Technology trends

Women in Technology Spotlight: Brandy Blum

Business Integration Lead, TPA Solutions

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

I attended St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota. I’ve always enjoyed working. Throughout high school and college, I held a variety of service positions. During my college years I worked at Fingerhut, an online retailer, as a trainer and call center lead.

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

Shortly after college I moved up to Brainerd, MN, took a position with Ascensus, and have been here ever since! I started out in the Client Service call center and quickly transferred to an operations role where I helped with reconciliation and complex operational problems. From there, I continued to move within the company, working as a supervisor of our Participant Call Center and then onto managing our New Business/Transition Services Team. I enjoyed the challenging nature of this roll and appreciated that it involved both service and operations. After a number of years, I transitioned into a Business Development role, where I worked closely with our external sales team by assisting our top tier advisors. I was then asked to take the position of director of Strategic Partners. For the past few years, I have been the director of Digital Programs, primarily working on our plan website. Recently I have been promoted, and am excited to join TPA solutions as Business Integration Lead. At Ascensus, I have had the opportunity to work in service, operations, relationship management, and technology, all at one company.

What made you interested in pursuing a career in technology?

Technology found me. I used to be hesitant of anything technology-related, but I have found through my role, technology is not what it used to be. Technology is heavily intertwined with service and operations. In order to build websites and create self-service on the web, you need to be able to understand user needs. I bring a different aspect to our technology side of the business because I work with our customers to understand their needs and offer web solutions. I help design our website in a simple and easy way to provide our users with the information they need.

Another reason why I like the tech industry is that it’s very fast paced and things are constantly changing. I like to be busy and feel challenged.

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

We have a very diverse group of individuals, which helps us understand our users better. We have different backgrounds and think about a user perspective differently, which allows us to build items with a more diverse group of people in mind. The culture at Ascensus is great, we all come together and act in the best interest of our clients.

Looking back five or ten years, what career advice would you give your younger self?

Take the chances, learn new things, and continue to learn. For me, I wish I wouldn’t have been so intimidated by technology years ago. I think you should put yourself in uncomfortable positions to learn and grow personally and professionally.

In your opinion, what’s the biggest challenge women face in the technology industry?

I think many woman feel similar to how I felt, technology is intimidating. I had a different perception of what technology was, I think many females feel that same way. This perception that myself and many other females have is what technology used to be many years ago. Technology today has evolved, it’s about customer interaction, having empathy for our users, and being able to understand them and their needs.

It’s great to see the push in STEM and mathematics for girls and young women, it’s important that they are exposed to technology early on.

Are there any current technology trends that emerging technologists need to know about?

I think the trend is really listening to your users’ wants and need. Users want to be given information that they need, they don’t want to try and find it. Technology is no longer in the background and separated from the rest of the business, it’s now a front-end client service role.

Who is your biggest role model and how did they inspire you?

I have a number of role models for various reasons. Growing up, my mother was by far the most patient and open-minded person I have ever known, and my father is very driven, detailed, and organized. I feel like I was able to learn and grow from both of them for very different reasons. I’m very fortunate to have very supportive, driven, and wonderful people in my life. My husband and mother-in-law are two people that have inspired me to be the best person that I can be. They have given me the confidence to move into different aspects of the business, including technology.

Why do you like working for a company that helps people save for life’s most important events?

There are many reasons why I like working for Ascensus–the tools that we’re building are made to help educate and help individuals prepare for life’s most important things. We’re helping over 8 million Americans currently, and are growing that number all the time.

 


Women in Technology Spotlight: Tami Evanson

Senior Vice President, IT Management

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

I went to the University of Minnesota where I majored in Women’s Studies. After school I expected to pursue a career in human or health services. A series of opportunities led me on a different path.  Technology was fascinating and rapidly evolving at the time. I decided to pursue technical certifications, and held several roles including network design consultant, field engineer, Microsoft and Novell technical instructor, and technical writer.

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

After moving to Brainerd I was consulting, which in a small town was not always challenging. In 2003, I started as a technology site manager for BISYS and have been here for the past 15 years. Along the way, there have been so many opportunities to continue to evolve within Ascensus as we’ve grown and changed as an organization; I’ve been fortunate to work in nearly every aspect of IT.

What made you interested in pursuing a career in technology?

In college I worked at an IT help desk; it paid well and was flexible. I didn’t think it was going to be my career. Timing was perfect – seeing the rapid advancement in the adoption of technology to change business process and service delivery for both large and small organizations – it was an exciting time and I wanted to be a part of it.

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

Tremendous growth and investment in technology provides for exciting opportunities, which makes Ascensus an attractive company for people wanting to grow in their careers. We have consistently been an IT organization that values everyone’s input and allows for creativity and risk taking.

Looking back five or ten years, what career advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell my younger self to be open minded and take more risks. Get comfortable being uncomfortable, because this is where the exciting opportunities exist.

In your opinion, what’s the biggest challenge women face in the technology industry?

