Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology



April/May 2011

Diversity/Careers April/May 2011 Issue

Women of color in IT
Aerospace & defense
Insurance IT
Manufacturing tech
Civil engineering
BEYA conference

Veteran-owned companies
WBENC conference preview
News & Views
Regional roundup
Supplier diversity

Diversity in action
News & Views

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  Johns Hopkins APL

Changing technologies


Insurance companies offer IT pros exciting & progressive careers

"Insurance gives you lots of challenges." – Chuck Mischley, Nationwide

"The language of IT is the only truly global language today, and this industry is at the forefront of translating it into reality." – Nandini Easwar, Esurance

'When people see an insurance com-pany at a career fair, the first job they probably think of is sales agent," admits Chuck Mischley, manager of talent acquisition at Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co (Columbus, OH). "A lot of people have a preconceived notion that the insurance industry is dull, but they're wrong! Insurance is exciting and offers lots of challenges."

Here are a group of insurance IT pros who are accepting the challenges and finding exciting careers in insurance.

Kumar Subramaniam is Humana's IT director in apps engineering
Kumar Subramaniam "stumbled into IT," he says, working to automate a mail-order publishing house business for a friend in India. Today he's the IT director in apps engineering at Humana Inc (Louisville, KY), Tara Long is an IT compliance officer and more at Massachusetts Mutual Life.responsible for IT teams that support product implementation, sales admin, and rating, quoting and underwriting processes.

"Think of apps engineering along with tech services and IT ops as a three-legged stool that supports the entire organization," he says. "Ours is the strongest leg of the stool."

His immediate team is made up of four managers, one director and one enterprise architect. Among them, they manage more than a hundred associates and contractors.

Since last summer Subramaniam has also managed the IT department for LifeSynch, Humana's behavioral health and wellness division (Dallas, TX). "My management style has to be flexible," he says. "Some people don't want to be micromanaged, others want more support. I can be both managerial types.

"One thing my team will tell you, though: I don't like to just spend money. I believe we are stewards of our stakeholders' money and we must make sure that we spend it well."

Subramaniam grew up in India and got his BSME at Pune University in 1983. "I started my career as a project engineer implementing industrial cooling and refrigeration systems in Mumbai," he reports. "Later I designed flow-control systems and devices and then moved into process engineering and project management."

In 1997 he worked on automation for his friend's business, and that set him on the path he walks today. He went on to a consultant job with Syntel, an IT outsourcing firm, and moved from India to Chicago, IL at the end of 1999: a "first-generation immigrant."

In 2000 Syntel relocated him to Louisville, KY to implement Humana's digital health plan. He joined Humana with the company's first set of enterprise architects in 2004 and moved up to director on the enterprise architecture management team. "I led a small, smart team designing and building Humana's next-generation consumer-oriented shared-data repository," he says. In 2010 his responsibilities were expanded to his current role.

Along the way Subramaniam completed a 2008 MBA in entrepreneurship from the University of Louisville (Louisville, KY). He's currently working on his CFA charter from the Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts and a PhD in business admin with a concentration in finance from Walden University.

"I wanted to explore how I could be an entrepreneur within a large corporation," he says. "My idea is to work to improve the organization from the inside." As for his proposed PhD in finance, "IT is not the only thing that runs a business," he states with a smile.

Subramaniam doesn't think his minority status has had any effect on his career. "I have been blessed to be working with colleagues who have embraced me and treated me with respect," he notes with appreciation. He sees himself as a mentor who helps young colleagues "reach and exceed their potential."

After hours, he and others helped create the community-based Indian Professional Council (www.ipckentucky.com), dedicated to encouraging the Indian community to participate in the mainstream of American society.

Systems programming engineer Jay Kim is a manager at New York Life
Jay Kim.Jay Kim is a systems programming engineer at New York Life (NYL, New York, NY). He's responsible for managing a team that supports voice systems and technology across major campus sites within the enterprise.

