AT&T Women In Tech: Jennifer Biry, CFO of Technology and Operations

For Jennifer Biry, a knack for numbers and an unbridled enthusiasm for business equal a successful career in technology.

Biry didn’t target a future in tech while working her way through college as a sales manager at a global commerce company. But she was attracted to SBC (which later became AT&T). “The reputation is what originally brought me to the company,” she says today. “Technology is what keeps me here.”

Biry, a CPA, has parlayed her financial expertise and love of running businesses into a career that has included stints in both finance and operations at AT&T. A pivotal moment came when Jim Callaway, now a retired senior executive vice president, tapped her to lead the AT&T merger with BellSouth and Cingular. She was one of the youngest members of the merger team.

Today, Biry is the chief financial officer of AT&T Technology and Operations. In this position, she is responsible for all the financial operations of AT&T’s corporate strategy function, technology development, network deployment, and operations. Jennifer is also instrumental in enabling AT&T’s industry leadership in software-defined networking and manages AT&T’s capital program.

Recently, the Networking Exchange Blog team talked with Jennifer about her career, how others supported her, and what can be done to bring more women into the tech field.

You say technology is what has kept you at AT&T for 16 years. Why is that?

I love the pace at which we move at AT&T, and the pace at which technology is changing. I was recently traveling in Argentina, and I was able to see that a package was delivered at my front door, to turn my alarm on and off, and use FaceTime to communicate with my family. I never imagined an app store and a smartphone when I started. The rate at which technology is changing and the ways we can use it to improve society are very appealing to me.

How important were mentors in your career?

Incredibly. But I differentiate between mentors and sponsors. A mentor coaches you and gives you advice on a day-to-day basis. A mentor can be a peer or anyone who helps you learn and grow. But as you advance in your career, you need a sponsor—someone who’s a level or two higher than you, who can give you a broader perspective across the company, and who also can open doors for you. I was once told to think of a mentor as your coach, and a sponsor as your agent. A mentor talks to you; a sponsor talks about you.

I had several mentors, but I think of Jim (Callaway) as my sponsor. He had so much confidence in me. He encouraged me to take the opportunity (with the merger) and run with it. He saw things in me that I didn’t.

What makes a good mentor or sponsor?

You have to find a connection with someone. The most impactful relationships are the ones that happen naturally. I think men have mentored each other for years in a lot of informal ways, and women can do that, too. Our culture at AT&T is conducive to that. We also have a lot of great formal programs, like the mentoring circles in Women of AT&T.  I’ve been able to go into high schools and connect with young women through the AT&T Aspire program.

What do you say to young people who may be interested in a tech career but who don’t want to be developers?

There are so many opportunities at tech companies for men and women with other types of skills. They all help support the development of technology. It takes a whole team—developers, financial, marketing, communications—to create a product and bring it to the public.

Many young women tell me they’re thinking about certain careers because they want to help others. But you can make such a tremendous impact through technology. I explain to young women how we use technology at AT&T to help others. If your passion is teaching, then go for it. But don’t forget that if you work to help put technology in schools, you can have an impact on education that reaches beyond one classroom. Technology has a ripple effect.

You seem very enthusiastic about the potential of technology.

I am. Technology can help us solve so many problems. That’s what I was born to do. There’s nothing that energizes me more than solving someone’s problem. There’s nothing better.

How can we get more women interest in tech careers?

We have to start younger, and we have to find toys and games and stories that appeal to young girls. We can’t have a pink aisle and a tech aisle. I have three nieces. I want to be able to find things for them that make them think about math and science and how things are built. That’s why AT&T supports Girls Who Code and STEM programs with the Girl Scouts. If you wait until high school to start talking with them, you’re probably too late.

To learn how our company is equipping young people with the skills needed to succeed in STEM careers through AT&T Aspire, click here.


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