At Claris Engage 2020, Susan handed over the reins as Lead Facilitator of WITfm to Krissy Ferris. Here is a little more about Women Innovating Together and how it has served the FileMaker and now Claris community.
Please find the full video transcript below.
Krissy Ferris: Welcome to the WITfm panel. We’re here today to tell you a little bit more about WITfm, what we do, and what our role is in the Claris Community. I’m Krissy Ferris. I’m the incoming Lead Facilitator for WITfm. Professionally, I work for Bright Button, LLC, my FileMaker consulting company.
I’m going to ask each of our panelists now, to take a moment to introduce themselves, say where they work and what their role is in WITfm.
Susan Fennema: Hi everybody. I’m Susan Fennema. I’m the past lead facilitator. So the outgoing Lead Facilitator for WITfm. I run a small business consultancy called Beyond the Chaos. My title is Chaos Eradicating Officer, that’s CEO in parentheses and my role is to help small business owners simplify their operations and manage their projects so that they can get their lives back and grow their businesses. And with that, I’ll hand it off to Makah.
Makah Encarnacao: Hi, my name is Makah Encarnacao. I am a Technical Project Lead at Soliant Consulting and my role, what is my role? I started off as the Mentorship Lead, so that’s how I started off with Women Innovating Together. And then I was able to hand that off to somebody else, and actually, it’s on its third person now. So it’s exciting that that committee has been shifted around. And now I am the lead for the Educational Outreach Committee, which we just renamed. And I forget what it’s called, Cultivating Tech Talent Committee.
Elizabeth Swenson: Hi, I’m Elizabeth Swenson. I am the owner of UserSpace, which is a one-woman show presenting FileMaker development support and training. My role with WITfm is a little bit of a nomad, not unlike Makah. I started out as a committee member on the Scholarship Committee, and then after a year became the Scholarship Lead. I was fortunate enough to hand that off to a very capable woman who is not on the call, but her name is Sarah Beete and she’s wonderful. And at that point, I became the Donor Relations Lead, a position that I held for two years and now have handed that off to another amazing woman, Sarah Stickfort, who is actually one of WITfm’s scholarship alumni.
Vanessa Costanzo: My name is Vanessa Costanzo. I am starting my fourth year as the Events Lead for WITfm. I previously worked with Claris and the WITfm team to organize, coordinate, and plan our in-person events at DevCon And now Claris Engage. And this year we went virtual with a couple of networking coffee hours during the live Engage content at the beginning of August 2020, due to the pandemic.
I’m looking forward to continuing with some level of virtual events throughout this year. We had a great time with those of you that came and joined us, and there was some pretty positive feedback about wanting to continue those. So we’re really excited to connect with you throughout the year, and we’re really looking forward to our next in-person events.
My day job, I am the Director of Business and Technology Development for NaviCu. Our team helps our clients solve business problems by designing, developing custom solutions with them. And that’s my day gig.
Krissy Ferris: Thanks for the introductions. I’m hoping now I can hear a little bit from each of you about how and when you first got your start with the Claris and FileMaker Communities. Susan?
Susan Fennema: I took an interesting path. I actually started with Claris and I developed in the first Claris and then it became FileMaker. So what is that? 1989. That’s a long time ago. So, that’s my beginning. I ended up becoming a Power User after 6 and then became a Project Manager in the space. And with that, I’ll let Makah fill us in.
Makah Encarnacao: Awesome. Thanks, Susan. I feel like mine’s interesting too. I did some programming in college and after I graduated, I applied to an ad on Craigslist for a company called Soliant Consulting. Plus, I did not know what FileMaker was at the time and they really just taught me everything. While I came in with zero FileMaker specific skills, I still love it, because I’m still here 13 years later with Soliant and it’s been amazing. It’s been so fun. And with that, I’ll go to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Swenson: I’ve been developing in FileMaker since the early nineties. I was a Citizen Developer before that was even a term. And FileMaker was a tool that I used in my various jobs as a Graphics Production Manager. I didn’t become an actual professional developer until 2013. I got hired by a Platinum in Santa Monica and I worked there for four years. During that time, I attended a reseller training up at The Wedge, which is where first met Susan Fennema and also Julie Sigfrinius and Kate Lee, who’s not on the call, but is also an amazing woman in the FileMaker Community. And I would say that reseller training was really where I started to first get engaged with the community, before that I was just more of a wallflower. Vanessa, what’s your story?