"My team is responsible for supporting call technology for all of New York Life's domestic offices, including all our call and service centers across four time zones," Kim explains. "If there are any problems we are the first to know and we work quickly to resolve the problem, or engage various support teams, including our vendors.

"If we are not addressing technical problems in production, which always take priority, my days are spent working with my team and our internal business partners and others from finance, architecture, engineering and operations. We discuss and plan voice system upgrades, technology strategy, solutions and product testing, vendor presentations, budget management and more."

Kim started out servicing policies and assisting the LAN administrator at the NYL Minneapolis support center. He was promoted three times in three years, and in 2000 he was offered a transfer to the New York home office to join the corporate information department voice systems division. He continued to rise, and now he's managing a team of skilled engineers and consultants.

Kim was born in Seoul, South Korea and came to the U.S. with his family in the early 1970s. "My uncle was studying at the University of Minnesota," Kim explains. "He and his wife were both U.S. citizens, and they sponsored our family to come live in the States."

In college, "IT was like a hobby and I enjoyed it just as much as crunching numbers and statistics in accounting."

He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1992 with a BA in international relations and minors in economics and political science. Before joining NYL he was operations manager at St. Paul Radiology (St. Paul, MN). "I moved on to NYL since it seemed to hold more opportunity for me as a Fortune 100 company."

Kim notes that at both St. Paul Radiology and NYL he was hired into the accounting and accounts receivable divisions. "But the management of both organizations quickly noticed that I had a knack for technology, systems, process management and finding efficiency improvements, and that led to increased responsibilities in those areas."

Today Kim is active in reaching out to young people who will be the next generation of IT pros. He's been president of the N.Y. Metro chapter of the Cisco IPT Users Group, where members network with all age groups and across many industries including the education sector. "The education group represents many universities and gives us the opportunity to learn how others use the different communication technologies," he notes.

Kim's status as a minority has not hindered his professional career. "One of the great aspects of NYL's corporate culture is that you are judged by the knowledge, skill sets and opinions you bring to the table, not what color, religion or gender you are," he says.

Kim is still interested in the business management side of the company. "I feel that partnerships between business and technology help drive strategy and success in any organization," he observes.

Tara Long is IT compliance officer at MassMutual Insurance
Tara Long is the IT controls, compliance and privacy officer in the enterprise information risk management division of the enterprise technology organization at Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co (Springfield, MA). As IT compliance officer she is responsible for overseeing IT-related controls, compliance and privacy functions.

"We have oversight of all the IT controls across multiple systems platforms to meet legal and regulatory requirements," she explains. "We see to it that appropriate IT controls are in place to safeguard both employee and customer privacy, and we play a coordination role during internal or external audits related to IT."

The annual financial statement audit, she notes, is a major event. "We have external auditors coming in to look at our general IT and application controls. We coordinate with them closely because IT systems are such an integral part of the audit."

Long has been at MassMutual for nine years. She started as an SAP security admin.

"My general rule is never to get stagnant," she says. "Push yourself into new experiences so you can constantly learn more and remain a valuable asset to the organization.

"I also believe that technical certifications and designations help my credibility," says Long. She's been a certified info systems auditor for ten years, and was recently certified in risk and info systems control. In all, Long has more than twelve years combined experience in info security and IT audit, half of them concentrated in SAP security.

Long has a 1997 BA in psychology from Mount Holyoke College (South Hadley, MA) and a 2003 MBA with a concentration in MIS from Western New England College (Springfield, MA). After college she went to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers, a Big Four accounting firm, as an IT auditor. "PwC was recruiting liberal arts majors because they wanted people who were well-rounded and could be trained for IT," she says. "I learned that you don't need to be a heavy tech person to learn IT, you just need to be smart and adaptable."

She left PwC because she wanted to specialize in SAP security and stay in New England, and after a stint at Gerber Scientific (South Windsor, CT) Long joined MassMutual in 2002. "I was an SAP security admin for four years. Then the company embarked on Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) compliance efforts. I saw this as a perfect opportunity to go back to my roots of IT audit and contribute to the large compliance efforts," Long says.

