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Expert Interview (Part 2): Roni Fontaine on Her Time in Product Management and Marketing

At the recent Strata San Jose Conference, Paige Roberts of Syncsort sat down to speak with Roni Fontaine, Director of Product Marketing at Hortonworks. In part one, Fontaine spoke about what’s new at Hortonworks as well as the changing landscape of Big Data.

In this part, Fontaine explains some of her experiences as a woman in the tech world.

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Roberts:  You’re a woman in a high-tech company. How has that worked out for you? Have you had any trouble?

Fontaine: I started out doing programming at one point, kind of old-school programming, and then I did product management and product marketing, and I’ve been in different parts of marketing. I shifted around.

Me, too!

When I was in product management, I actually thought there were more women. I mean, engineering was always typically male. Now, it’s really shifted. I don’t meet a lot of women product managers. I have been meeting some here, like yourself. We have one female product manager and product marketing is a little mixed, it can go one way or the other. But I would say it’s still tough, I go to a lot of meetings where there may be only a few females.

One of the things I loved when I chose to come to work at Syncsort, is that our CTO is a woman, our VP of engineering R & D is a woman. It’s a good mix, even in the tech departments, and there’s no glass ceiling.

That’s great! You have role models. I think there’s progress being made, but we still have a ways to go. There was one company that I worked at which I loved, in the dot-com phase. The company was run by a woman. It had a woman CEO. She had originally come from IBM, and she worked her way up in a very male-oriented culture. That was great because she really was aware about bringing more women in the company and bringing more women into leadership roles. She was tough, but it was awesome to see that. That was the first time I ever saw that.

Yeah, I think having a woman in a leadership role really makes a big difference all the way down.

I went to the Watermark Conference which was in San Jose about two weeks ago. It was 6,500 women there at the conference center and they had wonderful keynote speakers from all different disciplines, from media, from education, from government, from law, celebrities. Amal Clooney was one of them. She was amazing, a very articulate, excellent speaker, intelligent. We had Jodie Kantor who broke the Harvey Weinstein story in the “New York Times.” There were a lot of great speakers. There were male speakers too, it wasn’t all women speakers.

Reese Witherspoon was one of the speakers during lunch, and one of the things that she said I thought was really great. She was asked a question about the roadblocks in your career. She said one of the things that she learned was, “You could be in the front of the bus or the back of the bus, just stay on the bus.” That’s how I feel my career is.  Sometimes you’re in the front of the bus, sometimes in the back of a bus, or maybe just hanging from the back with twine. But, personally, you have to just be consistent, and hang in there.

Yeah, and when you’re talking about clearing the way for people behind us, well, you can’t make it easier for the next person if you don’t stick it out.

Yeah. Careers are a jungle gym, you’re going to be going all over the place. Bar to bar. The bus is a little bit more linear concept.

What was it that made you decide to switch paths in your career?

Well, I was in product management and IT at first. It’s been a while now. Probably for about five years and I was doing web hosting services and a lot of networking services, infrastructure. This is in the days of co-location, and I did caching services. I think back in those days, I was sort of both. I did product management and product marketing. It was just one person, you did everything. And then you have a lot of products because the companies are growing so fast. I started out more product management, but you end up doing the product marketing because there’s isn’t anybody else to do it.

I know how that works. Is there anything else that you have coming up that you’d like to let people know about?

We have a DataWorks Summit that’s coming up, June 17th to the 21st at the San Jose Convention Center. Then there’s one in April in Berlin, April 16th to the 19th. So, come and join us at our conference.

Cool. Syncsort will be at both of those. I’ll be at the San Jose one, myself. Thanks for your time.

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