AiAllies – Crystal Collier, Consultant
From working on nuclear disarmament in the US, to managing millions of engagements with online players for some of the most popular video game franchises ever created, Crystal Collier is no stranger to challenging herself in a variety of roles and excelling across the STEM industries, having worked across public and private sectors at the highest level for over 25 years.
As part of Artificial Solutions´ AiAllies initiative, Crystal shares her story in order to encourage more women to seek out opportunities that are being created throughout the global STEM fields. Her insights also include actionable advice for organizations aiming to become more inclusive, diverse and equal.
From Shakespeare to Subatomic Science
Like other industry leaders to have shared stories as part of the AiAllies series, Crystal didn’t take a conventional route into the technology sector.
“I have a bachelors and a masters in English”, she laughed.
“When I was a student, my goal was to be a college professor and develop a career in academia, which I really loved at the time, but I accidentally started making money outside of that world and thought ´this is awesome!´, and that only happened because I was working in a freelance capacity while I was waiting to begin work on my PHD.”
“I was working as an editor for the Department of Energy in the US, on a project focused on the reconfiguration of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex. It was post Cold War and we had to figure out what we were going to do with all of these nukes! What were we going to do with all of this waste? And what were we going to do with the nuclear weapons manufacturing plants?”
Through the process of reading and editing content focused on highly technical and technologically advanced systems, Crystal learned about the impact that technology could have on projects of significant scale.
“Our work made it safer to handle nuclear weapons and allowed us to support operations in a more environmentally, economically and socioeconomically sound way. I looked at the technology that was used and thought it could have various applications for helping businesses as well as creating a better future.”
Having witnessed the power that tech could have across a government and its many organizations, Crystal moved into the private sector, where she worked with some of the largest and most well-known businesses in the world.
“I worked for AOL right at the inception point of the internet, so I was able to support major digital transformation in the early days of the digital world. Seeing how much of an impact the internet had on the lives of normal people convinced me that I needed to work in this space in order to have a career that was fulfilling, rewarding and progressive.”
After six productive years with AOL, Crystal moved into consulting and helped to create relationships between customers and businesses through the implementation of technology for a range of organizations, eventually leading her to a position as the Head of Strategy, Programs and Insights with Electronic Arts (EA) and her first real interactions with Artificial Intelligence.
“It was incredible to see how users could be supported with technology and AI systems. I worked on the FIFA, Madden and Star Wars games, which were incredibly popular, so you can imagine how many online users we needed to support. AI systems helped us to do that.”
After a number of years working across the EA ecosystem, Crystal moved back into consulting and has been operating across the tech sector, working on some of the largest digital transformation projects in the industry ever since.
So, it would be fair to say that Crystal is well placed to share advice and insights on how to be successful as a woman in the technology sector.
“I honestly believe that anyone who wants to learn about technology and how it is built can enjoy a long a successful career in the industry. My father taught me that I could achieve whatever I wanted if I worked hard and that has served me well so far!”
Changing the Game for Women in Tech
Having spent 25 years in the technology industry and in a traditionally male dominated space, Crystal has learned valuable lessons for navigating the sector and maintaining success along the way.
“I think the single most important message I would pass on, is that nobody should be afraid of trying to work in tech. Even if you don’t have a background in math, science or any kind of engineering, it really doesn’t matter. You can focus on simply solving problems for businesses. The process of learning how technology can do that is interesting and fun!”
Crystal also says that a focus on developing communication skills can have a huge impact on a woman’s career.
“Just being a good writer and a good listener is critical because that will allow you to find out what problems a business has by talking to everybody involved. From senior management to the end customer and all of the employees. You don’t have to know how to code to communicate with people, though that is a kind of code in itself.”
The importance of maintaining links to universities and developing networks is also a key point, as Crystal has worked hard to stay in touch with her own alumni and build new connections across the tech sector.
“I think graduates should work to stay in touch with professors and tap into the resources that their educational organizations have to offer. You might be surprised to learn how much a college / university could support your growth after you leave.”
“Virginia Tech has a lot of amazing networking groups and resources for women to access, such as Women in STEM, which I would highly recommend.”
Gwynne Shotwell, the CEO of SpaceX, serves as an inspiration to Crystal, highlighting her ability to work with Elon Musk and to push the boundaries of human endeavor. “She’s somebody worth following and learning from. She communicates really well and works with the media very closely. If you want to become a master communicator, she is a great example.”
A strong focus on finding personal mentors as well as inspirational figures is clear, as Crystal makes sure to highlight the support she has received throughout her own career.
“It’s so important to have somebody that you can turn to when dealing with career choices and nobody gets to enjoy big success without the support of other people.”
For women specifically, having belief and setting expectations is another key point highlighted.
“I think women should be supported to ask for what they want and to be able to set their own expectations. Confidence is such an important part of being successful, so learning how to harness that is important for women more so than men, who I think it comes a little more natural for.”
Finally, on the changes that the technology sector needs to make in order to create a more balanced and equal environment.
“I think the big tech companies can do a lot more. If they got together and formed a program as a group, that would be so powerful. They could just take five women each year, and heavily invest in their success. Five people to Meta is nothing!”
“Companies also need to have much better training for their own employees. There is too much emphasis on what people have done in the past instead of focusing on how much passion they have and willingness to learn for a role.”
If you would like to connect with Crystal Collier, you can follow her on LinkedIn, here.