She did that, and ended up managing the IT SOX program across the company. This effort, she believes, helped pave the way for her smooth transition to her current IT compliance officer job.

By mentoring several young women professionals at MassMutual, Long reaches out to the next generation of techies. She's a member of the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA, www.isaca.org), a global organization that defines the roles of IS governance, security, audit and assurance pros worldwide.

Long is a career-oriented working mother with a young son and another baby on the way. "MassMutual is an extremely supportive company and I've been able to work out a flexible schedule so I can maintain a balance between my career and motherhood," she says.

"MassMutual makes diversity and inclusion a high priority. It is one of our strategic pillars," she concludes.

Curtis Mitchell is ISVP at Prudential Financial
"When you like what you do you tend to be good at what you do," says Curtis Mitchell, ISVP at Prudential Financial (Newark, NJ). Mitchell supervises a team of forty-eight employees and consultants, and has five direct reports.

"I think people would say that I'm easy to get along with," he says. "I try to never let things bother me. If you treat people right, the returns to you will be tenfold."

Mitchell manages a development database admin group and a change support control group. He handles a number of projects and has responsibilities for infrastructure budgets.

He has worked at several companies in his career, ranging from Pan American World Airways to Chase Manhattan Bank. His roles there and at Prudential, which he joined in 1998, were essentially similar. "The technology is similar and there are only so many infrastructure vendors," he says with a smile.

Mitchell came to the U.S. from Trinidad when he was a teenager. He went to Baruch College (New York, NY) and completed a BS in CS there in 1986.

At Prudential Mitchell is a member of the Black Leadership Forum, a business resource group that promotes mentoring and helping associates move forward. "You have to have the ability to recognize when someone is very good at what they do," he says. "Attracting and retaining good people is what makes you successful."

Elvia Bautista is an information services analyst at Sun Life Financial
Elvia Bautista."Ever since I was seven years old I've been trying to fix things," Elvia Bautista remembers. "Once Santa Claus brought me an electronic organ for Christmas and I just had to see how it worked. I almost started a fire in the basement."

Today Bautista is an information services analyst at Sun Life Financial (Wellesley, MA). She's part of a team of more than a dozen people that provides production support services to internal clients. She's responsible for information retrieval, document management and implementation for IT vendor solutions. "The law department is my biggest client but we coordinate document management with all the company's businesses," she says.

Bautista's team needs to identify client requirements while minimizing business impact during implementations. It acts as a central point of contact for vendors, and collaborates with IT to ensure appropriate support from external vendors and see that the vendors are effectively managed and contracts are fully leveraged.

Bautista is originally from Mexico City, Mexico. "In high school I thought about becoming an electronics engineer," she says, "but then I realized that computers can mix electronics with creating new systems."

She earned a 1994 BS in computer engineering at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM, Mexico City) in 1994 and an MSCS from ITAM in 1996. "ITAM was like the Harvard of Mexico," she explains. "There was a good mix of men and women but men always dominated."

She went on to an MS in networks and IS for enterprises from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Télécommunications (Rennes, France) in 1997.

After she finished that degree she joined JP Morgan in Mexico City. "But after a few years, I began to think about my career. My English was very bad so I quit my job to study English." She studied in Vancouver, Canada for eight months before returning to Mexico City to find a new job.

"My grandfather saw an ad in the newspaper for Sun Life and I sent a resume. Four months later I was hired."

She believes her Latino heritage helps her build trust. At Sun Life she is co-chair of the Hispanic Organization for Latinos and Achievers (HOLA), a group that increases awareness of diversity. It promotes and encourages personal development of Hispanic pros as well as facilitating their recruitment and retention.

Four years ago Bautista joined the Boston chapter of the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting (ALPFA). It's the largest Latino association for business pros and students in the U.S., and Bautista is VP of IT and communications and a member of the board. "Sun Life sponsors this organization so it gives me company exposure, but it's also an environment where I can develop my leadership skills," she concludes.

