Blog Category: Women in Tech

Women of Catalyst

Thank you to the following women of Catalyst for participating in our round-table discussions hosted in the month of March for Women’s History Month: Nikki Smith, Joy Billington, Ola Chmiel, Janet Gamber, Soofia Khan, Maribel Lopez, Anna Mlodzianowska, Sowjanya Nalluri, Divya Nunna, Allison Plazyk, Amelia Smith, Saikal Asylbekova, Kara Taylor, Tiffany Tsang, Denise Horton, and Stephanie Perrin. Their thoughtful discourse informed the piece below!

Celebrating Women’s History Month at Catalyst has meant taking the time to look inward to the incredible women that hone crucial roles on our team. We are proud of the growth that our firm has embraced in recent years. This growth has resulted in the representation of women at Catalyst increasing by roughly over 5 times in the last 10 years.

At Catalyst, we like to say that we are an employee-first company. Embodying an employee-first environment in our remote workplace entails many considerations. One consideration? Taking stakes in our team members’ lives, encouraging them to voice their perspectives, cultivating idea-sharing, growth, support, and inclusion. This Women’s History Month, we’ve turned to the women of Catalyst. We’ve discussed their careers, the many paths that have led them to our firm, their motivations, and the approaches and perspectives that they deploy on our projects.

The women of Catalyst are Business Analysts, Project Managers, Solution and Technical Architects, Software Engineers and Developers, and so much more beyond these titles. They are mothers, sisters, and aunts. They are first generation Americans and immigrants. They are musicians and performers. They are motivated, insightful, highly accomplished, and dedicated.

In our discussions this month, we’ve delved into what it means to be a woman in tech, how to ensure that the technology we build best serves everyone, how providing solutions to the public sector resonates with their values, and how to encourage the next generation of women in STEM.

A Pivot

Many women at Catalyst found themselves working in tech after a career change, a pivot. Divya Nunna, Salesforce Solution Architect, has been with Catalyst for nearly 3 years. Yet, prior to pursuing Salesforce certifications, she was a financial analyst, CPA, with an MBA, working for Goldman Sachs. Saikal Asylbekova, a Business Analyst, and Sowjanya Nalluri, Salesforce Developer, similarly come from a banking and financial services background.

Team members, Soofia Khan, Tiffany Tsang, and Anna Mlodzianowska also have found themselves in tech after career pivots. Soofia, Salesforce Administrator, was planning to attend dental school when she learned more about Salesforce through extended family members. Tiffany, Salesforce Business Analyst, previously worked for a nonprofit organization, Action for Children, aiding low-income families with Childcare Assistance Programing. She now applies this experience to Catalyst’s public sector projects, notably our work with the City of Chicago’s DFSS. Anna, who is originally from Poland, has a degree in architecture. She shared that her career switch has been the best decision and it has improved her life tremendously. She serves our team as a Software Engineer.

We support training opportunities and promote mentorship from within, giving these women who made a career pivot a network to support them as part of the career change.

While many women on the team have recently stepped into the tech arena, our team also has welcomed several industry veterans, including team members Janet Gamber, Stephanie Perrin, and Denise Horton, who’ve all joined our team within the past year. Their seasoned implementation expertise is and continues to be an immense asset to our team.

Ameilia Smith and Maribel Lopez found their way to Catalyst after working for our client and partner, the City of Chicago and/or their vendors. Maribel provided she was the only Latina, and one of the few women in an IT leadership position at the city.

“I was the only Latina in an IT leadership position when I was at the City of Chicago, if you can believe it. There were very few of us (women) in IT. So, we always had this sort of sisterhood, we looked out for each other,” Maribel shared.

The sisterhood that Maribel recalls is the type of friendship Catalyst aims to foster within our team.

And for one woman of Catalyst – Ola Chmiel – her venture into tech began at Catalyst as an intern. Excitingly, she joined us again after graduation and recently celebrated one year of full-time employment with us.

In an article from the UN, celebrating International Women’s Day, it was reported that women represent less than one third of tech sector employees globally. In reflection on the numbers and the stereotypes that hold girls back from pursuing careers in tech, the women of Catalyst provided the advice they have for their younger selves. Their thoughts?

