“One matchstick can break, but many are strong” – Meet WXN member Katherine Isaac
Katherine Isaac is a self-proclaimed techie. With a background in computer science, project management and business, she’s risen from manager to vice president of service delivery at Herjavec Group, a global cybersecurity firm that provides 24/7 protection to clients around the world. She also puts that passion to good use as an executive roundtable member of the Black Professionals in Tech Network and a speaker and mentor for underrepresented people in STEM.
Today, she shares her experiences pursuing a career in technology, not quitting on her MBA dream, what her great-grandfather taught her about strength and how WXN helps her stand out.
WXN: How did you fall in love with technology?
Katherine: I started messing around with computers when I was very young. We were one of the few houses on the street that even had a computer, and I wanted to figure out how it worked and how to use it.
After I immigrated to Canada from Jamaica, it was the first time I'd really seen a computer in a classroom. When I was in the 11th grade, I was part of a school board pilot program to introduce computer science into high schools. They combined math and computer science, and the very first program I wrote was a loan amortization program.
WXN: How did you get involved in supporting underrepresented groups in STEM?
Katherine: I was the only girl [in that computer science program]. I didn’t notice it much – I was really active in sports and I played a lot of co-ed sports as well, so I've always grown up around boys. I didn’t even notice it in university. I think it was when I started working. I realized I have to come here every day and it's just me? Where are all the ladies?
Before I got involved with BPTN, I also would have said that there are not a lot of black people in technology. The first BPTN event I went to was the executive roundtable, and I was blown away to find 20 other black executives at top companies and the banks. I don't know what the problem with the pipeline is, I don't know why black techs are hidden. And so I'm committed to working with them to come up with solutions to help move the needle forward for black people in technology.
WXN: What is the importance of helping others in your life?
Katherine: It's always been part of my personal fulfillment. There are a ton of things that I could do to make money, but the end of the day, it has to be fulfilling for me and add value, not just for myself, but for anybody else I can connect with.
I come from a ridiculously large family. One of the fondest memories I have of my great-grandfather is him sitting on the porch demonstrating to us that you can take a matchstick and break it. But if you take a bunch of matchsticks together and try to break it, you can’t. We need to stick together and we need to support each other and help each other because we're stronger together than we are as individuals.
WXN: What’s been your biggest challenge so far, and what has it taught you?
Katherine: I'm a classic overthinker. When people underestimate me and my abilities, I want to prove to them that I can do this and I'm just ready to take on the world. But at the same time, I find it so easy to backtrack and say, “but can I though?” Not necessarily second-guessing myself, but falling for it when somebody else second-guesses me is a challenge. And I think that that is such a challenge for a lot of women, especially working in a field where you're surrounded by men.
I'm at that point where I'm looking for my next objective and then trying to figure out how I’m going to get there. What keeps me focused and away from the negative noise is that, if I fall for what you're saying right now, I don't get to where I need to get to.
WXN: What about your proudest accomplishment?
Katherine: As a techie, Y2K was a great time. There was always work to do, and I had a lot of plans. But then with 9-11, things changed in the economy, and I really had to focus on making sure I could pay my bills and that I was staying employable. For a few years, I stopped taking risks and everything was for my family. My MBA was probably one of the first times in about 15 years where I just said, “this is for me.”
It wasn't always glamorous. It wasn't always fun. At the same time, I had friends who were sick or family members who had lost somebody. I had to show up at my kids’ dance recital and soccer games, and be at that executive leadership meeting in Los Angeles. Not quitting was harder than I thought it was going to be. I’m surprised at how often the conversation came up, not just with me but with so many of my classmates around quitting. I'm proud of my MBA because I did it. It's not the kind of thing that somebody could have done for me.
WXN: How did you discover WXN along the way?
Katherine: Coming out of school, I decided I want to establish myself as a subject matter expert and take part in speaking engagements. I started seeing a lot come up about Claudette McGowan on LinkedIn and I realized that she’s doing what I want to do. I don't know how long it's going to take, but that's the path I want.
I had an opportunity to connect with her through my husband’s work and BPTN, so I put on my brave face and just walked right up and introduced myself. She and I sat down and we did a little bit of mentoring and coaching. And I told her that this is what I wanted to do. She said are you involved with WXN?
WXN: Now that you’re a member, what does the “X” in WXN mean to you?
Katherine: There are a lot of stereotypes out there about women at work, women in leadership in general. We're at a wonderful time in history where people are paying attention. We're talking about diversity and we're talking about having women on boards and women leaders. I think that's what the X is about: really standing out and demonstrating that we're not what the stereotype says we are, that without women in those roles an organization suffers, being that example and that light that demonstrates that an organization with women leaders is an organization that’s going to excel.
Interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What’s your “X”? Join Katherine and the rest of the WXN community!
Get 30% off individual memberships in 2020!
During tough times, it’s so easy to get lost in the chaos of “now” and lose sight of what's important. What we need. Where we are going. How we'll get there. Who will help us along the way.
That’s why, for the remainder of 2020, WXN is offering an annual Individual Membership at a discounted rate of $99. That's just $8.25 per month - a 30% savings!
Take advantage of this limited time offer, because there's never been a better time to invest in yourself.
Learn more and join us today!
Katherine Isaac – Vice President, Service Delivery, Herjavec Group
Katherine Isaac is an expert in Operations Leadership with experience in the private, public, and non-profit sectors. She is Vice President, Service Delivery at Herjavec Group, a global cyber security firm supporting enterprise level organizations. Katherine is responsible for all service delivery of cybersecurity projects across the business. She prides herself on maximizing output and taking initiatives from good to great. Katherine came to Herjavec Group with over a decade of information technology experience from leadership roles held at Regional Municipality of York and World Vision Canada.
Katherine is a natural problem solver who thrives as the hub at the centre of the business, planning, positioning, and influencing across executive teams in order to prioritize customer needs. Katherine is a maximizer with a strong sense of vision, purpose, and discipline. Her business acumen, service-oriented sensibility and vision for customer success allows her to go above and beyond to deliver excellence.
As a leader, Katherine believes in mentoring and empowering others to take initiative in creating their own success. Katherine is passionate about creating opportunities for underprivileged youth and supporting women in STEM. She is active in the community as a speaker, mentorship program leader, and member of the Executive Roundtable for the Black Professionals Technology Network (BPTN). Her advice to young people is “the most important thing you can do for your career is to find what you love to do and trust that the opportunities will follow”.
Katherine has an Executive MBA from the Ivey School of Business at Western University which she completed while managing the demands of work and family. She also holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and Mathematics from the University of Toronto.