Vanessa Costanzo: Thank you, Elizabeth. It’s so fun hearing everyone’s stories. I also think I have a little bit of an interesting story. First, I started using FileMaker back in late grade school, maybe middle school. I had worked at trade shows, doing demos for the business that my dad had started, using FileMaker, and had started creating some databases for birthday and graduation invitations and thank you notes.
And so my first unofficial DevCon, I will say, I was in middle school and I was not attending DevCon. I was running around the hotel with my brother and hanging out at the pool. That was my first exposure to the Claris Community and it’s grown ever since. Throughout high school and college, I continued to help with trade shows and tech support and training in our business. And at some point in there was my first official DevCon as an attendee. And I was really intrigued and inspired by the sessions and the community.
I’ve taken different roles and levels of involvement over the years in our company and as well in the Claris Community and have been back full time almost four years now. And I would say, especially in a non-developer role that I’m in, WITfm has played a huge role in my involvement in the Claris Community. And it’s been great. Back to you, Krissy.
Krissy Ferris: Susan, I know the organization of WITfm has gone through huge changes under your leadership. I’m hoping you could tell us a little bit about what is WITfm, why does it exist and why did you get involved?
Susan Fennema: Sure. We had a problem a few years ago, a good problem. We were getting really big. And when I say we, we were a group of women who lunched, essentially, and the group was getting bigger and bigger and we started deciding we wanted to do more, more outreach. So, Molly Connolly and Chris Ippolite, the very first time we did this said, “We want to send a couple of women to DevCon for free on a scholarship.” So, they pooled some money together and they did that. And then it became a thing. Now we’re going to start doing these scholarships over time.
Well, if you’ve ever run any sort of organization, you’ve already figured out what the problem is, right? Who has the money? Where’s the money going? How are you tracking it? And at that point, it became very obvious that we needed to become a true organization.
So we established ourselves as an LLC in the State of Texas, we did a call out really for a call for naming, and Women Innovating Together became the name. We voted on that and it passed. From there, we got our 501(c)(3) so that we are even a tax-deductible, nonprofit group.
So we exist to help women further their careers as Claris developers, whether that’s in FileMaker, Claris Connect, or any of the future products that Claris might come out with. I got involved, and I think we’ll hear the story from a lot of people because Molly Connolly asked me to, honestly. She thought that I would be a good leader. I don’t know that she knew that I was going to take it to the extent that I did, but once I couldn’t find the money, there was no reason not to do that. And from it, I was able to get out in front of people, make some great friendships, and interact with people that I normally wouldn’t. So, that’s why I stayed involved for more than just that first favor to Molly. And with that, I’ll let Makah, what’s your story?
Makah Encarnacao: So funny you say that because I have a very similar story. Molly Connolly asked me to run the mentorship program. And honestly, I was just really honored she thought that I would excel at a leadership role. And I think she saw something that I didn’t, and I really have grown so much as a leader or experiencing a leadership role within WITfm. It’s just really empowering and it’s very, what’s the word? You’ve built so much confidence in yourself.
You’re like, wow, I can do this. You’re given an opportunity to be a leader in a committee and just watching it grow, watching it excel under your leadership is really amazing. And I highly recommend anybody who would love to see themselves grow in a leadership position, WITfm is such a beautiful environment to do that is because the team is so supportive and you’re doing things that really matter. I just, couldn’t be more thankful for Molly for asking me to give this a shot. And I’m going to pass the baton on to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Swenson: Well, thanks. I actually didn’t have any involvement with Molly right away. I was asked by Julie Sigfrinius who couched it very gently, “Hey, we’re organizing around The Women of FileMaker Group,” because that’s how we were known back then, “Would you like to get involved?” And she passed my name onto Molly and I volunteered to help out. I said I could help out in two areas, either Mentorship or Scholarship.
So that’s how I became involved in the Scholarship Committee. And this was the year before Susan joined, so we were still very ragtag, kind of like the Little Rascals putting on a show. I’ve got a sheet and I’ll borrow my mom’s pots and pans. It was when Susan came in, things changed and stuff got really organized in a really good and meaningful way. And I think that was right around the time that Vanessa got involved. Am I correct about that, Vanessa?
Vanessa Costanzo: You are very correct. Yes. I guess I’ll take over then. So, as you said, I had attended the luncheon a couple of times and in 2017, our company had done one of the luncheon sponsorships, and I knew I really wanted to get involved more and had had some previous events experience. And I talked to Molly after the luncheon that year and she was like, “Hey, great. You’re on the team.”