I let a lot of expectations that other people had for me, the path that I was supposed to take based on those things, the image that I wanted to project of myself – I let that get in the way. If something is interesting to you, pursue it. It doesn’t matter who else finds that thing interesting. Don’t let these kinds of preconceived notions of what is acceptable or what types of people go into one area or another influence where you want to go.

Embody resilience. Be committed to learning. Exercise confidence and use your voice.

Allison Plazyk, Senior Software Engineer, recounts the discouragement she felt surrounding the pursuit of a career in computer science, dating back to her time in college at MIT. After nearly a dozen years into her professional career, she realized that this is what she wanted to do all along.

“I let a lot of expectations that other people had for me, the path that I was supposed to take based on those things, the image that I wanted to project of myself – I let that get in the way.

Hey, we are in a very male dominated world. We see it in a lot of our meetings. Don’t be afraid to say what you want it to say….don’t be afraid to voice your opinion.

If something is interesting to you, pursue it. It doesn’t matter who else finds that thing interesting. Don’t let these kinds of preconceived notions of what is acceptable or what types of people go into one area or another influence where you want to go,” Allison Plazyk.

Many of our conversations proved to offer a similar theme around confidence. In several discussions, many women recognized that they are repeatedly the only woman in the room or on the call.

“Hey, we are in a very male dominated world. We see it in a lot of our meetings. Don’t be afraid to say what you want it to say….don’t be afraid to voice your opinion,” said Amelia Smith.

Leverage Empathy

When it comes to building technology that meets the user where they are, building technology for people who look like us, the women on our team have got it right! Leverage empathy.

Throughout their careers, the women of our team have engrained how to best serve a client’s needs over the years.

Kara Taylor, Technical Architect, provided, “I always want to design the best solution possible from a technical standpoint, but you can’t put the cart before the horse. Just because a solution is technically the best way an architect thinks it can be, it doesn’t mean that it meets the clients’ needs. Developers and architects almost always think within their technical restraints, but oftentimes we forget about the users’ constraints.”

To the Future Women in Tech

It’s important to believe in yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’re in grade seven, grade eight, or if you’re sitting here at Catalyst, just know that you can do anything.

When it comes to thinking about the future generations of women in STEM, the many mothers on our team first think of the affirmations and words of encouragement that they instill and express to their own children.

Joy Billington, Salesforce Business Analyst, and Denise Horton, Salesforce Practice Leader, are both mothers to two daughters. While Joy’s daughters are in grades seven and eight, and Denise’s daughters are in the thick of choosing college majors and career paths, their mothers’ advice is in accord.

“It’s important to believe in yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’re in grade seven, grade eight, or if you’re sitting here at Catalyst, just know that you can do anything,” says Joy Billington.

Many of the women on our team shared who their role models have been throughout their lives, and so many of these role models were women – their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, former managers and teachers. We can’t help but look to the women of Catalyst as role models for excellence in our firm as well as in our industry. We wish you all “Happy Women’s History Month!”

Parallel Paths within Catalyst

Anthony Lungaro, Ola Chmiel, and Jim Lizzio – all were once Catalyst Interns. Their transitions from interns to full-time team members granted them common ground and invited conversation for a reflection on personal and career growth and company culture, as well as a look into the future.

Some More Recent than Others

Drawing on a diverse mix of experiences and expertise, these 3 once-interns represent several realms of the Catalyst business. Anthony is 4 years removed from his internship experience, acting as a Salesforce Solution Architect. Also working on the Salesforce side of the Catalyst business, Ola is a Salesforce Business Analyst and is approaching her 1-year anniversary with Catalyst. Meanwhile, Jim spent 3 summers interning and has recently accepted his full-time position as a Software Engineer on the Custom Development Team.

An Integral Introduction

We’ve heard it before – internships are to serve as an informing introduction to the workplace with hands-on, mentored industry experience for students and recent grads who seek exposure outside of the classroom. However, fetching coffee seems to be the image that comes to mind regarding “the intern.” The internship experience at Catalyst is far from days spent fetching coffee and the boss’s dry cleaning.

Anthony recalled having learned most from the variety and diversity of skillsets on the teams he was surrounded by and interacted with in the office.

