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“Take care of yourself.” With Penny Bauder & Sidney Madison Prescott

It’s been more difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel because we can’t really see the end in sight. It seems like the goal post keeps moving. What has makes me feel hopeful is seeing people taking care of themselves — going out and exercising, sitting on a park bench, or […]

It’s been more difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel because we can’t really see the end in sight. It seems like the goal post keeps moving. What has makes me feel hopeful is seeing people taking care of themselves — going out and exercising, sitting on a park bench, or just getting some sun outside. The other day I saw a family all wearing masks and having a picnic on the grass. Adults were watching the kids throw a frisbee and they were just enjoying each other’s company, appreciating just being in the moment and the little things. It was a reminder that one day this will be over.


The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place. As a part of my series about how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sidney Madison Prescott.

Sidney recently joined Spotify to create and manage the company’s global Intelligent Automation program, encompassing RPA (Robotic Process Automation,) Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. Immediately prior, she led intelligent process automation for a leading global investment firm. Based in New York City, Sidney is an active champion of women in technology, currently heading the East Coast chapter of WomenInTech.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Initially, I planned a career as a lawyer. To that end, I majored in philosophy with a pre-law concentration during college. As I entered my junior year of school, I strove to gain corporate experience to better prepare for my career aspirations. Interestingly enough, I was offered an internship in asset and configuration management at a tech firm. Little did I know the decision to accept that internship would change to my career path. During the internship, I worked with experienced IT professionals around the world on extremely engaging projects that ranged from data reconciliations between legacy technology systems to process optimization initiatives. I quickly became enraptured with the projects, scale, and workflows associated with the technology sector. With the encouragement of the IT professionals around me, I realized that I wanted to switch gears and become a technology professional. After graduation, I was offered a full-time position creating the company’s first global Data Quality & Governance program. I excelled in the role, achieving significant KPI (key performance indicators) and I went on to lead the company’s first Robotic Process Automation (RPA) proof of concept, which officially began my foray into Intelligent Automation. Reflecting on the path my career has taken, I can say unequivocally that strong mentorship and coaching were key components of my decision to deviate from my original career path and become a tech professional.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your Company?

Becoming acquainted with a company culture in a world that is completely virtual has been fascinating. The Spotify culture is very strong and centers on collaboration, teamwork, creativity and thinking outside the box. I’m impressed by how the leadership has transitioned to working virtually a global scale, not only ensuring that everyone is comfortable with remote work but also simultaneously driving objectives and providing access to great tools. In some cases, these are existing in-house tools that we weren’t leveraging as much as we could and tools that I will definitely use after this is over. Spotify didn’t want to lose their focus on unity and collaboration, even in the face of a pandemic. Events like a virtual Fika, a Swedish tradition similar to a coffee break, allows us to chat openly with bosses and peers. We’ve also benefited from speakers on a range of topics, from streaming music to mental health. Leadership has done a fantastic job of building that bridge between normal daily work and what we’re facing now. As a new employee, it’s very refreshing to see how they’ve amplified all the great resources available to us and given structure amid the chaos.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

My job is my exciting new project! I was brought on to lead the company’s intelligent automation, which consists of many different components: RPA, OCR (optical character recognition) and eventually machine learning, chatbots and AI. As part of that, I’m working to establish a strong foundation for the U.S. program, looping in business stakeholders and clearly communicating the benefits of RPA. Our program will have two phases. Phase one is citizen-led development, where people throughout the company will be upskilled to develop their own robots. Citizen-led development is all about empowering business stakeholders. You’re giving individuals new skills, teaching them how to identify processes that are ripe for automation, as well as coding and peer review for an intelligent software development cycle. At the same time, you’re gaining the benefits of automating tedious business processes that are prone to errors. An accountant who knows how to build an RPA process and gain automation advantages. That’s powerful.

The second phase consists of building an intelligent automation center of excellence (CoE), where developers and architects design bots that run entirely different functions. We’ll mature out of the citizen-led or “attended” automation into “unattended” automation to create holistic digital transformation and maximize efficiency across the entire organization. We’re moving function by function, starting with the finance unit and scaling out to encompass all of our different business units.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have to call out two people, starting with my corporate manager during my college internship. That was a time of firsts: my first job and my first foray into technology. There were so many moving parts within the global infrastructure and software group at that time. Chris Schwind took the time to mentor me, teaching me how to cultivate a platform where I could share my expertise and contributions. Learning how to do that within a technical corporate atmosphere was extremely helpful. I learned how to become my own advocate, the importance of hard work, and the value of constantly learning new things to grow my career. I experienced what it takes to succeed — specifically as a female and a person of color. Navigating being a minority in a non-minority space was huge for me, and I made sure I could still flourish and enjoy and thrive in the work. Those first steps in technology set the tone for me. I realize it’s very contrary to a lot of women’s experiences in technology. It shows the power of mentorship and how the people along your path can either amplify or discourage your excitement. It’s a testament to the individual power we all have.

The second great leader and mentor I encountered was later in my career as I was transitioning into intelligent automation. Manavpreet Thiara taught me how to deliver quickly, identify ROI, and tell a compelling story about my team’s work. He also taught me how to delegate — an important skill at a certain point in your career.

Both of these men helped me define my career. There were hurdles with perception as a woman along the way. I often heard, “How technical are you?” But I gained a lot of strength through the mentors who believed in me, and it’s stayed with me for years.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this Pandemic?

