Technology trends

Women in Technology Spotlight: Zina Ilchenko

Senior software engineer

Tell me a little bit about where you attended school and your work history.

I started my career teaching world history at a high school in Ukraine. When I came to the U.S., I barely spoke English, and I had never touched a computer in my life. I started working at a daycare, where the other teachers taught me the language. When I realized everyone was going to business and technical school, I decided to attend school in northeast Philadelphia, while working full-time. In 1998, I was hired by Ascensus.

What made you interested in pursuing a career in technology?

When my daughter entered high school she needed a computer, so I bought her one. I started exploring on it and ended up teaching myself how to type. Computers were a big trend back then and an emerging industry. I thought if other people could do it, then I could do it too.

What makes working on the IT team at Ascensus different or unique?

The type of work we do at Ascensus is special. We serve a large portion of our nation—more than 7 million Americans! Without our help, they wouldn’t be able to contribute to their retirement, education, or health savings accounts.

What advice would you give someone who wants to land a job in the technology field?

Learn what you can as early as possible. Talk to people who are in this industry and be interested in ongoing innovations. I never imagined that I’d go down this career path, but truly anyone of any age can do it.

What woman is your biggest inspiration and why?

One of my good friends who still lives in Ukraine really inspires me. We’ve been friends for more than 30 years and she has always overcome struggles in her life.

Did anyone or anything help you to get to where you are today?

There are many people who have helped me to get to where I am today. Especially, all of the women who taught me how to speak English at the daycare, and all of my teammates here at Ascensus. I have more of a business background, so when I need help understanding something technical, everyone always takes their time to help me.

Why do you like working for a company that helps people save?

Life has taught me that in order to survive, you need to save. I like that we help people save, so they have some sort of safety net in their lives. It’s so important to save for yourself, for your family, and for your future.


Women in Technology Spotlight: Sandy Palaski

Senior software engineer

Tell me a little bit about where you attended school and your work history.

I went to Illinois State University, where I double majored in International Business and Japanese Studies. Japanese Studies may seem random, but I was actually an exchange student living in Japan during high school. My first position in the IT industry was an internship with the company Advanta. I ended up working there for 11 years. Afterwards, I worked at Member Solutions, and now I’m working at Ascensus.

How did you start your career at Ascensus, and how long have you worked here?

Luckily, I’ve always known how important networking is. Some of my previous work associates ended up at Ascensus, so they were able to refer me here. I’ve been working here for almost 5 years.

What made you interested in pursuing a career in technology?

As you can probably tell from my major, I initially wasn’t interested in the field of technology. My first internship really exposed me to the industry, and I realized that IT was a good fit for me. IT was constantly evolving and I found it appealing to work in a field that was never dull.

What makes working on the IT team at Ascensus different or unique?

At Ascensus, I have met such a wide range of people. Every worker is different, whether it be their background, age, or nationality. We have some employees who just graduated college, and we have others who have been working here for over 20 years. We even have people like me who started as business majors and eventually discovered the IT industry. All of these different people give our company a fresh perspective.

What advice would you give someone who wants to land a job in the technology field?

Never lose your desire to learn. In a field that is constantly changing, you’ll always discover something you never knew before. Seek opportunities to continue learning.

What woman is your biggest inspiration and why?

I can’t name just one person! I’d have to say my mother, my grandmothers, and my sisters all influenced me in extremely different ways.

Did anyone or anything help you to get to where you are today?

My sister helped me get to where I am today. She was the reason that I got my first internship with Advanta, and now she also works in Ascensus’ IT department. We work on different teams, but it’s nice having a support system in my work environment.

Why do you like working for a company that helps people save?

Each project we work on has its own goal, but in the end these projects contribute to the company’s overall goal of helping people save for life’s biggest events. Everything we do is intended to help others save for their futures.


Women in Technology Spotlight: Nikhila Nallamothu

Software engineer

Tell me a little bit about where you attended school and your work history.

