"If I'm going to sing like someone else, then I don't need to sing at all," Billie Holiday famously said. This year at ToneDen, we're taking a cue from Lady Day and profiling inspiring Women in Tech and Music who sing (or play violin, or code, or community-organize) like only themselves. It's our way of nudging the dial of equity and inclusivity in the right direction while introducing readers to the ladies who work at ToneDen.

From left to right: Desi Gabrielle, Software Engineer; Corrine Poorman, Director of Demand Gen; Mel Mabugat-Wagner, Director of Marketing; and JoAnna Novak, Head of Education.

Tell us about your career journey as a woman:

JoAnna: Journey sounds so linear! I’ve been writing and publishing my writing since college, but the careers that have supported or grown out of that took me everywhere. I started teaching creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis, where I was getting my MFA in fiction, and at the same time I started staging in Chicago, under a fabulous pastry chef. Insert years of kitchens: pastry assisting, hors d’oeuvre prepping, a stint as a pastry chef in Albany, NY. I kept teaching during my MFA in poetry at UMass Amherst, and I started freelancing, too: Runner’s World, Bustle, Paste. I landed a job as an Assistant Professor in the MFA program at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles, and a year later joined ToneDen as Head of Education. 

Desi: I began my journey into software development as a young teenager at 13 years old. I was always curious about technology, but I didn’t do a full deep dive into coding until the MySpace era. I’ve been passionate about the field since then and fully committed to immersing myself in engineering as a career right out of high school. I feel very empowered to have been able to accomplish such a self-taught career trajectory without having to attend college courses. Outside of engineering, I’m very passionate about writing -- I’ve been a proponent of Language Arts since I was a kid, so it was a very natural progression to also turn my writing passion into a side hustle with my magazine.

Corrine: My career in creative and technology began not soon after my undergrad ended at a design and advertising agency in Burlington, Vermont; Jager DiPaola Kemp was my introduction and foundation for my professional trajectory. As a young female in the creative industry, I can whole-heartedly say that my experience was a positive one. I feel lucky to have had the mentorship and guidance of two incredible women who not only advocated for my growth but educated me on industry best-practices and set me up for success to take my skill-set to the next level.

Mel: After college, I immediately started working in Architecture & Design, eventually making my way into Tech & Music—currently at ToneDen as Director of Marketing. Growing up as a designer, painter, and technical writer, it was important for me to find a career where I could utilize my creativity, insatiable curiosity, and never-ending quest for innovation to help influence customer behavior and drive action. Marketing is equal parts art and science. 

What is an obstacle you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?

Corrine: There have been many occasions in my career where my skills, knowledge or opinions have been invalidated or questioned. As a strong and outspoken woman in my industry, I believe it’s important to approach every working relationship empathetically but to not accept less than what you deserve. I’ve navigated adversity throughout my career by working to educate and understand my counterparts without wavering on my beliefs. 

Desi: I’ve faced a plethora of obstacles in my career as a software engineer and minority woman. From not being heard in boardrooms to my insights and knowledge being questioned by leaders or team members. It’s been ingrained in our minds as women over the course of history that we have to work harder than our male counterparts because that’s what is expected. That shouldn’t be the case, women shouldn’t have to double down on workload to prove their worth or get respect from their coworkers or leaders. I’ve started to learn how to say no and to speak up when I feel like unchecked or unconscious bias in my workplace is running rampant. We have to learn how to not question our own knowledge or play into imposter syndrome when faced with challenges like stereotyping in the tech industry.

Mel: As both a minority and a woman, I’m no stranger to the often uphill battles we face in business. Discrimination, lack of opportunity, and general lower expectations for results. I’ve seen it all. My solution? Simple: prove them wrong. Just do what they think you can’t do. 

JoAnna: Realizing that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something: I’m always struggling to accept this, to take a stand for myself and my time. This is seemingly an obstacle of my own making, but I bet it’s common among driven women willing to hustle. 

What has been your biggest career and/or personal achievement?

Desi: One of my proudest moments in my career was hosting the Women in Tech x Music event with my co-worker and one of my closest friends, Mel,  in August. We partnered with BMI, Women in Music and Girls in Tech to bring a night of empowerment and encouragement to our community. I look back on it fondly because Mel and I did it all ourselves with the help of our friends: we secured donated food and drink, live entertainment and speakers. One of my proudest personal achievements would be founding a feminist music focused magazine in 2015, Inspirer. Inspirer landed on the shelves of major book retailers like Barnes and Noble internationally. It was a bootstrapped effort by a small group of women with a dream to share the stories of the most inspiring ladies in music and tech.

JoAnna: Publishing three books (a novel, two collections of poetry)--and “My $1000 Anxiety Attack.” The latter was my first piece in The New York Times, and it was just reprinted in an anthology The Times put out last year. 

Corrine: A few years back I had the opportunity to host an event highlighting a panel of badass women in my community while living in Tampa, Florida. Creating an open environment for women with both varying careers and personal backgrounds to come together, learn from one another and collaborate is probably my most fulfilling achievement to date. I’m excited to continue to bring women together in the music and technology space so we can continually learn and grow together. 

Mel: Helping businesses, like ToneDen, grow! Also – hosting a Women in Tech x Music event with Desi last August. It was a magical night! 

Share a woman (or women) who’s inspired you the most throughout your life and why?

Mel: There’s so many. But currently: Payal Kadakia, Founder & CEO of ClassPass. She’s one of the few female founders to ever make it past a Series C funding round and encourages women to build massive companies.

JoAnna: My grandmother. She liked to joke that all my work kept me “off the streets and out of trouble.” 

Desi: I can’t name one woman. I’ve had several women throughout my lifetime inspire me. No one has one phase of growth in their lifetime, we are ever evolving and different people inspire you in different ways throughout every journey. Fundamentality, I’ve always been inspired by women who refused to fit into a mold within society, and who made it a priority to shatter stereotypes in their respective industries and open doors for young girls.

Corrine: My first mentor, Kasey Viles Luby. She showed me the ropes of advertising, lifted me up in my career and taught me how to negotiate. That woman was a force and I’m so thankful to have had her in my corner. 

What advice would you give young women about a career in tech and/or music?

JoAnna: Let your passions drive you--they’ll sustain you when work gets hard. Be open to the unexpected. Keep reaching.  

Desi: Find a mentor earlier on  in your career. Find a supportive community or network that mirrors the same goals that you do. Establish a goal. Value your own worth over anything else. Research pay scales in your industry. Learn how to negotiate your salary. 

Mel: It’s never too late. Negotiate. Know your value. Don’t settle for anything less. Find a workplace that has the same values as you do. 

Corrine: Know your worth. You’re incredible. You don’t have to sacrifice your mental health, your values or your voice to grow or succeed. 

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