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GirlGeek of the Week
March 2003

Cyndi Webb

Jo Ellen Moore

For years now, Jo Ellen has shared her enthusiasm and expertise in math and programming to many IT and computer science majors as a university professor. Her own positive experiences starting in the technology field, has inspired her to mentor other women to change careers and pursue the seemingly intimidating field of technology.

Jo Ellen is not your average female technologist. Not only does she teach computer programming and database classes, but she also shares insights in courses such as Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management. Previously, she has held numerous technical positions in the Insurance industry as a software programmer and analyst, project leader, and IS manager.

Working in various corporate environments, Jo Ellen became amusingly intriqued by human behavior which she said eventually led her to pursue a Masters in Psychology. Of course, Jo Ellen was kidding, but much of her study in psychology and human behavior, seemingly dissimilar to the practical world of computer science and information technology (IT), added a new dimension to her research of technology and the IT industry.

Influenced by her tech experiences and diverse educational interests, Jo Ellen pursued a Ph D in Computer Management of Information Systems and Professionals (CMIS). CMIS allowed her to continue focusing on technology, but also led her to do extensive research on issues that affected technology professionals especially during the DotCom boom and bust such as job turnover and burnout, the workplace and management. She has given talks and written articles on these concerns, published in HR Magazine, MIS Quarterly, Academy of Management Review, and Communications of the ACM.

Jo Ellen continues to research management and work issues of IT professionals and currently devotes her teaching expertise to the CMIS department at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. Although Jo Ellen is more focused on management aspects of technology, she hasn't let go of her computer programming. She still finds time to dabble with design and development, two interests that began an unexpected exploration into more human aspects of technology.

Tell us more about yourself and your background with technology.

I'm an old math major who found her way into computer programming. I'll go ahead and admit it -- I know COBOL (and still make money doing COBOL training for corporations, so COBOL is a friend of mine). But I've had the opportunity to learn lots of other stuff too. The best moment of my work life (which happens to be the geekiest, so you know I'm proud to be speaking on this website) was when I was assigned to write an email system for the company I worked for -- back in 1982. The email system was the brainchild of our VP of MIS; clearly, she was a strong visionary. I was given this assignment alone -- no project team, just me and my knowledge of MVS and TCAM and Assembler language and message processing applications, and my resourcefulness to find out and figure out the many things I didn't know. I reeeeeally dug this assignment, and the email system was pretty cool for those days. When I run into former colleagues from that company, they frequently say things like "I miss the post-date feature of your email system" and "I miss the retract-send feature." (as with so many in-house applications, the old email system has been replaced by a more generic software package, sad in some ways but likely a good business decision)

When did you first discover your love or obsession with technology and new media?

In my programming class for math majors -- Fortran (yes, I know all the hip languages). The light dawned as I finally saw something my math-logical mind could do for a living.

Were you encouraged as a child to learn more about and participate in science, math and more technical-oriented projects?

I was never DIScouraged, and I was advised toward the college-prep courses in high school. I loved all the math in high school, and that was all it took to send me in this direction.

Did you have a mentor in the field or anyone who inspired you to use technology in your work?

Not really. I was fortunate to enter the work world in a company that seemed indifferent to gender. Note that our VP of MIS was female, and this was back in the late 1970s.

Was it hard for you breaking into the IT industry? Did you encounter any resistance?

No, it wasn't difficult to break into the IT industry. I have encountered no resistance in the moves I've made throughout my career. Perhaps resistance was there but I was too busy coding and too engaged in my work to notice.

Do you think that the attitudes of women working in the technology sector has changed? If so, how have they changed?

I have not noticed a change in attitudes of women in IT. We are still out there, in stronger numbers than ever, doing our jobs and doing them well. My sense is that women don't feel any limit to what they can accomplish and how far they can go, and the women I worked around back in the late 1970s didn't seem to feel any limit either. Maybe it's a good idea to not spend too much time looking for limits... even if they appear to be there, maybe it's best to behave as if they are not.

In your research of IT management, I am sure you have come across many work place issues that affect women in the industry. Could you share with us anything in that respect that you might have discovered in your research?

This probably isn't the answer you're expecting, but... as I've been immersed in examining prior research regarding job burnout and workplace behaviors such as decisions to leave and limited-perspective bias, and doing my own research in these areas, I am impressed with how similarly males and females react to work situations. For example, the reluctance to report reality in troubled projects is a "human" thing -- regardless of gender, as a manager of a project spiraling out of control, a person faces difficult, ambiguous, confusing situations that have no fun or easy answer. I believe both males and females struggle with this in pretty much the same ways.

What do you think we need to do to get more women interested in technology?

Expose them to the type of jobs that exist in technology -- job shadowing programs for high school students is one mechanism that I encourage. I think that if females had a better idea of the spectrum of jobs in IT and what many jobs really entail (e.g., that logical thinking, organization, and working with people can be big parts of IT jobs), more females would consider it as a career of interest.

In your opinion, in what other ways do you think technology would better serve society?

Yikes, big question. One thing that occurs to me is that I would like to see computers and the Internet made available to senior citizens at all economic levels. For example, I would like to see more extensive grant programs to provide computers for word processing and Internet access and email at senior citizen centers. I think learning something knew like this can re-energize our elders, at a time when they may be becoming bored and having more alone time on their hands than they'd like. Word processing and email can radically increase their communication with family and friends, while Internet access gives them a whole new avenue for finding information (e.g., medical, news, politics, history, etc.).

What advice can you give to girls or women who are just beginning to learn about technology and new media?

Play with it, don't feel you have to become an expert at it, but make the effort to become a comfortable user. If you then find your interest goes deeper than that, cool! If not, no big deal. But we all need to extend ourselves at least to the point of being comfortable users.

What do you do when you aren't working and thinking about the next project?

I play racquetball and read detective novels.

What are your current or future projects?

I'm taking sabbatical next fall to write a book that will present tips for the workplace within a framework of... drum roll... Nancy Drew, my hero.

Any favorite websites, tech tools or cool devices to recommend?

Not really. The website that probably gets the most hits from me is (always looking something up).

Do you consider yourself a "Geek"?

Yes, but I'm afraid many of my MBA students don't see the geek in me anymore. My geekness has faded a bit, as my focus the past decade has been on managerial issues associated with IT. You know what they say - if you want to lose your technical skills, go into management. But I believe this is an evolution that we need in IT.

We need a few of our geeks to come over to the dark side :o) I think this is a necessary, natural evolution. Because of my geek days and my experience as both a technology professional and an IT manager, I believe I am better able to see and understand issues in the IT workplace, and better able to speak to them and apply theory and research to them. I very much enjoy teaching and discussing workplace issues (such as job burnout, limited-perspective bias, citizenship behaviors, and reluctance to report reality in troubled IT projects), and I thrive on conducting research in this area and publishing articles for both practitioners and fellow researchers. In conjunction with this managerial focus, I try to keep my geekness alive by teaching a few technical courses like SAP ABAP programming and advanced analysis and design using Oracle Designer.




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