Nancy Zayed recognizes that there is a significant underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professions with a variety of factors contributing to this imbalance. But, as the cofounder and Chief Technology Officer of her own software payment security company, she chose not to be influenced by these facts and instead became an example of how women can achieve success in these industries. In this edition of our blog, Nancy discusses why we need to keep reminding ourselves that women have always affected this industry and that they actually lead innovation. She believes that knowing women’s role in the history of technology will propel their future.
How long have you been at MagicCube, Inc. and what is your role?
Nancy Zayed: I cofounded the company in 2014 as its only Engineer and its Chief Technology Officer.
How did you get started in the payments industry? What led you to that career choice?
Nancy Zayed: My background is in operating systems and video engineering. It doesn’t explain how I winded up in the payments industry, but it does explain the approach I took to designing a security technology in the payments industry: I came at it from a very different angle and my team just made it even better. MagicCube was founded to solve for security of payments by creating the concept of Software Defined Trust (SDT) rather than religiously rely on hardware or accept that the current methods for payment security are immutable rules.
Who has been your biggest role model in shaping your career path?
Nancy Zayed: I may be repeating something I shared publicly before, but I think very highly of Angela Merkel, the ex-German Chancellor, who is actually a quantum chemist. The fact that she is tough as nails, passionate of vision, true to her core values of realism and human dignity and just fearless made her, to me, a model and an inspiration. But before Angela Merkel, the foundation for any career path was laid by my father and my school principal (K-12): They both instilled in me to never be afraid of hard work and the importance of pride of craftsmanship.
When I was at Apple, it was then that the sense of “pride of craftsmanship” was taken to a whole new level just by following and observing the leadership of Steve Jobs and how he brought Apple from the brink of near-bankruptcy back to its role as a beacon for technology and a company that raised the bar for a whole industry.
What is your proudest accomplishment in your career to date?
Nancy Zayed: MagicCube is, by far, the proudest accomplishment in my career, to date. I couldn’t have been more proud of what my team and I accomplished, the day EMVCo recognized MagicCube’s virtual TEE as the first (to my knowledge the only so far) software based trusted execution environment.
Having said that, I am also proud to have helped secure Apple’s second Emmy presented by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences on the Primetime Engineering Award category for the company’s efforts and impact on the television industry.
Do you notice a lack of women in technology? If so, why do you think that is the case?
Nancy Zayed: Sadly, I do! I can tell you that it’s widely recognized through some studies from organizations and foundations such as AAUW, Microsoft, and the National Science Foundation that there is a significant underrepresentation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), especially in certain technical roles and leadership positions. There are many factors that contribute to this imbalance. There is the unspoken reality that the current professional models and molds were designed by men for men – not out of intentional gender discrimination, but rather by virtue of the fact that until the mid-20th century, the workforce was largely men. As more and more women joined the workforce in all industries, we focused on making advances along the obvious roads to equality but lost sight of the less obvious. There are also the unconscious biases, lack of role models and mentors, and a “bro” culture that is never inclusive or supportive of women or their needs.
In general, women in technology are in every way as productive and innovative as men. They just work differently as women, especially working moms, having to be “master jugglers” to take care of their homes, their families, and their work.
Many women in the tech industry have felt that their gender has affected the way that they are perceived or treated. Is ‘unconscious bias’ holding women back in the workplace and, if so, what can women do about it?
Nancy Zayed: I would like to tell women in the software industry, generally, that nobody will give you anything if you don’t ask and even fight for it. You have to be vocal. You’ve got to show your ambition and not apologize for it. The only intimidation we must conquer is the one that we impose on ourselves. “Bias” withers away when we stare it down.
It’s also important to acknowledge and recognize the many facets of your true nature. For example, even if you identify as a nurturing person, you can still be the ambitious STEM professional in your place of employment, but also involved in your community to satisfy the nurturer in you.
What do you see as the future for women in technology roles/payments industry?
Nancy Zayed: We need to keep reminding ourselves that women have always affected this industry and lead innovation. The examples are many. Look up the Ada programming language and you will learn about Ada Lovelace who is credited with the first computer program almost a century before the German engineer and computer pioneer Konrad Zuse. Grace Brewster Hopper was an American computer scientist, mathematician, and United States Navy rear admiral who invented one of the first linkers. Knowing women’s role in the history of technology will propel our future.
I believe and hope that more and more women will play more roles in the payments industry as I am starting to see some increase in women getting interested in software engineering. After all, it’s women that are the key driver for consumer spending, which keeps the economy going.
Were you given any advice during your career that has stuck with you? As a result, do you have a personal mantra or a famous quote that you live by?
Nancy Zayed: “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” – Steve Jobs
What advice would you impart to other women about how to succeed in the payment industry or in a technology-based field in general? What advice would you give to your younger self?
Nancy Zayed: Be assertive and confident. Just because you don’t know something, it doesn’t mean you’re less. I guarantee you that there is at least one other man in that same meeting who also doesn’t know.
Raise flags if something is not adding up for you. Chances are something is wrong. If there is nothing wrong, then you will have learned something (i.e., your value just increased!). Please remember that life comes in chapters. It is never too late. It is a lie that you can either be a mom or a STEM professional. It’s just not true.
As for my younger self, I’d tell her all the above and ask her to be more vocal. I’d emphasize to her the importance of developing her support network for personal and for professional needs.
Finally, I want all women to remember to extend equal opportunity to good women candidates and to NOT forget to support the men who support the women.