Tasha Morris Kitty.Tasha Morris Kitty, senior HR resources program consultant, adds that Sun Life supports a number of professional organizations including ALPFA and the Urban League's Young Professionals Network, as well as community partners like a residential home for LGBT teens and the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence.

"Our recruitment efforts reflect our approach to diversity and include college relations at local colleges and HBCUs, participation in the Out for Work national career conference and a partnership with the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission," Kitty notes.

Kendell Moore is a PM at BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina
Kendell Moore."I'm happy to be in the middle," reflects Kendell Moore. "My minority status as an African American woman has been neither help nor hindrance and that's fine with me. I'm confident in my skills, abilities and track record. I trust that management recognizes and appreciates my value." Moore is a program manager at BlueCross Blue- Shield of South Carolina (SC BlueCross, Columbia, SC).

When Moore was a senior in high school she took a CS class and liked it. "I liked the idea of writing something and then seeing it transpire into something crafty!

"When I had to decide on a college degree, I found that my love of computers and programming had stuck. I knew it was what I wanted to do."

Moore graduated from South Carolina State University in 1992 with a BSCS and a minor in math. In 2007 she got an MS in postgrad studies with a specialization in IT management from Furman University (Greenville, SC).

When she got her BS she worked for an insurance company in Kansas for a few years; she joined SC BlueCross in 1996. "I was a senior programmer when I joined the company and after a couple of years I was an administrator for the automated letter generating system. But I didn't feel I was using my IT skills and growing, so I decided to step out of that role."

She left SC BlueCross briefly in 1998 to work as a senior programmer for a bank. But "The bank was a smaller shop and much less structured," she found. "I am a very structured person with a strong sense of quality." And so she returned to SC BlueCross as a systems analyst working on financial systems, and then as a project manager in the company's first project management office.

In 2002 Moore took a two-year hiatus to stay at home with her new son. She returned to SC BlueCross in 2004 to work in the commercial project management office as a senior PM. "I was working on several new business projects with other Blue plans and external customers," she remembers.

In 2007 she was promoted to program manager with responsibility for a team of project managers. In 2008 she was asked to manage the HIPAA 5010 government mandate program of projects with a budget of more than $20 million. She had eight projects.

Now Moore is managing the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems Tenth Revision (ICD-10) program, another large government mandate effective in 2013. ICD-10 will be used to better classify diseases and other health problems recorded on many types of health and vital records.

Moore currently has five people reporting directly to her; four are project managers and one is a project support analyst.

Moore happens to be the only African American female program manager in her division. "Quality is never an accident," she says with a smile.

Cedric Edwards is an app development director at Cigna
After more than twenty years at global health services company Cigna (West Hartford, CT), Cedric Edwards is app development director in the company's Philadelphia, PA office. He is responsible for supporting all production apps for the group insurance division's internal and external business partners. Edwards has thirty people reporting to him in Philadelphia and Montreal, Canada.

"It's a fun job," he says with pleasure, involving multi-faceted responsibilities. One of them is "to ensure that all my customers' applications are available when they're supposed to be. If an application is supposed to be ready at six in the morning, that's when it has to be ready."

These apps touch all points in the claims model, allowing customers to look at all claims data. "We also monitor systems in order to work through any infrastructure changes in the environment that may occur," Edwards continues. "For example, if there are any desktop changes we schedule testing and evaluation to see what the impact is to the applications.

"We are the first point of contact for customers if there is any problem. They call the customer support center and that report is triaged so it can be managed correctly."

Edwards heads up the group insurance production support team, which supports sales, underwriting, finance, claims and customer service production apps. "It's made up of application developers, project managers and business analysts," he explains. "The developers work with a range of technologies like mainframe and the .Net apps, the project managers orchestrate workflow whenever we get technical bulletins that a change has been made, and the business analysts are the interface between IT and the actual business unit."

Edwards considers himself a "career" Cigna person. "I worked as a co-op in the company and was impressed with their willingness to let me do things and the way they made me feel I was adding value."

