Mentor Spotlight: Susan Burke

Updated: Nov 12, 2019

Today we're talking to Susan Burke, who has been loving the challenge that working in the tech industry provides for many years.  From coding projects back in high school to her position as the lead architect and product owner of Title Management (Firebrand Technologies’ flagship product for publishers), Susan has relished the constant change demanded by an industry that never stops moving forward.  Never one to stand still too long herself, Susan is also involved in a startup, Phin for Good, that helps people use their time online for social good.  In her role on the Phin Impact team, she is tasked with advocating for Phin's social causes and helping that community create the maximum impact. Phin is on a mission to raise $100,000,000 in donations.  One cause that Susan is passionate about is encouraging diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. In addition to mentoring individuals, Susan participates in programs that reach out to middle school students, and mentors at all-female hackathons.  When it’s time to unwind, Susan can be found exploring the US and many foreign countries—usually in a national park or historical city taking way too many pictures!

Hey Susan, could you tell us a little about your career path and what brought you to your current work?

I took a computer programming class in high school and just loved the challenge. I knew right then and there that this what I wanted to do and went on to get a degree in Computer Science. I began as an engineer but I loved the reason why we were doing things and didn't want to be told what to do. I moved on to see the bigger picture as a business and systems analyst.

You mentioned how you wanted to understand the why—but do you think there were other reasons you were led to become a lead architect?

I spent almost 30 years at Firebrand Technologies and it was a place that was challenging, allowed me to thrive and have a flexible schedule which was a perfect fit for me.

As a Product Owner/Lead Architect, I got to deliver and lead the design work and manage the quality assurance team with varied responsibilities. This allowed me to be responsible for the whole system design. I had to figure out how to enable customization for specific clients without impacting the other clients on our hosted solution.

So how did you get into mentoring? How would you describe your approach, and what you try to achieve when working with mentees?

I have done Tech Ladies mentoring online in the past over Facebook discussions and online video meetings.  After years of being heads down and focused on my own career, I looked around and noticed the number of women around me were declining. I realized the biggest problem was that the pool of women was significantly less than that of men, so I thought I could help grow this pool through mentoring.

It was kind of a light bulb moment when I realized that there was this need out there. I believe we need to encourage more diversity and mentoring could help with this.

Event though my reasoning is to get more women in tech, my ultimate goal is to help them find their own path even if outside of engineering. My approach is to help them figure out what they do want and what they need to do to be able to achieve that. I'm not the expert here - I'm here to listen to what you think.

What’s the biggest buzz you’ve got during your time mentoring?

When something you say strikes a chord to change your mentee’s perspective on an event or time in their life, this feels great. You are able to help them view things from a different perspective and not be affected in the same way by it.

What would you say that you get from mentoring, both personally and professionally?

I don't go into it to get anything out of it. I am not going into to gain skills.  I am a lifelong learner and I am going into as a learning experience. 

It puts me in contact with people at a different level than me who have a different perspective.  Hearing their perspective makes me understand more and makes me a better manager. 

I am very impressed with the current undergraduate students – they look at the big picture more than I did at that age.

One word -- verb, noun, adjective, adverb -- that describes a Mentor's role.