Name Dropping is a Q&A series that aims to elevate the stories of women and nonbinary people leading in the tech space. The idea came from Angela DeFranco, a VP of Product at HubSpot, who said one way to be better allies is to name drop more women and nonbinary people in discussions of achievement, inspiration, and disruptors in tech, instead of referencing, time and again, the same set of (often male) leaders.

This edition of Name Dropping features Courtney Kissler, Chief Technology Officer at Zulily.

What first made you love computer science and engineering?

For me, it was when I wrote my first program in college. Solving a problem with code was a new experience for me and the thrill of having my code compile successfully and get the result I was expecting sold me. I also really loved debugging code and the learning that came from identifying a problem and solving it.
What is one quality that you think every leader should have in order to generate impact, and lead effectively?
Vulnerability ⁠— I will never have all the answers and being open to learning from others and demonstrating that vulnerability is something I believe creates a psychologically safe environment where everyone can be their authentic self.
What does a typical day entail for you as CTO?
I spend a lot of my day with my leaders and teams doing everything I can to unblock/remove impediments.
You've led tech teams for several major retail companies, from Nike to Nordstrom. What are some of the most interesting tech challenges B2C businesses face?
Most B2C businesses are trying to remain competitive and relevant with all of the options customers have. I believe that the most interesting tech challenges include creating platforms and capabilities that can move at the speed required to respond and adapt to customer needs. I'm also a big believer in transforming ways of working to be more focused on value streams and outcomes.
With that in mind, how do you stay close to the needs of your customers at Zulily?
Our customer is 'Mom' and as a mom, I am a customer and spend a lot of time engaging with our experiences and providing feedback to our teams. I also receive all of our customer feedback and participate in the research we do to understand what Mom wants and needs. We also have a very strong experimentation culture and do a lot of testing and learning.
What advice do you have for anyone without a traditional tech background who's looking to break into the industry?
I would recommend finding someone to connect with to learn more about the roles and what most interests you. There are a lot of meet-ups and free conferences to learn about the industry, too. Then you can decide which classes, bootcamps, or other training you can take to learn more. Ada Developers Academy is also a fantastic path to take.
Who’s one woman or nonbinary person whose name you’d like to drop and why?
Heidi Robinson — we worked together at Nordstrom and I have learned so much from her. She challenged me and helped me grow and is someone I continue to lean on when I need to make tough decisions.
What's the most fun, helpful, or interesting thing you've purchased during the last year?
I do a lot of reading and the book I'm most excited about right now, which definitely has been helpful, is Jon Smart's book Sooner Safer Happier.

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