Tech By Superwomen Profile – #Tamsen

I’m launching the Tech By Superwomen profile series with a truly dynamic, community-minded tech superwoman – Tamsen McMahon.

Tamsen’s advice to the #TXSW community? Don’t follow someone else’s path, chart your own. 

The 140 (give or take a few) on Tamsen:

Intellectual Magpie. Personal Cartographer. VP, Digital Strategy. Believer in the rationality of irrationality. Weight Watchers leader. Mom.

Her latest anthem:

“I Shall Be Released” – Nina Simone’s version.

Her superpower:

She finds what shines — in people, in organizations — and help bring it to light.

Her favorite quote:

Argue for your limitations and sure enough, they’re yours.  – Richard Bach


As a tech professional woman charting your own path, what can you share about transitions? What do they teach us?

Decisions about where to take our careers and our lives ultimately show us more about ourselves: what we really want, what we’re willing to trade — and not — what’s most important to us. Those can be hard realizations, but even the hardest transitions give us information we can use to move forward on our own terms, more informed and more confident.


What advice would you give to women just starting in your field? To women already established?

The advice would be the same: identify what you want, and the price you’re willing to pay, up front — and hold tight to those decisions. Let them evolve and morph over time, of course, but beware the effects of little compromises over time. What looks like a small shift off-course in the beginning can mean you end up very, very far from where you wanted to go (and who you wanted to be).


What’s your reach this year, and how can this community assist you?

This year my reach is balance amongst all my roles: mother, partner, manager, employee, etc. And what help do I need? Just support that whatever path I choose to that will have been the right one, as it was the best path I was able to choose at the time.


Who is your favorite mentor

I’ve never really looked to one specific person as a mentor. Honestly, I think everyone has lessons to teach, so I always strive to find that in every interaction. My “mentor” is an amalgamation of everyone I’ve met.


What difference did that make in your life / career? 

It’s meant that I haven’t ever tried to follow someone else’s path, and that’s been important. I think the temptation is strong to copy what someone else has done that’s worked, without really paying attention to how well suited those choices are for us and our own (and no doubt very different) lives. By looking at all those I meet and interact with as examples of different paths and different choices, I’ve been able to have a broader perspective on myself, my career, and my life.


What’s been the biggest challenge in finding a mentor or someone to mentor?

Finding a mentor has never been much of a challenge — as I’ve said, everyone has someone to teach, all you have to do is look, or ask. When I’ve been asked to mentor someone, I want to make sure I’m helping to promote that person’s own ability to explore, choose, accept, and alter. I want to make sure I help equip him or her with the tools needed to draw their own maps, not just follow someone else’s.


What’s your take on the state of diversity and women in tech?

I see tech as an incredibly diverse and welcoming place. Everyone’s mileage may vary, of course, but I’ve always felt that we see the barriers we think we do. Anytime I’ve faced one, it’s been motivation to find a way around it. But honestly, there just haven’t been that many. I’m proud to be a VP at a major up-and-coming ad agency — the fact that I’m a woman (and that’s rare in Digital Strategy positions in agencies so far) is an interesting side note, but not what defines me in that position.


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