Women in STEM Q&A

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Meet Carla Lewis, CIO, C Spire —

ISE magazine: Share what you do at C Spire, and why it’s important.
Lewis: I am the Chief Information Officer at C Spire, and am responsible for all aspects of software development, including systems for sales and service, product delivery, and billing focused on delivering an exceptional customer experience.

I lead all aspects of the enterprise datacenter, database, network operations and support, as well as all aspects of quality assurance. This role is important to delivering on the exceptional customer experience and technology-based solutions that drive the company.

ISE: Share how your role has changed now that IT teams and network evolution teams must work together to transform the network.
Lewis: My role has naturally changed over time due to the transition of C Spire from a primarily wireless operator into a diversified technology company. The lines between traditional IT and network have blurred over the past few years as network solutions become software-defined. Overall, the network has transitioned to be more IT-centric. IT and network architecture look very similar — so there are definite synergies that we are taking advantage of as it relates to technology decisions, deployment strategies and methodologies, buying power, and staffing.

C Spire CIO Carla Lewis shares 2018 company information technology plans and strategies with members of her management team.

ISE: C Spire shares a commitment to helping young people develop an interest in coding. How are you and your team doing that?
Lewis: That area is a targeted focus for C Spire. As part of our broader Tech Movement initiative, we have several programs that aim to develop our youth and training the workforce of tomorrow.

C3 ( C Spire Coding Challenge) — A high school coding competition where we pair high school teams with software development experts to collaborate, code, and create something great. Students with no coding experience to those with more advanced skills can participate, which gives them the opportunity to discover and hone in on their hidden talents and learn more about potential career opportunities. At the same time, they compete for college scholarships and get introduced to the latest and greatest technology. My IT team leads and serves as the mentors for C3.

C Spire Foundation Scholarships — A program administered through our company’s non-profit Foundation that provides scholarships to high school students with an emphasis on IT and Computer Science programs.

C Spire IT management team members pose with the inaugural graduating class (seated front row) of the Base Camp Coding Academy, a private, non-profit program that provides under-advantaged youth with fast-paced, focused vocational training in computer programming. C Spire hired 4 of the students for full-time jobs with the Ridgeland-based diversified telecommunications and technology services company.

Coding Academy — We invest in and financially support coding academies to build another pipeline of candidates to fill open software developer jobs. C Spire is currently invested in the Base Camp Coding Academy based in Water Valley, MS. Base Camp provides high school graduates with a year-long vocational training program in coding to support the technology needs of local and regional employers. Base Camp focuses on high school graduates who do not have an alternate pathway to higher education. Once they qualify and join the program, students receive 12 months of fast-paced, focused, and intensive training.

Base Camp’s inaugural year was a huge success by scoring a perfect mark as the entire graduating class secured information technology job offers from regional employers. C Spire hired four of those graduates from the inaugural class. (I am pleased to currently serve on the Board of Trustees for the Base Camp Coding Academy.)

C Spire CIO Carla Lewis shares computer science and information technology basic principles and critical thinking skills during a visit with Northwest Rankin High School students.

Teacher Training — we are actively working with Microsoft, the Mississippi Department of Education, and the state’s universities, to more effectively train and equip teachers to deliver STEM educational content to elementary and high school students (K-12).

All of these efforts are meant to raise awareness and ultimately provide more skilled software developers. Our desire is for educators, lawmakers, and the business community, to see this as a major issue and pass legislation that includes funding for our public and private schools to be able to offer coding and software development curriculum to students. This would be a true win-win. It would fuel great careers for students, and fill a growing knowledge and skills gap we have across the nation.

ISE: How did you get involved in a STEM career?
Lewis: My choice to get involved in STEM started in high school. The normal process then was for the school guidance counselor to help students determine possible career choices based on their test scores. My guidance counselor told me that due to my high scores in math, I should consider computer science as a college major. That’s where I got my first introduction to computer science. After further research, I decided to pursue this academic and career path, and have loved every moment of it. I actually received a mathematics degree with a minor in computer science.

ISE: What has been the secret to your success?
Lewis: Being transparent, being positive, focusing on making a difference in my role, and counting my blessings. Being transparent is the only way to build good relationships and trust.

While you shouldn’t look to please everyone all the time, you should focus your thoughts on positivity. In other words, don’t think negative thoughts. It’s hard but necessary. If you begin to veer off to the realm of negativity, your entire life follows.

Make a difference in your current role without being consumed with getting to the next level. If you focus on being the best person you can be where you are and focus on the team’s success, you will get to the next level.