And a couple of weeks later I got an email and was like, “Okay, we’re meeting. Let’s do this.” And I was like, okay, great. And it’s been an amazing experience as everyone has said, it’s just such an incredible opportunity to grow as a leader and as a person. Like Makah said, I really appreciate Molly having the trust to ask us to be a part of this when she did and for really passing the baton. And it’s been a great four years. So, I will take it back to you, Krissy.
Krissy Ferris: It sounds like many of you got involved in WITfm because you were asked by Molly Connolly, which I have to say is the same as my story about how I got involved, but I hope that we are creating more Molly Connollys in the group so that each of us will in the future have additional women that say that they got involved because of Makah and Vanessa and Elizabeth and Susan, I know there are already women in the community involved because you’ve pinpointed to them. I know that’s why I’m in the role that I currently am in. So I hope that maybe each of you could tell us more about what the impact has been since you got involved, both personally and professionally. You want to start off, Susan?
Susan Fennema: Sure. I’d be happy to. My biggest takeaway from all of this is honestly, it’s patience. I’m used to driving a company that I am responsible for everything, and I’m the manager of people and I make all the decisions and that kind of thing. And in this situation, my role was to empower other people to lead their own areas. And to do that, I had to let go of some control, which is very hard when you’re a small business owner.
And in doing that, I learned to be patient and let it play out the way that the woman in charge of that area was envisioning it, rather than the way I might envision it. I might have added some guidance and maybe a, Ooh, maybe don’t go down that path or that kind of thing based on my experience, but I mostly just let people take the reins and run with it and didn’t get nearly as involved as I could have. And that was hard to do.
So managing that level of patience, also patience comes from working with volunteers, right? We all have jobs and so things don’t always move as quickly as you want. And they’re not always as organized as you’d like because all of us are full volunteers. So personally, it gave me a great sense of patience.
Professionally, I made so many friends that I never would have made. Being able to hang out together and chat even on our Slack channel and create relationships with people that I might not have even ever met because of this. And having that sense of comfort when you do go to a conference that there’s absolutely going to be people there I know, it’ll be great. I don’t know if I can make enough time to meet with everybody I want to meet with. So expanding that kind of social impact into the community was a big thing for me too. Makah, what about you? How has it affected you?
Makah Encarnacao: Thanks, Susan. I agree with everything you said. For me, I talked a little bit about the leadership skills that I’ve been able to grow under WITfm and the self-confidence that I’ve gained because of that. And also, as you said, Susan, just the friendships, I feel so close to you all and I would have not met you and I feel like I can now reach out with any questions very easily since I know you all very well. There’s also a sense of community. We’re doing this together, this is our platform and this is our little community and that we can lean on each other for.
And finally, I think the last thing is I find it a platform for our creative outlet. I see it as what can I do next? What’s the next impact I can have? It’s kind of like, okay, you tackle this problem, okay, here’s the solution. Okay, what’s the next problem that we can tackle and solve together? So it’s a platform for just being an effective part of the community that can make changes and makes a difference. And I’m going to pass it on to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Swenson: I love how you ended that answer Makah, about what’s next because I’m definitely in that transitional phase right now. And the transition is really what WITfm has helped me tremendously. When I first got involved, when Julie asked me to help, I was a member of an FBA Platinum partner and had to go through a very difficult decision during my first year and a half involved with WITfm about leaving that Platinum and starting out on my own. And starting a new business as a developer, as a woman in this world is scary, very scary. But I had this wonderful network of women around me that just buoyed my spirits. I had touchstones in people I could ask business questions. So that was very, very helpful, and very supportive of me getting started.
Professionally, this group has been just such a blessing to be able to help me feel like I’m just not alone out there. So it helps keep me connected. It’s also been a way to connect with people within the FileMaker Community that I never thought I could rub elbows with. Makah, you being one of them, Susan being another. So it’s been great to be in the trenches with all of these people. I really feel in my life that the people I’ve made the best friendships with are the people that I’ve worked with because when you work with someone, you really see what they’re made of. You see their grit, you see their integrity and you know who you can count on because you’ve been in the trenches with them.
And finally, the last thing I’ll say, probably the greatest benefit to my life personally from WITfm is that it has absolutely changed my outlook for what it’s like to work with women. Prior to becoming a professional developer, I was working in a nonprofit corporation that was 90% female, and it was a very, very difficult environment. I had to have friends pre-read emails before I sent them out. It was a very, very difficult environment and it colored my opinion about working with women.
