Serena Roberts has always been a rebel. These days, however, there’s a bit more of a cause behind the rebellious attitude than her younger years. Inclusion, gender equality, a couple of adorable pooches, and a badass Rosie the Riveter poster… This is A Workday With Serena Roberts, Chief Operations Guru and VP Data Visualization at Via Gurus and Mastermind at SisTech.
Tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I’ve carried a thick rebel streak my whole life with an unstoppable fearlessness to try new and risky (and sometimes down-right stupid) things. Imagine a rebellious, willful teen who dropped out of high school a few credits short of graduating, an unwed mother at 19. That was me.
Just barely mature enough to see the crossroad I’d created in front of me, I recognized the power I had to impact my life — positive or negative. And it wasn’t just MY life anymore. I decided to use my powers for good and set out on the hard path of earning a bachelor’s degree while working full-time and single-moming it. It legit took me 10 years.
In 2005, I accidentally found my way into the world of Business Intelligence and Analytics through a sales and marketing role at a start-up boutique consulting firm. I learned a ton in that environment and made life-long friends, one of whom is my business partner today. I slowly transitioned into a variety of technical delivery roles but never lost my passion and knack for building authentic relationships with my clients.
On a somewhat parallel track, I’d also gotten married and had two more amazing children. That’s when I started realizing that being a wife, mother of three, sister, aunt, daughter, friend, etc. at that point in my career was HARDER being a 20-something, working, single mom in school. I was constantly having to choose between my family and my career and watching those around me battle similar choices. It weighed on me a little bit more everyday… until I said no more.
There were specific events that catalyzed my decision, but the details aren’t important here. What’s important is that I leaned into my fearless nature and, of course, those closest to me and jumped off that cliff. I had nothing lined up, but I knew I could not go another day believing my only options were working 50+ hours per week or being unemployed.
So, I gathered my squad and did two things: we launched SisTech, a non-profit with a mission to effect radical change in the technology workplace by challenging the status quo on diversity, inclusion and gender equality matters. I also co-founded Via Gurus with my squad leader and business partner, Laura Madsen. On the surface, Via is a women-owned consulting firm in the data and analytics space. Inside, it’s a proving ground for our crazy ideas on how to displace the binary employment model as the norm and offer a space for our employees to be the sum of all their parts all the time — and of course do great work for our clients.
What time do you rise and shine?
What do you usually eat for breakfast?
I don’t eat breakfast until about 10 a.m. and it’s usually a protein bar. Sometime I skip it all together.
What’s the first work-related task you tackle each morning?
I check my email and LinkedIn on my phone before I even get out of bed.
What is your workspace setup?
When it comes to my workspace, I am both a nomad and a minimalist. When I am not traveling between different client sites, I have a cozy little spot setup in our sun room. No big monitors, or trinkets or tchotchkes, not even a mouse. I pack light so I can work from pretty much anywhere.
What’s the most interesting/fun/meaningful thing on your desk?
My desk space is all business, but my husband did buy this really cool print of Rosie the Riveter to show his support for the causes I hold dear. It’s hanging on the wall.
What’s one piece of tech you can’t live without?
iPhone and AirPods. I count them as one because they are equally useless without each other 🙂
What do you need to get done before lunch to feel like you had a productive morning?
The bar for this varies wildly depending on the day. Some days it’s just remembering to drink water or eat something. Other days it’s completing everything on my to-do list so I can switch gears to something totally unrelated like cleaning my house.
What are you listening to these days?
What is your current TV obsession?
On the family-friendly front, we just finished season two of “Lost in Space.” Otherwise, we’re watching the HBO documentary “McMillion$” right now.
What’s the last movie you saw and what would you rate it (out of five stars)?
“Jumanji: The Next Level.” It was actually pretty good! I’ll give a 4 out of 5.
What book would we find on your nightstand?
“The Infinite Game” by Simon Senek and “Rare Breed” by Sunny Bonnell and Ashleigh Hansberger.
Cats or dogs?
The best part about living in Minnesota is…
I’ve never lived anywhere else and I’m not sure I would live here otherwise 😉 Not a fan of the cold, but the summers are great and it is a good place to raise a family.
How do you fend off the post-lunch lull?
I try to switch gears whenever possible, usually something that requires physically moving. I might meet someone for tea or make a Costco run or prep for dinner before getting back to billable work.
What do you use to stay organized during a hectic day?
I live and breath by my Outlook calendar. If it’s not on there, it doesn’t exist!
What’s a recent work-related challenge you had to conquer? Walk us through your process.
Well, the obvious one right now is how the SisTech Conference will deal with the health crisis. Do we reschedule? Do you move to a virtual experience? A hybrid experience? Or will we be absolutely fine to proceed as planned by then? We are considering all of our options, watching what other conferences happening around that time are doing, listening to the CDC recommendations, predictions from the experts, etc…
Our top priority remains delivering on the promises we’ve made to our sponsors, speakers and attendees in the safest and most responsible way. I’m confident that we will make the right decision at the right time.
What’s one thing everyone could do to be more productive?
Multitask. I don’t mean try to do a bunch of different things all at once. I mean have multiple projects or tasks (work-related or not) that you can work on at any given time. When you hit a wall, get bored or frustrated with one switch to something else. You’re still being “productive,” but you’re giving yourself the mental/physical break needed to come back to that other thing with a refreshed mindset.
What’s the last work-related thing you do every day?
Check my email. That one last look to see if anyone needs anything from me before I shut it all down.
How do you decompress at the end of a long workday?
I don’t really consider my “workday” done until dinner is made, the kitchen is clean, homework is done, lunches for the next day are made, and kids are bathed, brushed and in bed. Of course, my husband helps with these things, but I hold the mental checklist that ensures it all gets done. After all that, my husband and I will chat about our days, watch an episode of whatever we’re watching, then go to bed.
What time do you usually hit the hay?
About 10:00 p.m.
SisTech is a local non-profit with a mission to effect radical change in the technology workplace by challenging the status quo on diversity, inclusion and gender equality matters. Together we will: establish a diverse community of technology professionals deeply connected through their shared support of our mission.
SisTech is hosting their annual conference on May 29th, 2020 at the Hyatt Regency in Bloomington, MN. The SisTech conference is a celebration of diversity, inclusion and equality, dedicated to fostering community, raising awareness of important topics, and catalyzing real change. Attendees have access to a wide range of resources and content in support of women in technology. We highlight taboo topics, personal stories and practical skills that are often underrated at other women’s tech conferences, in addition to opportunities for technical up-skilling.
Photos courtesy of Serena Roberts.
If there’s a community thought leader or founder who you’d like to see featured in our “A Workday With—” series, contact us on Twitter @TECHdotMN or email [email protected] with the subject line “A Workday With— Submission.”