4 CapNY Women Leaders in Technology

Technology has been a driving force in CapNY’s economy for decades.

Women are entering the technology field at record numbers, but the field is still male-dominated. It’s vital that companies create opportunities for women to take on leadership positions in tech, and our local companies are stepping up. We’ve decided to highlight four CapNY women making their marks on the growing industry – locally, nationally and even internationally.

Annmarie Lanesey, Founder & CEO CanCode Communities

Annmarie Lanesey
Annmarie, you’re making strides with CanCode Communities. Talk about the “why” behind this accomplishment.

The professional accomplishment that I consider most important is the creation of AlbanyCanCode, now known as CanCode Communities. To start from scratch and bring together two dramatically diverse worlds – underrepresented individuals and the technology community – represented a Herculean effort. Women, minorities and the under-educated are being trained and given opportunities to work in the lucrative technology field. That is enabling them to provide for their families, contribute to their communities, and live the lives they deserve. 

In my capacity as President of custom software developer Greane Tree Technology, my successful hire of a fully self-taught Ruby on Rails developer inspired the vision of Albany Can Code, now CanCode Communities. We work tirelessly in working to grow the New York State’s software sector, and to extend software and IT training opportunities to everyone who has aptitude for this work.  

What’s challenging about this field?

According to the latest research, 4 of every 5 technology jobs are filled by men; in the executive ranks, the disparity is even greater.  We need women inventing things, making things, solving important problems, and in positions of power. We need all of these things in far larger numbers than we have today.  

Tobi Saulnier, Founder & CEO of 1st Playable Productions

Tobi Saulner
Tobi, tell us a bit about your company and your day-to-day responsibilities.

My company 1st Playable Productions makes video games, both for entertainment, and also for education, health, and wellness applications. We are a B corporation, which puts social impact first, which is definitely a challenge in technology. As a startup in the RPI incubator, we located in downtown Troy in 2006, recognizing the impact of technology business location on arts, restaurants, and other small businesses. It’s such a great place to live and work.

Although I have been CEO since founding 1st Playable, my day-to-day responsibilities change constantly, depending on the company size, changes in technology, and client needs. My work includes game design oversight, troubleshooting software issues, bringing in Friday carbs, attending to seasonal decorations, and finding other socially minded developers to join our team. It’s hard work and long days but the positive impact to others makes it worth it to me.

How did you end up in this line of work? What’s rewarding about it?

I started my career at GE Research & Development working in emerging technologies in the area of computer networks. The path from there to games was an unexpected one, and added the new dimensions of art and design to my first love of technology. Video games was a field I hadn’t really followed – unlike today it was not front and center of youth connecting and socializing. I started as VP of Product Development, bringing all the process and technology I had learned previously but a lot of learning to do to understand the aesthetic and business aspects.

One aspect I immediately recognized was the power of games to inspire kids in education; to connect the dots between their day to day schooling and creating the immersive virtual experiences they spend so much time with. This became the focus of the company I founded.

Other than the motivating goal of social impact, video games itself is a volatile industry which is both challenging and appealing due to the constant change in technology and markets. If you love to learn it’s the place to be!

What is your advice to women wanting to enter the technology field?

As for being a woman in tech, I have become accustomed to being in the minority, and tried to embrace the challenges of needing to be work harder to provide myself, and needing to always be a role model and representative. I do think there are some advantages over time, for instance as a company we have never lacked for press coverage, due to the novelty of being a woman CEO of a game company. 

I’ve seen a lot of positive change, yet still find my daughter facing harassment that I had hoped would have disappeared by now. My advice to women going into tech is to find places and people that are supportive. If not your workplace, then seek out peer groups of women and mentors. Other than helping you ignore the critics, they can help you find techniques to deal with the extra challenges you’ll face.

What do you love about living in CapNY?
Tobi on her farm!
Tobi on her farm!

I love the central location of this area, being equidistant from NYC, Montreal, Boston, and Rochester. Much as I enjoy visiting cities, I am most passionate about the outdoors and have a small homestead so keep busy with goats, chickens, ducks, bees and other outdoor activities. I find it the perfect antidote to spending the rest of the day at my computer. Beyond the day to day, I take advantage of the many cultural opportunities, ranging from concerts, outdoor festivals, broadway shows, feasts with friends. Just in Troy alone, there is so much to do: festivities like Rockin’ on the River, Pig out, Victorian Stroll, the weekly AMAZING Farmer’s Market, and galleries and art boutiques. Being a foodie I especially appreciate the great restaurants, breweries and distilleries in the region!

Nancy Min, Founder of ecoLong

Nancy Min
Nancy, tell us about ecoLong and how you ended up here.

ecoLong is a technology startup. Our mission at ecoLong is to build interconnected and resilient communities which includes the development of our blockchain based energy marketplace that provides communities with equitable access to clean energy.  I founded ecoLong in 2015 and manage the day to day product and business development activities. I went to college thinking that I’d work in the finance industry and I probably could have found enjoyment in working in finance. However, it was the idea of creating a product that drove me to tech and captivated me to staying. I think there are challenges and rewards in any field of work but it’s all about finding the one that you are passionate about to find rewarding and willing to persevere in when things get tough.