I grew up in India and attended RVR & JC College of Engineering. My experiences at school influenced me to move to the United States and pursue my masters at Villanova University. Villanova helped me land my first job, but after I learned about Ascensus at a career fair, I knew I wanted to work here.

How did you start your career at Ascensus, and how long have you worked here?

After graduate school, I really wanted to find a job that would allow me to enhance the skills and knowledge I gained. After hearing about Ascensus’ corporate culture, I felt that I could truly grow here. It’s been almost 2 years since I joined the Ascensus team.

What made you interested in pursuing a career in technology?

As a little girl, I was always intrigued with computers and puzzles. Eventually, I taught myself windows programming basics and it influenced me to pursue a career in technology. Generational experience taught me that technology offered various career paths, so it felt like a good fit for me.

What makes working on the IT team at Ascensus different or unique?

We have such a supportive culture here. Everyone cares about the quality of your work, but they more so care about you and your personal goals. I’m very proud of Ascensus’ core values, because they allow us to work on meaningful projects that help us grow every day.

What advice would you give someone who wants to land a job in the technology field?

Go for it! The possibilities are endless in this field. You won’t be stuck coding behind a computer all day long, especially if you study STEM.

What woman is your biggest inspiration and why?

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, is one of my biggest inspirations. She shows great dedication and passion for her job. When it comes to my personal life, there are many people who have inspired me. My mother and all of the women who are part of Ascensus’ IT leadership team are great mentors, who have showed me it is possible to be a woman technologist.

Did anyone or anything help you to get to where you are today?

My father teaches various programming subjects back in India. He took a lot time to teach me each and every programming language, and he stuck by my side when I had trouble understanding certain subjects. My dad really helped me pursue my dream of receiving my masters.

Why do you like working for a company that helps people save?

I’ve always loved giving back to others and to the community. Together, my sister and I started The Avery Charitable Trust, an organization that allows us to donate to children in need. Once I learned that Ascensus helped Americans save for the future, I felt a connection to this company. I had no second thoughts about working for a company that helps people save. I immediately knew I wanted to work here for the long term.


Women in Technology Spotlight: Renee Drobish

Senior software engineer

Tell me a little bit about where you attended school and your work history.

I attended Drexel University where I received my undergraduate degree in Mathematics. Afterwards, I went to Penn State and received my masters in Engineering Science with a concentration in Computer Science.

I’ve been able to venture along three different career paths. First, I worked as a software engineer in the process control industry where I received a software patent entitled “Method for Controlling Failover between Redundant Network Interface Modules”. Next, I became a professor at Penn State Abington and started teaching Information Science and Computer Science courses. Finally, I entered the financial market working at a small financial company, eventually making my way to Ascensus.

How did you start your career at Ascensus, and how long have you worked here?

After speaking with a recruiter, I looked at Ascensus’ LinkedIn page to learn more about the company. While I was searching around, I realized that one of my previous students was currently employed here. I spoke with my former student about the company, and he had great things to say, so I accepted the job. It’s funny because, when I started, my student was assigned to be my mentor. We worked in the same department for my first two and a half years, and I’m now beginning my fifth year with Ascensus.

What made you interested in pursuing a career in technology?

From a young age, I took an interest in math. Although I loved math, I knew that I did not want to be a math teacher. That opened my eyes to the world of Computer Science.

What makes working on the IT team at Ascensus different or unique?

At my previous place of employment, each team was separated by department. Although we worked on projects together, we were never working on the same team. Here at Ascensus, our teams are made up of various workers. Each team has developers, quality engineers, project managers, project owners, etc. and we collaborate on various projects. This environment is so different than any other work place I know of. I also feel like there are more women in Ascensus’ IT department than any other IT department I previously worked in.

What advice would you give someone who wants to land a job in the technology field?

Always be willing to learn new things by keeping up-to-date with technology. Use the internet to read articles and explore technical sites and learning sites. You can even use YouTube to find videos about Microsoft Office and programming.

What woman is your biggest inspiration and why?