The biggest challenge is being so far away from my family. I’m the only one in New York City and I had planned since last year to visit my family in April. Obviously, I had to cancel those plans. It’s been very difficult, as I was really looking forward to that time. We communicate virtually through Zoom, but it’s still difficult. As much as I love the digital world, there’s only so far you can go. I’m yearning for more substance out of video platforms. It reminds you of how far we’ve come — we talk in real time on our laptops — but at the same time, I feel like something is missing in the connection. It’s a conundrum of our time.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Patience is a virtue. It has to start there. But I’ve also embraced all of my devices. I have two Facebooks portals, an iPad, two phones, two laptops — so many devices for one person. But I use all of them. I took them for granted before the pandemic. Having all of these devices constantly in use has helped me realize why I love technology. I’m extremely fortunate to be in a financial situation where I can use all of these devices to help me communicate and it’s a reminder to appreciate the privilege. This technology and how we use it is a testament to what we can achieve when we must change the way we live. All things considered, people have adapted pretty well. We did it essentially overnight.

Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?

I’m still wanting to be heard and clearly present ideas, proposals, and modes of thinking for projects that can definitively change the way that projects materialize. It was a challenge to pivot to full-time remote work. Being virtual all day long entails a lot of screen time. It’s challenging to navigate expectations from stakeholders and senior leadership while maintaining a cohesive team. It’s tough to create the same dynamic that’s effective under normal circumstances and put all the pieces together in an entirely virtual realm, plus find time to put my head down and work on deliverables. I feel like I’ve grown as a result. I’ll be able to more easily pivot to all remote work in the future if needed.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

I’ve taken a very intentional approach to my life and routine. I’m deliberate about when I start and end my day. I make sure to incorporate time for meditation and mental health so I can reboot. Exercise has always been a way to gain mental clarity. I set clear lines in the sand to keep balanced. At the same time, I try to stay open to modify my routine if needed. I’m really trying to accept this time, to learn and grow from it. I’m focusing less on the disappointments about not being to go or do something and more on making this time as painless as possible. Being mindful about my attitude has motivated me and helped me better adjust to the changes in my work and daily life.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

Make it a point to set aside family time. I have standing meetings when I do fun things with family and friends, like sharing a virtual meal. My family and I will make the same dinner and Facetime during the whole cooking process, then watch the same movie together. Cute little happenings like that make it feel like we’re together. Carve out that time beforehand so it’s not pushed back or interrupted. Scheduling is important. It’s helped me stay motivated because I get excited knowing there’s something to look forward to. These virtual meetups with family keep my spirits up, especially here in NYC where it’s been so challenging.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?

It’s about connecting and making those connections a priority. It’s also about being open about how we’re truly doing. Be honest if you’re feeling down or challenged by the isolation. It’s also kept me sane to remember that this is not a permanent situation. We will get back to normal. So, plan that vacation you had to postpone or want to take. We can get excited about what’s to come by having conversations about school, work, and vacations down the road. It helps us feel connected and gives some sense of normalcy.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

It’s been more difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel because we can’t really see the end in sight. It seems like the goal post keeps moving. What has makes me feel hopeful is seeing people taking care of themselves — going out and exercising, sitting on a park bench, or just getting some sun outside. The other day I saw a family all wearing masks and having a picnic on the grass. Adults were watching the kids throw a frisbee and they were just enjoying each other’s company, appreciating just being in the moment and the little things. It was a reminder that one day this will be over.

There has also been light through the connections I’m fostering right now. This time has called attention relationships that I wasn’t nurturing so I’m doing that now. I’m comforted by how much more robust those relationships will be when we come out of this. It’s time for all of us to focus on that relationship that may have fallen by the wayside.

To everyone out there who is struggling with isolation and a drastic change in routine, I would say, look to people in your life. Lean on that circle. Whether it’s the family you were born into or the one you build for yourself, this is the time to nourish those relationships. You’ll be able to look back and say, I was isolated, but I was able to drastically shift this relationship for the better.

I’m also inspired by the kindness I see around me. In my apartment, I can hear the 7:00 pm cheer for healthcare workers. One evening, I happened to be walking back from working out right at 7:00. I saw everybody come out onto their balconies and out onto the street, banging pots and pans and clapping. Seeing, not just hearing, the cheer gave me such a different perspective. It was such a unique, cool way to salute healthcare workers, but I also felt so connected. I was completely overwhelmed in that five minutes. I felt a sort of elation, realizing that we’re all in this together.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to your family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Number one is to listen and ask the question, “How are you doing?” Too often, we assume people will tell us how they are, so we don’t ask. It’s a critical time to ask directly. Asking goes a long way to making our family and friends know that they can talk openly about their feelings and share without being a burden. Lend an ear, be open, and be honest about your willingness to listen. Sometimes just listening without even offering advice is best.

Can you please give us your favorite ”Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have to quote the iconic Carrie Bradshaw character from “Sex and The City” where she says, “The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself.” That really resonates with me. If you want to pour love, respect and nurturing into your friends, family, peers and coworkers, it has to come from within. You can’t give that out if you don’t have it within you. There was a time I was trying to give comfort and assistance to others, but I realized I wasn’t nurturing myself enough. Once I started focusing on my mental and physical health and knowledge acquisition, I realized how much more I could give to everyone. What I had to give grew exponentially. When I put my all into becoming the best me it resonates with everyone else in my life. Getting to the best version of me benefits them.

How can our readers follow you online?

Sidney Madison Prescott on LinkedIn and via Twitter @sidneyinthecity

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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