When Edwards was growing up in New Jersey his uncle worked for IBM. "He had one of the first TRS-80 computers and we used to play backgammon on it. He was always the first one to have new technology."

Edwards went to the University of West Alabama where he majored in business admin with a computer info processing minor. He graduated in 1989.

"Being African American has not really had any effect on my career," Edwards says. "Cigna embraces diversity and I have always had people of color around me, even when I first joined the company." That was how he knew this was a company he could grow in.

Today Edwards belongs to Cigna's corporate diversity council. "It makes sure we're doing programs across all our cultures: gender, generational, everything."

He's also an executive board member of the Philadelphia chapter of BDPA, a member of the Urban League of Philadelphia, a volunteer with Cigna's "Beyond School Walls" program with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and a running leader with the "Students Run Philly Style" program.

"My immediate future is in IT," says Edwards, "but I see my career growing as I take on more responsibilities. I'm trying to prepare a five-year plan, and eventually I'd like to move to the corporate side or even our international healthcare business.

"My biggest thing is to develop the folks who work with me so they can have the same opportunities that I've had, whether they're people of color or not."

Nandini Easwar leads two teams at Esurance
Nandini Easwar.Nandini Easwar is a development manager at Esurance (San Francisco, CA), responsible for two separate teams. "I lead a finance team whose offshore component I created from scratch," she explains, "and since last June I also lead the response center development team (RCDT). That's also a hybrid team, half onsite and half offshore in Mexico."

The finance team supports and builds payment processing platforms and interfaces with third-party vendors and large banks. "It covers the full cycle including daily and monthly reconciliation, generating invoices and working with the accounts receivable department."

The RCDT handles all applications used by the customer service center in Sioux Falls, SD. "The customer service reps need to be able to quickly identify the reason for the call, the type of policy being discussed and so forth.

"All these applications are designed in-house," Easwar notes. "The insurance industry is so regulated that it's much better to work with in-house, custom-built systems than to rely on outside vendors."

Easwar grew up in India, the daughter of a judge. "Even when I was in school I guess I knew that I wanted to go into programming," she says. She got her undergrad degree in CS and engineering from the University of Pune (Maharashtra, India) in 2003.

Then she came to the U.S. where she found a job as a software developer at Intelli-Media (Malvern, PA) while she worked on her 2004 MS in computer and information services at Temple University (Philadelphia, PA).

Her next job was in financial services, where she had a similar job responsibility. "Susquehanna International Group (SIG, Philadelphia, PA) was my introduction to the trading and financial world and I absolutely loved it," she remembers.

SIG was a turning point for her. "As a software developer, it was more than just programming, debugging and all that. I drew the relationship between the back-end technological framework and the front-end business needs of the company."

In 2005 she followed her fiancé to San Francisco and worked briefly for a company that manufactured recruitment management software used by HR departments for tasks like resume collection.

Easwar joined Esurance at the end of 2006. "I started as a software developer and quickly moved up to project lead, skipping over the senior developer role. In 2009 I was promoted to manager." Her team built apps in the finance domain, partnering with billing and accounting teams, and also in the response center arena where they provided complete IT support for sustained productivity of the customer service reps.

Easwar plans to stay at Esurance and hopes to eventually reach the director level. "Esurance is a very diverse company with lots of opportunities," she says. "I love being part of the onsite and offshore model where all of IT speaks one common language. That is the nature of IT today, and the insurance industry is at the forefront of translating that into reality."

How to succeed at Esurance
"Smart, driven IT professionals like Nandini are what we need to succeed in such a highly competitive industry," says Sandy Hynes, Esurance HR VP. "Successful IT professionals at the company have strong technical skills and can work in a fast-paced, collaborative environment.

"We hire technology professionals with at least a four-year college degree in CS or a related field plus hands-on experience working in a Microsoft-based environment, and working knowledge of C#, ASP.NET, XML, SQL Server 2000/2005, Web services, HTML, XML, XSL and XSD. Certifications in Microsoft and Cisco are highly desired.