This is a hard question, because there are a few women who have inspired me. My mother was a hardworking and independent business woman. She endured many challenges throughout her life, including surviving the Holocaust. I also really admire a woman named Ada King. She’s known to be the first computer programmer, which is interesting because now IT is a male-dominated field.

Did anyone or anything help you to get to where you are today?

My parents helped me establish myself by encouraging me to go to college. I was the first one in my family to attend college, and they told me I could go to school for whatever I wanted.
Also, my husband encouraged me to keep up with all of my work throughout graduate school.

Why do you like working for a company that helps people save?

Working at Ascensus has truly showed me how important it is to save for the future. I always had been saving before I worked here, but ever since I started my career at Ascensus I’ve continued to grow my savings immensely. I also have learned a lot about retirement that I never knew before, which has helped me determine my own 401(k) savings strategies.


Women in Technology Spotlight: Rimma Guberman

Manager

Tell me a little bit about where you attended school and your work history.

I grew up in Moscow, Russia, and immigrated to the United States in 1994. When I lived in Russia, I obtained my education in Computer Science. However, I didn’t learn about modern technologies and efficient software building until I came to the U.S.

I started working as a web developer for a small firm. Afterwards, I worked across different industries for several organizations. I was able to advance through a series of roles, moving my way into a management position.

How did you start your career at Ascensus, and how long have you worked here?

When I was applying to jobs, I interviewed at many companies. In the end, I felt Ascensus was the best opportunity for me. I’ve been working here for 3 years. I currently manage software development, which allows me to work with other developers to build software applications for our clients.

What made you interested in pursuing a career in technology?

When I was starting my career, technology and web development represented new territory. As these sciences emerged, there was a high demand for people skilled in these fields. Also, I always liked to solve challenging problems. Overall, I felt like IT presented opportunity for me to grow.

What makes working on the IT team at Ascensus different or unique?

Everyone that is a part of our IT team here impresses me. We invest a lot of time and energy into digital enhancements, the advancement of new technology products, and the development of agile processes. Our technologists get to be a part of an organization that values ongoing and emerging technologies.

What advice would you give someone who wants to land a job in the technology field?

Be committed to learning. Always try and adapt to new technologies, because it will allow you to stay innovative. Also, look for ways to improve yourself and the company you work for.

Can you provide any guidance for women aiming for leadership positions?

Although it’s impressive to work hard and be good at your job, it won’t be enough if you want to be in a leadership position. You need to be confident in who you are, and you need to be assertive so your voice is heard. Take risks and never compromise.

Did anyone or anything help you to get to where you are today?

When my kids were little, my husband and my mother always helped me so I could do what I liked to do. They were always supportive when I had to spend my nights studying, or when I had to work long hours. I also looked up to one of my previous bosses, because he was an amazing technologist. We were able to work together at three different companies.

Why do you like working for a company that helps people save?

Every time you work on a new feature, you realize you’re working on it to help others. When I see one of my technology systems being implemented or when I fix a bug on the site, I feel satisfied to know my expertise is being used to help others save for the future.


Women in Technology Spotlight: Julianne Sumpf

Lead software engineer

Tell me a little bit about where you attended school and your work history.

I attended Millersville University in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I started as a Business Administration major with a focus in Accounting, but after the first quarter I switched my major to Computer Science. I worked for a litigation company for 10 years, where I focused on electronic discovery. At first I completed quality checks, but I moved my way up to software development.

How did you start your career at Ascensus, and how long have you worked here?

The litigation company I previously worked for had been bought out, so all of my teammates started moving to different companies. One person I worked with joined Ascensus and he recommended I apply for an open position. He put in a reference for me, and now I’m here! I’ve been with Ascensus for a little over 4 years.

What made you interested in pursuing a career in technology?

When I realized business wasn’t the best fit for me, my uncle suggested I try technology. I took my first technology class spring term of freshman year, and I loved it. At my school the curriculum jumped from taking small command classes to video game classes, which showed me that IT was truly a mix of creativity and strategy.

What makes working on the IT team at Ascensus different or unique?