Statistics highlight the challenges for women in technology; women hold roughly 25% of tech jobs overall and about 10% of executive IT leadership positions. Having said that, throughout my career I’ve seen positive changes in the experience for women, with more advancement opportunities and a changing work environment that provides more flexibility, which I’m hopeful will steer more women toward a career in technology.

Are there any current technology trends that emerging technologists need to know about?

Narrowly focused AI leveraged for specific tasks is in play for our industry today. It will be very interesting to see a broader application of AI solutions and how this changes the customer experience.

The other area to watch is around Blockchain technology and the practical application across various industries. It will be interesting to see how this could reduce inefficiencies especially in the financial marketplace. Though not new, the practical application and adoption is in very early stages.

Who is your biggest role model and how did they inspire you?

I’ve been blessed with a lot of great role models, but the most influential is my father. He is a great success story and has never let it change who he is or how he treats people. He taught by example the value of hard work, and understanding when to sacrifice, and when not to, to move forward.

What kind of projects do you work on?

I work closely with the Corporate M&A and Integration teams to support various acquisition and integration activities. We are also developing and executing an IT roadmap to support our growing lines of business to scale and fully leverage available corporate services.

 

 


Rick Fitzer Discusses St. Cloud State University’s Software Engineering Programs

In a recent article published by St. Cloud State Today, VP Rick Fitzer discusses St. Cloud State University’s software engineering programs and his role on their advisory panel. ​“A thirst for learning is a necessity in IT,” Fitzer said. “People who have the skills and are passionate about it are already in high demand and that is only going to grow.”​


Women in Technology Spotlight: Jasmine Dedhia

Director, IT Quality Assurance

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

I grew up in Mumbai, India, and received a Bachelor’s in engineering and computer science at the University of Mumbai. I have 14+ years of experience as a technologist in the financial services industry. In the United States, I worked as quality assurance lead at Fidelity Investments. I then continued to pursue other opportunities at companies like Upromise Investments, CGI, and Merrill Lynch.

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

I worked at Upromise Investments for 3 years, between 2006 and 2009. I rejoined the company in 2014 after it had been acquired by Ascensus.

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

Cultural diversity is what makes the IT team at Ascensus unique and exciting to be a part of. It’s amazing to work with highly-skilled individuals on cutting-edge technologies. Such diverse cultural perspective inspires creativity and drives innovation.

Looking back five or ten years, what career advice would you give your younger self?

Never stop learning. Especially in technology, there’s always something new to explore. It’s important to stay on top of the newest technologies available. Self-growth is the key to living a fulfilling life and to having a successful career. My second piece of advice is to remember that the only constant in life is change. Never get too comfortable. Whether it’s organizational, technological, or even meteorological, any change can impact your life and career.

In your opinion, what’s the biggest challenge women face in the technology industry?

Women require much more confidence and courage to play the same leadership role as men. A higher standard is expected of women. We have come a long way, but it still remains a male-dominated industry. Women tend to bring more communication, collaboration, expert coaching, and passion to the workplace, in addition to technical and problem- solving skills.

Are there any current technology trends that emerging technologists need to know about?

Blockchain, internet of things, quantum computing, and immersive technology should be on technologists’ radar. In the financial industry, blockchain will have a significant impact on security. Quantum computing will heavily influence the way statistics are generated and data is analyzed. Lastly, immersive technology will transform the customer experience across various industries.

Who is your biggest role model and how did they inspire you?

My aunt is my biggest role model. She’s a physician at Beth Israel Medical Center and is a part of the faculty at Harvard Medical School. Her leadership, confidence, and humility have touched me in many ways. I am impressed by her dedication to her career and ability to maintain work-life balance. Another role model of mine is Peg Creonte, our senior vice president of business development here in the Ascensus government savings division. Her passion, leadership, and commitment to the organization is an inspiration for many of us. I look up to Peg’s winning attitude and her humble personality, both of which have helped her make strides at Ascensus.

Why do you like working for a company that helps people save for life’s most important events?

Saving money is incredibly important for financial well-being. It gives me the immense satisfaction that I am able to help people improve their financial health by supporting the technology behind college, retirement, and health savings accounts.


Ascensus Joins the Symitar Vendor Integration Program (VIP)

VIP Will Enable Ascensus to Integrate with Episys to Help Clients Save Time and Reduce Risk

Dresher, PA—Ascensus, a technology-enabled solutions provider that helps more than 8 million Americans save for the future, today announced that it has joined the Symitar® Vendor Integration Program (VIP). Participation in the program will provide Ascensus with access to Symitar’s technical resources to enable IRAdirect express™ to integrate with Episys®—the leading data processing system in the United States in all asset ranges over $50M. The VIP is designed to help ensure that Symitar’s customers can easily deploy third-party products.

After the integration with Episys via SymXchange™, IRAdirect express will give Ascensus’ clients the ability to enter IRA transactions to their core processing system and IRAdirect in one easy step. They can post to both systems in real time, making IRA transactions easier and more efficient while helping to avoid common input errors.

IRAdirect express integrates with Episys via SymXchange™, a services-based programming interface that enables third-party vendors and credit unions to access the platform’s core data and business rules. The integrity of data is maintained throughout any data exchange, because access to business rules and data is managed through a service layer which governs these interactions.