"Esurance is a great environment for IT professionals because technology is such an integral part of our business model. The rich diversity of our associates makes it an exciting and fun place to work, and they are building cutting-edge technology that is changing the landscape of the insurance industry," says Hynes.

DeLaina Cox directs process management at Nationwide
DeLaina Cox.DeLaina Cox is a director of process management at Nationwide (Columbus, OH). "I'm the portfolio leader for the integrated application services area," she explains. "We support the company functionally across all Nationwide Financial lines of business. Our group consists of the data warehouse, electronic business-to-business, finance, payments, statements, i-media, imaging and workflow and contact center application areas."

Her group has one of the largest portfolios in the company, she says. Her team initiates the portfolio's IT project work, which requires "lots of coordination." For Cox, that means planning project durations and meeting application area leaders and others to explain what's coming up that will impact their areas. Then they review the resources each area has and what gaps there may be between need and availability.

Cox has been at Nationwide for more than eleven years. She joined the company out of college.

When she planned for college, Cox looked for schools that had a strong emphasis on computer technology. She knew even then that she wanted to program business applications. She graduated from Ohio State University in 1989 with a degree in IS through the college of business.

In programming, "People either got it or they didn't," she recalls. "You either picked it up and ran with it or you struggled. I was blessed to be one of the people who picked it up."

On graduation she joined Nationwide. "It had a large IT department with lots of openings and I started as an entry-level programmer. But after a few months I received an offer from Columbia Gas." The gas company had a smaller IT department, where Cox believed she would have more opportunities to contribute.

After two years she moved to Victoria's Secret as a programmer analyst, later systems analyst. She was there for three years, responsible for the store's financial systems and its complex carton-tracking system. The work was exciting and challenging, but by now Cox was starting a family and began to wish for a better balance between work and home. So when she learned of an opportunity at Nationwide she rejoined the company as a consultant and became a fulltime employee a year later.

Today Cox has two portfolio coordinators reporting to her. She describes her management style as "very inclusive. I try to allow people to have space to do what they are able to do. I'm not a micromanager but I want to be available to them if necessary."

As to the future, "I think a lot about my career plan," Cox says. "I've pretty much made the decision to stay within IT but branch out into different areas: perhaps testing/QA or a business consulting role."

Kimmy Ho-Nguyen is a systems analyst with State Farm
Kimmy Ho-Nguyen.Kimmy Ho-Nguyen joined State Farm Insurance Companies (Bloomington, IL) in 2004. In 2010 she moved to the Austin, TX office where she works remotely, reporting to the IT department in Bloomington.

She's a Web systems analyst with the company's mobile applications team. The team supports and develops statefarm.com site features and apps for mobile devices like the Apple iPhone and Android smart phones.

Ho-Nguyen was born in Wichita, KS, the first generation of her family born in America.

"I've always been a gadget girl, into electronics and computers, the latest and the greatest," Ho-Nguyen says. As a college student she helped manage her family's business. In 2003 she completed a BS in business admin with a concentration in IS management at Wayne State University (Detroit, MI). Then she moved to Illinois to join her fiancé who had been with State Farm since 1999, and later joined the company at his recommendation. "I followed my heart," she says.

Her first job was at the twenty-four-hour call center, "as a telephone rep talking with customers after hours when they couldn't reach their agent." After a year she applied for a position as a mainframe Cobol developer. "I didn't have any Cobol training but State Farm put me through a three-month training program."

She stayed in Cobol for three years, then applied for a Java and Web development opening and enrolled in a masters program, working fulltime and going to school at night. "State Farm has a tuition reimbursement program for advanced degrees," she notes.

The Java job put her to work on internal apps development: one of her projects was to rewrite a basic company app from Visual Basic to Java. In 2009 she completed her MSIS in Internet apps development at Illinois State University, and a year later she moved into her current mobile Web development job.

Ho-Nguyen thinks the State Farm culture is collaborative and dynamic, and she's happy its IT area includes so many women. "Most of the IT teams have almost equal numbers of men and women," she reports.

