Editor’s note: “Breaking the Glass Ceiling” was among the first features offered by WRAL TechWire at its launch 15 years ago as “Local Tech Wire.” And the first female executive featured, Ruth Taylor, still works at IBM where she has risen steadily through the ranks to now serving as a top cloud tech executive. Here’s a look back at Ms. Taylor as profiled by free-lance writer Jennifer Tilden as WTW continues its journey through the archives to help commemorate 15 years of publishing – WTW Editor Rick Smith.

IBM Exec: ‘Gender Doesn’t Matter If You Know What You’re Talking About’

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Ruth Taylor is a model leader in the Carolinas technology community — for anyone, not just for women. Her track record is the envy of many.

But given her resume, Taylor is someone people often turn to when seeking guidance for how to survive in the very competitive, largely male dominated venture capital and information technology fields.

“In my opinion, in technology gender doesn’t matter if you know what you’re talking about,” Taylor says when asked about what her overall experience has been like as a woman in her chosen career. “But, I will say that for me, a lot of people in the industry did know and remember me because I was one of a few women in the field. That’s been a good thing.”

It’s also a good thing to have women like Ruth Taylor blazing a trail, setting an example, and breaking the glass ceiling.

Taylor has had a very interesting career to date – one that has been spent in what most would consider male-dominated industries. Growing up in the information technology industry, she began her career at IBM as an intern during graduate school. In her first full-time position with IBM, Taylor served as an engineer writing code – a surprisingly “geeky” and non-social beginning for this very sociable, well-spoken and refined executive. Her professional experience encompasses a wide range of technologies, including wireless, networking, handheld, embedded, and pervasive computing.

During the first chapter of her career at IBM, Taylor held several managerial positions, including Senior Manager in the company’s Corporate Emerging Technologies Group, where she focused on internal IBM venture opportunities and technology commercialization. It was this position that led her to a career move into venture capital, spending just shy of two years as the only female principal at Southeast Interactive Technology Funds It was there that she made her mark in the local venture and entrepreneurial communities.

Moving to VC world ‘not a big leap’

Taylor sees that move now as a natural progression from where she was at IBM. “My focus (at IBM) was working with researchers on how to commercialize emerging technologies. Much of my time was spent looking specifically at startups. It was not a big leap to go into the venture side of things.”

Taylor re-joined IBM in November 2001 as Senior Program Director in venture capital investments within IBM’s Life Sciences Solutions Group, where she is focusing specifically on bioconvergence. Although from the outside it may seem like a big departure to go from information technology into life sciences, Taylor says otherwise.

“This is not really a completely new area for me. The IT piece of it is not new, the life sciences piece is. This field is not a leaving of IT, but rather a very fascinating aspect of IT. Companies are using software tools to look at genes and to develop medical imaging.

“The software itself is not any different from other types I’ve written or managed, but the science they’re applying it to is and is very interesting. As an investor, I’ve spent the past several years of my career looking at technology and where it is going. I decided that bioconvergence is going to be an exciting area to be in.”

Taylor indeed seems very excited and enthusiastic about her current role — one she seems to view as bordering on philanthropic.

“It’s interesting to be able to work on something with applications you can see value in from a humanitarian perspective – for example, medical imagery used in something like mammography. In the informatics part, companies are developing improved medical images which can be stored and retrieved more readily for improved patient care.”

Southeast Interactive stint left behind

Declining to comment on any reason in particular for her departure from Southeast, Taylor does say that in her experience as one of only a few women in the venture capital industry, gender was not really an issue or challenge for her.

“Overall, I got a lot of positive feedback, some of which may be gender traced. The venture business can be a difficult business for the entrepreneurs. The venture people control the money and the discussions.

“My philosophy as an investor was that you had to have a win-win attitude and not be agnostic toward the entrepreneurs. I have learned that there is a lot of down time in the venture business, and it’s not a good thing if you don’t get along well with your companies. I believe a lot of the skills that are second nature to women and that we take for granted, like listening, understanding and people skills are very important in the venture business. The feedback I received from people while in the business confirmed my beliefs.”

Technology in general is known as a very dynamic and fast moving industry. When asked what her greatest career challenge has been, Taylor says: “One thing that’s always been a constant challenge is making sure that my (technical) skills don’t get stale. In an industry like technology, which changes very rapidly, if you hold a management position it tends to be mostly administrative and it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on. Several times I’ve stepped out of management into a contributive role to refresh my skills – like now, where I’m working as a strategist.”