You won’t always get exactly what you want exactly when you want it. Don’t forget that you have a lot to be thankful for anyway. Remember what you have been blessed with, and your happiness won’t depend on getting exactly what you want — your happiness will come from your blessings.

ISE: Share the biggest obstacle your company faced recently, and how your team overcame it successfully.
Lewis: One obstacle we are working to overcome today is ensuring that all employees in the company are positioned with the technical skills necessary to fill the positions of the future. The shift towards automation and other emerging technologies builds on continuing social changes that are driving disruption in the workplace. We are building the plan to bridge the gap.

ISE: Talk about C Spire’s fixed wireless technology or wireless fiber, and how it is helping bridge the digital divide.
Lewis: As a Mississippi-based technology company, we are uniquely positioned to ensure that our state is not left behind in the technology revolution and the new digital economy. The mass expansion of broadband Internet is a key part of the C Spire Tech Movement. Our goals are ambitious. Besides being the No. 1 ISP in the state, we want to be the largest provider of ultra-fast consumer and business broadband to help move our state forward, improve the economy, spur investment, and add good jobs.

ISE: Share C Spire’s network plans to help prepare for and launch 5G.
Lewis: C Spire was the first in the state to conduct several successful pre-5G tests during the last 18 months with technology partners where it achieved Gigabit speeds in transmitting data over wireless connections. We intend to leverage 5G solutions to meet the communication needs of consumers and businesses. We’ll do this through smart tests, technology trials, and targeted deployment, using our myriad of 5G technology solutions, including massive MIMO and millimeter wave.

“Technology players need to think more innovatively about increasing diversity within their organizations and attracting women to roles that are still dominated by men,” said Mats Granryd, the Director General of the GSM Association (GSMA) at this year’s Mobile World Congress. Granryd argued the industry could be foregoing billions of dollars in profits because of the shortage of women in senior roles. A report from the Peterson Institute, a research company, supports that position by saying there is a strong correlation between gender diversity and profitability.
ISE: What is the answer to this challenge, and what is C Spire doing in this area?
Lewis: There is no question that a diverse workforce results in a more creative and talented workforce. When you think of the problem solving and creativity required to deliver the next generation of innovation, organizations have to put their best foot forward in attracting women to roles in technology. Keeping young girls interested in math and science-related subjects, having strong mentors, and ensuring work-life balance for women working in STEM, are just some of the ways we can answer this challenge.

C Spire embraces diversity throughout our workforce, including gender diversity. As a technology company, we have programs that reach young females throughout our footprint and spread the message about the advantages and benefits of technology-related careers. Through these same programs and others, I have had the pleasure of being able to speak at schools, coding academies, universities, sharing my story and the benefits of careers in technology. Our company is constantly evaluating policies and culture to ensure we are doing our best to make C Spire the best place to work. That includes having flexible work schedules, remote work opportunities, and employee groups for women, to name just a few.

ISE: What project would you consider your most significant career accomplishment to date?
Lewis: Under my leadership, C Spire has been named a top technology innovator by InformationWeek
for 3 years in a row. This includes InformationWeek’s Elite 100. We were the top-ranked telecommunications provider in the US on the list. InformationWeek highlights the top technology leaders in the nation. I have been fortunate in my career to work with and lead great teams. This accomplishment, and my other successes, are due to their commitment to excellence.

ISE: How do you go about continuing to develop your professional skills and knowledge?
Lewis: Reading, research, training, attending conferences, and conferring with colleagues, help me stay current on the latest technological advances.

ISE: What’s the best piece of advice you can give to anyone aiming to succeed in the ICT industry?
Lewis: Don’t ever get comfortable in your current position. Continue to grow with the industry and be open to change. Strive to make those around you better.

ISE: What motto or quote motivates you?
Lewis: Don’t be the same. Be better. You can’t become a better person if you don’t change. Staying the same, doing the same things, thinking the same things, and never pushing yourself, will lead you to being who you have always been.
Learn, Grow, and Change. Be Better.

C Spire’s Day-Long Coding Challenge

C Spire CIO Carla Lewis chats with Mississippi high school students at company-hosted coding challenge in November 2017.

C Spire Senior IT Manager Jeff Stout, CIO Carla Lewis and HR Manager Deon Gates present members of the 3 winning high school teams with certificates, scholarships and technology prizes at the conclusion of the company’s coding challenge last year.

Over 120 Mississippi high school students from 30 schools participated in C Spire’s day-long coding challenge last November.

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