Danielle Egr is our Chief Technology Officer and responsible for product strategy and IT development for Nelnet Campus Commerce. She talks about her role in a fast-moving industry and advice for those considering technology as a career.
Tell us about joining the Nelnet Campus Commerce team.
I joined Nelnet Campus Commerce in 2014 because I believe education can change the world for the better.
Education elevates social and economic conditions, it creates opportunities for personal and societal progress, it promotes empathy across cultures, and it fuels logic and scientific reasoning — just to name a few reasons.
Without financial assistance, I wouldn’t have been able to attend college and get my business-accounting and computer science-software programming degrees. I have five children and my oldest son is in college. Without financial assistance they wouldn’t have had that option either.
Making higher education an option for anyone that wants it is a step toward educating the world, and I’m proud to help make that difference.
As the Chief Technology Officer, what are some of the challenges you face?
We can’t do everything, so I work with my team to make hard decisions on prioritization — when to add resources, and what moves up or down the list. We use customer input, our product vision, and strategic initiatives to guide us, but unfortunately there are no terrible ideas on our list that we can easily cross off.
Technology is evolving rapidly and it’s not going to slow down, we all know that. Staying on top of trends in education, payments, software development, and the financial sector can take a lot of time. Luckily, I have several feeds I subscribe to that give me an overview, and I can dive in to the trends that I think have relevance to our business.
What are some of the things you enjoy about your job?
I love solving complex challenges through collaboration with others. Talking through the problem we’re trying to solve for and coming up with options is so fun. One of my favorite phrases is “what if” — “What if we tried X?” or “What if we were able to remove this constraint?” It’s fun to see a small team of people feed off of each other’s ideas.
I also enjoy thinking about the future. Where do we want to be in three, five, and ten years? That energizes me to think through the decisions we’re making today, so that we take the path that will lead us to a long-term solution.
What is it like to be a female leader in a mainly male-dominated tech sector?
Early in my career, I felt that I had to prove myself more than my male peers did because of stereotypes. I did that by being direct in my communication and “leaning in” as Sheryl Sandberg coined it. I also had some great male and female leaders that supported me and helped me advance my career. Now I focus on helping others advance.
As in all career sectors, we need diverse thought and experiences to get us to the best solution. That means matching the right person with the right position, and thinking about what they bring to the leadership table that is different than what the others already at the table bring.
That being said, it does make me sad when I walk into a large room of IT professionals and only see a couple of women staring back at me. It’s better than when I started my career, but we have a long way to go.
If someone was looking to make a career in technology, what skill sets will help them stand out?
First, be a solid developer. That’s a given.
Second, understand the big picture and how the projects that are being worked fit into that picture. Then, use that understanding to deliver better solutions and you will stand out.
When people think of IT, they often think of sitting at a computer all day coding. There is more to it than that. We are problem solvers and creators — the coding part is a means to an end.
What do you wish you’d known starting out your career?
That being curious is an asset. I ask questions all of the time now and I learn so much!
I used to be afraid that people would think that I was incompetent if the question I asked wasn’t sophisticated or thought-provoking. That’s dumb. Odds are that if you have a question, so does someone else in the meeting.
Most of the time when I ask a question, others are nodding and follow up with questions of their own. Curiosity leads to deeper understanding.