She's a member of the company's young business professionals network and on the board of the membership committee for State Farm's AsiaNet group that works to promote the Asian community and culture within the organization.

Kedi Nkosi is an apps specialist at American Family Insurance
Kedi Nkosi.Kedi Nkosi overcame obstacles on the way to her job as apps tech engineer specialist at American Family Insurance (Madison, WI). She was born in South Africa and came to the U.S. in 1998.

"I was going to school in Soweto during the apartheid years," she says. "I didn't even know what a computer was until they took us on a field trip in my senior year and showed us a big machine that did wonderful things."

After high school Nkosi started college on a scholarship for pre-med but changed her mind the first time she was asked to dissect a frog, she remembers with a laugh. She switched to computers and worked on the languages available at that time, Fortran and Cobol. "IBM came to recruit from the black colleges in South Africa. I was one of only ten students they picked and the only freshman."

But before she finished college the 1976 Soweto uprisings began, resulting in the deaths of almost 600 people, mostly black. "I stopped going to college during the riots," Nkosi says. "IBM wanted me to go back to finish college as soon as they were over, but by that time I was caring for my three brothers and sisters at home."

Nkosi returned to college in 1979 and completed a degree in business management at the University of South Africa (Pretoria, SA). Then she went to work for First National Bank (FNB), left for a few years to be a consultant and returned to FNB before coming to the U.S. in 1998.

Nkosi, her husband, three children and youngest brother all came to the U.S. planning to spend a year here, "But we decided to stay," she says. "I wanted to see what opportunities there were in this country."

She started at American Family as a consultant in 1998 and was hired full-time four years later. Her title of specialist is the highest of three programmer levels. "I have been on the tech side and also a project manager," she says. "I prefer the technical part because I am most comfortable in front of a computer."

Nkosi analyzes systems to make sure they can handle any projects the lines of business may require. Her biggest internal client is the auto insurance group.

American Family's commitment to diversity is a major reason for Nkosi's twelve-year tenure there. Scott Wilde, sourcing and diversity specialist, says, "At American Family Insurance our corporate mission is directly supported by our commitment to diversity. We're proud that the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of our employees lead to greater innovation and superior customer service."

Jessica Varnell: systems analyst at BCBST
Jessica Varnell."I work on a data integration team of about thirty people," explains Jessica Varnell, systems analyst in the IT division of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBST, Chattanooga, TN). Her team is a diverse group including people from India, the Philippines, Argentina and Germany.

The team handles many different projects in the IT area. Varnell is IT lead for the company's Medicare Advantage Part D program, managing a project team of ten-plus employees and contractors working in eight different IT areas. "We see to it that everything is done and implemented correctly," she explains. "It's a coordinated IT effort that ensures that all the data is consolidated and stored in the enterprise data warehouse."

She has been at BCBST for ten years, after a brief stint as a mechanic at a company that spun yarn. She went to Chattanooga State Technical Community College (Chattanooga, TN) at night for her 2001 associates degree in CS.

Her father has been in IT for more than thirty years, and "I wanted to see what he had been doing all that time," she says with a smile. One of her professors was a BCBST manager who arranged an interview.

"Education is a huge part of my life," Varnell says, "and BCBST encourages employees to pursue higher education." Since she's been at the company she's earned a 2007 BS in business admin from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and she expects to complete an MBA from the Goizueta Business School at Emory University (Atlanta, GA) this year.

Varnell's mother is from Colombia, but Varnell was born in Chattanooga and spent most of her childhood there. Nevertheless, "I wear a Colombian bracelet as a reminder of my heritage," she says. "I'm very proud of my culture and try to spend time in Colombia every year."

At BCBST Varnell mentors the next generation of employees. "There are a lot of younger people coming in," she says enthusiastically. "I was the youngest person in the IT division for a really long time so it feels good to help them integrate into the company culture. I mentor them but they also teach me a lot!"

