Joanne Buenaventura never intended to have a career in technology, but a passion for helping others and a non-profit job assisting aging and disabled adults inadvertently sent her down such a path that half a decade later has helped instill in her a sense of personal empowerment.

Buenaventura, a developer with World Wide Technology, said her work in the non-profit sector offered a glimpse into how technology can connect and assist isolated populations. Her desire to use technology to help others led her to pursue an MBA at Saint Louis University and, ultimately, a job with WWT.

"What I found at WWT was a place whose values aligned with my own. At WWT, I do feel like (WWT co-founders) David Steward and Jim Kavanaugh have ingrained the same sense of service to others, as well as the wonder at the possibilities of technology, within the foundation of the company," she said. "At WWT, I found many like-hearted individuals who work towards the betterment of their skills to create fantastic solutions to difficult, seemingly-impossible problems."

Buenaventura was one of nine WWT employees recognized as "Modern-Day Technology Leaders" at the 33rd BEYA Global Competitiveness Conference, which took place earlier this month in Washington, D.C.

WWT awardees:

  • Joanne Buenaventura, Developer
  • Randolph Francis, Senior Cyber Security Engineer
  • Jeffrey Fu, Sales Data Services Team Lead
  • Arnell Hammond, Program Manager
  • Aaron Jackson, Consultant, Business and Analytics Advisors
  • Harry Kabbay, Senior Database Administrator
  • William McCoy, Voice Engineer
  • Timothy Robinson, Technical Solutions Architect, Security
  • Shuanita Tyler, Information Security Policy and Compliance Team Lead

The BEYA "Modern-Day Technology Leaders" award recognizes an individual's commitment to shaping the future of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by developing cutting-edge technology or doing research for leading industries.

Diversity and inclusion have long been part of the equation when it comes to fostering an innovative workplace environment at WWT. And building future leaders for the economy of tomorrow has remained a priority from the company's inception.

Buenaventura said dedicated teams at WWT focused on mentorship and diversity initiatives have helped her become a better technology leader.

WWT remains involved with several organizations aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion, such as BEYA; NPower, which creates pathways to economic prosperity by launching digital careers for military veterans and young adults from underserved communities; the National Academy Foundation (NAF) to promote interest in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) related fields; the Global Leadership Forum, which seeks to increase the number of diverse technologists in the talent pipeline; or the Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls to help enable diverse women leaders.

"There is a saying that, 'people join a company because of its reputation, but grow only under good leadership,'" said Harry Kabbay, a senior database administrator. "This truly applies in my case. The true push was from my team members and my management as they equipped me with the right resources and technical guidance, which paid off in the end. WWT plays an active role to encourage STEM education through programs like STEM Student Forum, Global Leadership Forum and NAF."

The global shortage of STEM professionals has been well pronounced for years. And underserved students are at a huge STEM disadvantage, according to a recent study from ACT, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. In fact, first-generation college students who are from a racial/ethnic minority group and a low-income family are 16 times less likely to be ready for credit-bearing STEM coursework in college than students from communities that are not considered underserved.

Shuanita Tyler, an information security policy and compliance team lead, said the gap could be due young people, women specifically, losing interest as they become older, "which I believe may be due to lack of mentorship, internships, hands-on activities, opportunities and support from relatives or loved ones."

Tyler said WWT's encouraging and positive work environment allows her to stay passionate and motivated, form trusting relationships and gain valuable experience that creates continuous learning.

Because some populations aren't exposed to STEM resources from an early age, many young professionals from underserved communities have non-traditional routes into the workplace.

Randy Francis, a senior cyber security engineer, grew up on the south side of Chicago and got interested in computers after he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Francis said one of the biggest hurdles he's encountered as a STEM professional is "not really having a lot of people who look like me in the field."

Francis said WWT provided him the training and confidence to work with some of the largest technology companies in the world.

Francis said he hopes by showing young people "a kid from the south side of Chicago was able to overcome untenable conditions (like) gangs, drugs and violence," to pursue a lucrative career in a STEM field, more young people form underserved communities will follow suit.

Timothy Robinson, a technical solutions architect for security, also broke into a STEM career after serving in the Armed Forces.

"I had an opportunity to make a career change through a competitive program, and I jumped on it," he said. "I went from being an enlisted helicopter mechanic (in the Marines) to a Communication and Information Systems Officer.

Robinson said WWT has given him the opportunity to access technology and leaders within the company that have helped him grow as a future leader.

"Understanding who to talk to and how to get knowledgeable about how to advance is probably one of the largest hurdles," he said. "We can do anything we want.  We just have to find the right opportunity to excel."

Steward, who in 2012 was recognized as the Black Engineer of the Year Award (BEYA), said the WWT engineers honored "epitomize WWT's belief in a diverse workforce, a collaborative approach to innovation, and are proof that great advances in STEM are happening daily."

Aaron Jackson, a consultant at WWT, said after joining the company, he was "given the opportunity to stretch my skills and pursue projects that let me learn on the job."

Jackson said he'd encourage young people to learn as much as they can about as many areas of STEM as possible to find a particular passion. "STEM is casting a wider and wider net across career types and is constantly changing," he said. "Having a specialty that's supported by a utility belt of skillsets will allow them to succeed in an ever-evolving STEM field."