WITfm changed that entirely. I have a completely different concept of what it’s like to work with women. And I think it has actually in part altered my chemistry or my makeup in terms of how I approach women in the workplace and in the work environment. And so it’s not scary anymore. I feel very open and very supportive. And so I can approach other people with that open and supportive attitude and help them along. Vanessa?
Vanessa Costanzo: Well, thank you, Elizabeth. That was really powerful. And I’ll probably sound like a broken record at this point, but I would like to echo what everyone has said so far. Personally, the lifelong friendships that I’ve created with our leadership team and the different members of our WITfm community, I don’t have words to express how much that means to me and how important those people have become in my life. I would say meeting during the pandemic, we had a leads meeting where one day we just met to touch base and check in on each other and see how everyone was doing, not to discuss any of our WITfm business or anything like that. And I think that really speaks to the connections that have been built over these past few years with each other.
Professionally, it’s been a great way to network and gain leadership experience. I have learned so much about leading by being in a room or in a virtual room with other leaders and taking in the different styles and ways to lead and really helping me to figure out what type of leader I would like to be now and in the future. And I can’t thank the women that have taken that role enough, it has been a life-changing experience.
I guess on more of a practical note, the advice and resources within this community are amazing. If anyone’s having a problem, they throw it in Slack and ping someone that they know that has maybe dealt with that either in their business personally or professionally. And you get an answer so fast and it has been just amazing to see everyone build that trust and connection with each other.
And I would say one last thing that has been really important for me, and that has just made a really big difference for me, is looking at the difference that one organization can have and the growth that we can see in the diversity that we can build within our community and how bringing together all of these different people with different backgrounds and different experiences just makes us stronger as an organization as WITfm and as a community. That has just been so powerful and so exciting to be a part of. And I will throw it back to you, Krissy.
Krissy Ferris: It was great to hear that you’ve had so many personal and professional benefits from your involvement in WITfm. I’m wondering Elizabeth, could you speak a little bit more about the concrete, what are those benefits officially?
Elizabeth Swenson: Membership in WITfm is really the gateway to leadership and providing leadership opportunities is one of our mission statements. So first of all, as a member, one of the benefits you have is the ability to nominate people for committee leads. Every year as a 501(c)(3), we have an election to nominate leads for certain positions. And then the entire membership gets to vote on it. So that would be the second benefit, is that you get to vote on who those leaders will be.
You also get to propose and vote on bylaw changes. So as a 501(c)(3), obviously we have a certain structure. If you have some idea about a better idea to add to the structure, to make it stronger and more durable, you can propose that as a member and then the whole membership votes on it. I believe it’s in June, July when we vote so that we can announce all of the results come August when the Engage conference happens.
Members also get access to the Facebook page. Now we have a public-facing Facebook page for WITfm, but we also have a Members Only Facebook page. It doesn’t come with a jacket, but you do get access to announcements for things such as meetings and things like that are going on, but probably the most valuable thing on the member’s Facebook page is job notifications.
Now as a group, WITfm has gained a lot of credibilities probably before, but certainly since we won the Award for Community Excellence. And I know that I have personally been the recipient of an early morning call from a Platinum partner who said, “Hey, we’re looking to hire people. And we would like to put the word out with WITfm first.” So that happens that Platinums are reaching out to WITfm to say, “Hey, we’d like some female talent. Can you help us recruit or get the word out about our job opening?” Before they put it in the Claris Community or before they put it on any of the job sites that are available out in the wider internet world.
Finally, I would say one of the greatest benefits, at least me personally, I say this is the Slack channel. As you’ve heard us talk in previous parts of this meeting before, the Slack channel is a lively place where we discuss all kinds of things related to WITfm and also not related to wit FM. So it’s a great place to get business advice, as well as just share a few laughs with friends.
Krissy Ferris: Makah, would you be able to tell us if anyone can get involved with WITfm?
Makah Encarnacao: I’d love to talk about that. So we have different roles and with that different people, we want involved or are geared for involvement. So for example, leadership is open to all women and membership is also open to all women as Elizabeth mentioned, but we do have a Mentorship Program. And with that program, it’s really open to everyone. So you can sign up on our website, witfm.org if you want to be a mentor, a mentee, or both. So, that’s open to everybody. And of course, donors, we love everyone and anyone who wants to donate. So, feel free.