What advice would you give to another woman looking to go into tech?

Never be the one to tell yourself no.

What do you love most about living in CapNY?My favorite part

The people. ecoLong wouldn’t exist today if not for the local communities that have supported us along our journey. If I’m not exploring a new hike around CapNY, you’ll probably find me getting Kurver ice cream.

Lisa Avila, CEO of Kitware, Inc.

Lisa Avila
Lisa, tell us about Kitware and your role in the company.

Kitware was founded in 1998 with an initial focus on scientific visualization (I am one of five founders of the company – the others are Will Schroeder, Ken Martin, Bill Hoffman, and Charles Law). Since then, we’ve grown to more than 230 employees across the US and France, and we’ve expanded into additional areas including artificial intelligence, computer vision, medical computing, and scientific computing. I served as Vice President, Commercial Operations until 2017 when I took over as CEO from Will Schroeder. As CEO, my role is to work collaboratively with all our technical and administrative team leads to ensure that we achieve our mission of advancing science and technology while also remaining a great place to work for all of our employees.

How did you end up in this field?
Our projects and research aim to quantitatively explore how age, disease or treatment affect structures in the craniomaxillofacial (CMF) complex. This improved knowledge can help diagnose disease early, plan and measure treatment, and monitor the progression of certain conditions. 
Our projects and research aim to quantitatively explore how age, disease or treatment affect structures in the craniomaxillofacial (CMF) complex. This improved knowledge can help diagnose disease early, plan and measure treatment, and monitor the progression of certain conditions. 

I went to school at SUNY Stony Brook (not far from where I grew up in Port Jefferson Station). I received my BS in computer science in 1989. Near the end of my undergraduate years, I became involved in a research group that worked in the area of scientific and medical visualization. I really enjoyed the process of taking raw data and turning it into images that accurately convey information and can lead to new discoveries. I continued at Stony Brook to complete my MS in 1990 and my PhD in 1994, specializing in volume visualization. I moved up to this area to work at the GE Research and Development Center in Niskayuna before leaving GE to work at Kitware. 

I love working in computing – it requires a great mix of creativity and engineering. Throughout my career I’ve had a chance to work on a variety of impactful projects including surgical and treatment planning systems in the healthcare domain, and rendering, analysis and acceleration methods for volumetric data in a variety of scientific application areas. 

What’s challenging about the work, especially from the lens of a woman working in technology?

Overall, the most challenging aspect of the work is the fact that you often don’t know precisely how you are going to solve the challenge when you first start the project. That’s also the thrilling part of it – you need to innovate to create something that doesn’t yet exist. 

Using Kitware’s interactive DIY AI toolkits, users can rapidly build, test, and deploy novel AI solutions without having expertise in deep learning or computer programming. 

Women earn more than half of all doctorate degrees in this country, but when you focus in on computer science, that drops down to under 25% (source: NSF’s Survey of Earned Doctorates). That’s a serious problem because we need to view a challenge from all perspectives to develop the best solution. There’s no quick fix to this problem though – we have to start early, at the middle school and high school level, to attract young women into the field, and we need to make sure they feel welcome, comfortable and valued as they complete their education and pursue a career in computer science.

This field allows you to make the world a better place – something that women often cite as a primary motivating factor when selecting a career. It also generally offers great flexibility, making it possible to find a good balance between your career and your personal life. From the perspective of a woman in tech, I have to say it is a great career and I feel that I should be doing more to get that message out there to young women who are considering their future career options.

What advice would you give to another woman looking to go into tech?

First and foremost, you should pursue a career in something that you are passionate about, so that “work” is something you’ll enjoy doing. When evaluating tech careers, be sure to look beyond just the math / science / engineering knowledge you’ll need to acquire and also consider the ultimate impact you want to have with your career. A tech career is quite versatile – you could help build better wind turbines, detect cancer, or entertain the world. As you complete your education, look for whatever opportunities you can find to get involved in collaborative research projects to gain experience translating your technical knowledge into working solutions. 

Part of the reason you love living in CapNY is the abundance of outdoor activities. Tell us more!
Moreau Park

I love all the opportunities for outdoor activities in CapNY. I have been a distance runner since high school, and really enjoy the energy and sense of accomplishment from completing a road (and recently also trail) race. I’m not very fast, but that doesn’t matter because my primary goal is to just complete the race and have a good time. I am an introvert by nature, but there’s something about being part of a large group of people who are all crazy enough to get up really early in the morning in any sort of weather to run. I probably overdid it in 2021 (my closet is bulging with race t-shirts!), but there were just so many great races to run this year. One of my new favorites is a 14 or so mile trail race through Moreau State Park that is organized by Kitware’s CTO (and company co-founder) Bill Hoffman. 

Written by: Gabby Fisher

Gabby is a serial entrepreneur living solo with her toy poodle, Mochi, in Schenectady.