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Women in Information Management: Sarah Rasmussen

By Melanie Deardorff

Sarah Rasmussen, one of our newest employees, is an experienced information technology professional with demonstrated success in the insurance, financial, educational and healthcare industries. Though she’s new to the First San Francisco Partners team, Sarah worked with our firm during our consulting engagement at her former company.

We recently caught up with Sarah to get her thoughts on what it’s been like making the leap from being a client of First San Francisco Partners to working as a consultant with our firm’s clients. We also asked Sarah for her thoughts on being a woman in the information management industry, as a continuation of our popular interview series.

(Melanie with FSFP) Officially, welcome to the company, Sarah. What can you share about your background and focus areas before you joined FSFP?

Sarah Rasmussen of First San Francisco Partners

Sarah Rasmussen of First San Francisco Partners

(Sarah) Thanks. It’s great to be here.

Most recently, I worked in financial services for the last five years in a role with me reporting to the firm’s Chief Data Officer. I split my time between being the product owner of a master data management initiative and getting the data governance office up and running. This included working through the strategic aspects of the office, identifying roles and responsibilities and getting buy-in from the different lines of business and senior leadership.

Is that where you came to know FSFP, when you were on the client side at the financial services firm?

Yes, it was. But long before, I knew of FSFP’s leaders because of my involvement in DATAVERSITY events and from other industry forums. I dialed into more webinars than I could count, where I heard Kelle O’Neal, Malcolm Chisholm and John Ladley talk about data governance and data architecture. And what I learned from those many webinars helped inform and influence my career for more than 15 years.

But back to my previous company and working with FSFP … we’d made many different attempts there at doing data governance over the years. We tried to establish organization-wide data owners and data stewards and identify critical data elements and assign those to the business areas.

We accomplished quite a bit and our work took us up to the point of defining data elements. But we became stuck on the next series of steps — defining business rules and the metadata behind glossary terms, determining who on the technical side would maintain the data and choosing the best applications to support the data. We also needed help breaking down organizational silos to better support data governance and management.

Why did the financial services firm decide to hire FSFP?

There was a desire to be more business-centric and the company was making great strides in this area. FSFP’s message that the business needs to be the driver of data asset management meshed well with the changes that were already in progress. What we were missing was a strategic approach, in terms of full utilization of our data assets, and FSFP showed us how we could formulate a plan that would wrap a strategy around our data governance, master data management, metadata and data quality efforts — and also define our operating model — and with a detailed roadmap to help get us there.

Fast-forward to today where you’re with FSFP and working with our clients. What made you decide the company would be a good fit for you?

Well, the seed was actually planted back before I worked with FSFP, when I came to know the company in the industry. But more recently, I’d been thinking about what I wanted to do next in my career. I was at the point in my life where I wanted to learn new things, explore other areas and reach beyond my comfort level to find the next level of success. “Reach high” was a recurring theme for me as well as Ghandi’s words to “be the change you want to see.”

I did some soul-searching and bounced around between a few ideas, including going back to school and opening my own business. With my two kids being older (my daughter’s in college and my son is a junior in high school), I knew I had newly found freedom and could spend more time traveling for work.

My thoughts turned to FSFP and what I knew the company stood for. For one, it was a virtual firm that serviced clients all over the U.S. Madison, WI, where I live, is known for its many health care and insurance businesses. I wanted to expand my horizons outside my immediate community and stretch myself to experience the data-related challenges and opportunities taking place in other industries and other parts of the country.

Long story short, FSFP opened the door to an amazing challenge and opportunity with one of its clients. I could be in the presence of people who’ve done this type of work for years, and I could apply the body of knowledge I developed, having worked in IT and with data for 23 years.

I feel like I did reach high and am thrilled and thankful to be here!

What type of work are you doing for our clients? And what’s it been like transitioning into a consulting role?

Sarah Rasmussen of First San Francisco Partners

Sarah’s first FSFP engagement included building a data architecture framework and strategy for a leading educational institution.

My first client engagement had me building a data architecture framework and strategy for a leading educational institution. Working alongside client and IT staff members, we also identified and recommended best practices the organization needed to incorporate into day-to-day operations and delivered the corresponding training.

Working for a consulting firm has been freeing for me. You’re paid to bring to bear your years of expertise, and you can push the envelope more than an employee in a corporate environment. I’ve had consultants as team members for years, and always benefited from their outside perspective and experience. I also admired their ability to be malleable, understanding when something is not a fit and a new direction is required.

My experience with FSFP, both as a benefactor of their services and now as an employee, has proven this company sets the bar high when it comes to delivering value. FSFP prepares its clients with prep work before the consulting engagement begins and ensures that individuals assigned to the client are a solid fit.