Being in meetings with a bunch of different people with different experience levels and skill sets helped mold me into a more well-rounded business person.

He explained that this experience has followed him throughout his tenure with Catalyst and is reflective of the benefits of a smaller sized company.

During her internship, Ola was part of our Toronto 311 project, “Toronto At Your Service”, which won the 2022 Salesforce Partner Innovation Award for the Public Sector category. She said joining the efforts on the Toronto project was a “full steam ahead” approach. She returned to school before the project concluded, but she remembers following the outcomes and reflecting on her own contributions.

“Getting to go on their website and seeing our system there was really cool…thinking, I actually tested this, that was awesome!”

Providing the experience that complemented his studies, the internship experience offered Jim real-industry context to the material he was taught in class.

A lot of the topics that we were talking about in class were things that I had either touched or actually interacted with on some projects, which was really cool to see.

The Catalyst Difference

In their decisions to stay with Catalyst, all considered the company culture. Albeit operating in a remote setting, Catalyst offers the opportunity for workplace relationships and growth in its small size. Each former intern noted how they were well supported in their work.

Jim remembers a time that he needed a helping hand on a project’s task, and without a second thought he was met with help from another team member. He says the positive attitudes of everyone he encounters is one of the things he likes most about Catalyst. “Everyone is willing to help, and I absolutely love that. It’s a very nice culture.”

“You can actually establish better relationships rather than just being an employee ID number in the system,” Anthony said in contrast to large firms. He feels that the culture also allows for employees to exercise agency and growth. “You know, if you want to try something else, Catalyst is pretty open to letting you try something new, a different workstream, a different type of project. It’s not a big ask to access different sorts of experiences.”

Ola feels that her experience as an intern allowed her to learn and that the trajectory of her personal and career growth has only shot higher since.

“My first project being a full-time employee at Catalyst was for Chicago Public Schools project, so that was really cool for me, being from the Chicago suburbs and currently living in Chicago.”

She recalled that she had no experience with Salesforce when she first got the internship, but now she is seeing projects through from beginning to the end, the whole progression from a blank Salesforce canvas to a finished solution.

Looking Forward to their Futures

As we are approaching the end of the 2022 year, we asked Anthony, Ola, and Jim to reflect on their goals for the future. They all agreed on, “Growth!”

At Catalyst, we create impactful solutions that the community calls trailblazing, solutions that make a difference for our clients who serve everyday people. With teammates like Anthony, Ola and Jim, we are excited our upcoming year and for their futures with us, as well as the possibilities for future interns!

In Celebration of Black History Month

In honor of National Black History Month this February, we sat down with longtime friend of Catalyst, Ellen Turner, Founder, President and CEO of the William Everett Group (TWEG) with over 20 years’ experience in IT and the public sector. TWEG is a Black-owned, women-owned consulting firm based in Chicago and has been a close collaborator of Catalyst for several years.

Conversations like these help us gain perspective on the challenges, advantages, and importance of minority-owned businesses working in the government technology space.

Here’s what Ellen remarked in our interview.

What path led you to founding TWEG?

After spending many years working and starting other firms, I decided that I wanted to create a women and Black-owned management and technology firm. Over the years, it was clear to me that there was a market for such a firm. I had worked hard to ensure the success of others and thought perhaps I could do this for myself.

I also had some very specific goals and purposes for my firm: I wanted to focus on offering careers in consulting to folks in brown and Black communities. In all my years working with and for consulting firms, I still believed there were not enough opportunities being afforded to people in those communities.

I also wanted to engage in work that fulfilled my need to be in the public sector and a quasi-public servant, as well as working on projects that helped improve the lives of people in our communities.

It was wonderful to find a group of highly qualified team members that shared my aspirations.

When your team is working with a public sector client, how do you keep accessibility and inclusion front of mind? How do you make sure your solutions work for all constituents?

The beauty of having a diverse consulting firm is that we don’t have to work hard to achieve this goal. We think very strategically and intently about where and who we place on our consulting engagements. Sometimes it can be intentionally in an environment that isn’t particularly diverse. We believe that most people are caring and appreciate the opportunity to learn and engage with others and to understand the experiences of people who may have different life experiences.

