Women in Business Q&A: Niki Acosta, Director of Evangelism, Metacloud

Niki Acosta is the Director of Evangelism at Metacloud, a company that delivers private infrastructure as a service based on the popular and open source cloud platform, OpenStack. As an active OpenStack participant, tweeter, and blogger, she has become a recognized name in the cloud industry.
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Niki Acosta is the Director of Evangelism at Metacloud, a company that delivers private infrastructure as a service based on the popular and open source cloud platform, OpenStack. As an active OpenStack participant, tweeter, and blogger, she has become a recognized name in the cloud industry.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Growing up, I had some great teachers that believed in me. My second grade teacher, Mrs. Thompson, really stands out. She put my desk next to hers and made me her "secretary." I've made it a point to call her on her birthday every year. I haven't missed one yet, and she always cries. I credit my parents, too. My twin sister and I played softball as kids. My dad was our coach and my mom ran the fundraisers. My dad pushed me harder than the other girls, and at the time, I thought it was unfair. I now realize that he did it because he wanted me to realize my own potential. He was a natural leader, and very much a people person. He passed away rather unexpectedly when I was 15, and I realized then that life is short. I was dealing with very adult things as a teenager, and it made me grow up fast. So I make it a point to live life to the fullest and to be present. We all make mistakes, and I've learned life's lessons the hard way. I've fallen more times than I can count, but I always manage to get back up and keep going.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Metacloud?
Prior to technology, I worked in new home sales for many years right out of college. I learned a lot about marketing, relationships, and customer service. Our marketing director knew I was "good at computers" so she asked if I would be interested in starting the online sales program. That's how I was first introduced to tech. I ended up at Rackspace just as they were starting to enter the cloud computing market and I was fascinated. I eventually ended up working for Jim Curry, who I credit as the original founder of OpenStack. He's a brilliant maniac--something I've said to him on many occasions. He really challenged me and pushed me, and I think I challenged him a little, too. My journey at Rackspace was a great one. They really allowed me to self-discover my passion and write my own job description on more than one occasion, and I am still really grateful for that. After five-and-half-years, I was ready for a new challenge. After meeting Sean Lynch and the Metacloud team, it seemed like a natural fit. I was ready for a bigger role in a smaller company.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Metacloud?
I work with some insanely smart people with a ton of experience, and we all trust each other. I feel empowered to move fast and if I make a mistake, it's not a big deal. I liken it to your kid that gets in a fender bender in your car. You might be a little upset, but at the end of the day, you're just happy she's okay. Metacloud really treats people like people. We're more concerned with doing the right thing for our customers and our employees and we don't have to look through policy handbooks to do it. While being a smaller company has its perks, it also has its challenges. We compete with very large companies that have huge budgets and tons of people. We do great things, we have a great product, and we deliver amazing service, but our megaphone is much smaller. We are constantly discussing ways to maximize our impact. For our engineering team, it's engineering a stable private cloud platform that provides lots of self-service tooling and intelligent monitoring. For our marketing team, it's applying guerilla tactics and using service-oriented and "as a Service" tools like Hubspot, for example.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in technology?
If you're a woman thinking about going into to tech, I'd say, go for it! There was a study I read that says women wait until they meet 100% of the criteria before they apply for a job, versus men, who will generally apply when they meet 60% of the criteria. Tech moves fast, and there are constantly new trends, new languages, new tools, and new ways of doing things. When you work in tech, you have to stay up-to-date or you risk the opportunity to advance your career. I stay current by being plugged into Twitter and following both topics and individuals. I learn a little each day, and if I have a question, I can simply ask and get an answer within minutes. Last but not least, find a mentor.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Do what you love! If you're not doing what you love, then start taking steps to change it. This is where a mentor can really help. You'll be much happier doing what you love every day!

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I've historically been bad about maintaining work/life balance. Fortunately, Metacloud strongly encourages employees to take 10 paid days of continuous vacation per year! I've been making a habit of not checking work email on weekends, and I have a few fall camping trips planned. I also have someone that cleans my house once a week--an expense that's totally worth it. I've been a victim of mommy guilt more times than I can count. Being a mother is the most difficult--yet most rewarding--job I've ever had. I make it a point to read to my four year old every night and eat dinners at the kitchen table without electronics. I'm fortunate to have a patient and supportive co-parent who doesn't mind being mommy and daddy for 10 days straight while I'm on the road. And of course, there's the crockpot.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
There is still this lingering idea of what women are supposed to be. We are raised playing with baby dolls and Barbies and kitchen sets. We're taught to nurture. I came across a Fast Company article recently that studied performance reviews. The word "abrasive" was used in an overwhelming majority of critical reviews about women. If we're assertive, we're seen as bitchy. If we take off work to tend to children, we're seen as undependable. My grandmother stayed home to raise four children and didn't start working until later in life. My mom stayed home for the first few years to raise my twin sister and me. The same was true for my dad's side of the family. This idea is deeply rooted, and what I believe to be behind unequal pay and the inability for women to move into leadership roles. For those reasons, I believe women are often not seen as being equal.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I've had a couple of great mentors. Gigi Geoffrion is a VP at Rackspace. She's an amazing leader. She's humble, objective, and she doesn't get worked up over little things. Over the last few years, we've become great friends. I know I can ask her anything and get sound advice. The other mentor I had was April Solimine, a sales and marketing VP I worked for in the homebuilding days. She was incredibly polished and professional. There was a point where she was going through some tough personal things, but you would have never known it. I admired her resiliency and her strength. She also encouraged me to be 100% me. I followed her from one company to another, and the new company sold high-end luxury homes. I remember telling her that I wanted to go by my real name, Nicole, because it sounded more professional. She told me to stick with Niki because it was more fun and it fit me better. I haven't used my birth name in my personal or professional life since.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Anne Gentle is the Program Technical Lead for OpenStack, and I admire her more than she probably knows. She has a "get it done" attitude, yet she's always cool, calm, and collected. In addition to her full time job, she's a wife and a mother, and she still makes time to volunteer to teach girls and young women to code. I can't think of a single woman I know that's done more for women in tech. Anne has a way of gaining respect from both men and women because she is the best at what she does.

What do you want Metacloud to accomplish in the next year?
Metacloud's model is very different than the other OpenStack providers out there. We don't sell hardware, software, or consulting. We sell a public cloud experience, but privately. In the next year, I want Metacloud to be the default provider for those who want true private infrastructure as a service. You'll get better control, more predictable performance, and neat features you won't find anywhere else. And you won't have to spend the time and effort running it or managing it. We know that it works, and many of our customers, like Tapjoy for example, are seeing massive improvements in efficiency. I think once people know and understand what we do, they get it. It's my job to make that happen.

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