The Cowen Partners Origin Series profiles executives from across the globe who are changing the face of business. Read along to hear their stories.
Sandy Carter exudes so much energy that some, she acknowledges in her LinkedIn bio, have referred to her as the “original Energizer Bunny.”
In a given month, you might find the technology industry veteran moderating a session at the Ethereum Community Conference in Paris, talking about the “metaverse mindset” at South by Southwest, writing another book, recording a podcast, getting a byline in Forbes magazine or making the latest top women in tech list.
“Having great energy has a big impact on what you do and how you do it,” Carter said. “I don’t have a secret. I’ve always been like this. I think my energy comes from people.”
Carter is chief operating officer and head of business development at Unstoppable Domains, which has created a digital-identity platform offering user-owned Web3 domains minted on blockchain. She oversees the San Francisco-based startup’s day-to-day operations and drives its strategic partnerships and growth opportunities. Carter joined Unstoppable in late 2021 as senior vice president and channel chief after stints at tech giants Amazon Web Services (AWS) and IBM among others.
Carter didn’t originally envision a career in technology. She wanted to be a doctor, but had to pivot in college at Duke University, where she started as a dual biology and math major.
“I thought that [being a doctor] was going to be super cool, but found out that I was allergic to a lot of the medicines and things that doctors use,” she said.
It was Carter’s advisor – he doubled as dean of Duke’s fledgling computer science department – who encouraged her to change course. Carter fell in love with computer science, graduating with a bachelor of applied science degree. She wrote her senior thesis on how to use computers, instead of animals, for drug trial testing.
“Solving problems was probably the biggest thing that I liked,” she said. “As a medical doctor, one of the things I thought would be fun is trying to figure out, from a group of symptoms, what somebody had and to help them. And what I loved about computer science is I could use the same skill set – figure out what was blocking me from solving a particular problem and then use whatever I did to help people.”
Carter’s first tech job was at a human resources company, where she created a program to help scan resumes by keywords, a novel development at the time.
Her career has since spanned two terms at IBM, where she served in chief marketing officer positions for ecommerce and the Tivoli and WebSphere software brands during her first eight-plus years there. After several years as chief sales officer and evangelist for Lotus Software’s social business, Carter returned to IBM in 2013, taking roles as general manager of ecosystems and startups, which included work with the Watson supercomputer.
At AWS, the world’s largest cloud computing provider, Carter helped bring cloud technology to enterprises, starting as vice president of a Windows and enterprise workloads team that focused on migration and modernization. She moved on to become vice president of strategic partnerships and channel chief for AWS’ worldwide public sector partners and programs, which catered to governments, healthcare, not-for-profits, the space industry and, abroad, telecommunications, oil and gas, and financial services.
Carter works to bring other women into the still largely male-dominated tech industry as chairperson of Girls in Tech, a San Francisco-based nonprofit dedicated to eliminating the gender gap in tech. She has been involved with the organization since 2016.
“One of my mentors told me to always reach back and pull others with you,” she said. “I just felt like I could help people. I could have an impact, and that really makes me excited.”
A key piece of advice that Carter gives to her own mentees is to take more risks. Looking back on her own career, it’s guidance that she takes to heart.
“I did take a lot of risks, but I think I could have taken more risks,” she said. “All women are not as big of risk takers [as men]. My dad was actually very conservative…and he always encouraged me to be very conservative. Even though I stayed at IBM for a decade, I did take risks in terms of always looking for new challenging jobs. I didn’t look for a shoo-in; I always looked for a place I could learn. I switched jobs multiple times. I’ve been at two different startups.”
Carter earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, concentrating on managing technology and marketing. She credits Harvard’s case-study teaching method – and the networking opportunities opened up by the school – with aiding her career more so than the degree itself.
Networking is incredibly important in any industry, according to Carter, but finding the most effective way can be challenging.
“People always tell you ‘network, network, network,’ but they don’t tell you how to do it,” she said. “My secret is that I always try to give back to someone. I look at networking as me gifting someone else something, versus them gifting me something. When I go to an event, I’ll have a list of people I want to meet. I try to listen to them and figure out how can I add value to this person?”
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