Feminine Forces in the Tech World: Lessons from a Pharmacist’s Tech Odyssey

I am a pharmacist (and a female) working at a tech startup in life science. Here are 3 things I have learned about the tech startup space, as a transplant. 

But first, I'd be remiss to mention how I landed here...  

Two years into my Doctor of Pharmacy program (PharmD,) I realized the traditional pharmacist paths were not going to fit my bill. While essential to our healthcare system and a martyry in healthcare accessibility, I didn't see myself spending my career at my local community pharmacy. After taking a year off to find myself (read: collect another degree; MBA,) I realized that innovation and growth were what sparked career-joy for me. I also began to realize something about the “career journey” in general; I could bring my experience, value and education to many different industries, not solely the career path my degree naturally presented. One of my first roles was at a patient recruitment agency, analyzing clinical trial protocols to help our advertising and creative teams stay medically accurate while creating content that was understandable to potential patients on the other side of the creative. Since starting protocol analysis in 2019, I have analyzed over 1,000 protocols. (More to come on my learnings there!)    

One connection led to another, and I found myself here at ProofPilot. We deploy web-based applications, called CoPilot, that help both patients and sites navigate clinical trials. Akin to typing in a destination into Google Maps and being presented with step-by-step guidance, CoPilot does the same for researchers and patients. Protocols are often an eloquent contradiction, overly academic while still being vague and leaving room for incorrect assumption and guesswork by the clinical site staff. And so this platform fits right at the intersection of my expertise and experience. I sit very close to our product and application development, getting a straight line of vision into a new industry. I didn't think I would ever learn to speak the development/tech language, but here I am facilitating API integration calls and influencing our product direction every day. 

Onto the good stuff, here are 3 things that I learned about the tech startup space: 

1.  You don’t need an invitation to switch or join industries 

Industries never exist in silo. When you are in college or choosing a career, I think a lot of us feel limited by job titles, instead of the educational foundation we are building. When I entered my doctorate program, all my career options were typical next steps touted at graduation: community pharmacist, hospital pharmacist or a slight chance to get into industry as an MSL or something similar. What isn't pushed enough at universities are the nontraditional paths that we can exercise if we know how to make our education work for us, instead of the other way around. As a female, especially, I felt limited by my own beliefs and slightly ingrained risk-aversion, but as soon as I got over that, I have never looked back. What better time for this reminder than during Women’s History Month, celebrating trailblazers before and after me.  

Prescription: Don't be shy to ask others how they got into their industry, it may fuel your own career options. One of my favorite icebreakers before meetings is to ask how colleagues landed in clinical research.  

2. Everyone has something to contribute to the tech/startup space (even you!) 

Having been in the tech industry for the last few years, I have noticed two misdiagnoses about this space... 

Misdiagnosis One: You need a degree in tech.  

Sure, it would help, and we need teammates who can steer that part of the ship, but it's not necessary for other business functions. I'm finding one of the most unique characteristics about the tech/startup space is how everyone brings something to the table. The superpower for me is being a female coming from a non-tech space. While the ratio of men to women in tech is 3:1, I can stand shoulder to shoulder with my male counterparts, offering value both as a woman and non-technical expert. Tech (and startup spaces) act as a great nexus for other industry collaboration.  

Misdiagnosis Two: To succeed in a startup, you need a background working in a startup.  

In the world of VC sharks, I am probably a minnow. But what makes the oceanic space work is the variety of creatures who inhabit it, not just the apex predator, and it wouldn’t be an ecosystem without it.  Specifically, at ProofPilot, what is unique is that some of us do not have a startup background and are still successful. We have our own industry experience and are applying that to the startup space and doing something that hasn’t been done before. In my own experience, this meant that I had to do extra homework when I was first offered my job, to learn how to take advantage of what a startup can offer. Whether it’s flexible benefits, working hours and location or equity in the company, there are lots of rewards for being in this space. The startup space can seem daunting if you believe the stereotypes, but if you are willing to learn and ask questions, it’s a fantastic space for everyone. 

Prescription: Your individuality is your value proposition. Diversity comes in many forms. I hope you see a theme between finding your gifts and value and applying them for net-good cross-pollination. For me, bringing energy, charisma and a slight generational spunk to my team, is what I am most proud of. It can be hard to advocate for yourself, for me I felt especially bashful at times, but I’d encourage you to do it anyway, even if you’re scared. That’s what courage is.  

3. Outlook > Education/Experience (when it comes to industry find and fit)  


One of my favorite things about being in this space and the melding of who I get to meet is learning about how everyone got to be where they are now. At eight years old everyone wants to be a fireman or movie star or maybe a doctor or veterinarian, but I think few of us knew where we would end up, or that the specific industry or role even existed. What I do think we possess at a young age, that escorts us into adulthood, is an entrepreneurial (or intrapreneurial) spirit - being creative, thinking freely, collaborating, as well as the desire for new knowledge, innovation and change making. Telling some of my friends and family that I was switching gears after graduation generated more than one raised eyebrow, but it was so worth it. Even after being impacted by a round of layoffs at a previous company in the industry, I didn’t want to let that one experience deter me from the entire industry. I think a lot of us see the tech startup space as being more ‘risky’ than corporate style roles, and there is some truth to that. However, in our current state, large, small, old and young companies are experiencing reductions in force. I wouldn’t let it hold you back from venturing into the startup space.  

Prescription: Next time you catch yourself in a self-limiting belief such as being stuck in a space or industry, flip your perceived limits into a new question. What could I bring to the (health tech, fintech, etc.) table? Beside my industry leap, I have always kept being a female in the back of mind, sometimes feeling that was a limitation or strike against me. Instead, I have worked to flip that belief into bringing charisma and a dynamic perspective to a new industry.  

There you have it. Three prescriptions for working in the tech industry as a non-tech female and pharmacist. 

I hope you enjoyed this piece. I would love to hear about how you ended up in your industry or role!  

Kathryn Gentz


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