Women in Tech: SF’s Nina D'Amato

San Francisco’s Chief of Staff for the Department of Technology, Nina D’Amato, talks about her career, what makes the Bay Area so special and offers her advice for women in technology.


Video Transcript


Our department serves the agencies for the city and county of San Francisco. So we have about 36,000 employees, about 56 departments. We are the IT department for the city and county. So this is the Department of Public Health, transportation, which people ride every single day, so the 911 system, the first responder, these are really services that are interacting with the public on a daily basis. So if there's threats that Splunk is detecting in and around people's personal identifiable information-- their social security numbers, their medical records-- that is we don't take lightly.

So the value is we want to ensure that we can react immediately, resolve whatever is happening immediately. So Splunk helps us do that. I grew up locally in Santa Rosa, California, which is about 50 miles north. And my dad is Italian, he grew up in North Beach. I was in the Marine Corps, so I've been gone for a long time, but I came back.

And why I came back was it was always the people. The people here are always doing interesting things. I mean it's a beautiful city that's for sure. All the hills make it great for the view, but I think what I love best is the fact that the most people here don't define their lives against the norms. They're benchmarked against how they want to live their lives.

Well, I like diversity. I like that there's a lot of creative people here. There's a hub of innovation. I like how we are right in the middle of two of the best universities in the world. So there's really some deep thinkers all around us. And I think that's kind of integrated into the society.

Well, I'm a big believer in service. So I started in the Marines before 9/11, and I was only going to do four years. People have to be motivated by purpose. For me, I'll speak for myself, in a democratic society, I feel like we all have to give. And I feel like I've tried to give at every piece of my career. And service doesn't necessarily mean you have to be part of something big like the military. It can be as small as volunteering at a shelter.

You lead people and you manage things and resources. That's an important distinction. Leading people is very different than managing them. You can manage time, you can manage money, you can manage a process, but you have to lead people, which means you have to be empathetic to them.

You have to understand where they're coming from. You have to understand how to create a culture within an organization that allows people to thrive. And if you're intentional about increasing diversity-- race diversity, gender diversity-- you have to be explicit, and you have to state your intentions, and then you have to pay attention to the data, whether or not it's growing.

I would say that creating that culture is the number one responsibility of leaders. Traditionally, cybersecurity has had primarily males. I have sat in many a meeting and been the only woman at the table. It is a phenomena where the loudest person at the table gets their ideas supported. But they're not often right. But the difference is, they're the loudest person at the table. Just be wary of that, understand that that potentially is happening. Because oftentimes, it's not the woman that's the loudest at the table.

But I also think that it's important to understand what you're passionate about. Because that really is what drives people. And like I said, organizations need different kinds of thinkers. If they're a technical organization, if they are a policy organization, if there are delivery organization, every piece is needed.

So it's really important to understand what makes you tick in the morning. And sometimes it's difficult to just say what you're thinking. But you have to practice it, right? And you practice at the smallest exchanges till you can get to that point where it becomes automatic when you're in a group of people, where you're giving a presentation.

So my advice would be one, practice small to big. Think about what you're going to say, think about how you're going to approach things, and have the trust and confidence to know that if you fail, which happens all the time, it's not the end of the world. You just re-attack it.