We find that this helps everyone grow and become better leaders and colleagues.

What public figure, living or deceased, do you look up to most and why?

Of course, the main person was my grandfather, William Everett Rozelle. He was most admired for his love for his family, his dedication to our community, and his influence on my dreams. The person I also admired the most is President Barack Obama. His presidency, which I thought I’d never live to see, gave me so much hope for my children and grandchildren. My grandchildren grew up only knowing at first that there was a Black president, and it seemed very normal to them. I was elated and so encouraged for the future.

In your opinion, what unique perspective do minority-owned businesses bring when deploying public sector technology?

Most minority-owned firms have worked extremely hard to start and maintain a business. They have had to make investments of their hard-earned dollars and have such a deep desire to showcase the fact that we perform as well as Tier One firms (sometimes because our teams come from those firms).

We don’t take the opportunities that we win, whether as a prime or subcontractor, for granted and we truly have the desire to succeed. When we do, our clients also win.

We have a deep understanding of their challenges and look at them as partners that we advise in a way that will help them shine. We genuinely care and want to prove that they can get great value and performance from our companies.

What advice and/or resources would you recommend for underrepresented youth who are looking to work in the government technology space?

Part of our company’s corporate giving and culture is preparing the next generation of youth in at-risk communities for working in consulting and particularly government technology. We connect with students from the Chicago Public Schools, City Colleges, Chicago State, and the Austin community to offer them an opportunity to shadow our teams. They learn the discipline of working on projects that require a great deal of listening, patience, and high standards. We showcase the projects we have worked on that relate to their lives directly, so they understand how this work improves the lives of others and those that live right in their homes and neighborhoods. It is extremely rewarding.

As technologists in the public sector, we must always strive for inclusivity, accessibility, and transparency in our solutions, which includes learning more about underrepresented communities and constituents alike. Thank you, Ellen, for taking the time to chat!

This blog is a continuation of our reflections on the importance of minority-owned businesses in the government technology industry. Check out our celebration of Asian American History Month from May 2021 here.

Audrey Mathis

Let’s give a warm Women in Tech Tuesday welcome to Audrey Mathis, the Director of 311 City Services at Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC). 

Audrey oversees the City of Chicago’s 24/7 non-emergency 311 contact center, the agency responsible for addressing City service requests and offering information regarding city programs, initiatives, and events.

Audrey attended college at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and then accepted a position with the City of Chicago. Over time she worked in several departments with an emphasis on project management and eventually joined the 311 team before being appointed 311 Director nearly nine years ago. Citing the trailblazing astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison as inspiration, Audrey notes that we can create a more inclusive tech industry by advocating for and focusing on STEM programs for women in minority communities beginning in the early elementary school levels. 

Outside of work, you can find Audrey singing, spending time with family and friends, and discussing good reads with her book club. 

Sarah Emas

It’s the last Women in Tech Tuesday of June! To close out this month, we’re recognizing our Senior Salesforce Consultant, Sarah Emas. Sarah manages Catalyst’s 311 product; as such, she engages with users and stakeholders to get their feedback, and then relays their insight to Catalyst’s development team to make the suggested enhancements.   

Since she interacts with clients so extensively, Sarah recalls some of the most influential advice that she has ever received is to never use acronyms in front of the client. She explains that acronyms can confuse clients and make them feel like they’re not making an informed decision. The underlying advice there is to always make clients feel as comfortable, empowered, and knowledgeable as possible, and this is a practice she brings to her day-to-day work at Catalyst.  

Sarah advises fellow women in STEM to speak up in meetings and offer ideas to supervisors in a one-on-one setting. Perceived inexperience can hinder a lot of women from leaning in, but Sarah notes that everyone, including and especially those with a fresh perspective, can be integral to bringing great ideas from idea conception to project closeout. 

Stacey Mansker-Young

Stacey joined the City of Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology 18 years ago, where she currently serves as the Deputy Commissioner of Policy, Planning, and Management. In this role, she holds the awesome responsibility of overseeing the Project Management office, Technology Policy Program, Information Technology Strategy Committee, Information Research Services, information and communications, and organizational change management.

