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Sioux Falls Business Journal

By Lisa Peterson

It could be said that Amanda Tiede took a calculated path to her current position as director of software development for DocuTap.

Long before she moved into management, Tiede earned degrees in information systems and business management, an academic path spurred by a strong interest in math when she was young.

“Growing up, math was always one of my favorite subjects,” she said. “I always wanted to tinker on the computer and knew that I wanted to pursue something in the technology field.”

Tiede is among a number of women who have chosen a career in technology in South Dakota. Of the 15,638 workers in computer, engineering and science occupations in South Dakota, 3,659 or 23.4 percent are women, according to a 2012 U.S. Census Bureau American Community survey.

Mandy Walburg, senior economic analyst for the South Dakota Department of Labor, said women in tech careers in South Dakota dropped by 1 percent from 2010 to 2012, the most recent year data is available.

A sampling of women in so-called STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math – finds several emerging leaders with a desire to bring more gender equality into their industries.

Succeeding in software

While Tiede's background is highly technical, her advice to women for professional achievement isn't rocket science.

“Find your passion and pursue it with everything you've got,” she said.

That approach has helped this former desk specialist forge a career as the leader of a team of software developers at a fast-growing tech company.

Tiede's success is rooted in hard work.

She said it's a combination of continual self-improvement and being surrounded by supportive people.

“Early on, I had a manager that recognized my potential and encouraged me to join a leadership development group,” she said. “This gave me the confidence to continue my journey down the management road.”

Tiede oversees a team of 30 software engineers and quality assurance analysts who are responsible for writing new features for clients. She said her role is to help her team be the best it can be and to provide the support the staff members need to achieve their career goals.

“My day is usually spent conversing with my team on new design and development aspects, helping remove roadblocks and attending to escalated issues, as well as being an advocate for my team while leading them through change,” Tiede said. “Each day is an adventure, which is what makes my job so exciting.”

Her supervisor, Brad Reimers, calls Tiede a huge asset to the DocuTap leadership team.

“Amanda provides a wealth of application development leadership to DocuTap; specifically, she focuses on implementing the right amount of process maturity in the midst of our high growth and is able to effectively lead through a lot of change,” he said. “Her personal ethics, leadership background and experience allow her to make quick and solid decisions daily.”

Tiede said the best part about her job is its team approach.

“It's really rewarding to be part of a team that has that inspiration and vision to do great things, and it's encouraging the teamwork and idea generation that goes on each day. It's brought so much opportunity for me to grow professionally and personally.”

Later career discovery

The former medical transcriptionist was eight years into a successful career when she saw a shift happening in health care technology and realized her job would be eliminated.

It was the proverbial sink-or-swim time for LaConte.

“Things were being switched over to electronic health records,” she explained. “I knew I would be laid off, so I resigned and approached a medical billing services company, and they offered me a position with their company as director of communications and marketing.”

Along the way, she got her master's degree in health information management in 2011.

For LaConte, who hails from Pennsylvania, the journey to her current career has been a roundabout process.

The child of missionary parents, she lived overseas, sparking an early interest in exploration.

“I wanted to be a professional traveler when I was young,” LaConte said. “I'm studious and outgoing but also analytical.”

Although she uses data in her current career, LaConte wasn't encouraged to pursue math and didn't think she was good at it. When she graduated from college in 2001, her bachelor's degree was in communications and print media.

“I entered college as a linguistics major and then switched to communications,” she said. “I discovered linguistics was very mathematical, and I didn't think math was one of my strengths, although later I discovered a love for statistics and data analysis.”

When her job description at the medical billing services company was changed for the worse, LaConte decided to expand her horizons in June 2012.

“Right away, I contacted a friend of mine and was able to work on a special project at a large health care facility in Pittsburgh,” LaConte said. “Then my husband's job became too stressful for him, so I needed to find a different opportunity to support our family.”

LaConte reached out to a long-term care company in Minnesota that was looking for a health information management director and was hired in August 2012. She lived in Minnesota for two months before her family joined her.

A year later, LaConte's husband was offered a job in the Sioux Falls area, and she found herself having to start her career over again. She took a position as a support specialist at a technology company, but they soon parted ways.

“A week later, I filed for my LLC,” said LaConte, who started LaConte Consulting, which focuses on change management and technology solutions for business owners and executives.

“It was the best thing that happened to me professionally because it made me recognize my strengths and weaknesses better,” she said. “There were moments of self-doubt. I don't think anyone is ever certain about what they're doing 100 percent of the time or gets everything right on the first try. Those feelings are normal when you get involved in a new environment.”

LaConte said the best part of her job is implementing technology to make a business owner's vision a reality. She also has advice for other young women considering STEM careers.

“Take credit for your work, and be proud of what you've accomplished and what you know. Learn as much as you can, and strive for excellence in whatever you do.”

Emerging tech leader

She figured she'd get the most opportunity to pursue her passion for creating things.

“I found out that wasn't going to be a reality early on,” Lancaster said. “It's funny because what I do now is the next closest thing to inventing.”

As director of business development for South Dakota Innovation Partners in Brookings, she helps guide the early stage venture capital firm that specializes in science and technology-related ventures.

Growing up in Aberdeen, Lancaster excelled at math and science but had no clear vision of a future career.

“As a child, my parents always had us outside and doing different activities,” she said. “Mom stayed home with us and involved me in science-related activities that were hands-on.”

While in high school, Lancaster was asked to help start a Women in Science chapter.

While her parents encouraged her education, Lancaster's direction in life depended more on her own abilities than on any outside influence. No guidance counselors or teachers – not even her father, a pharmacist – forced a career in technology.

Lancaster chose biology as her degree, graduating in 2010 from the University of South Dakota. While the subject and processes appealed to her, she soon realized she had a greater interest in engineering.

“The capability of what you could do with engineering was attractive to me, and I wanted to broaden my career potential,” she said.

Lancaster went on to earn her master's degree in biomedical engineering from USD in 2012. An internship led to a full-time job with South Dakota Innovation Partners.

“I spend a lot of time doing technology sourcing and understanding the commercialization pathway of technology,” Lancaster said. “They call me a 'translator' at my job because what we do is so technical. So when you're presenting to different companies, you have to make sure it's put in the right context, so I translate the work we're doing to something more understandable across all industries.”

The job has captivated her from the start.

“The best part about my job is working with technologies and with people who all want to impact the world in a positive way.”

Mark Luecke, Lancaster's supervisor, said she is a perfect example of how team members in his organization accept a challenge and exceed expectations.

“Sue works tirelessly to support her team members in the pursuit of our business objectives, which are aligned with global challenges, such as food and water security,” Luecke said. “Innovation Partners would not have accomplished the good work that we have to date without her drive, creativity and leadership.”

And Lancaster has some lofty goals. By age 30, she plans to have started a family, strengthened her engineering skills and obtained her Six Sigma black belt certification, regarded as the ultimate level of managerial excellence.

It corresponds to a multilevel system of mastery, ranging from the white belt given to all beginners to the black belt awarded only to the most accomplished.

“I just got my yellow belt certification, and I hope to move to the green belt soon,” she said. “It will allow me to have effective techniques to reduce waste and develop lean processes that make a business function without as many defects, hopefully leading to a good place to work for people and to also drive financial savings.”

For women seeking success in a tech field, Lancaster recommends spending time in the field with someone who can be a role model and breaking big goals down into small steps. And it doesn't hurt to be really, really determined, she said.

“If you have the drive, you can be successful.” 

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