Although the field of IT is very male dominated, that didn’t deter Collegis Education EVP & CIO Kim Fahey from pursuing a career in technology. With a passion for using data and analytics to improve business results, Fahey is now leading efforts to help colleges and universities strategically leverage technology as an asset in their future success. We sat down with Fahey to learn more about her career path, her philosophy around being a woman in tech and how she supports our institutional partners.
Stretching outside my comfort zone, into the technology field, was one of the best career decisions I’ve made.Kim Fahey
Collegis: Where did your career in technology start?
KF: I began as a software developer and then moved into data architecture, business intelligence, business analysis and project management. I progressed from there into strategic client management before taking over responsibilities for large teams across product management, development, enterprise integration, business intelligence, business enablement, CRM, etc.
Did you always want to work in IT? What inspired you to pursue this avenue?
KF: Actually, no. I never considered studying computer science or information systems in college. Like most college students, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do as a career and I changed degrees several times – from broadcast journalism to industrial distribution management (a business degree with a strong engineering emphasis).
As I was interviewing during my senior year, I came across James Martin and Company. They were an information technology consulting firm that believed in the power of training business educated individuals with an aptitude for technology because business needs should drive technology use. Through their extensive employee training programs and months of on-the-job training (and very patient mentors), I learned the skills needed to build business–focused software solutions. Stretching outside my comfort zone, into the technology field, was one of the best career decisions I’ve made. In addition, having a business background has been a differentiator for me and has been instrumental in my success as a CIO, especially now as institutions need technology leaders who understand business and not just technology.
What in technology do you find most exciting and how do these passions apply to higher ed?
KF: Effectively using data and technology tools can help organizations drive decisions, streamline and optimize business processes and run more efficiently. For higher ed institutions, that can mean leveraging technologies that help schools meet their objectives – including those in remote learning, student experience, automation and more. From a data perspective, schools use a wide variety of technologies to collect valuable student, operational, learning and programmatic data. Unfortunately, that data is not currently being fully used to make important decisions that improve the student journey or operations. Now more than ever, schools need to use historical data plus predictive analytics to help them chart the best course of action for their school. I want to help change that.
What do you find most exciting about the higher education technology sector?
KF: Higher ed has so much opportunity to more effectively leverage technology. Unlike other industries that have fully embraced technology’s possibilities, higher ed is behind – but there are many benefits they can get from advancing, stabilizing and standardizing their technology tools. It isn’t necessarily about spending more on technology. Instead, it’s about optimizing what they are already spending. Based on my experience, the reason for this lag is because colleges and universities struggle to implement the needed improvements. One of the many things I enjoy about working at Collegis is having the ability to help schools maximize their technology investments.
As a woman in tech, what specific advice do you have for other women pursuing careers in this field?
KF: One of the keys to my success is the people who supported me throughout my career. I’ve always had a strong network who challenged me but were also there when I needed them. I’ve had bosses who saw my potential and helped me build a path to reach it. My advice is this: surround yourself with good people, advocate for yourself when necessary, continually learn, give credit to the team (versus yourself), build a strong support network and find a mentor.
My advice is this: surround yourself with good people, advocate for yourself when necessary, continually learn, give credit to the team (versus yourself), build a strong support network and find a mentor.
My advice is this: surround yourself with good people, advocate for yourself when necessary, continually learn, give credit to the team (versus yourself), build a strong support network and find a mentor.Kim Fahey
Did you have a “light bulb” moment that shaped your career, life, etc.?
KF: I was probably 15 years into my career, and someone I was working with at a partner said to me, “You’re going to be a CIO one day soon.” Honestly, I was so busy just doing my job that I never really thought of where I wanted to be in the next few years. I believe this vote of confidence helped me see my potential more clearly and gave me the confidence to pursue the CIO position at Collegis. It took 18 years of hard work to get to CIO, but every year was so important in preparing me for this role.
What do you think it takes to be successful as a woman in technology?
KF: I have always been an extremely competitive person and played on multiple sports teams. I think that prepared me very well for a career in IT. If you have the traits needed to be a team player and a drive to win, IT could be a good career fit for you.
In addition, it’s no secret that IT is a very male–dominated field – but that shouldn’t intimidate women from pursuing a career in technology! I have never focused on the fact that sometimes I’m the only woman in the room because I knew I earned my seat at the table and belonged there. In any field you choose, you will come across people (men and woman) who are challenging to work with, so it is important to develop skills to navigate that. I will say that to be a successful woman in tech, you have to have the confidence in your abilities and be able to drive your agenda forward. IT isn’t for the faint of heart.
It’s no secret that IT is a very male-dominated field – but that shouldn’t intimidate women from pursuing a career in technology! I have never focused on the fact that sometimes I’m the only woman in the room because I knew I earned my seat at the table and belonged there.
It’s no secret that IT is a very male-dominated field – but that shouldn’t intimidate women from pursuing a career in technology! I have never focused on the fact that sometimes I’m the only woman in the room because I knew I earned my seat at the table and belonged there.Kim Fahey
Why do you find IT to be a rewarding field to work in?
KF: Today, IT is an essential function for all business operations. It can sometimes be a thankless job because you don’t necessarily get acknowledgement if everything is working as it should. But it is very rewarding when you keep things running smoothly while making significant business improvements and advancements at the same time.
What does being a leader in technology mean to you?
KF: As a leader, one of the keys to success is building a strong team. Bringing people together around a common goal, respecting and supporting each other, nurturing relationships and building trust are all essential to building a team. This is one of the areas I love most about my job – and it is also so critical to our success.
What are the organizations you see bringing together women in tech and innovative ideas to the sector?
KF: I belong to SWIT (Senior Woman in Technology), which is a large network of female CIOs who focus on helping place woman in CIO positions, supporting female CIOs in their roles and advocating for more woman to go into STEM fields. I also belong to a couple CIO advisory boards comprised of both men and woman. When it comes to networking, I believe it should be with a diverse group of technology leaders focused on current, relevant tech topics.
Finally, what lessons or key takeaways around technology can higher ed leaders learn as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
KF: I appreciate how daunting prioritizing technology can be for colleges and universities, however, the pandemic has shown that technology is no longer optional. When COVID-19 forced institutions to shift all operations online, those that had already started integrating technology solutions found themselves better prepared to adapt. Ultimately, the pandemic accelerated an already dire need for all higher education leaders to recognize the importance of prioritizing a robust technology strategy. My hope is that colleges and universities embrace this unpleasant moment and start viewing technology (and its experts) as an integral, strategic part of their future success.