Krissy Ferris: Speaking of donors, we didn’t have an in-person Engage this year. Elizabeth, can you tell us what happened to the money that we fundraised?
Elizabeth Swenson: Oh my gosh, Krissy, that’s a really good question. In years past, we would raise the money and it would fund the cost of registration and also training day for up to four women to attend the conference. And then we got really aggressive in our fundraising. And also from reading all the scholarship submissions, we realized that the barrier to entry wasn’t just the cost of registration, it was also the cost of a hotel for a week. So we knuckled down and raised enough money for the 2019 year to send four women to Claris Engage, paid for their registration training day and five days of hotel.
And if we can continue to do that, we will. And that was our goal this year for 2020, and then COVID happened. So, we just pressed pause, but the money is still coming in because the community is so very generous. We did award four scholarships, and we decided that the actual in-person experience of Engage, it’s so very career-changing and critical that we’re going to retain those scholarships and send them to the next in-person Engage, which will hopefully be in 2021. Now, if that Engage happens, it’s going to be quite an event for WITfm. Because we will have double the number of first-time scholarship attendees at Engage.
Krissy Ferris: It’s great to hear that we were still able to award scholarships this year. Vanessa, can you tell us more about who the recipients were?
Vanessa Costanzo: Yes, I would love to. First a huge shout-out to Sarah Beete and her amazing Scholarship Committee. They worked very hard and adapted to all of the changing situations with the COVID 19 pandemic.
So without further ado, we really want to congratulate the scholarship recipients for 2020. We had the Karyn Witzel Memorial Scholarship that went to Anannyaa Panda from India. We had the Dave Johnson Memorial Scholarship that went to Suzanne LaFontaine from Canada. And then we had two additional scholarships that went to Margaret Harr from the United States and Lindsay Clark from Canada.
As Elizabeth mentioned, they will be attending the next in-person Engage along with the next cohort of scholarship recipients. So we thank them for their patience and flexibility and for working with us throughout these unprecedented times. And we just want to celebrate that that brings our total women sent to DevCon and Engage through the scholarship program to 18 women from 7 different countries, which is allowing them to experience the conference for the very first time. And we are so excited to continue to see that number grow. Thanks, Krissy.
Krissy Ferris: Wow, Vanessa, 18 recipients from 7 countries, that’s really impressive. If you are interested now in WITfm, what opportunities are there to get involved?
Vanessa Costanzo: That is a great question, Krissy, and we actually have 13 different committees with subcommittees and varying levels of time commitment and involvement and skillsets. If you are interested in getting involved in one of our committees, please email [email protected] And speaking of committees and getting involved, there are some great leadership opportunities that we have all referenced throughout this session as well.
In addition to working on the committees and subcommittees, we have recently welcomed in a few new leads after our most recent election. So we want to give a huge shout out and a round of applause to Krissy, who you have here as our new lead facilitator, Sarah Stickfort, who is our new lead for donor relations. Bev Voth, who is our new lead for membership, and Heather Williams, who is our new lead for mentorship. We are so excited to have them involved in our leads team and in our organization as a whole.
If there are any areas that you are actively and very interested in through WITfm, we really encourage you to get involved in the subcommittees and the committees. Dip your toe into the water. See if it’s something that really interests you. We are actively recruiting, not only for our committees, but we are always looking to elevate the next batch of leaders within our organization. And we would love to have you there with us. So please make sure you email us, [email protected]. Krissy, want to wrap it up?
Krissy Ferris: I really want to thank the four of you for joining me today on this panel to give a little bit more information about where WITfm’s been and where it’s going. One of my main goals for this coming year, now that we’ve become established as a 501(c)(3), and we’ve got the organizational development heavy lifting out of the way, is to make sure that we’re really doing a good job communicating that mission within the Claris Community, and to reach out to more people, to show them that they can get involved with WITfm and that there are lots of opportunities with the organization.
So I really hope that if something piqued your interest in this presentation today, you will reach out to us and get involved, even if it’s just in a small way for now, so that we can really bring the community together more. And I especially want to shout out to those of you who might be watching internationally. It’s one of our active goals to grow the WITfm Community more outside of the United States and we really want to work to make this an organization that’s accessible to women around the world, in the FileMaker and Claris Communities.
So thank you so much for watching. We look forward to seeing you in one of the virtual or real-life WITfm spaces too. Take care.