Molly Connolly: Award-Winning FileMaker Expert
My name is Erika and I’m a FileMaker developer at Codence.
Throughout my career in tech, I’ve been inspired and coached by some truly great women. As part of Women’s History Month, we wanted to highlight some of the amazing women in our community on our blog. Please enjoy the second of our profiles of Women in Tech.
Molly Connolly is a key player in the FileMaker world. She founded a Chicago-based FileMaker consultancy group with a number of well-known clients, and prior served as one of the founding partners of Soliant Consulting. Molly is a FileMaker Excellence Award-winning developer that created the training program JumpStartFM, in addition to running Women of FileMaker for 15 years.
Molly’s years of experience as a developer, business owner, and president means that she has some impressive advice to give for women in the technology community.
Can you share a little bit about what it is that you , and what a typical day for you is like?
Sure—I work from home and manage a team of five developers. We work on projects mostly for education and corporate clients and my day mostly consists of juggling a variety of tasks, making sure we are on task, lining up work plans and trying to make sure we’re on time and on budget. I work with high-level developers on fairly complex solutions and am challenged each day to keep the team engaged and keep up with the needs of our clients.
Did you always know that working in technology was what you wanted to do? How did you decide to go into FileMaker and own your own company?
I had no idea I’d end up in technology! I majored in Political Science and International Studies. I moved to Washington, DC to “change the world” and landed a job at Ernst & Young. I ended up with so much work on my plate I leveraged a tool I’d learned at my college work-study job (FileMaker Pro) to keep track of all my work. I liked it so much I decided at the age of 25 that maybe people would just pay me to build databases…turns out they would and here I am 20 years later still building FileMaker databases….
What do you love about the tech industry?
I guess I still see myself primarily as a process/data person which I know is not the tech/cool way of seeing things, but I love automating and simplifying what people see as complex processes. I love simplifying information so people can see the information and make complex decisions based on facts instead of speculation. Again—I know the trend is towards visualizing data and being able to show patterns, but I love nothing better than being able to really help people line things up and see things as a step-by-step process and feel like they have a handle on the work they are doing. If that includes visual elements that’s great—but I think it boils down to the structure which is where my team really excels.
What is one thing you’d change about the tech industry?
I’d like to see a more focused emphasis on creative problem-solving in tech. There are a lot of corporate environments where the rules are so rigid that companies are stuck following rules that do not necessarily apply to their situation. Companies are so focused on mitigating “risk” they don’t check to see if the risk actually applies to their situation. But the department doesn’t ask—is this data at risk? How much does it cost us to just roll back to a previous version? You have a lot of large companies who are hindered by such steep regulations that they aren’t able to function, and it costs them money, flexibility, and freedom. There is also a lot of fear in tech—fear of making a mistake leads people to say “No” when the answer really is “Let me try…” I like to lead with, “Well, I see what you want, let me see what your options are.” I run into a lot of consultants who say, essentially, “no” before the client has even finished their sentence.
How do you think being a woman affects your experience in the tech world?
I think it is hard to generalize because I think most of the women I work with are women like me. I don’t know if that is because we are women in tech, or being in tech has made us similar, or we work together because we think alike. I will say this—the women I work with are very direct, get to the point, and tend to have the ability to simplify and get to the root of the problem. When you are dealing with technology—and ever-changing solutions, there is a tendency to get overwhelmed by options, or get caught up in chasing a shiny new solution. Being grounded and focused on using the best tool for the job seems to be a trait I see in most of the women I work with.
What advice would you give to the future generation of women?
I have had so many options presented to me just by being open to learning technology. I work in different industries with different people all across the world. It’s a great place to be and it is more creative than you would ever have imagined. I also like the balance of working with people and the ability to sit down and focus – just me and a problem to be solved. It’s a great career and I hope to encourage more women to give it a shot.
Have you experienced sexism in your professional career? If so, how did you deal with it?
Sure—there are plenty of instances where I was dismissed or not taken seriously but it is hard to know if it was because I was a woman or because I was a 25-year-old business owner telling people twice my age I had the answer to their company’s problems. For years, every time we would get to contract negotiations when I would say my rate the man on the other side of the table would smile or even laugh at my rate. “You charge how much?” To this day I have never had a male counterpart say anyone has mocked his rate. My response quickly just changed to shrugging my shoulders and saying, “I totally understand if you can’t afford it right now. But I’m really good at what I do so if you change your mind you can give me a call.”
Since I owned my own business, I have always had the luxury of not working with people who made me feel uncomfortable or acted inappropriately. I ran the Women of FileMaker group at FileMaker Devcon for about 15 years and because I had so many incredible male mentors, partners, and friends, both men and women alike would say “What is this about? This is such a great community! Do you really need Women of FileMaker?”
My answer was that no I didn’t need Women of FileMaker. For whatever reason, myself and most of the women I spend time with had never had a problem working with men, standing up to men and having the confidence to frankly do whatever we set out to do. We make great money and have flexible careers in a challenging and exciting industry. But if you look around Devcon—less than 25% of participants are women. It’s a great job. Why not encourage more women to enjoy this great job? There are lots of women who need encouragement to work for themselves, get up and speak, pursue jobs in technology etc. If by hosting a luncheon and showing people by example that this is a great career, why wouldn’t I do that? I think it is all about setting examples and giving people opportunities. People may say it is a response to sexism, but it doesn’t have to be that. I guess I just see it as an opportunity to present women with choices and ideas.