looking at getting involved in tech?

Go for it. Don’t be scared or intimidated.  I got my job because I decided to strike out into the unknown. I got my promotion because I worked up the courage to sit down with the CEO and General Counsel and ask for it. While the company I work for does a great job actively recruiting women and other groups often underrepresented in tech, I’m still frequently the only woman in the room and while I’d like to see that change, I’m not intimidated by it and I hope other women aren’t either. In a society constantly telling women to know our place and wait our turn, you have to buck norms and go for what you want and what you deserve.

Who has inspired you along the way?

My parents have been lifelong inspirations. They always taught me that if I work hard I could do anything I wanted to do if I set my mind to it, and they gave me the encouragement and support to make my dreams a reality. My mom was always told me it’s important for women to break barriers and make professional achievements throughout our lives so we can alter the face of our fields and shape the world into one that views and treats us as equals; an impact we can only truly make by becoming the influencers and decision makers; people visible in positions more women can see and emulate. My grandmother, Betty Valerio was a barrier-breaker in politics, and I remember a plaque on her desk that said “Women run for office, not coffee.”

The Women in Tech campaign exists to help redefine what women in technology means in the 21st century. Started independently by a group of professional women who, after many impassioned discussions about women in tech knew we wanted to expand this definition beyond ‘traditional’ technology skills. To us, it includes most every current, emerging or evolving role within an organization. By featuring leaders and emerging leaders across industries who embody this we hope to collectively ‘stand up’, be proud of our place in the digital world and inspire young women or those new to the ‘tech space’ to get involved.

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