Blackbaud CTO a role model in tech industry

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Mary Beth Westmoreland is a problem solver – whether it’s automating her house or helping one of the country’s fastest-growing public tech companies navigate the transition to a cloud-based strategy.

But these challenges are nothing new for Blackbaud’s chief technology officer. Westmoreland said she’s always loved solving problems. She was good at math and science as a child and those subjects came easily to her. With her skills and a supportive family, Westmoreland forged a path in the technology industry – even at a time when few women were working in the field.

“For me, that was a really big deal feeling like I had that great support structure and confidence,” she said.

Armed with self-assuredness and a degree in mathematics and physics from Immaculata University near Philadelphia, Westmoreland launched a professional career that would eventually make her a role model for women in Charleston eager to pursue their own work in technology.

Westmoreland worked 15 years as a programmer at the Savannah River National Laboratory where she eventually managed the company’s enterprise and technical systems engineering organizations. She was recruited away by Ipswitch, Inc., a software company near Boston. Westmoreland took on the role of vice president of research and development, leading product development for the company’s full product portfolio.

But about eight years ago, Westmoreland was ready to make a change. Her son was about 10 years old at the time and she was often away from home traveling for work. It was time to find a new venture.

Heading South

Westmoreland’s husband, also an engineer, was from the Southeast, so she started looking at the South for opportunities in her field, but with added challenges and the chance to flex those problem-solving muscles.

“I wanted to find an awesome tech company with potential to grow,” she says.

She found just what she wanted in Blackbaud, arguably one of Charleston’s great tech success stories. The company develops software and services for nonprofit organizations, education institutions, foundations, and other charitable giving entities around the globe. Started 35 years ago and headquartered on Daniel Island, Blackbaud has grown its scope and has offices around the world, serving some 35,000 customers.

Hired as Blackbaud’s CTO eight years ago, Westmoreland has found that the opportunity to make an impact at Blackbaud is even greater than she’d anticipated.

“What keeps me here is the people I work with,” she says. “The opportunity we have here to make an impact is something I never expected. We [help organizations] deliver fresh water and serve the local community animal shelter. I have the best job in the whole world – cool clients, making an impact, and great tech people.”

Reaching for the clouds

One of the greatest tech innovations to come along during Westmoreland’s time at Blackbaud has been the Cloud, allowing companies to move from physical products like a CD to storing products in a network of servers accessible via the Internet.

In her role as CTO, Westmoreland is providing the overall guidance for Blackbaud’s strategy, user experience, and content. She’s working with software architects, content developers, and the user education team on what she calls “some of the most challenging, innovative and flat-out awesome projects.”

Her efforts have been most impactful in crafting a Cloud transformation strategy as the company shifts from delivering a product to a client via CD to subscription-based Cloud services. The transition is ongoing as the company refocuses, transforming its architecture, solutions, and engineering practices, Westmoreland said.

She says it takes the entire company to make this shift, but, even so, describes it as one of the most fun and challenging things she’s ever done.

“We’re no longer giving you this software, we’re giving you new features all the time,” Westmoreland says. “It helps [the customer] in ways we weren’t able to five or 10 years ago. We’re taking advantage of best-in-class solutions. This is innovation at a level I’ve not done before, honestly. We have the talent and vision. I feel very lucky.”

That innovation hasn’t gone unnoticed by the larger technology and business world. Blackbaud made Forbes’ 25 Fastest Growing Public Tech Companies list for 2016. Coming in at No. 25, Blackbaud was among such household names as Amazon, Facebook and PayPal. Blackbaud also was ranked No. 78 on Forbes 2016 Most Innovative Growth Companies list.

The next generation

It’s clear that Westmoreland has a passion for her work at Blackbaud, but there’s another area of the tech world that has captured her attention: growing a new generation of women in technology. Yet she didn’t always feel that way. One of just a couple female engineers at the Savannah River National Laboratory, Westmoreland says she never wanted to be labeled as a “female engineer” but simply as an “engineer.”

“But it’s not about me. It about all those brilliant young women in computer science looking for role models, and I want to help as much as a can,” she says.

To that end, she’s on the advisory board for Charleston Women in Tech, a collaborative effort of women leaders, educators and tech professionals to support and mentor women of all ages in the technology industry. Westmoreland is also involved in the Charleston Iron Yard, Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, and often speaks to high school and college classes.

She supports Camp Blackbaud, a partnership with Charleston Promise Neighborhood in which students in at-risk Charleston neighborhoods spend two days at Blackbaud learning about product development, coding and design.

“We learn as much from these kids as they learn from us,” Westmoreland says. “They get so excited and come up with some really innovative ideas. It reminds me of how exciting and awesome the work we do is.”

The girl with a penchant for problem solving was able to blend her skills and interests into work she obviously enjoys. That life lesson is one she shares regularly with students or young women who seek out her advice.

“Find something you love. Don’t settle,” she says. “Where you can couple your skills with your passion that’s where the magic happens. Forget about the dollars. No matter what you choose, if you couple your skills with passion, the sky’s the limit.”

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