Lisa Kavanaugh: Chief Product and Technology Officer, Ask.com
Meet one of Little PINK Book’s Top Women in Technology 2012
By Caroline Cox
As chief product and technology officer of question and answer-based search site Ask.com, Lisa Kavanaugh is responsible for all aspects of management, strategy and product development. She’s a developer of the company’s website and mobile app and helped launch several products and strategic partnerships.
There’s no doubt she’s a key reason the site boasts 63 million U.S. users monthly, even amidst competing sites like Yahoo and Google.
Education: University of California, Santa Barbara
Other work experience: Hewlett Packard
LPB: Where did you get your passion for technology?
LK: My dad got me interested and pointed me in that direction. He had a career in technology and made it something that wasn’t intimidating. He taught me to have respect for it, an understanding for its power and the doors it opened. Once I got that taste of building something, [then] watching it run and do what it was supposed to do, I was hooked. To me, it brings the same satisfaction you get from other problem solving, like a puzzle or Rubik’s Cube.
LPB: What was the biggest career obstacle you faced?
LK: Probably the transition from being an individual contributor to managing people and delegating. It’s a big change to rely on other people to get a job done. I came through an engineering track that involved a stint in project management. Tapping into those experiences was key in learning how to push outside my comfort zone and motivate and trust people to get things done that I typically had done. You have to make sure expectations are clear, put trust in your team and realize you can’t do everything alone. Relying on other people allows you to stay focused on your most important tasks.
LPB: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
LK: I was born in Italy and grew up in Alaska, though I didn’t grow up in an igloo or drive a dog sled to school. I speak German and have dual citizenship. I also love dressing up for costume parties. I can’t sew, but I have wicked glue gun skills.
LPB: How can more women be successful in the technology field?
LK: The fastest way to learn is to jump in and start doing it. There’s no such thing as being unprepared or unqualified. Technology is like learning a new language. If you go to France and start talking to people, you’ll eventually be fluent. Technology is the same, it’s just another skill set. Technology is part of everything we do. Every industry is impacted by it. Pick an area that interests you and look at how technology is woven in, because it’s something you’ll already be passionate about.
LPB: What’s your success secret?
LK: My biggest secret is to start doing a job before it’s yours. Look for problems and opportunities within the organization that you’re passionate about solving and start solving them. Don’t ask for permission. I give responsibility to people who have shown drive, passion and interest. The other thing is to think about what’s important to others and how you can help them. When you offer help to people, whether that’s your boss or a customer, they’ll be there for you down the road.
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