Liquid Web’s Vice President of Engineering on her greatest inspirations, getting started in tech, and her hopes for the future of women in technology.
Wendy Shepperd didn’t always want to be a technologist. Her first aspirations were to become a neurosurgeon. In high school, she volunteered in the neurology ward at Brackenridge Hospital and was inspired to go into the field to help others. “Then I ran into Chemistry,” she explained. She was failing a class for the first time at the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Texas with no hope of recovering a passing grade. Shepperd dropped the class and changed her major to Computer Science. “Programming was really taking off at the time! This was before the Internet and the World Wide Web. It’s funny to think about now.”
Luckily for her, the characteristics that make a good neurosurgeon aren’t dissimilar from those that make a great technologist— attention to detail, precision, and exceptional problem-solving skills. She is grateful now that she made the leap.
As the Vice President of Engineering at Liquid Web, Wendy Shepperd leads the company’s software development and site reliability engineering organization. She also oversees operations for Liquid Web’s Managed Application product offerings, including Managed WordPress, WooCommerce Hosting, Cloud Sites, and Cloud Servers. She takes great pride in her work, which enables small businesses to focus on what they do best— while Liquid Web handles the technology.
She brings nearly 25 years in the technology industry to her role at Liquid Web, beginning her career working for the state of Texas as a software developer. “This was when the internet was still in its infancy,” she says. “There was a book called ‘The World Wide Web’, and it contained all URLs on the Internet— in a printed book! Had you told me then that we would hold the power of a mainframe in the palm of our hands like we do today with our smartphones, watching videos and instantly communicating with other people, sharing photos and documents, I wouldn’t have believed it!” Now, her work is fueled by a belief in the field’s endless possibilities.
She attributes much of her success to the women leaders, coaches, and mentors who have guided her through the unique challenges that accompany being a woman in a male-dominated work environment. It was her grandmother, though— who lived to be 96— who has had the most influence on her life. “She took care of me for the first part of my life, and I took care of her for the last part of her life.” Shepperd listened to her grandmother’s experiences— being born in 1916, living through multiple wars, the Great Depression, changes in every aspect of the world— and developed a greater understanding of perseverance and confidence in her own abilities through her grandmother’s stories. “She was my greatest cheerleader and confidant. I still laugh to this day at how she would tell people, ‘My granddaughter is “in” computers.’ She never learned to use one.”
Wendy Shepperd wants women in technology to know their value and to stay curious. “Curiosity and courage are two traits that will allow anyone to succeed in a career in technology. When you have questions, ask them! Sometimes earlier in our careers and especially as women, we often hold back from asking questions because we worry about what other people will think. Ask the question! Be heard and learn,” she says.
Another word of wisdom? Stop using the word ‘just’. “For example, ‘I just wanted to ask a question.’ ‘I just wanted to share an idea.’ ‘I just wanted you to know,’ and so on. I promise you can go the rest of your life without using the word ‘just.’ It is unnecessary, provides no value, and is another form of apologizing for what you are about to say and weakens your position.”
She encourages other women considering a career in technology to always continue learning and adapting, and in doing so gaining new perspective and confidence in who they are and what is important to them. She also emphasizes the importance of listening more than you talk. “It is natural for us to think more about what we want to say and want others to hear, rather than truly listening to others, in our professional and personal lives,” she says. “We learn so much more from patient, active listening.”
When asked about the prospects for women in technology, Shepperd is optimistic. She is excited about the tools and focused programs now available for girls interested in STEM and is encouraged by the number of women she sees entering the field and holding key leadership positions. “The future is bright,” she said, “and the possibilities endless.”