The people at Ascensus make our team extremely unique. All of the associates have vastly different backgrounds, however, we all share the same common goal of making Ascensus the best it can be. Also, you get to work on a variety of projects. One day I’ll work on the website, the next I’m looking at systems and database levels underneath it. We always get to learn and experience something new.

What advice would you give someone who wants to land a job in the technology field?

If you don’t have a lot of experience, try looking for volunteer opportunities. I follow a few technology groups over social media, and I’ll see organizations looking for volunteers to help update their database and website. Those opportunities serve as great projects you can show off to your future employer. Also, it’s important to promote yourself by having your LinkedIn profile up-to-date.

What woman is your biggest inspiration and why?

The professor I had in my first computer science class was a woman. I think her and I had been the only females in the classroom. She showed me it is possible to be a woman working in the technology field. Also, my family is full of strong women that pushed ourselves forward when it came to establishing a career. They taught me how important it is to show pride in what you do.

Did anyone or anything help you to get to where you are today?

My problem-solving skills helped me get to where I am today. These skills are very useful when I see project challenges or support issues, because they help me to think differently and look for solutions others have not tried.

Why do you like working for a company that helps people save?

People work hard for their money, and they work even harder to save their money. They trust the employees at Ascensus to properly handle the money that they need for life’s most important events. I love working for a company that provides accurate results to our clients in a timely manner.


Women in Technology Spotlight: Sharon Burge

Software development manager 

Tell me a little bit about where you attended school and your work history.

I majored in Mathematics at Drew University, which allowed me to develop my analytical skills. After accepting an offer from Electronic Data Systems (EDS), I attended their technical training for new employees hired as associate developers. I was able to use the skills I learned at EDS to work as a software developer. Afterwards, I worked in the IT division of a mortgage company, and now I’m with Ascensus.

How did you start your career at Ascensus, and how long have you worked here?

When I first came to Ascensus, I started as a senior software developer. My manager was switching positions at the time, so they were looking to hire another manager. Fortunately, I was promoted and was able to work as a development lead. I’ve only been with Ascensus for two years, so I’ve definitely experienced a lot of movement within the company in a short amount of time.

The job description featured on Ascensus.com interested me, because it described a position that would be challenging and rewarding. When I started the interview process, I learned that Ascensus was very forward-thinking in terms of their approach to software development.

What made you interested in pursuing a career in technology?

I’ve always enjoyed solving problems. My early attempts at JavaScript and my EDS training highlighted my desire to solve technical problems. Technology is constantly evolving, which adds another layer to an exciting career choice. You can be a master today, and a novice tomorrow. It’s fun and rewarding to continue finding new and better ways to complete processes.

What makes working on the IT team at Ascensus different or unique?

At Ascensus, we’re always trying to make ourselves better. We know there is room for continuous improvement. Something unique the IT department does is utilize TV screens to show the status of our test cases. Our code goes into our development environment and runs automated tests to validate our changes. This ensures that existing functionality has not been negatively impacted. The TVs assist in letting all groups know if one of the applications failed or if tests were not successful. This allows us to immediately celebrate successes or identify potential issues.

What advice would you give someone who wants to land a job in the technology field?

I recommend getting involved in the online community as soon as possible. This can include contributing to open source repositories, responding to questions on Stack Overflow, or even joining technical meet-ups. Internships are also a great way to gain more knowledge about the field and learn from experienced developers. If you’re younger, you could apply to coding challenges offered by your high school.

Can you provide any guidance for women aiming for leadership positions?

Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions. It’s okay to question the status quo. Just because something has been done a certain way before, doesn’t mean that it’s the right or the best way to do it. At other companies I’ve worked for, there were times I was the only woman at meetings. Some people may treat you a little differently, but don’t let it prevent you from making sure your word is heard.

Did anyone or anything help you to get to where you are today?

Not only did my EDS tech training help me, but the first technical lead I worked with after my training was very supportive. She was really helpful in teaching me coding, but she also showed me it’s possible to be a successful, respectable woman working in the field of technology.

Why do you like working for a company that helps people save?