Also, the engagement oversight and wealth of expertise behind the scenes at FSFP enables a quick delivery of value, no matter what type of industry the assignment is in. I’m seeing this prove true in my current assignment, with positive changes realized in a short amount of time.

Sarah, you know that our blog series is about women in information management. You’ve been working for more than two decades in what’s still considered to be a male-dominated industry. What was it like starting out in your career?

I was absolutely in the minority! But this was a familiar spot for me. I grew up a tomboy and was surrounded by neighborhood boys — going toe-to-toe with them in sports and skateboarding and subjects like math.

In college, I continued taking math (a great skill for a future IT professional), but I wasn’t encouraged in the areas of computer science or engineering. I didn’t even know they were options.

My focus was English literature, but I knew I excelled at problem-solving, too. I took an aptitude test and got into a four-month programming boot camp right after college. It was a great fit for me, and I’ve stayed on that same general track ever since.

Back then, I’d say about 80–90% of the people I interacted with were male, both at work and especially at IT conferences. It was rare to see many women at these conferences and even more rare to see a female presenter. I regularly gave feedback to the conference organizers suggesting more female presenters, but it was slow-going.

I’m glad to see different roles coming into play in our industry — like, data visualization and business intelligence reporting — and how more and more women are taking on these roles.

Is the industry any more encouraging to women today?

It’s changing but there’s still a lot that needs to be done for women to feel a part of the industry. At home, I encouraged my daughter’s interest in STEM and math, and she’s studying architecture now.

I’m glad to see different roles coming into play in our industry — like, data visualization and business intelligence reporting — and how more and more women are taking on these roles.

Also, many companies are incorporating diversity and inclusion training, which teaches that having team members with a variety of skills and backgrounds is much more successful than a team full of quintessential programmer types. And some HR departments are enforcing processes to promote more diverse hiring, which has opened new doors for women.

I’m especially excited to see how women are taking on key mentoring and leadership roles in the data industry. Just attend a data conference today to see the progress. It’s a far cry from the IT conferences of the ‘90s and early 2000s.

You mentioned your daughter’s path — and I have a son working toward a PhD in Computer Science. From what he tells me, there aren’t many women in the advanced degree program and there’s an absence of female CS majors in his undergrad years. What’s needed to change this?

I’m encouraged by some of the school programs and after-school groups, like Girls Inc., that are bringing coding to a more diverse population. But we need to do an even better job of promoting these opportunities and the required skills to young girls.

In my previous job, I had a summer intern who had no interest at all in coding and was even intimidated by it. But she was smart and full of energy and enthusiasm, so I encouraged her to work with a developer in our area. I told her she had nothing to lose.

In six short weeks, she developed her own website which connected to a database used to capture and display results. And what a thrill to see her demonstrate her work and new expertise in her end-of-summer internship presentation.

She ended up enjoying the experience so much that she went on to study development and coding — all from our somewhat-limited time together and a bit of encouragement from someone who knew how she felt. No surprise, I was one proud mentor.

Thinking back to my experience in working with FSFP and now, here as a team member, I have to add that Kelle O’Neal has been an inspiration to me, as well as to many other women in our industry. It’s encouraging, knowing that Kelle is the CEO of this company when there are so few female CEOs — let alone in the data and IT industry.

If we can find more role models like Kelle and offer more mentoring opportunities to girls and women, we’ll see even more barriers come down.

If something scares you or if you’re intimidated by it, there’s power in just moving forward … Fear, I’ve learned, can be a very good feeling.

What do you like to do outside of work — it can’t be all about data governance and data management, right?

My children, husband and extended family bring me joy. As I get older, I’m surprised by the number of close friends I’ve gained, especially since I was comfortable with just a few close friends for many years. They’ve been so supportive of me personally and with my career, and I’m enjoying the variety of activities and adventures we take.

Also, I’m a Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteer for children who have experienced neglect or abuse and working through the court system. In IT, I sometimes felt I lost the human side of things and working with CASA restored the balance and made a difference in my life.

Any last thoughts, Sarah, to share with our blog readers about a career in the information management industry?

This industry has been a huge confidence-builder in my professional and personal life. It hasn’t been the easiest route to travel, but that struggle is a direct result of the success and fulfillment I experience today.

If something scares you or if you’re intimidated by it, there’s power in just moving forward. I came out of school with an English degree and went right into a male-dominated industry — first as a developer, then systems analyst, then manager and now as a practitioner. If I would have stopped because I was scared, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Fear, I’ve learned, can be a good feeling.

When I talk with both women and men, whether they’re following my path into this industry or not, I say it’s important to not hold back from taking on work that could challenge them. Because that’s where you can find the greatest fulfillment.

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