The hidden, unsung haven for women in the cloud

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on January 14, 2014

From The News Desk

There’s a women-in-tech organization that has flown largely under the radar, despite counting multiple high profile VPs of major tech corporations in its ranks. CloudNOW, the industry association for women working in cloud computing, is celebrating its third year in 2014. Although it has garnered little media attention, CloudNOW is gaining acclaim in the industry and its member numbers grow week after week.

It was started by cloud computing consultant Jocelyn Graham, who has made her living in the cloud since 2008. As a consultant at Cloud Marcom, big telecommunications companies would come to her for advice. What should their cloud strategy be? Where did their products fit in? What were their competitors doing?

Graham would help them sort through their options, conducting research and compiling briefs on their behalf. As the word "cloud" grew buzzier and buzzier, she started wondering what role women would play in this industry.

"I knew it was going to be a hugely catalyzing technology," Graham says "I wanted to create a community where women could come and share thoughts on it and help each other, while building industry expertise."

She began kicking around the idea of starting a women in cloud organization, and ran it past cloud thought leader Bernard Golden, author of Virtualization for Dummies. He not only encouraged her, but agreed to serve as her advisor. Years later, Wired would name Golden one of the top ten most influential people in cloud computing.

"[At the time] we were just getting to know each other," Graham remembers. "I felt really fortunate that Bernard took an interest early on."

Graham reached out to women she knew in the cloud computing space to pitch the concept. Forty of them met for a mixer in Palo Alto, and thus CloudNOW was born.

Today the two-year-old organization has hundreds of members. They meet occasionally for cocktails or dinner, networking and career advice, to share stories and commiserate. The group also helps women land speaking gigs at conferences and organizes panels for CloudNOW members to host.

CloudNOW counts people like Margaret Dawson, the head cloud evangelist at HP, and Becky Swain, a founding member of the Cloud Security Alliance, among its ranks. These women previously worked for much smaller companies and were recruited by bigger organizations in part because of their work with CloudNOW.

In fact Swain, who has spoken at a number of the cloud conferences like Cloud Connect, Cloud Expo, CloudBeat, and Gigaom's Structure, got her first ever speaking gig through CloudNOW.

CloudNOW's small steering committee includes the likes of Manjula Talreja (VP of cloud practices at Cisco), and Lauren States (VP of Strategy at IBM). States says, "Everything we can do to facilitate participation and lower the barriers to entry for women makes a difference."

"Why do women need to have their own organization, isn't that reverse gender bias? I never get asked that directly but I know people are thinking it," Graham admits. She thinks that gender discrimination against women is very subtle, the shift towards total equality is not yet complete, and it needs a little help.

Reuven Cohen, the Chief Technology Advocate at Citrix and a CloudNOW supporter, agreed. "One look around any number of industry events you'll realize why this is still an issue," Cohen says. "The funny thing about CloudNOW is although it's focused on empowering women in technology, the group itself has become a central point of interaction for cloud influencers regardless of gender."

CloudNOW is a familiar organization brand at industry events. As the founder, Graham has gone out of her way to brand CloudNOW as one that is pro-women, not anti-men. She doesn't believe in promoting women in tech through a siloed conversation, which is why much of CloudNOW's activity involves getting more women speaking at conferences.

"We thought we could create an awareness of women in tech by demonstrating excellence, not by talking about work-life balance," Graham says. "We've been told we're a women in tech organization for people who don't join women in tech organizations."

[Image by Anja Stiegler via Cruzine]