Interview with Bobbie Racette
Bobbie Racette starts each day with a coffee and an ops meeting at the Calgary startup she founded; and that’s where the routine ends. Every day is different at Virtual Gurus, a growing company that supports clients across North America with virtual assistants in various fields. With an acute awareness of the challenges and barriers women face in the tech industry, Bobbie brings a fresh take and “what would I do?” attitude to her work. We asked Bobbie about what attracted her to tech, how she’s transformed the barriers she’s faced, and the ways in which she is advancing and supporting others in the First Nations community.
[Zeynep Tuck] Can you tell us about what your average day looks like?
[Bobbie Racette] I wish! There really is no such thing as an average day in a startup – we try to remain as agile as possible to deal with client challenges as they arise, to be able to onboard new contractors as needed, and to be available to coach existing contractors and work with sales to bring on new business.
A day will always include coffee, a brief operations meeting with the project managers who run the team and [supervision of] our billing department. Aside from that, I try to make myself available for meetings, client correspondence, and as support for my full-time staff. We’re very busy with more than 50 contractors and staff, so, as you can imagine, there are a ton of moving parts. No day is the same [as the others].
[ZT] What attracted you to work in tech? Was it a life-long dream, or was there some other factor that pushed you to it?
[BR] I love how tech allows you to really take charge of your life. I’ve built a company that gives our employees the flexibility to all be entrepreneurs in their own right, and really build out their own skill set. I wanted to have that kind of freedom in my life and to nurture a company that encourages independence and team building. Tech is such a great space to do this in because we’re building something from scratch that not only meets a demand in the market, but also fits into the kind of life I wanted to design for myself, and the kind of community I wanted to be a part of.
I wouldn’t say it was a life-long dream as I did not consider myself techie back in the day, however when I came up with the concept of the business, I had quickly realized that I would need to be [more tech-savvy] and work hard to stay updated with all the trends. So, I started studying!
[ZT] There’s a lot of buzz around “building your community” as key to being successful in tech. What does your “community” look like?
[BR] I think in any new space, community is hugely important. Every industry has one, from not-for-profits to oil and gas companies. Granted, all of them vary from one industry to the next, but one thing that consistently stands out to me is how supportive the tech community is. Because it’s such a broad term, we’re in the same space, but not necessarily competing for mind or market share, because our ideas are so different.
So, instead of saying ‘oh, you just signed so-and-so, there goes my shot with them,’ it’s more of ‘hey I think this client of mine would love to use you for x,y,z – let me connect you!’
There’s a collaborative feel and a lot of idea sharing, versus a feeling of anyone being out to get you. It’s a very humbling community to be a part of because we really all are helping each other live out our dream jobs.
[ZT] What kind of barriers have you faced as a woman in tech, and how did you overcome them?
[BR] As with being a woman in any industry, there’s always going to be a bit of mansplaining happening and we all have our own experiences and challenges, honestly, being a part of that change and being a successful woman in tech has been a huge gift (and is the result of a ton of hard work, and also some kick ass female employees supporting me!) because it’s allowed me to have a voice to support other women in this space. Any barriers I’ve faced, and let’s be honest they range from getting investments, to being taken seriously in a room where I’m the only female owned and operated company, have helped me learn to communicate in a way that’s not defensive but open and willing to learn and grow with my business. I try to look at any barrier not as a wall to break through, but as an opportunity to get communicate better and to connect, as opposed to letting it become something that keeps me separate from my peers – because we all belong on the same side together.
[ZT] What does the phrase “diversity in tech” mean to you?
[BR] To me, diversity in tech means that there is room for all of us – each company I’ve come across is incredibly different and offers its own set of solutions for a million different gaps in the market that we’re all just trying to take our piece of. Certainly, it also means creating a space that is inclusive of gender, race, background, education, and tech itself. Not everyone is going to have ground-breaking technology off the bat, it’s up us to utilize what’s already existing sometimes while we grow platforms and being a shrewd enough business person to determine which battles to fight today, and what we can solve tomorrow. As a First Nations person, mentoring youth and supporting them in business (specifically tech as it’s my industry) has always been, and will continue to be a primary objective both in my personal growth and in my professional endeavours. As a mentor for the In.Business program for Aboriginal Youth at Cape Breton University, I am able to offer support, guidance, advice and even just an ear to youth – it’s a profound opportunity, and one I feel strongly about, to take the lessons I’ve learned from my own experience, and share them with the younger community in an effort for them to benefit from my experiences and path that I’ve chosen. I want to show First Nations youth that there is room for everyone in Tech.
[ZT] Is there anything else you’d like to add?
[BR] Just that it’s been such an honour to meet the people I’ve met and be supported by my community at every turn and that as we grow, we’re looking forward to growing our Guru family and meeting new great clients along the way!
We would like to thank Jenn Delconte for nominating Bobbie and helping us share her story with the Women in Tech World community through our Voices of Women in Tech series.
by Zeynep Tuck