Saving is a critical part of my life, especially as costs continue to rise and as the economy fluctuates. My work is more meaningful knowing that I’m helping others save for college, health care, and retirement.


Shannon Kelly and Steve Schweitzer Discuss Ascensus’ Enhanced TPA Experience

In recent article​s published by PLANSPONSOR​ and PLANADVISER​, Shannon Kelly and Steve Schweitzer​ discuss Ascensus’ enhanced digital experience for third- party administrators (TPAs). Ascensus launched a refreshed, ​web-based plan management platform that was designed after surveying the TPA community. Shannon Kelly, president of retirement, says, “The refreshed TPA dashboard—along with the plan and employee websites that were updated earlier in the year—is simple by design in ord​​er to provide user experiences that make plan management and saving for the future as straightforward as possible​.”


Ascensus Addresses Third-Party Administrators’ Need for More Efficient Way to Run Their Businesses

Ascensus, a technology-enabled service provider that helps more than 7 million Americans save for the future, is pleased to announce that it has launched an enhanced digital experience for third-party administrators (TPAs) who use its recordkeeping platform via a refreshed, web-based plan management dashboard. Designed with input gathered directly from the TPA community—along with guidance from partners that work with TPAs (Mutual of Omaha and Vanguard)—this tool offers simple navigation and easy access to resources that can help TPAs better manage their plans so that they can devote more time to building their businesses.

Ascensus, which currently partners with more than 1,000 TPAs across approximately 6,500 plans on its recordkeeping platform, surveyed TPAs to understand their needs and how they want to use online resources.  Responses indicated that there were several areas of interest that TPAs prefer to find quickly, all of which have been enhanced within the updated dashboard’s navigation toolbar for ease of access. Ascensus also focused on increasing satisfaction by making it simpler for TPAs to view their book of business with the firm in one location.

“The refreshed TPA dashboard—along with the plan and employee websites that were updated earlier in the year—is simple by design in order to provide user experiences that make plan management and saving for the future as straightforward as possible,” says Shannon Kelly, Ascensus’ president of retirement. “I’d like to thank Mutual of Omaha and Vanguard for their assistance with this project; by addressing TPAs’ stated needs for more operational efficiency, we hope to free up their time so that they can put more focus on activities that can help them to grow their businesses, such as cross-selling additional services to clients.”

“TPAs play a vital role in the management of their clients’ retirement plans, and we want to make certain that they have the tools that they need to provide the best level of service possible,” states Steve Schweitzer, Ascensus’ senior vice president of marketing, product, and digital. “The enhancements to the TPA dashboard reaffirm Ascensus’ commitment to TPAs and the important work that they do to help their clients save for the future.”

About Ascensus

Ascensus helps more than 7 million Americans save for the future—retirement, college, and healthcare—through technology-enabled solutions. With more than 35 years of experience, the firm offers tailored solutions that meet the needs of asset managers, banks, credit unions, state governments, financial professionals, employers, and individuals. Ascensus supports approximately 50,000 retirement plans, more than 4 million 529 college savings accounts, and a growing number of ABLE savings accounts. It also administers more than 1.5 million IRAs and health savings accounts. As of June 30, 2017, Ascensus had over $151 billion in total assets under administration. For more information about Ascensus, visit ascensus.com.

View career opportunities at careers.ascensus.com or on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/company/ascensus. For the latest company news, follow @AscensusInc on Twitter.


Scott Morrison Discusses Technology Trends in Financial Services Industry

Ascensus College Savings’ Chief Product Officer Scott Morrison recently contributed an original article to Industry Era in which he discusses new technologies that financial services’ firms are leveraging in developing client solutions. He discusses data sharing through Application Program Interfaces (APIs) which has enabled savers to leverage aggregation platforms like Mint to get a holistic view of their financial wellness. Scott also highlights that financial services firms are building their websites, apps, and other acount services in a mobile-friendly manner so that financial advisors and their clients can access their financial information on their smart phones. “The high level of convenience that comes with these capabilities results in a happier end user,” he concludes.