Achievement is baked into Sidney Madison Prescott’s DNA. Her education was marked by distinction (magna cum laude and honors designations) that extended to her career, which included a post heading intelligent process automation for a leading global investment firm. Last month, she joined digital music powerhouse, Spotify, where she’s now creating and managing the company’s global Intelligent Automation program, encompassing RPA (Robotic Process Automation,) Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence.
Sidney is also a prolific champion of women in technology. She is a founding member of Chief, a career network that connects and supports female leaders, and currently heads the east coast chapter of Women in Tech. Yet, she still finds time for another passion: snowboarding. This overachiever seems to balance it all perfectly.
Why did you choose RPA/Intelligent Automation as your career path?
I like to think that the technology industry, and more specifically Intelligent Automation, chose me. Initially, I studied philosophy and political science during my undergraduate years in the hopes of becoming a lawyer. As fate would have it, I was hired as an asset and configuration management intern in a global technology organization during my final years in college.
That IT organization contained incredible leaders who offered me a chance to learn and grow my skills as a budding technologist. Once I graduated from school, I began a role as an IT program manager, which led to an opportunity to run an Intelligent Automation POC and eventually a Global RPA Center of Excellence (CoE). I was drawn to the RPA space due to the ability to dramatically transform work in half the time it would take through traditional software. As a result, I knew I wanted to turn my passion for Intelligent Automation into a career. I’ve been excited to be a part of the RPA landscape ever since.
What enabled your success in this field?
I have an uncanny ability to construct the foundational components of a global Intelligent Automation program in a bespoke way to suit the internal dynamics of a particular industry and company culture. This skill allows me to build programs that leverage industry best practices, while also ensuring that automation offerings are suitable for the cadence of internal business processes and stakeholder workflows. In addition, I embrace disruption and dismantle automation silos, which has helped me create automation workflows that are both scalable and repeatable. I believe that innovation is a permanent state of being and that from a technology standpoint, with the right resources, information, and passion, anything is possible!
How do you see the market developing in the next few years?
The Intelligent Automation market has shifted in several ways over the past several years. We’ve started to see consolidation of vendors in the market and a stronger emphasis on platforms that encompass a wider variety of features, from optical character recognition (OCR) to built-in machine learning engines, and even KPI/ROI data visualizations. I believe the market consolidation of smaller vendors will increase, as will the strength of the overarching Intelligent Automation platform rather than stand-alone RPA platforms. Companies around the world are looking for a more holistic enterprise-level Intelligent Automation tool. The next few years will see true mass adoption of RPA tools, specifically platforms infused with increased cognitive capabilities.
What do you love about your job?
I solve complex business problems by empowering my team with the ability to provide automated solutions across the enterprise. I love the opportunity to build something new in order to enhance the overall capabilities of an enterprise. It’s extremely rewarding to see how strategically deployed automation projects can fundamentally change the internal landscape of an ecosystem. I also enjoy showcasing the end-to-end solutions the team has developed and the pride my direct reports show when we successfully deliver production bots to our business stakeholders.
What is your biggest professional challenge?
My biggest professional challenge is managing misconceptions about the time to market for an RPA automation. For a number of years, RPA was marketed as a technology that required little-to-no technical aptitude. However, at an enterprise level, particularly with unattended automation, this is simply not the case. The challenge comes from disseminating knowledge to stakeholders around the practical application of RPA and the need for realistic delivery timelines, which contradicts the typical vendor marketing campaigns about RPA platforms ease of use.
How has being a woman impacted your professional journey?
When I initially entered the technology sector, it was quite difficult to navigate the nuances of the technology space as a woman. There was a certain amount of time when I felt as if I was an outsider attempting to infiltrate a predominantly male-centric space, particularly in the larger financial services firms where I worked.
I was able to navigate through the implicit/explicit biases I faced by connecting with employee resource groups dedicated to female empowerment in the workplace. In addition, last year I joined Chief, a private women’s network which offers senior leaders mentorship opportunities, career coaching, and networking events designed to elevate the professional journey of women.
What is your advice for young women who are interested in or entering the RPA space?
Dive into the RPA space without hesitation. Robotic Process Automation is still a rapidly growing industry with incredible room for personal career growth. I would advise women to take full advantage of the wide variety of online learning platforms offered by the major RPA vendors and industry conferences focused on Intelligent Automation. If you want a career in RPA, it takes an inquisitive mind, a passion for building and delivering automation, and the drive to meet complex business challenges head-on.
How can we inspire women to pursue tech careers and in RPA specifically?
The visibility of women in technical roles is key. The more the tech industry amplifies the voices, roles/responsibilities, and achievements of women in technology, the more inspired women will become to move into the space. Showcasing the great accomplishments women are making in the Intelligent Automation sector and providing insight into their career trajectories will inspire others to envision themselves as a part of the technology revolution, which is expanding exponentially year after year. RPA is a cutting-edge field, in that it brings new tools, methodologies, and governance protocols into view and creates synergy between business and technology. I consider the next several years a great time to ramp up global efforts across firms and ensure women are aware of the benefits to building a thriving career in RPA.
Technology is still male-dominated. Since RPA is fairly new, do you see it differently or evolving more quickly to include more women?
I see the Intelligent Automation market evolving differently regarding gender - if the industry successfully shuns old modalities in the hiring process. Reviewing the RPA market, there is far more demand for resources than available candidates. In theory, this means that all qualified women applying for RPA roles should have their pick of companies and opportunities based on prior experience. However, women also make up a significantly smaller portion of the tech sector.
Which begs the question: Are women in technology adequately promoted and compensated to ensure they build the skills required to gain a competitive advantage in the RPA market? Generally speaking, the answer is no (due to pay inequalities, bias, etc.). However, RPA can pivot the narrative. There are a wide variety of online learning platforms where women can gain the knowledge necessary to excel and rapidly progress in a new Intelligent Automation career. As women, it is essential that we focus on reskilling ourselves to become the next generation of technology leaders. No matter where we started our professional careers, the pivot to RPA is possible if we focus on building our knowledge of the industry.
Only 5% of today’s tech leadership positions are held by women. How do you think more women in leadership roles will change the tech landscape?
Mentorship is a key attribute of gaining access to tech leadership positions. When women have an opportunity to operate in positions of power, we can showcase our skillset to senior leaders who have the ability to offer newcomers a seat at the proverbial table.
However, this approach requires existing senior leaders—both men and women—to become advocates for the acceleration of women in leadership tech roles. Various empirical studies have called attention to the benefits associated with diversification of thought in the business world. More women in leadership roles would lead to additional insights and opportunities for fruitful collaboration at every level, while also encouraging other women to pursue leadership roles in a given organization.