Women in Technology: Samantha Wildonger
FreedomPay’s Women in Technology series aims to inspire ambitious women to consider careers in technology and motivate them to take on leadership responsibilities by giving strong, successful, and passionate women a platform to share their stories.
Men in tech are almost twice as likely to be promoted to manager as women on the same rung of the career ladder. A recent McKinsey report illustrates how the cross-industry workplace gender gap widens to a valley for STEM careers with just 52 female managers per 100 males, compared with 86 per 100 across all sectors.
Samantha (Sam) Wildonger is Associate Director of Product at FreedomPay. Sam joined FreedomPay in April 2017. She holds a Double Major in Physics and Math and is a proud working mom of two. We asked Sam to share her first-hand experience, insights, inspiration, and advice.
Let’s start with any advice you have for girls and women hoping to succeed in STEM careers
We sometimes have an idea of what “successful” looks like and often those characteristics are associated with what are traditionally masculine qualities. Women are often told they need to be bolder, more brazen, etc. to succeed.
For me, that’s not necessarily true. I’m quite an introverted, prudent, introspective female, but I’ve been most successful when I’ve listened to my gut. You don’t have to approach life or roles in a way that conforms to stereotypes. There is space for you, as you are. Trust yourself, trust your instinct, and you’ll succeed. Your different perspective will be appreciated.
We’d love to hear about your education and career so far!
I’m currently working on building out the Product team at FreedomPay – helping to drive strategy, managing the flow of the backlogs and work to our engineering teams, and implementing unified processes across teams. I’ve been in Product for about two years, and I’ve been in the role of Associate Director for about three months.
I double majored in math and physics at Ursinus College. My initial job upon graduation was as a Physicist designing radiation shielding for cancer treatment centers. I did that for a few years and liked the role, but it’s very hard to move up in that industry without going back to school, which I wasn’t really interested in.
I decided to shift careers and took a project management position at a non-profit, “Children’s Literacy Initiative”, an organization based around early education and literacy. There, I was able to get my hands dirty with a lot of fun and challenging projects surrounding Tech. For example, I helped improve process and analytics by building out a rubric for literacy coaches to fill out and have that feed directly into an SQL database. There, we could then run reports for school boards, donors, coaches, etc. – this was previously manually tracked and calculated. I decided at this point I wanted to dive deeper into the Tech world.
I started at FreedomPay in the Systems Integration (SI) department. I was interested in being a Quality Analyst (QA) but lacked experience. Immediately, I became the owner of testing all POI devices in addition to helping onboard integrators to our platform. Due to my continued interest in QA and developing skill set, I was quickly moved over to QA for POS and POI device integrations.
Fantastic. Did you enjoy the role?
Yes! I became the device subject-matter expert. I was consumed with learning which devices we support, their functions and configurations, understanding the bugs, and liaising with our hardware manufacturers.
As we expanded, I built a team around the POI device packaging and testing. Simultaneously, the Product department emerged, and I asked to join. Not only was it an opportunity to grow but stepping out of the weeds allowed me better work-life balance to focus on my kids. I became the Product Owner of Devices and DMP. If there’s a bug that needs fixing on a Friday night, I’m not the one who needs to ensure that that release gets out. Instead, I’m using my technical skills and understanding of the product to drive decisions and strategy. It’s been such a fun growth experience for me, and such an exciting place to sit within the company.
You mentioned your work life balance. Has the pandemic impacted that at all?
Definitely, and probably for the better. I work from home so I can start work early, meaning I’ve been able see my two kids a lot more than I would going into the office. That’s been really, really great.
Being a new mom during Covid hasn’t impacted my growth within the company, which is amazing. The pandemic forced a lot of women to drop out of the workforce and lose out on promotions or recognition by their companies because they had to focus on their children more. That is not true at FreedomPay at all. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to balance spending time with my kids with doing a job that I really enjoy and growing within a fast-moving, high-paced company.
How can men be allies to women in tech?