Outside work Varnell is a member of the Young Professionals Association of Chattanooga, and she coordinated BCBST's first sponsorship of the organization in 2009. She's also a member of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA) and on the board of the University of Tennessee's young alumni association.

"I want to build on my IT background," says Varnell. "I believe I have very good interpersonal skills and can see the larger business picture."

Willetta Richie leads a HIPAA enterprise initiative at BCBSF
Willetta Richie."I was always looking for something different," says Willetta Richie. When Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida (BCBSF, Jacksonville, FL) advertised an IT job, "I figured I'd send in my resume to see if they'd bite. I went for an interview and was hired the next day."

Richie is a native of Jacksonville, FL. She went to local schools and later to Jacksonville University, where she received a BS in business management in 1998.

One of her early assignments at BCBSF was working with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) 4010, a federal mandate written by Congress in 1996. "I was hired as a junior IT project manager and had the opportunity to work on that initiative the first year I was here," says Richie.

In January 2009 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published the final rule on compliance dates, and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) version became the new standard. Today Richie is leading the enterprise initiative for HIPAA 5010 at BCBSF. "I guess I love HIPAA," she says with a smile.

HIPAA 5010 is the result of feedback from insurance carriers and providers to improve the electronic claims process. "My responsibility is to ensure that our team – about thirty people across all organizational areas of the company – accurately assesses changes that are required, determines the impacts to the appropriate systems and captures all necessary information.

"We have to create test scenarios based on the mandate itself to be sure they align with its requirements, and to make sure they don't break anything we already have in place!"

Richie's first job out of high school was as a claims examiner at Prudential. "I have always been in insurance," she says. "Insurance is an evolving industry and I like change!"

She was hired as an analyst at BCBSF but transferred into IT. Working at Blue Cross gave her the chance to return to college and complete her education.

"We have a very diverse organization and there is opportunity to grow in multiple roles: business analyst, architect, claims, whatever you want to be. The organization gives me the opportunity to pursue education that enhances my skills and helps me be successful."

Richie serves on the IT diversity business council at BCBSF and is on the board of directors for the African American employee resource group. She has a project manager certification from the Project Management Institute and is affiliated with The Links, Inc, one of the nation's oldest and largest volunteer service organizations of women working with people of African ancestry. She's also active with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc (www.aka1908.com, Washington, DC), an international service organization founded on the campus of Howard University in 1908.


Check websites for current openings.

Company and location Business area
Allstate Insurance Company (Northbrook, IL)
Insurance and financial services
American Family Insurance (Madison, WI)
Auto, homeowners, life, health, business and farm/ranch insurance
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida
(Jacksonville, FL) www.bcbsfl.com
Blue Cross and Blue Shield licensee; health insurance
BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina
(Columbia, SC) www.southcarolinablues.com
Blue Cross and Blue Shield licensee; health insurance
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee
(Chattanooga, TN) www.bcbst.com
Blue Cross and Blue Shield licensee; health insurance
Cigna (Philadelphia, PA)
Healthcare products and services, life, accident and disability insurance and expatriate benefits
Esurance (San Francisco, CA)
Direct-to-consumer personal automobile insurance
Highmark (Pittsburgh, PA)
Health insurance in Pennsylvania and West Virginia
Humana Inc (Louisville, KY)
Health and supplemental benefits solutions
MassMutual Insurance (Springfield, MA)
Life insurance, disability income insurance, long-term care insurance, retirement/401(k) plan services, annuities
Nationwide (Columbus, OH)
Full range of personalized insurance and financial services
New York Life Insurance Company
(New York, NY) www.newyorklife.com
Life insurance, retirement income, investment management, long-term care insurance
Prudential Financial (Newark, NJ)
Life insurance, annuities, retirement-related services, mutual funds, investment management, real estate services
State Farm Insurance Companies
(Bloomington, IL) www.statefarm.com
Automobile and homeowner insurance
Sun Life Financial (Wellesley, MA)
Annuities, employee benefits, life insurance and investments

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