“Ascensus is excited to join the Symitar VIP, as integrating will allow users to experience increased IRA processing accuracy while reducing their risk of non-compliance,” says Steve Christenson, Ascensus’ executive vice president of retirement and health services. “As a result, our clients will be able to spend less time on back-office administration and more time growing their businesses.”

The service is expected to be available on August 13, 2018.

Symitar’s VIP takes the customer out of the middle, providing vendors with direct access to Symitar’s technical resources and test systems. VIP inclusion is not an endorsement of the vendor’s product.

About Ascensus
Ascensus helps more than 8 million Americans save for the future—retirement, education, 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 over 60,000 retirement plans, more than 4 million 529 education savings accounts, and a growing number of ABLE savings accounts. It also administers more than 1.6 million IRAs and health savings accounts. As of March 31, 2018, Ascensus had over $187 billion in total assets under administration. For more information about Ascensus, visit ascensus.com.

View career opportunities at http://careers.ascensus.com/page/show/tpa and careers.ascensus.com or on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/company/ascensus. For the latest company news, follow @AscensusInc on Twitter.

About Symitar
Symitar®, a division of Jack Henry & Associates, Inc. (NASDAQ:JKHY), is a provider of integrated computer systems for credit unions of all sizes. Symitar has been selected as the primary technology partner by more than 800 credit unions, serving as a single source for integrated, enterprise-wide automation and as a single point of contact and support. Additional information about Symitar is available at www.symitar.com.

About Jack Henry & Associates, Inc.
Jack Henry & Associates, Inc.® (NASDAQ: JKHY) is a leading provider of technology solutions and payment processing services primarily for the financial services industry. Its solutions serve almost 10,600 customers nationwide, and are marketed and supported through three primary brands. Jack Henry Banking® supports banks ranging from community banks to multi-billion dollar institutions with information processing solutions. Symitar® is a leading provider of information processing solutions for credit unions of all sizes. ProfitStars® provides highly specialized products and services that enable financial institutions of every asset size and charter, and diverse corporate entities to mitigate and control risks, optimize revenue and growth opportunities, and contain costs. Additional information is available at www.jackhenry.com.


Ascensus Ranked a Top 5 Retirement Plan Provider

In a recent ​Cogent Reports annual study, Ascensus was ranked a top 5 retirement plan provider most likely to be considered by small to mid-sized business owners. “When asked to pinpoint the reasons why they’re likely to switch providers, Small-Mid plan sponsors cite issues with fees, choice of investments, and participant service most often. Yet the factors that these plan sponsors seek in a new plan provider include the more personal aspects of trustworthiness (being a company plan sponsors trust), acting in the best interest of participants, and a perception of being easy to do business with,” the report indicated.


Women in Technology Spotlight: July Perham

Product Owner, Product Management

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

I received a Music Degree from Smith College in Northampton, MA. My well-rounded liberal arts education helped me sharpen my analysis skills, since I learned how to analyze music and sharpened my writing skills. After working at a music store for some time, I realized I wanted to work in an industry with more opportunity.

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

In 2004 I was hired by Upromise, and we merged with Ascensus in 2014. When I first joined Upromise, I started working in the Client Services department. While working in Client Services, I became interested in learning about the software program we had been using. I saw that there was a job opening on the user acceptance testing team, so I jumped at the chance to learn testing.

After learning about testing, I noticed that business system analysts encountered many opportunities to grow. I was able to participate in a job sharing agreement, which allowed me to stay in user acceptance testing while learning how business systems analysis worked. For 6 months I was able to spend half of my time as a business systems analyst and the other half of my time as a tester. Since early 2009, I’ve been doing Business Systems Analysis full time. Now, I’ve been with Ascensus for 14 years.

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

I love working here because of our core value that people matter. All of the IT is done in-house and I get to build strong relationships with the testers and developers working on my projects on a daily basis.

Looking back five or ten years, what career advice would you give your younger self?

If I could go back in time, I’d tell my younger self to believe in myself. Over the years, one thing I’ve gained is confidence. If you just remind yourself that you know what you’re doing, you’ll have the confidence to face all kinds of challenges.

In your opinion, what’s the biggest challenge women face in the technology industry?

Women in technology positions may have to prove their ability above and beyond their male counterparts. We can reverse those attitudes by encouraging more women to apply for technology leadership positions.

Are there any current technology trends that emerging technologists need to know about?

User interface (UI) and user experience (UX) are a couple of trends future technologists should learn more about. We integrated UX into our project design process, in order to get more users onto our site. It’s also very obvious when a company hasn’t used UX design, because their site is hard to navigate. Users are more likely to come back to your website if you invest in your technology.

Who is your biggest role model and how did they inspire you?

My mom is my biggest role model. In the 1980s, she started attending night classes for Computer Science. She always loved working as a programmer, and passed down her passion for technology onto me.

Why do you like working for a company that helps people save for life’s most important events?

I enjoy working for a company whose mission is to help people, opposed to just making money. Helping our clients gives me a higher purpose when I come to work every day. I care about people, and I enjoy working at a company that allows me to help others.


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.