Companies supporting policies like paid maternity leave is vital. FreedomPay’s generous maternity leave benefit has been incredible to promoting and supporting my relationship with my kids. US companies often do not offer any paid leave for new parents – forcing women to return too quickly to work or plan for a large financial impact.
Regarding expecting moms, I almost left FreedomPay when I was pregnant with my first child because I was so worried about balancing being a new mom with working at such a fast-paced company. FreedomPay doesn’t hesitate or settle. We’re constantly pushing for better, which is such a fun environment to be a part of, but when you’re expecting – at least for me – I wondered if I could do both.
Dave Knowlton (FreedomPay CTO) sat down with me and gave me the best parenting advice I got from anybody – to be disciplined with my time and set boundaries. This sounds so simple but can make all the difference in gaining that work-life balance. Chris Kronenthal (FreedomPay President) also called me when I was pregnant and said something like, “I know you might be scared about becoming a new parent, but we’re willing to support you and make it work.” I was very surprised by both conversations at the time, but it made me realize that FreedomPay is a place I could grow and not have to sacrifice my life with my family.
Another piece of advice – give the less extroverted team members space to speak and don’t speak over them. If there is a quiet or shy person on your team, ask for their opinion. You could tap into a vital resource.
How would you describe the culture at FreedomPay?
If you’re a self-motivated individual, it is one of the best places to work because you have the freedom to take ownership of things and run with them. And because we’re growing so rapidly, I’ve been able to create my own positions multiple times within the company. It’s dynamic. You’re never bored and you’re constantly learning and striving for the next goal.
One of the best things at FreedomPay is the people. Everybody is at the top of their game. You never feel like a colleague isn’t doing their job as well as they can. You also have direct ties to the Executive team, which I haven’t seen as much at other companies. They see the people who are working hard and driving things forward. You’re not just a number at FreedomPay – everything you do matters. That’s the thought process behind the bonus sharing program – everybody is driving this machine forward, so everybody should be rewarded.
Why should women candidates consider joining FreedomPay?
FreedomPay has a very supportive culture where people are willing to work with you, promote you, and get you what you need to keep going. This includes women supporting women.
Courtney Kelly (VP, Partnerships NA) and Kristine Greck (AVP, New Product Introduction) have been key in driving that. Both are phenomenal leaders who strive to create a women-supporting-women culture. We have our own chat in Teams and our own Happy Hours. Also, the company pays for us to attend the PA Women’s Conference every year, which allows us to network and hear advice from other women across industries. FreedomPay is a great place to grow.
Finally, do you regard any women in Tech or male dominated fields such as STEM as role models?
Yes! I read this New York Times article about Ingrid Daubechies. I’d studied Daubechies wavelets in school but didn’t know much about her. The article focused on her personal life and reiterated how you don’t have to present yourself in a certain way to succeed. She exemplifies this as a somewhat introverted person in a male dominated sector that was successful and really made an impact in her field.
Ingrid was a professor and department lead. She reinforces the idea that you can just be who you are and still move things forward and inspire others. She struggled with imposter syndrome, feeling she’s not the archetype for her field, although she’s clearly making “waves” (pun intended). So, you can feel all these doubts, but you shouldn’t let them prevent you from pushing forward.
RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsburg) is another role model in a male dominated field. You can agree or disagree with what she stood for, but one of the most inspiring things about her was how she argued her points. She would appeal to the people that she was making the argument to by understanding their mindset and empathizing with them. She then structured her arguments around that and led people who strongly disagreed with her to see another perspective. She was so strategic in the way she crafted her arguments and so diligent in her research, which is important as people were forced to see her viewpoint. She was also soft-spoken, showing again that you don’t need to be bold, outspoken, and loud to have a huge impact on the world.
Thank you, Sam!
Are you interested in joining FreedomPay? We’re hiring. Visit our careers page today. FreedomPay is an equal opportunities employer, motivated to hire women and other underrepresented groups in STEM.