Stacey’s career path in technology started during her high school years, in which she participated in STEM programs; she ultimately minored in Computer Science in college. Both experiences allowed Stacey to see first-hand that women were excelling in technology, giving her the confidence and assurance that she could successfully carve out a space for herself in male- dominated industries.In order to instill this confidence in other women, Stacey advises fellow women in STEM to use their voice and positions of power to stand up and empower one another. Advocating for access to STEM education, fostering networks of support, and opening up opportunities to fully lean in are the routes through which we can increase women’s representation in this field. Outside of the office, you can find Stacey volunteering at Ronald McDonald House Chicago with her family, as well as supporting the Glass Slipper Project, Mayfair Academy, Chicago’s Food Bank, and Working in the Schools.

Cindy Talwar

Welcome back from the long weekend, folks! Believe it or not, it’s Tuesday…#WomenInTech Tuesday to be exact. Today, we recognize our Office Manager, Cindy.  

Cindy handles a variety of accounting functions and general administration in the office to keep the wheels of our firm turning. She is also responsible for the monthly payroll, employee benefits, on-boarding tasks for new team members, and supply inventory. Cindy was brought on board when “temporary” help was needed in 2005…here she is in 2019, as integral to the day-to-day functions of our company as ever! 

Cindy advises women in tech to always believe in themselves and take advantage of opportunities to lean in. 

When she’s not in the office, you can find Cindy at work in her garden, crafting, cooking, and snuggling up with her best furry pal, Toby. 


Nicole Nicholson

We’re back for another #WomenInTech Tuesday feature! Say hello to Nicole Nicholson, who is one of Catalyst’s stellar Project Managers and our Marketing Lead. 

As a PM, Nicole plays a critical role on our City of Chicago 311 modernization initiative. She manages the external/public-facing components of the project, particularly the CHI311 mobile app and the Community Portal available at, keeping the end user and their experiences using our platforms front-of-mind at all times. Internally, she leads the marketing efforts for our firm. In both roles, Nicole leverages the creativity cultivated from her content management and journalism background.  

In fact, Nicole’s background informs her approach to advocating for diversity in STEM. She insists that people who don’t have an educational background in a “pure” STEM field can certainly carve out a place for themselves in this industry. Nicole is a living example of this advice, and she has been a superstar on the Catalyst team for the past 5 years because of it! 

When she’s not in the office, you can find Nicole rock climbing at @brooklynboulders or diving into her next good read. 

Alissa Ahn

Happy Women in Tech Tuesday, friends! Today, we’re delighted to share more about one of our Business Analysts, Alissa Ahn. As a BA, Alissa learns more about clients’ business processes, identifies their pain points, gathers requirements for an ideal solution, and employs best practices along the way.  

Alissa recalls that her most memorable experience at Catalyst was the day of her interview. She met with our COO and one of our Senior Project Managers, and the group ended up talking for hours…literally, hours! 

For Alissa, Catalyst came with more than a new job; it came with a family. It came with leaders that challenge our teams. It came with incredibly smart and supportive co-workers. Finally, it came with the opportunity to learn and to innovate in an ever-changing industry. 

When Alissa first started working at a different firm, a former colleague once asked her, “If the lead on your project was out sick, would you need to cancel meetings? Or could you step up to continue the project?” Since then, Alissa challenges herself every day to not fall into a pattern of mediocrity and leans in at every chance to do so. For that reason and many more, we are so grateful to have Alissa onboard! 

Catherine Au Jong

She is responsible for communicating with clients to gather business requirements, analyze their pain points, and ultimately deliver a transformative solution.

Catherine is also Catalyst’s resident fashionista. Outside of work, you can find her sewing, exploring fashion trends, and taking pictures of murals around our great city. This creativity informs Catherine’s work at Catalyst, as the problem-solving and design stages of product delivery require a great deal of innovation and ingenuity.

Catherine advises fellow women in STEM to realize that the power for change starts from inside each and every one of us.

In combatting negative internal voices, Catherine notes that she finds the confidence to start something new. In starting something new, Catherine constantly pushes herself outside her comfort zone, gathering more experience and becoming more and more confident in her work. Catherine is an instrumental part of our team, and we thank her for her insight and inspirational words of wisdom!